Rico Rodriguez is best known to audiences as Manny Delgado in the hit ABC sitcom Modern Family. The young actor’s career started in 2006, when he and his sister Raini began acting in movies and television, with Modern Family launching him into prominence in 2009. He has since shared five Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series with the rest of the Modern Family cast, along with numerous other awards for playing the precocious Manny.
Rico’s latest project is Americano, a US/Mexican co-production where he plays the lead character Cuco, a parrot from a circus family aiming to spice up the family act and save the circus before a rival bird seizes control. The movie co-stars Edward James Olmos, Kate Del Castillo, Cheech Marin, and Lisa Kudrow. We were able to talk with Rico Rodriguez over the phone before the release of the movie on DVD in the United States.
TOONZONE NEWS: How did you get attached to the project? Was it a regular audition process?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Well, actually (producer) Michael Olmos approached me with a script for the film and said, “We have this awesome animated film, and we kind of had you in mind for it, so read it and let me know what you think.” And when I first read it, I thought, “Man, this is perfect. It’s something I would love to do.” Especially for being an animated film revolving around family. Whenever I do a project, I always want to know my nieces and nephews and my grandma, my whole family can watch it and all have fun and enjoy it. When I saw it, I thought, “This is the perfect storm. I would love to do this.”
TOONZONE NEWS: About how long ago was this?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: It was four years ago, when I recorded this. I was fourteen years old.
TOONZONE NEWS: So did you have to go through an audition at all?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: I was pretty much set that they thought of me. They saw an episode of Modern Family, and they kind of took a little snippet of it and put it to the very early drawings of the character Cuco. Once I saw it and once I read the script, they were like, “If you want to do it, we want you.” And that’s just amazing to have that opportunity. Of course, I did not think twice, I was like, “For sure, I want to do this.”
TOONZONE NEWS: If I’m not mistaken, this is your first role in an animated feature. Is this the first voiceover work you’ve ever done?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: No, I’ve done multiple voiceover jobs over the years, little guest spots here and there, but to be able to do my own animated feature, this was a first for me. It was a pretty amazing experience.
TOONZONE NEWS: How do you view acting differently on-camera vs. when you’re doing voiceover?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Well, you definitely have to work harder with voice recording. On-camera, you can show your facial expressions and you can add your movement, but through animated work, you have to project all of that through your voice. That’s why after recording, I get super tired. It was like, “Whoa! That was a lot of work!” Because you have to assert all this energy and move without making noise, and really bring it your all through this microphone to create this character. It’s funny, Cuco does a lot of superhero moves and karate chops and things like that. I had to kind of mimic that as best I can by moving around, with the grunts and the laughter and stuff like that. It was pretty cool.
TOONZONE NEWS: A couple of different voiceover actors have said over the years that the hardest stuff they have to do is the ADR pickups afterwards, making the grunts and laughs and making all the weird noises.
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, (laughs) you look crazy and you feel crazy, but hey, as long as it sounds great!
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I recorded it by myself, but I had the luxury that I was able to hear some of the dialogue the other voice actors in the film had recorded, and watch a couple of their scenes that were almost kind of animated to see how they were going about it and what their tone was, so I could really bring in my all and put it all together.
TOONZONE NEWS: One of the big challenges when you record alone is that you’re literally talking to yourself in the booth. What were some of the things you were doing to accommodate for that?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Well, I would put myself in my character’s shoes and look at how they interact with the characters in the movie, in order to feel how I would feel and listen to how things are going. Because any scene in any movie or anything you watch has a flow. I listen for the flow of how others are doing it so when I would record my lines, I was able to continue that and kind of bring it together. I didn’t have everyone else’s lines recorded for me, but it was specific scenes here and there that some had recorded before. Most of the time, I would just do it myself and other times I had the luxury of having a couple fo the voice actors of that particular scene so that if it was like banter, I was able to have that back-and-forth banter.
TOONZONE NEWS: Did you get to meet any of your co-stars afterwards?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: I’ve actually met them before. To be able to call them my friends and being in a movie with them is just amazing.
TOONZONE NEWS: What was the biggest challenge for you to put yourself in his shoes and bring him to life?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Honestly, it wasn’t that challenging because Cuco really reminds me of myself. Ambitious, fun-loving, passionate. Those qualities I definitely have in myself, and so I was able to really bring a little of myself into Cuco and really “humanize the bird,” you know?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Oh, yeah, for sure. I was working with drawings and very minor animation. Usually with animation work they let the actors record and really do what they’re doing, and they animated to that. I was able to have concept drawings and storyboards to help me along and know what it kind of looked like. This character is so ambitious and excited, and you just had to use your imagination and try to bring that kind of passion to your recording. This was also a really big thing between the US and Mexico coming together to do this project, so what’s also really cool is that the animators in Mexico actually video chatted into my session and were able to watch a few scenes being recorded, and watched my facial features and how I did different things to really incorporate that into Cuco.
TOONZONE NEWS: I assume you’ve seen the final film. Did you catch anything that they slipped in where you caught them doing you as a bird?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: My eyebrows! I have a lot of facial features and sometimes my eyebrows have a mind of their own. So I definitely saw a little bit of me in there, for sure.
TOONZONE NEWS: I know for a lot of animated films, they do rewrites and they’ll call you back to record new material. Was that your experience working on Americano?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Actually, no. It was pretty crazy the day of recording, I was in this really great flow, and we had this really vibrant time going through it, and the next thing you know at about lunchtime, I was already halfway done with recording my lines for the film. They were kind of mingling amongst themselves, and they came and said, “Rico, we still have you for the rest of this time. You’ve already worked so much already, do you want to take a break and do another day of recording, or do you want to go back at it?” And of course, I had so much fun doing it the first time, I was like, “Let’s continue it, let’s finish it off.” And I actually recorded the movie in one day. I went in maybe once to do a couple of lines I missed here and there, but other than that I recorded the whole movie in one day. I was very excited. It was definitely something to talk about afterwards, when I got home. I had to explain the whole movie.
TOONZONE NEWS: Would you want to be doing more animated voiceover work in the future?
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Oh, for sure. It’s so much fun. I always laugh because sometimes animated films are the best jobs. you can show up in your pajamas and do your work for 4 or 5 hours and finish your work, and you get to go home in your pajamas. I’m a huge fan of animated films, and to be able to see myself starring in one is a dream come true, and I cannot wait for the release of this film becuase not only am I going to be able to see it again as many times as I want, my nieces (who just love to watch stuff that we do), and be able to watch it with my family members, and to really bring this out there and to show that it’s a great family film you can watch any time.
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Yes, we’re about to start Season 9. We got picked up for two more seasons so luckily enough I have this continued going for me and just having fun doing it. And actually, since I’m on break since I just finished high school, I’m able to have some time off to be able to write. I would love to create my own material and have fun doing it. Directing, producing, filming, writing, and acting of course. I have a lot of time on my hands right now, so I’m looking forward to getting back into work, and really using my time wisely.
TOONZONE NEWS: I was kind of amazed to find out that you had already written your own book, and that might have even been before you did this film.
RICO RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, I believe so. Hey, I guess I’m due for another one (laughs).
Toonzone News would like to thank Rico Rodriguez for taking the time to talk with us, and to the PR teams at Lionsgate and Click Communications for setting it up. Americano will be available on DVD on June 13, 2017. For more details, check out Toonzone’s earlier coverage here.