“Rich people don’t play by the same rules,” intones a “talking head” in the opening video montage from the first episode of the new CBS series “Bull,” premiering Tuesday. The statement is a harbinger of things to come.
Starring Michael Weatherly as the title character, Dr. Jason Bull, the courtroom/trial science drama is inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw as the head of a prestigious trial consulting firm. The cast also features Chicago’s Freddy Rodriguez in the role of Benny Colón, Bull’s ex-brother-in-law and a former district attorney who’s now the team’s mock trial expert.
“Benny is so cool,” Rodriguez said, phoning from L.A. “He is the resident lawyer on the TAC [Trial Analysis Corporation] team. He’s an ex-prosecutor who was fired from the D.A.’s office because he cared more about justice than the win. … I think he brings a sensibility to the team because he cares very much about doing the right thing, which sounds cheesy but it’s not. When you see the whole dynamic of the team, he’s like a pit bull. He’s a pretty damn good lawyer.”
In real life, meanwhile, there is something that Rodriguez cares very much about: the recent closing of Soggy Sam’s Red Hots in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. The 41-year-old actor tweeted his sadness over the hot dog stand’s demise after more than 70 years. The significance is poignant — and something only a fellow Chicagoan might truly appreciate.
“It really is sad. As far back as I can remember I’d be at my window across the street where we lived looking at Sam’s,” Rodriguez said, chuckling as he related fond memories about the eatery. “My mom got paid on Fridays and she’d give me three bucks and I’d run across the street and get fries and just soak them in ketchup, and I’d get pizza puffs to go with them. My friends and cousins would all come around and we’d sit on the front stoop and eat all of it.”
Rodriguez was born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents. He received a scholarship to attend the renowned Pulaski International School of Chicago, and soon after exiting the 8th grade, he was bitten by the acting bug via a theater program for inner-city kids. He would go on to graduate from Lincoln Park High School, where he studied drama.
“Going to an arts school that had a drama program gave me such incredible training at a very early age,” Rodriguez said. “Being around chorus majors, dance majors — there was an energy in the air that encouraged you to pursue your art as an actor. To have that from age 14 to 18 was an incredible experience. I got my first big movie [1994’s ‘A Walk in the Clouds’] right after high school, right after all that training.”
Rodriguez made the decision to leave Chicago for Hollywood, though he struggled with remaining in his beloved and theater-rich home town or seeking more film roles. “I had to choose between pursuing stage work in Chicago, which wasn’t happening because I was constantly told I was too young for the parts I was auditioning for, and heading to Columbia College, or continuing with my film work,” he said. “I didn’t have the typical journey to a movie career. I was super-blessed because I left town with two movies under my belt [the aforementioned ‘Clouds’ and ‘Dead Presidents’]. I worked on many films throughout the ’90s.”
Rodriguez’s film and TV credits would soon boast M. Night Shyamalan’s “Lady in the Water,” the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double feature “Grindhouse,” “Nothing Like the Holidays,” “Six Feet Under,” “Ugly Betty,” “Chaos” and “The Night Shift,” among others.
Rodriguez’ family still lives in Chicago, his parents in Logan Square and his middle brother not too far from there.
“Besides my family, I miss the energy of Chicago. I miss the people — Midwestern folk. We’re bred a certain [wonderful] way. And I really miss the food there. Father & Son pizza on Milwaukee; Chicago pizza in general. Italian beefs from Marco’s on Fullerton.
“Most of all, I’d love to come back and do theater in Chicago,” Rodriguez said with a hearty chuckle. “Please let Goodman and Steppenwolf know that!”