With the participation of Eric Major
I have lived in Canada since 2002 and since then, I have not seen a Brazilian character on a TV series here before. This changed recently when the Canadian drama series The Spencer Sisters premiered on CTV, Canada’s largest privately owned television network, in late January.
The Spencer Sisters stars Lea Thompson and Stacey Farber as Victoria and Darby Spencer, a mother and daughter duo who are thrust into investigating crimes in their hometown of Alder Bluffs (filmed in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but pretending to be somewhere near Toronto).
At first, I did not think about their being a Brazilian character, until the chef Antonio Pereira said “brigadeiro” and “asinhas de frango” in one of the scenes. And the character is not just a Brazilian character, but it’s being played by an actual Brazilian actor (since most often than not, they would have simply cast a Latin actor for that). The actor is Rodrigo Massa, 32 y.o., from São Bernardo do Campo, near São Paulo.
Rodrigo is also a singer, songwriter, and TV host, who moved to Mexico City to go after his dreams. Massa participated in more than 150 advertising campaigns in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Uruguay, and the United States. He has also hosted several TV shows, played in films like the highest-grossing Mexican film of all time Instructions Not Included, and Mexican telenovelas like The Color of Passion and Like la leyenda. Recently, Massa can also be seen in shows like Resident Alien, The Flash, and American TV movies.
Wave talked to Rodrigo about his career, his character Antonio, and more.
INTERVIEW WITH RODRIGO MASSA
W: Which came first the actor or the singer?
R: Contrary to what people who are familiar with my career might think, the singer came first. Music has always been a huge part of my life. I remember buying vinyl and CDs and taking my time to carefully rip the plastic cover, opening them slowly, and then locking myself in my room to discover and savor each new song, each surprise hidden inside that new treasure of mine.
When I decided to pursue an artistic career, the first thing I did was go to a studio to record a few of the songs I had been writing for several years. I did a couple of small concerts and had some meetings with record labels, but nothing really happened there. Until one day when a photographer told me that I should consider joining a modeling agency. I followed his advice, started auditioning, mostly for commercials, and started booking a lot of those commercials, and that is when I took my first steps as an actor.
W: Why did you decide to leave Brazil to pursue your acting career abroad?
R: I think the main reason was that I wanted to pursue it far away from everyone I knew, and from possible judgmental comments from my family and friends, given that I had decided to follow a not-so-orthodox line of work, which a lot of people don’t understand. I just wanted a fresh start, in a place where I could reinvent myself and find out who I wanted to be as an artist. Also, I was very familiar with Mexican show business. It’s a huge and very exciting industry that I wanted to be part of.
W: Did you move to Mexico because of your career?
R: Exactly. I have always been in touch with Mexican TV productions, like all Brazilians of my generation, who have grown up watching shows such as El Chavo Del 8, Chapolin Colorado, María La Del Barrio, etc. But it was when I first got in touch with Mexican music production that I decided I wanted to be part of that world. Their pop artists were very close to the type of music that I wrote back then. In that sense, Mexico was more of a musical match for me than Brazil.
W: Because you are Latin, do you find yourself typecasted?
R: It hasn’t really happened so far. I have played a lot of Latino characters, but I think my appearance is a little ambiguous, so I do get a lot of opportunities to play characters that come from completely different backgrounds. And that keeps things interesting. I feel very blessed that I can go from the American guy who is visiting Mexico for the first time on Lifetime’s Merry Textmas to Antonio (The Spencer Sisters), a character that is way closer to my culture and my comfort zone. And then back to portraying a non-Latino character in my upcoming feature film Cheat. I also like that there is a lot of variety in the projects that I’ve been part of. Drama, comedy, thriller, horror. And I love not knowing what’s next.
W: How did your role on The Spencer Sisters come about? Was the character of Antonio originally Brazilian or did they adapt it to you?
R: They were looking for a Latino to play Christian (Antonio’s name originally). I auditioned and got the role right away, which was unusual since big shows like this one almost always have one or two callbacks.
The character was not Brazilian at first. Spanish was his mother tongue, but the nationality wasn’t really defined. When I booked the gig, the writers and producers decided that it would make sense for him to be Brazilian. We even had a call where they asked for name suggestions. I gave them several, including Antonio, which ended up being their final choice.
W: What does it mean to you playing a character that is a successful chef who is gay, married to a black policeman man raising a young daughter in a primetime show?
R: An Asian daughter, I might add. My on-screen family is all about diversity and inclusion, and I love it! I think it makes our characters and the show even more memorable. Coming from Latin America, where those characters are not as common as in the US and Canada, I was very thankful to be given this opportunity of playing a role that looks nothing like anything I have played on Mexican TV before.
W: How is it working with Lea Thompson and Stacey Farber?
R: Stacey (Degrassi: The Next Generation, 18 to Life, Saving Hope, Virgin River, Superman & Lois) is a sweetheart. She is s easy to get along with, has very chill energy, is down-to-earth, and is up for any challenge.
I was expecting to feel very intimidated by Lea, given her extraordinary career (films Back to the Future trilogy, Howard the Duck, Dennis the Menace, TV series Caroline in the City, Switched at Birth, The Goldbergs). But she made me feel very comfortable on set from day one. I love that, since she is a director as well, she would give me certain tips and suggestions every now and then.
Together, they are fire. Their comedic timing is insane. And they love improvising, which always keeps things interesting.
W: How long does it usually take for an episode to be shot? We saw it is filmed in Winnipeg. Do you go there for several weeks or months to film the episodes?
R: We were shooting one episode every ten days, approximately. We spent about three months either living in Winnipeg or going back and forth, depending on how often we were on set.
W: Any funny stories about you filming the show?
R: I remember episode 4, where Victoria (Lea Thompson) and Darby (Stacey Farber) keep lying to Zane (Thomas Antony Olajide) because I asked them to. Most of those lies were improvised. That was when I first realized how perfect their chemistry is. They were so in sync. Thomas and I had a hard time being right next to them and not being able to laugh.
W: In episode 4, your character was prominent. What did make you feel being the center of attention?
R: I loved every second of this episode. After years on Mexican TV, I came to Canada in 2019 dreaming big. But I had to start over and play smaller roles like everybody else. Being the center of a plot with so many twists and turns made me realize that those dreams I had three years ago are finally coming true.
W: If they drop you in the kitchen of Antônio’s restaurant, would you be able to cook?
R: I think I would turn out well. I was never one to cook, but three years ago I became vegan and had to learn hard. Because if I didn’t learn how to prepare more elaborate dishes, I would quickly get tired of tofu and greens every day. I share videos on Instagram all the time, showing some of my creations in the kitchen. When I cook for guests here at home, people really like my quiche, my eggplant parmigiana, my pakora, and my banana cake.
W: Why does Antonio often wear that scarf around his neck?
R: The costume designer told me that she had a lot of fun buying clothes for Antonio. The producers wanted many colors, and striking prints, to represent the joy of Brazilians. They didn’t ask for the scarf, but she decided to add it at the last minute. She told me that she was rooting for them to accept it because she really wanted Antônio to have a very characteristic piece of clothing, something of his own. And in the end, they ended up loving it!
W: About your music career, any plans for an upcoming album? Do you write your songs?
R: Yes, I do write all my songs. And yes, there is an album coming up this year. So far, we have 20 tracks, in Spanish, Portuguese, English, and Polish. And it will be a very eclectic one with lots of different influences: pop, Brazilian country, electronic, reggaeton, bachata…
There will also be a remix album, which we have been preparing along with incredible DJs from all over the world.
W: Are there any upcoming projects? What are they?
R: Right now, I’m in the middle of my first tour. I’ll be visiting Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia, and then wrapping it up with two concerts at the Winnipeg Jazz Fest in June.
I’ll also be premiering my new feature film Cheat this year, produced by Matchbox Pictures, and directed by Greg A. Sager.
W: What advice would you give a new actor wanting a career in North America?
R: I would say think outside the box. Regarding not only the administrative aspect of your career but also your approach to auditions and character development. For my career, I have made very unusual decisions that ended up changing my life (leaving Brazil to pursue a career in Mexico, leaving Mexico to start over in Canada when my career was blooming, etc). And for auditions, you must always think about at least a couple of interesting choices that no one else will bring to the table.
W: Is there anything you’d like to add?
R: I invite everyone to check out my music videos, travel vlogs, and scenes from some of my movies and TV shows on my YouTube channel @rodrigomassaoficial.
Also, leave a comment on my last Instagram post (@soyrodrigomassa) saying that you read my interview on Wave (all the way to the end, thank you!) and I will even reply with a voice memo!