The beloved series Six Feet Under turns 15 years old this week and unlike your common teenager in the midst of puberty, it still looks great. The five season-long, Emmy and Peabody-winning show was created and written by Alan Ball for HBO in 2001. A year before the series aired, Mr. Ball won the Best Screenplay Oscar for a little known film titled American Beauty. After writing that lighthearted feature, Alan Ball seamlessly segued into an even more uplifting topic: death. Specifically, a family whose business is death.
The show’s premise is simple: a dark dramedy about the Fisher clan running a funeral home. By centering on the family drama, the series became a bracing and completely nuanced examination of life, death and personal relationships. It’s also as funny as it is poetic. After a second watch, Six Feet Under appears way ahead of its time. Pretty much all of the themes it explores are still facing an uphill battle in Hollywood. It features a same sex, interracial couple, sex in your late sixties, and multidimensional Latino characters. The show is basically every Republican’s nightmare.
Repping hard-working and ambitious Latinos is Emmy-nominated and ALMA Award-winning actor Freddy Rodriguez, who played Rico. His character was embedded in the Fisher DNA when he started working for Nate Fisher, Sr. But after the patriarch dies, Rico struggles to find his place in the newly beheaded Fisher and Sons business. No (bilingual) pun intended, Rico is a rich, complex role. Mr. Ball wrote an unpredictable and complicated character that just happens to be Latino. Seriously though, Freddy as Rico is dope entertainment.
Born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents, you’ve seen Freddy Rodriguez in Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, ABC’s Ugly Betty and most recently on NBC’s The Night Shift. We were stoked when we got to interview Mr. Rodriguez about his time on Six Feet Under, his production company Top Rebel and his next project, Bull, produced by Steven Spielberg. Damn, this man keeps good company.
On How He Got Cast in Six Feet Under
I was working on a pilot Oh Grow Up! for ABC and Alan Ball was the writer. The pilot didn’t go through and this was just around the time American Beauty was blowing up. It was interesting because Alan had just won an Oscar but he was bummed about the pilot not working out. Some time later, I met with Alan and we chatted. We didn’t talk about anything specific, but a couple of days later, I got a script. The script was for Six Feet Under. I auditioned and I got it.
Later, Alan told me that he had written the part with me in mind. And I saw that the character’s name was Federico, and so, that was very special to me. I had never had anyone believe in me that way.
On Reading the Pilot Script
I just thought it was really good and I was just grateful to be invited to be a part of it.
On How it Felt to Be a Part of Six Feet Under
It felt like we were being shot out of a cannon. You have to remember, this was a time when there was no Netflix, Hulu or any of the stuff that exists today. It was basically Sex and The City, The Sopranos, and us airing right after them.
On What He Thinks the Show Is About
It’s about a dysfunctional family trying to run a business. It’s about family politics, really.
On the Role Rico Plays in the Fishers’ World
I think it’s very Shakespearean. It’s like I’m the bastard child, always looking in. Nate Fisher, Sr., I think, almost loved me more than his own children. When he died, that feeling stayed in the house. There’s this poster, I think for season three, where the family is sitting at the kitchen table and I’m sitting on the kitchen counter, looking in on them. I remember Alan saying to me, “That pretty much sums up your role in the family.” And that was really how it felt, for the most part.
On Creating a Complex Latino Character
Alan and I sat down and talked about the character. It was important to me that he be flawed, it was important to me that he not be stereotypical. Not that I have anything against stereotypes, because there’s some truth in that and that should be represented. But there needs to be a balance. I think the scales are tipped too much in the favor of Latino characters that come from a gang background and that need to have an accent. I always ask myself, “Where’s the other end of the spectrum? Where is the Latino guy that doesn’t have an accent? Where is that guy?” So that was important to me and Alan was respectful of that. I think Six Feet Under raised the bar, expanded what we have come to expect that a Latino character can be.
On What He Misses Most
I miss the people. It was a crazy and fantastic experience. The only people that really will ever know what it was like were the ones involved… As an actor, I miss being able to recite those words. I miss a lot of things. I even miss the executives who believed in us from day one. You know, as far as acting experiences go, this one was pretty much perfect.
On His Production Company Top Rebel
I’ve been working for over 23 years in this industry. I’ve worked with Tarantino [on Grindhouse], M. Night Shaylaman [Lady in the Water]. I’ve worked with some fantastic people and I’ve learned a lot. I wanted to bring those 23 years of work and create quality projects. With my partners Francisco Lorite and Bill Winett, we aim to walk that balance of high quality and commercialism. You know? Walk that line of artistry and commercially viable projects. It’s called show biz because it is a business and we want to show that Latinos are a commercially viable forcein the entertainment industry.
On What’s Next
It’s executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Dr. Phil. It’s called Bull. It airs on CBS in the fall and I’m really excited about it.
We recommend watching (or rewatching) it STAT. Which you can do easily on HBOGo and HBONow where all five seasons are available for binge watching. Sign up here for a free trial of HBONow.