During the lockdown months, actor and Criminal Minds star Adam Rodriguez has lost track of time. His newborn baby is sleeping on top of him, so staying at home is something he’d be doing anyway regardless of the current health climate. “We have other kids, and when a new one comes, we just hunker down and lay low for as long as possible.”
When we connect by phone, the 20-year Los Angeles veteran—who can next be seen in the upcoming CBS movie A Christmas Proposal and as a mentor in the HBO Max series The Real Magic Mike!—opens up about his path to becoming an actor, revealing how a anti-drug kid until eventually found his way to weed first by selling—and then smoking—cannabis as an adult.
He also imparts his wisdom from taking a holistic approach to marijuana and how cultivating and smoking your own crops creates a deeper connection to the plant itself.
Adam Rodriguez on Making the Dream Happen
Growing up in New York, you wanted to play baseball and actually worked as a stock broker. How did you end up finding your way to acting?
I never thought about acting for a living. The dream was to play professional baseball, and I had a level of talent that made that dream something potentially possible. What I didn’t have at that point in my life was an understanding of how important discipline is, and how without it, you’re not going to be successful at anything.
You might be lucky, but you won’t be successful. I thought that just having talent, a love for the game and an ability to play was all it would take. It didn’t dawn on me until much later in life that it takes so much more than just being good at something to translate talent into success, and the key is discipline. It’s about the focus, the repetitions and really dedicating yourself in a way that is uncommon.
When I realized my dream of baseball wasn’t going to happen, I understood whatever I chose to dedicate my life to was going to be something I loved to do. I feel grateful for that understanding because it’s something a lot of people never realize.
Baseball—in some sense—is about being a performer, in that you’re entertaining people on a level that’s exciting for them to watch. I knew in some way that’s what I wanted to do because I loved performing. I found my outlet with acting when I was about 19, but didn’t want to go the traditional route of waiting tables or bartending. I thought perhaps being a stock broker would be a way I could build a nest egg for a few years, not have to be a “starving actor,” and then go out and pursue what I really wanted to do. So at 19, I ended up getting hired at a mid-level firm.
After working at the firm for a couple of months, a motivational speaker—Harvey Mackay—came to the office. He’d written the book How To Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, and I remember looking around the office while he was speaking, and nobody looked happy, healthy or like they enjoyed what they were doing. It dawned on me that I could get caught up in this lifestyle and have 20 years go by without going after the thing [acting] I really wanted to pursue.
At that moment, I had to walk away from the job before I got sucked into the machine and became one of the unhappy folks. I figured if I’ve got to starve, if I’ve got to wait tables and bartend and do whatever it’s going to be, I was going to do it then and not put it off. That was the start of my acting career.
What a cool journey of self-realization, reading the tea leaves and seeing where one path was leading without having to necessarily go down it.
I do look back on that moment, and for whatever little bit of foresight I had at 19, I’m so grateful because it was undoubtedly one of the most pivotal moments of my life.
Once you began the journey of investing in yourself on the acting side, did you ever experience that first “good omen” from The Alchemist that reaffirmed you were on the right path?
The Alchemist was a huge book for me in that it crystalized what I was already in motion doing. I absolutely fell in love with the story. It was so beautiful, as was the message about having the courage to take a leap of faith or have a belief in yourself and knowing the universe will provide for you. The universe will at least provide the path, you just have to choose if you follow it or not.
I think I already believed the message subconsciously, and reading it in story form made it more real and easier to apply to my life on a daily basis. This is the beauty for anyone reading this who doesn’t know it already: When you choose to do the thing you have a passion for—that you’re excited about doing and that you love—the “work” part of it—the drive to do it—should be easy. The desire to push forward should be easy and automatic.
At 19, I was also taking acting classes in New York, crashing auditions, reading as many books about acting as I could and studying the work of all the actors I admired. I would watch two or three movies a day, soaking up all that these actors were doing. When you do that, the wins are coming all of the time.
Even if it was sitting down to watch a movie I’d already seen 10 times, I was excited to do it. I was excited about reading a book about acting. I was excited by creating a biography for a character I was working on or simply by practicing an accent. I had chosen something I loved to do, so the things I was doing that were helping me get better were thus things I enjoyed doing.
One of my first “wins” came when I was 21, before The Alchemist had had an effect on my life. My father had been in the military with a New York police detective who had been brought on as a consultant for the show N.Y.P.D. Blue. The guy—Bill Clark—proved to be so valuable that they made him a writer and producer over time.
In 1996, my dad saw him on stage with the other producers of the show and was amazed how his buddy was now a big Hollywood guy. He got Bill’s number, called him at the production office and during their chat set up a time to meet when he was next in Los Angeles, where I had already been staying at the time.
The night of the dinner arrives, and we all go out to dinner. Bill brings his best friend—who sits next to me—and we have two hours of conversation. Turns out, the guy next to me is David Milch (creator of N.Y.P.D. Blue), and we hit it off. He said there was a pilot he was writing, and there was a character in there that he thought I’d be right for and asked me to come read for it.
He also asked me to hang out in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks so they could get me on camera, and during that time, I ended up booking a small, three-word role on N.Y.P.D. Blue.
Off that, I went back to New York, packed up, and moved to Los Angeles. Eventually, the audition for David’s pilot came around, and I got in there, did my thing and thought I blew it. Somehow I got called back in for a second audition and ended up getting the job. That was my first big win. It was a very rare case of someone coming out here and within four months, landing their first TV series. I was obviously the beneficiary of nepotis—I owe Bill and David my start—but I don’t think I realized how much more work it was going to take to have a career. Bill told me at the onset, “Look, I can open the door, but you’ve got to deliver.”
There was probably two years after that where I didn’t work at all, which was probably around the time I read The Alchemist. I knew I was on the right path, but also knew I had to find the discipline I hadn’t yet developed, and The Alchemist was one of those things that provided incentive and a belief that I needed to do the work if I was going to get to Fatima.
As you said though, the doors can be opened in any number of ways, but at the end of the day, you just have to deliver.
One of the things I learned from David, Bill and my parents is that when you can help somebody, you do. When you do it, you hope it helps, but in the end, you know that [the person has] to help themselves. You can only do so much. You can give somebody a hand, but at the end of the day, if they can’t deliver on the thing you’re giving them an opportunity to deliver on, while unfortunate, it’s just the way it is.
It’s nice when you have an opportunity to help somebody and they have the ability to live up to the thing they’re trying to do. It’s a good sense of satisfaction that you get and just a good feeling. I know Bill feels great about helping me in the way that he did and I know David feels great about it, too. I also feel great about the people I’ve been able to help. It’s what we’re supposed to do.
Unrelated to your path, it’s been said you’re a connoisseur of cannabis. Is that true, and if so, how so?
I was really anti-drug growing up. Part of my family had been ravaged by drugs, so whether it was jail or mental health issues that subsequently plagued their lives, I saw a bunch of family members having bad experiences with drugs, and it really turned me off to them. I felt like drugs were a one-way ticket to a shitty life. When I was 10 years old, my friends were starting to experiment with drugs and I was always that guy who would try to dissuade them.
Then, when I was 19, I needed to make some quick money to pay for my stock brokering license. The cost was somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000—which for me at that time was a lot of money—so I decided to buy a pound of weed and sell it with two of my other friends. We bought it, broke it up and sold it, which was really the first time I had handled weed in that way or had gotten comfortable around the plant itself.
Years pass, I’m 26 or 27, I’m acting regularly and I know nothing is going to get in my way. I’m at one of my best friend’s houses and he and his girlfriend are smoking weed. He tells me to have a hit. I was like, “You know what? Fuck it, man.” At this point, I had matured to the point where I realized that nothing was going to enter my life that was going to take control of it and that I alone was in full control of my life.
I don’t know that at 17 or 18—if I loved smoking weed back then the way I do now—that I possessed the kind of discipline where it wouldn’t have detracted from the things that I needed to be doing. But I was in a different place in my late twenties, so I smoked for the first time and had the time of my life. I realized this is for me. I really connected with the plant, loved it and laughed my ass off. I let go in a way I never had before and had a great time with my friends.
My relationship with the plant furthered about eight or nine years later when I decided to grow my first crop. I wanted to know where my stuff was coming from and where it was being sourced from, so I decided to take things into my own hands and grow my own plants.
I did that for about five years, from seed to harvest, and really developed a greater understanding and appreciation for cultivating that opened my mind to a lot of things about life and how it works and nature in general. It helped me be much more accepting of things that I might have had a harder time wrapping my head around before.
I also love the spirit of cannabis, the spirit of community and the spirit of mindset that I think so many pot smokers share. I really enjoy being able to partake in that communion with people.
Do you use cannabis for any part of your creative process?
I don’t work high because I feel like I’m getting paid to do work that I need to be completely present for. However, I will read scripts with both the sober and high mind, and will certainly spend a lot of time pontificating about aspects of a character and their personality with both minds.
I don’t know if my [weed] mind is any more elevated than my sober mind, but it’s certainly a different frequency and I like being able to tune back and forth between the two. There are a lot of wonderful ideas located in both of those areas and you have to give them a chance to be available to you.
I also highly, highly recommend that anybody who enjoys smoking or imbibing weed in any form take the time to grow one plant and experience the joy and responsibility it takes to cultivate a crop. If you learn what it takes to cultivate the plant and harvest the crop and then consume it, your highs will be better than they’ve ever been and it will take your relationship with marijuana to a whole new level.
You’re saying that growing and smoking your own plants is a better, more evolved way of enjoying cannabis.
It furthered my connection to nature and what it means to cultivate anything in terms of growing, harvesting and consuming. In raising my consciousness around growing, it’s also helped me to improve my diet over the years. I’m much more attune to what my body is saying as a result of opening my mind to the frequencies that weed has brought me, and I like to encourage other people to make better choices.
If you know you like to smoke, don’t have a bunch of bullshit to eat in your house and instead have healthy snacks. Elevate your mind. Don’t eat junk just because that’s what you think people have to do when they’re high.
All we get is time to spend, so if you’re going to spend time being high, then literally get high. Get higher. Try to get on a more elevated frequency with the way you think and do things so that you’re making the most of the time you have with this heightened perspective.
Follow @adamrodriguez and be on the lookout for his upcoming series The Real Magic Mike! on HBO Max and the CBS movie, “A Christmas Proposal.”