EXCLUSIVE: ‘Psych' Star James Roday Explains Why He Changed His Latino Last Name for Hollywood


He’s best known as James Roday, the star of the USA Network show Psych. But the 35-year-old actor—who plays fake psychic Shawn Spencer on the hit series—was born James David Rodriguez and he's half-Mexican. With the sixth season of Psych premiering tonight at 10/9c, we caught up with James to ask about his Latin roots, why he changed his name for Hollywood and why people are always surprised to find out he’s Latino.

Tell us about your Latin roots!

My father is Jaime Rodriguez from San Antonio, Texas and I've got one whole half of my family that's Mexican through and through. {The other half} is some sort of bright white concoction of English, Irish and Scottish. 

We recently featured you in our popular series "15 Stars You Never Knew Were Latino" and our readers were surprised to learn that you are half-Latin. Are people surprised when you tell them you're Latino?

Yes. I mean it's certainly not something people are expecting to hear. I feel like over the last couple of years, it's gotten out there a little bit more—it's certainly not anything that I've ever made an effort to hide. But initially upon meeting me it generally comes as quite a shock to people {Laughs}. 

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What do people think you are?

They just think I'm a White dude. Every once in a while someone thinks I'm Jewish. I get a lot of stuff, but never Latino.

Still, you definitely identify with your Latin side, right?

I do. I grew up about two hours from my grandparents and I saw that side of my family a lot more than I saw my mom's family, because they were in California. I would say in terms of the scales, it was probably tipped 70-30 towards the Mexicans. 

We know you were born James David Rodriguez. Is it true that you changed your name because there was already a James David Rodriguez in the Screen Actor's Guild?

Well it was twofold. There was a James Rodriguez in SAG—I believe he was a dancer. So I would've had to throw in a middle initial or something—which I didn't think was awesome. And then what really took it home was that the first job I got—which was a sitcom pilot for ABC—one of the execs strongly suggested to me that I consider changing my name, because it was the late 90s and the NAACP was really cracking down on the networks for lack of diversity. They had it in their heads that they were going to catch all kinds of fire for casting a white guy with a Latino name and trying to say, 'look at us, we're being diverse.' This is actually something that they were concerned about. 

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Were you on the fence about changing your name?

I was still in college at the time and the concept of actually getting hired to go shoot a television show or movie was something that I was really ready to wrap my brain around. I came from Texas, I was studying theater at NYU and I thought for sure that my lot in life would be to get the best bartending job I could find and do theater in New York. And that was a good life. So obviously my head was spinning and to be honest, I probably would've lobbed off one of my toes if they had asked me to...

How did you come up with the name "Roday?"

At the time I happened to be doing a production of "The Three Sisters" at NYU and there was a character in the play—a deserter soldier and his name was Roday. 

Do you regret changing your name for Hollywood?

It's hard to say. I'd like to say that if I had to do it all over again, I would've been like 'screw you white television executives!' Leonardo Dicaprio didn't change his name, Emilio Estevez didn't change his name. But every case is different. I only have one reference of what my career was and I was very, very blessed and very, very lucky, and it got started very quickly after college. And I only know that by going with Roday. It's hard to say if it would've been more difficult or not.

Are you doing anything for Hispanic Heritage Month?

Outside of brushing up on my Spanish? Not yet.