(l-r) Sara Rue, Lily Tomlin, Reba McEntire, Justin Prentice, Juliette Angelo and Jai Rodriguez
Country music has been everywhere this week with the new soapy drama Nashville airing Wednesday nights and the Country Music Awards handing out statues last night. It’s only fitting, then, that Malibu Country, the new sitcom starring legend Reba McEntire debut tonight on ABC.
The series focuses on a mother (who – shocker – is named Reba) who leaves her cheating husband and moves to sunny Malibu, California with her two teen-aged kids and wise-cracking mother (played by Lily Tomlin). The supporting cast includes Sara Rue (Less Than Perfect, Popular) as Real Housewives-esque neighbor Kim and Jai Rodriguez (Bad Sex, Queer Eye) as sassy Geoffrey, who works at the country music label where Reba is trying to launch her career.
Rue and Rodriguez sat down with AfterElton recently to chat about their new characters and working with legends like McEntire and Tomlin.
AfterElton: How did the two of you get involved with the show?
Sara Rue: At first I read it and I thought, ‘I’m not ready for this, and so I’m going to pass,’ just because you sort of need to pick and choose. I know some actresses can go to three auditions a day. I cannot. I would just be bad in all three. I’d rather choose one and be good than go to three and be bad. Then they kept calling [and] then I went in and as I was driving off the studio lot, I got a phone call that they were offering me the part.
Jai Rodriguez: When I went in it was totally an urban hip hop guy and I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m going to get it so I’ll just be funny and memorable and make a strong choice.’ I just made it super Latin and super funny in a gay Latin New York-way because that’s all I know and that’s how if I have a couple of drinks that’s where my jokes lean there. You go with what you know. Then, I don’t know, they just loved it.
The Latin thing was just because they have this one line that said, “Rinse and repeat.” And it sounded so draggy to me and I was like, “It sounds really funny in camp. That’s just how I’m going to play it.” But he knows a lot, but just can’t be bothered with this lady. So I constantly just kind of rewrote little sides in the scripts. It was cute, I don’t know, it was kind of my little thing and they just let me go with it.
Watch out, Reba (McEntire)! Kim (Rue) is going in for a hug any minute! (with Tomlin)
AE: Sara, Kim seems like a Real Housewife of Malibu. Was that in the script or…?
Sara: It really wasn’t. Her description was a trophy wife and a share-too-much person. That was how it read to me. I didn’t even think about it, to be honest with you. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s clearly who this is.’ Then [the producers] were like, ‘Oh. Nobody did it like that.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ Because that seems like that just made the most sense to me somehow. I did watch a lot of Real Housewives of Orange County and Beverly Hills to prepare.
AE: The show has a really strong gay sensibility. Which I don’t know if some of the producers are gay or…
Jai: One of our EP’s is gay and…
Sara: Reba has such a huge gay audience. I mean, it’s funny they have gathered a cast and took a lot of gay…
AE: Gay followers.
Jai: This one. [points to Rue] Oh my God…but I think what’s so cool about it is people are defining family very differently these days, and I think it’s cool that it gives Reba something more to play with because she’s known for being a wonderful, Christian, conservative woman who’s always been open-minded and always been very accepting. So this gives her a little bit more to do with those kind of issues, whether it’s Lily Tomlin getting her medical marijuana card and prescriptions for Happy Lollys or this potentially gay next-door neighbor [Rue’s on-screen son, played by Hudson Thames, may be pretending to be gay to get close to Reba’s daughter] or me, and it’s just all those. It’s really fun and it gives her a lot to play with in a good way.
Geoffrey (Rodriguez) will get out of the office on occasion and pop up at Reba’s home, too.
Sara: I just can’t get over it. I just think where we were maybe 10 years ago, and now we’re going to be on what is essentially a family sitcom on a Friday night which was family night. There’s a gay character, there’s another possible gay character…I mean, it’s just really interesting. It’s really cool and I’ve been playing a gay character for the last two years on Rules Of Engagement. I’m going back, by the way. I will finally have that baby.
Jai: It’s the Jessica Simpson baby. Just stays in forever.
Sara: Yeah. I’ve been pregnant on that show for two years.