Rico Rodriguez Dreams Big for the Next Decade Well Before Turning 20

Rico Rodriguez was only 11 years old when he stole our hearts as the athletically-challenged, literary son of Sofia Vergara on Modern Family. While his life, along with those of his fellow castmates, has changed with the success of the show over the past seven years, one thing remains the same.

Rodriguez loves books; he loves reading. Though we’re speaking over the phone, I can hear the twinkle in his eyes as we segue our discussion away from the weather and onto his collaboration with Pizza Hut and their literacy project. He says that he was “honored”to be chosen by the initiative to visit P.S. 30 Elementary School in Harlem to distribute free books to students and spread his message on the importance of reading.

“I’m all about that,” says Rodriguez of advocating for literacy across the nation, “so I was gung-ho from the beginning. I was like, ‘This is something that I definitely wanted to be a part of.'”

Rodriguez, whose favorite books growing up were the Percy Jackson series and the Diary of Wimpy Kid series, says that his love for acting grew inadvertently through his fascination with the art of storytelling.

“Books are just pages with words in them,” says Rodriguez. “It’s up to you to interpret how you imagine how the character sounds, what the background is like, what the scenery is. You have to use your imagination, kind of how you do in acting by creating a character through a script. You’re bringing the story to life, which I really think is awesome, and that stems from reading.”

Rodriguez departed for New York on his day off from filming Modern Family to join in the pizza party that Pizza Hut threw for the students at P.S. 30 on their first day of school.

“I came and we all discussed the importance of reading and how it will help you in the future,” recalls Rodriguez. “We read a great book to the kids and then gave the book out to all of them there. What was awesome to see was to see the impact that this program had in the kids when they all started reading their book right away instead of going to their class and reading it at home. They got it and sat right back down in the auditorium to read the book.”

Rodriguez, who self-describes as “the shyest kid in the world,” says that his sister, Raini Rodriguez, inspired him to pursue his dream career in acting as she confidently fought to break into the entertainment industry.

“I just wanted to follow suit,” he recalls of their history. “I went to acting classes and finally broke out of my shell. When I was auditioning for Modern Family, [Raini] was right there helping me. I give her all of the credit because she helped me get the job because she’s so smart in the sense that she knows how to talk to people. She knows me so well that she’s able to work with me, so I owe her everything—not just because she’s my sister, but because she everything’s she’s done for me throughout my life.”

Rodriguez admits that it’s a strange and empowering feeling to now be a mentor to fans that are younger than him given that he was the mentee as a child actor at the beginning of his stint on Modern Family.

“I think it’s such a privilege to be able to say that I can change someone’s life by giving helpful advice because the one person who really gave me all of my confidence and skills, per se, would be Ed O’Neill. He really put me under his wing and showed me different things that I could work on, like different acting techniques, and I think that it really helped me grow as an actor. He also taught me how to handle myself professionally on set and how to present myself professionally when I do other projects, like with Pizza Hut.

It was awesome to be able to show these kids the importance of reading and to show them that they can change the world when they’re older. It was really an honor to be able to tell them that they are the future generation and that alone would propel them towards accomplishing what they want in life.”

In a sense, Rodriguez has become an Ed O’Neill figure to Modern Family’s youngest addition, Jeremy Maguire, who plays his step-brother, Joe. “With Jeremy, it’s funny now that he’s younger and he’s so full of energy. It reminds me of how I was. For that reason, I kind of know how to go about [mentoring him],” explains Rodriguez. “Sometimes he does something that’s hilarious and I’m like, ‘Hey, why don’t you try it like this?’ and he goes, ‘Okay!’ He doesn’t think anything of it, but to know that it’s helping him for later, I think it’s awesome.”

So where does Rodriguez, who built a name for himself before the age of 20, see himself in a decade?

“Wow, that’s a long time,” he says, before taking a contemplative moment to think. “I see myself probably writing, directing, and producing, and acting as well. My sister and I just started a production company and we’re working together to put content out. I see myself writing and starring in a movie with my sister by my side through it all.”

 

Learn more about Pizza Hut’s Literacy Project here and learn about the BOOK IT! Page Turner Grant Program here, which will give away 32 grants totaling $50,000 to applicants who wish to make a positive impact in their community by promoting literacy in public schools. Applications for The Page Turner Grants can be submitted here through Nov. 30 before the winners are announced in early January.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.