Diany Rodriguez on the intentionality behind ‘The Valet’

Photo Credit: Robert Mitchel Owenby

Diany Rodriguez can be seen starring in Lionsgate and Hulu’s multi-cultural comedy film, The Valet opposite Eugenio Derbez, Samara Weaving and Max Greenfield.

The Valet is remake of the 2006 hit French film La Doublure, the American version follows parking valet, Antonio (Derbez), who is enlisted by movie star, Olivia (Weaving), to pose as her boyfriend to cover for her affair with a known married man. As a valet, the hard-working Antonio usually flies under the radar but his ruse with Olivia thrusts him into the spotlight. Diany shines as Natalie, the owner of a neighborhood bike store where Antonio is a regular. She is outspoken on issues close to her like the impending gentrification of her neighborhood and the effects it could have on the local businesses. 

Diany is very much like Natalie as she is a founding member of the social justice organization, Coalition for Racial Equity (CREAT), which strives to remove barriers that prevent full and equitable inclusion of Black, Indigenous, and people of color from participating in all aspects of theatre-making. Their goal is to fundamentally reshape the Atlanta theatre community so that it prioritizes opportunities for the historically underserved and underrepresented. 

Check out my interview with Diany!

But first off, it’s based on the 2006 French film with the same name, had you seen the original before you started this project?

Diany: I wish I could say I had but if I’m being quite honest, I was like, ‘my role is not big enough to necessitate this level of study.

How did you come to be a part of this movie and then ultimately play Natalie?

Diany: I wish it were much cooler than this, but it was quite honestly just an audition. I auditioned and then I think within like two or three days, they asked if I would be willing to do a Zoom callback. I did the Zoom callback and then I booked it. I did not know the role at the time because they had me audition for like four different roles, so when I found out which role it was, I was really excited because I knew for a fact that Natalie was the one that most closely resembles me in my real life. 

That’s so interesting, I just picture it being this really, really long and grueling process.

Diany: That’s what you usually hear. Like actual famous people, when they do TV interviews and things like that, they always talk about how they had auditions for months or there were a lot of screen tests. I’ve heard of the term “screen tests” and I’m sure they exist, but I have surely never been through one. And like the cast of, oh gosh, that show on HBO with famous people that all have British accents, you know? You hear about them having auditions for months, but no, this was literally just two little auditions and then I booked it. And they had never even seen me in person.

So, Natalie is learning Spanish, how hard was it for you to fake not knowing Spanish?

Diany: Oh, gosh, it wasn’t hard. At all. I mean, in the movie it’s like two phrases that she can’t say correctly. My cousin and I make fun of ourselves all the time in our horrible accidents, so it’s something we do at home all the time. Like we will mess with my mom and we’ll say Spanish but with a really intense southern accent. It was really just like I was talking to my mom at home.

Image Credit: Hulu
You mentioned that you and Natalie are very similar because you’re also a really huge supporter of local causes. Can you just talk a little bit about what all you’re involved in?

Diany: I co-founded, with three other Atlanta actors, a group called CREAT, the Coalition for Racial Equity in Atlanta Theater. Now, we’re sort of broadening our horizons to be more social justice oriented and more sort of equity in theater oriented but that was founded by us in mid 2019. So you know, just in time for the pandemic. And we have, through the grace of some community members, been able to donate well, not like donate, but giveaway through a grant process, $20,000. And we also sort of just help start conversations in Atlanta around race and around equity and help people sort of navigate these rough waters. And I don’t know what experience you have, you know, talking about race or matters of white supremacy or matters of equity, but they can be really uncomfortable conversations. So we’ve tried to place ourselves squarely in a position of being able to facilitate those difficult kinds of conversations. And not to mention, just in general, through my generally loud mouth when it comes to matters of equity, I am lucky to be able to participate in community actions such as panels on race or equity or community conversations and dinners or marches. I’m very lucky in that whatever tiny, tiny, tiny microphone I am afforded, people have placed me in a really lovely and beneficial position to be able to use any sort of influence that I have, in my eyes, towards the bigger and better end.

Getting back to the film a little bit, what was it like working with Eugenio Derbez?

Diany: Oh, it was awful, he’s the worst. No, I’m totally kidding, it was really, really, really wonderful. I haven’t told anybody the story yet, but, so I’m an introvert and a very, very anxious person, like a very nervous, anxious person. And I told him as much while we were on set, because it was mostly just the two of us and I got very comfortable with him and he allowed that. He has a very open and giving heart and a very sort of kind and calming and centering way about him. There were one or two things that happened. Not horrible, not horrific, you know, nobody’s life was at stake and nobody was unkind, but just like one or two scheduling kerfuffles that occurred and he was very gracious about them. And I said something to him about it, about how I was so thankful because, you know, much like when you’re on a TV set, Number One on the call sheet really sort of dictates the feeling on set. However Number One feels is the day that you will have and he’s the kindest and most thoughtful Number One. There was a bit of a scheduling kerfuffle, for example, and we had to work through lunch, so he ordered pizza for us, myself and him and all the PAs and anybody in his general vicinity. And, you know, you don’t have to do that. I don’t know how much time you spent on a set, but it’s not even the expectation. Quite honestly, the expectation is that the people that aren’t paid a large amount of money to be there already, will give freely of their time and give freely of their appetites and give freely of their general freedom to be on that set, and he made it quite clear that that was not the kind of set he wants to run. And it was really wonderful. And I remember saying something to him about that, about how thankful I was that he was the Number One on set. I call famous people on set “the famous,” and I make it quite clear that there’s no expectation that they speak to me, look at me or even make direct eye contact with me, and he was like, ‘well, that will be you pretty soon,’ to which I was like, ‘no, please don’t say that, that sounds horrific.’ 

He also was like, ‘it’s very important that you be kind to everyone. And not only treat everyone like you would like to be treated, but you treat everyone like money is involved because sometimes people can have a bad day and they don’t treat you like the way you want to be treated, but you have to remember that they’re not making the kind of money that you’re making either. They’re not afforded the same kind of grace that you are afforded because you’re the face of the franchise. And if you are unkind to people, not only will people notice, but it filters down, like shit runs downhill and you don’t want to be the latrine at the top of that hill.’ And it was wonderful and it was quite inspiring seeing somebody that didn’t have to be kind, because quite honestly, they’re in a position that they don’t have to be kind, but he was kind anyway and he was kind in a way that felt intentional.

Photo Credit: Robert Mitchel Owenby
Language and culture play just a huge part in this movie. What does it mean to you to be able to be a part of a story like this?

Diany: Oh, speaking of things that are intentional. I’m sure you can’t tell by my filmography, but  everything that I do, I don’t want to speak in grand gestures like that, but I really try for everything that I do to be intentional, from the things that I book to the things I even audition for. And this was very much part of the thing I want to be and do and the feeling I want to put out there in the world, not just this role of Natalie, but knowing that Eugenio was attached to it, and having gotten the opportunity to do a deep dive on him as a human, and the feeling of him being a crossover star from Latin American stardom to more global stardom, and also just getting the opportunity to read the script and getting the opportunity to know what he and his producing team want to put out there. I knew immediately that I wanted it to be something that I would be granted the gift of being a part of. 

But also just, in general, you know, me as Diany, I try to do everything with a real intentionality. And once we started doing the marketing for this piece and once I got to see it, and even honestly talking to Rich (Wong) in my trailer those early days of being on set, I knew that I was part of something that is part of my larger sort of global sense of responsibility. They made it very clear that they wanted to, especially because once we started filming, and once it really got off the ground, it was right after the 2016 election when he, who shall not be named, was elected. It was even a greater sense of responsibility that myself and yes, thankfully the people that are involved in making this movie in particular, thought, ‘Oh, this is bigger than us.’ Not only is it a message film, but it is a very specific message. You know, the people that drive your cars, that park your cars, that clear your dishes, that do your nails, basically the invisible workforce; the people that quite honestly [he who shame not be named] was quite willing to not just throw under the bus, but throw out of the country mercilessly and dehumanize and make seem not only like they are Other, but they are an Other that does not matter. 

The goal of the movie was very much to humanize these humans that matter. And also to sort of get you to see yourself in them and to see that there’s so much more that binds us than that separates us. So just knowing all of that once we got full scale into the marketing of the movie, not only did it feel like I was really gifted with the opportunity, but it felt very much like, ‘oh wait, did I make this movie? Did I write this and put this out there as content?’ I can’t take any credit for that, but I’m so thankful that I got the opportunity to be part of it.

The Valet is now streaming on Hulu