Deep Soap: Will ‘Queer Eye’ Alum Jai Rodriguez Help a ‘Days’ Character Come Out?

Jai Rodriguez (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Days of Our Lives” Will (Chandler Massey) is having a rotten winter. He’s grappling with two big secrets: he witnessed his mother cheating on her husband with her ex, and his realization that he is gay. On January twelfth, he finds himself drawn to a handsome older man played by “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy’sJai Rodriguez. Rodriguez previews his character’s connection to Will, shares why he thinks DOOL has created one of television’s most realistic gay storylines and dishes his upcoming appearance on the hot new comedy, “Are You There, Chelsea?

Tell me about the character you have been playing on Days of Our Lives. Will’s gay storyline has been shrouded in secrecy.
It’s pretty fun. As you know, on the show already, Freddie [Smith] plays Sonny, Days’ first gay character, and of course there’s been a lot of stuff going on with the Will character played by Chandler Massey. So basically my character [Mateo] will interact with Sonny. He brings me to meet with him in regards to something he wants to get going.[Mateo] might invest in Sonny’s new idea.  I meet Will and we have what we are describing as a weird connection.

Are you saying there is some flirtation between you and Will?
Yeah. It’s sort of like your first coming out: is the connection chemistry or is the connection just people  [who get along]. Is it flirting? What does it mean that the connection is with another man?  It’s kind of open ended, which is great because it would be really fun to go back. I think they’re handling the storyline with a lot of sensitivity and being really, really honest… It’s definitely not a cliché. The portrayals of young gay people on television are a lot different than they were ten or fifteen years ago. They’re colored with a little more diversity. I think that’s a really good thing.

Will’s a college student, so he’s flirting with a slightly older guy.
I’m not eighteen, although [Will] certainly is. But I think it’s more about what you said earlier, that chemistry. It was something I experienced when I was coming out. You aren’t afforded the opportunity to express yourself that way in high school. So all the normal adolescent angst that heterosexual people experience, you don’t. You suffer. So all those lessons you have to learn in your twenties, or in your early adult years. Socially, you feel like you’re playing catch up. I’m usually the youngest person on a show, so it was interesting to be the elder statesman of the bunch.

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Did you interact with the character of E.J.? There are spoilers that he figures out Will is gay, and everyone is wondering how he comes to that realization when Will is still figuring it out for himself.
I don’t really know how E.J. (James Scott) could possibly know this, but I think it just happens where other people know before you know. Other people, they don’t always handle it the best, so it will be interesting to see how they let that play out. It’s not your typical storyline that would have played out ten to fifteen years ago where the gay characters are bit more “fabulous.” Will’s a sports-loving kid, a little rough around the edges, If you mess with him, you’re going to get it. I really like the way they developed his character.

Were there any memorable moments from your day in Salem?
The funny thing is both of the guys [Massey and Smith] are straight. I always am a little nervous any time I play opposite straight guys. But let me tell you something, these boys are so comfortable in their own skin. They were so honest. My episode, there’s a really great moment between Will and Sonny’s Dad [Justin] (Wally Kurth). It was one of the most touching scenes I’ve ever seen.  They kind of have a conversation about [Will being gay] without having a conversation about it. It was everything I wish someone would have said to me when I was growing up.

The soaps that have been canceled were, coincidentally, the ones that featured gay characters. Do you think that it’s important for daytime to have gay characters on soaps even though there are now more gay characters in primetime?
We’re seeing a lot more gay people in terms  of the hosts of daytime talk shows, like Nate Berkus and on “The Chew” [Clinton Kelly], but I think with the soaps it’s something people get really nervous about because they’re like, “How will we handle this?” or, “Kids watch the show” or the concerns that it’s a more conservative audience, will they be okay with it? I think that it’s all how you handle it. I think [DOOL] did a really good job of [setting up] the story and creating characters that you want to fall in love with.

You have also appeared on “All My Children” and “One Life To Live” when you lived in New York. What does the loss of the New York soaps mean to New York based actors?
With theater being cast with celebrities or they’re opening, they’re closing, actors are really struggling in television and film. Although it’s always competitive, it felt like there was more going on a few years ago. I feel bad because “One Life to Live” and “All My Children,” they would offer the New York actors parts, that was one of the things people were drawn to [about New York.]

Because you became famous for “Queer Eye,” America has always known you were gay. How do you think that impacted your career as an actor?
The cool thing about it is audiences, on the whole, accept me. They got to see me in my early twenties . When the show started I was 150 pounds, a skinny boy. Now I’m like 175 pounds with scruff and tattoos. So I’ve grown up a bit. I walk into a room in most casting agencies and that’s not the first thing they’re thinking of. There’s probably something about me that reads familiar, so for the past two years that’s been an ongoing thing, just booking scripted work, which is the only thing I’ve had any training in – “Queer Eye” was a lucky fluke. I think being openly gay has closed some doors, but has opened a lot of other doors. I recently booked a scripted comedy on NBC, “Are You There, Chelsea?” where I play a straight guy, [Chelsea’s Dad’s] straight, sports loving friend so I always say if you feel like the character… they cast you. Neil Patick Harris is a great example of that.

Tell me a little bit more about “Are You There Chelsea.”
It’s really a fun show. It’s really well written and loosely based on the book, “Are you there Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea.” It’s about when she was in Jersey, being a waitress at a bar. People were happy to be at work. The writers are constantly making tweaks to the script while we film. I’m in episode nine.

Do you stay in touch with any of the other guys from “Queer Eye?” Did you give Carson Kressley any advice about “Dancing With the Stars”?
I was in the audience supporting [Carson]. He’s probably the one I see the most because he’s bi-coastal for work. Kyan[Douglas]  is the beauty correspondent for “Rachael Ray“. Thom [Filicia] was a successful interior designer before the show started. They’re all kind of busy working so we rely heavily on text messages and we have iPhones so we send one text message and it goes to all four guys.


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