Third season of hit ABC drama series begins Thursday
Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Life is about choices – both good and bad.
Texas native James Roday Rodriguez has made wise choices: to root for the Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston Oilers) and the San Antonio Spurs (not the Dallas Mavericks); to take on the role of a psychic detective (a what now?); to advocate for both humans (to vote, to get help when considering suicide), and animals (dogs, cats and elephants.)
The Titans are a strong Super Bowl contender, while the Spurs won five NBA championships between 1999-2015. Shawn Spencer entertained “Psych-Os” for eight seasons and two movies (with more ahead). Roday Rodriguez has helped save lives, foster pets and preserve nature for future generations.
Two years ago, he opted to skip over TV pilot season when he learned of a project DJ Nash was working on, titled “A Million Little Things,” and the role of Gary Mendez. Discovering the character was a male breast cancer survivor with all the feels, Roday Rodriguez decided to give the role a go.
Here, too, the choice paid off: The series is now beginning its third season while the actor has earned rave reviews for his dramatic effect.
Interestingly enough, as Roday Rodriguez makes wise decisions, Gary can’t help but make the wrong choices.
When we first met him, in season one, he was at a cancer support group meeting looking for a woman to hook up with. This, of course, was after he ghosted another woman who dared leave her cell phone charger in his pad. Her “commitment” spurred his indifference.
Gary chose to skip work, as an insurance adjuster, to spend time with a new girlfriend. He was rewarded with a box full of personal items he could stash in his car trunk. … And then there was the time Gary punched a man at a youth softball game and was promptly arrested.
This character, on the surface, is not a role model.
Yet, if you ask fans of “A Million Little Things” whom they’d choose to be, if they could emulate one character, they would choose Gary – hands down.
Why? Because Gary didn’t pick anyone at that meeting – he chose Maggie (the wonderful Allison Miller). When her cancer returned, Gary comforted, supported and encouraged Maggie to get treatment – medical attention that saved her life. He opted to spend time at her side, and not at his desk, as she ultimately went back into remission.
The on-screen chemistry between these two actors should be jarred and sold alongside The Como Restaurant’s finest reds. Like the world-famous Italian sauce, this TV relationship has an inimitable mix of ingredients: It’s tantalizing, heart-string-pulling, funny, aggravating and unpredictable.
If you’ve wondered what to watch on Thursday nights, dip your bread in (or click your remote to) Hulu, and watch a couple of scenes with Gary and Maggie from seasons one or two. You’ll be fast satisfied – and champing at the bit for season three on ABC.
Oh – and that man Gary punched? He was a racist giving Rome (Romany Malco) a hard time, and got what he deserved.
You see, friendship is about choices – it’s about “A Million Little Things” – and there is no better onscreen representation of peer interaction than what fans get each week from Roday Rodriguez and company.
Nash has crafted a show that began with a shocking suicide – its cause, aftermath and mystery – moved to recovery: from cancer, yes, but also from addiction, cheating and abuse – and now, as these characters were teased with the promise of hope, they are again faced with the possibility of loss.
√ Maggie is headed overseas for a fellowship, having parted with Gary at the airport.
√ Rome and Regina (Christina Moses) were set to adopt a son – whom they named John after their departed friend and leader – when the child’s birth mother reclaimed him. Devastated doesn’t begin to describe their grief.
It’s going to be an interesting start to the season. Nash and his team will surely do what they do best: leave us on the edge of our seat, pleading for 5 extra minutes each episode.
And Roday Rodriguez? Having already proven his comedic genius and uncanny pop culture savvy on “Psych” (not to mention directing chops), he will continue expertly crafting a flawed character whom we’re all rooting for to find happiness (and hopefully, someday, Maggie).
Tuning into “A Million Little Things” is a great choice – and Roday Rodriguez explained why in this BTS Q&A.
“A Million Little Things” (ABC key art)
Q: I have to ask you about the show before I asked you about the character. I did a lot of work with “Psych”; I was fortunate enough to work with you and your castmates many times. I did a lot of work with “Grimm.” So, naturally, I'm a fan of yours; I'm a fan of David's. I was curious about this show before it debuted – but my industry really didn't do a very good job of describing “A Million Little Things” before it debuted. Everyone kind of just said, “Oh, it's gonna be like ‘This Is Us.’ ” I think it's just so much more than that.
What first appealed to you about joining this series?
James Roday Rodriguez: Well, I benefited from the fact that I didn't know “This Is Us” and I had never watched it. So, even if we had been a rip-off of “This Is Us,” I wouldn’t have known it. I just, I read the script kind of in a vacuum. And not looking to do a pilot, frankly, and it really grabbed a hold of me. And that was because the commitment that DJ Nash has to this show comes through in his writing – like it's incredibly meticulous; it's very methodical. Everything he does, he does for a reason – and he's played it out in his head about 50,000 times before he puts it on the page. So, you know you're not getting anything nebulous, or random. And in that regard, I appreciated it.
I also knew that I'd be working with someone who was more passionate about the show than I was. And as an actor, that's what you want. You don't want to have to carry the extra baggage. You want to know that the person that created the show is going to treat it like a baby and love it more than anybody.
So those two things were in place; and then the third thing was the character. Aside from I think an arc on “Oz,” which is not a show that a lot of people have on the tip of their tongues, I had not seen a breast cancer story told from the male perspective. And I thought it was unique. I thought it was an interesting way to come at that. And I myself have a number of people in my life who have been touched and affected by breast cancer, so it felt personal.
And then, I don't know; I just figured if I played my cards right, I’d get a chance to see David in the same swimsuit that Daniel Craig rocked in that first “Bond” movie.
Q: Nice. You mentioned the breast cancer part of this. (Gary's) also an insurance adjuster; he's got mommy issues. That's about as far removed as you can get, I think, from a psychic detective with daddy issues. Was that a necessity? Was that an added bonus? Was that coincidence? Were you looking to play something completely on the other end of the spectrum?
James Roday Rodriguez: I think, to be fair, I should probably reiterate that I wasn't looking to play anything. That's really, truly where my head was at. But, if I was going to do it, and roll the dice of potentially being on another series and not like a movie or a one-off, than yes. It was important to me that I make a real departure from Shawn, and “Psych,” even though it changed my life – and as you know, I'm still playing that character when we make the “Psych” movies.
It was important to me to do something different; to work a different muscle. And that's why I grew a beard, man. I mean, that's it. It's that simple. Beard equals different.
Q: That clears it up for me; I appreciate that. Thank you.
This show, I find, is surprisingly suspenseful. Just amazing cliffhangers like almost every single episode. Did you know that aspect was going to be a big part of this series, or when did it become evident that that would be sort of a big thing that this show does, and does well?
James Roday Rodriguez: I think for me it became evident when it was important to have a similar sort of mystery aesthetic going into season two – as we had in season one.
It's such a specific emotional terrain, dealing with the fallout from a suicide, that I kind of bought into the idea that there is a sort of a built-in mystery that you never get to solve when something like that happens. But I didn't realize that mystery would be a part of the fabric of this series long-term; but I think that's something DJ always had in mind, as well.
Some of us, I think, just figured that, you know, if we got a second season, we would kind of become “Parenthood” or “Brothers and Sisters” – just start being a show about people's lives. And he knew better. He knew that, by holding on to this element of mystery and every time you get comfortable and think you know what's happening, boom; he's gonna flip it on you … separates us from that, and give us our own identity.
Q: Rome and Regina, they had a baby – they named it John and still lost it. Eddie, he's lying on a road; he's half dead for all we know. Gary and Maggie, very much up in the air. Where do we find these characters when the season begins?
James Roday Rodriguez: I think right after the last season ended. So, it's not like we pull the rug out or cheat you (with) a big-time jump, or something; you're gonna get to experience the aftermath of what you experienced at the end of season two. And all of your burning questions will be answered in short order.
Q: Fair enough. I know that there are probably people watching you right now with guns drawn, whether or not you say anything spoiler-ish or not – which I always appreciate. Not a big fan of the spoilers.
James Roday Rodriguez: (Laughs) I can speak as the guy who plays Gary, you know, and tell you the Gary and Maggie story is no longer about “will they or won't they,” or teasing it. She's gone. She's going off to another country and Gary's staying in America, so you can draw your own conclusions there.
“A Million Little Things” – Gary Mendez (James Roday Rodriguez) is now dating Darcy Cooper (“Supergirl’s” Floriana Lima) … but will he reconnect with Maggie (Allison Miller) later this season? (ABC photos by Jack Rowand and Robert Trachtenberg)
Q: I appreciate that. Now, be that as it may, I have to ask you about the chemistry that you have with Allison, because that's really one of the things that hooked me, initially, on this show. I'm just, I'm sitting and I'm watching, and I'm thinking, “It can't be that easy, can it?” I mean, just from jump, from the first episode, it was really quite impressive. I'm wondering how that develops.
James Roday Rodriguez: I've been very lucky in that I've been on two shows that have had life beyond a season; and both times I've had a co-star that I immediately had that kind of rapport with. The first time, obviously, it was Dulé Hill, and this time it was Allison. And it is special, and it is something of a novelty, because it doesn't always work that way. And also sometimes when people do appear to have chemistry, it's because they're both working their tails off in order to do it. And in both of my cases, it didn't require that much work.
You know, I think when your approaches either are the same, or really complement one another, and you both believe in the work and you both want it to be good – and you both want the other person to be good, too – sometimes these things can just fall in place. In that regard, it was very similar to the experience I had with Dulé on “Psych,” where it just never feels effortful; and it gets easier and easier as you go along.
Q: How has your time behind the camera helped you evolve in front of it?
James Roday Rodriguez: I love being behind the camera, because I love watching actors work. I love all of our quirks, and all of our cheats, and our tells and our tools, and the stuff we do to make us feel safe, and the stuff we do when we don't feel safe. And I feel like, as a director, you can build a vocabulary of all of those things by watching so many different actors apply our craft that it becomes almost instinctual to then apply them to yourself when you're back in front of the camera.
It's like going to college, and then getting to use everything that you learn, because it's so less myopic, right; when you're performing, it's just, it's all about you, and maybe one other person. And then when you’re sitting in a director's chair, you're literally taking in everything. And it's kind of a masterclass, and it's great. And it's why I, pound for pound, probably enjoy directing better. (Laughs)
Q: You've always been very good to your fans, but I don't know how much you pay attention to feedback from them, as far as the different roles and projects that you work on. The “Psych-Os” are obviously very loud and very loyal – and I think it's probably fair to say that some of them have not seen you do something dramatic like this. For my money, you are terrific as a dramatic actor. What feedback do you get from them, or from other fans, about this part of your bag of tricks?
James Roday Rodriguez: Well, first of all, thank you for those kind words. I certainly appreciate that. I know you cover a lot of television, so thank you.
And as far as the “Psych-Os” go, they're a little biased – as you can imagine. It blows my mind, the level of commitment that they have in finding not just other projects that we’re involved with, but even the stuff that we care about personally. You know, they'll show up at Comic-Con wearing shirts for dog rescues that I support. It's next-level fandom. They're the best, and we're very lucky to have them.
And I would say that “Psych-Os” are always gonna choose Shawn (laughs), but lovingly. And with massive loads of respect and appreciation, you know, “Go do all these other things. We love you. We'll go see your bad movies; and we'll watch you as the guy with the beard; but at the end of the day you better get back over here. Give us some more Shawn (laughs).”
“A Million Little Things” airs at 10 p.m. Thursdays on ABC (WKBW-TV Channel 7).
"A Million Little Things" stars Lizzy Greene, Stephanie Szostak, James Roday Rodriguez, Allison Miller, Chance Hurstfield, Christina Moses, Romany Malco, David Giuntoli, Grace Park and Tristan Byon. (ABC photo by Robert Trachtenberg)