Jai Rodriguez & Sara Rue On New Sitcom “Malibu Country” & Working with Reba & Lily

(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…?
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…
One of our EP’s is gay and…
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.
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.


AE: Will we see more of Geoffrey’s life or is he more about the music office?
At first, no. The first thing they said was that we want to get you out of the office more and into Reba’s house and into Reba’s life. Originally, I was just meant to be this one-time thing, but then it all kind of fell together. It just was a good thing for her to have to constantly deal with him. She needs someone to kind of be responsible for her career, and that’s maybe what I’ll do. But I think you were saying earlier how funny it would be if I get to know Kim, you know Geoffrey, and they’re kind of adversaries because their shared interest is Reba.

Rue and Rodriguez are both over the moon for comic icon Lily Tomlin

AE: How has it been working with Lily Tomlin?
She’s hilarious. You would do a scene with her and if she likes something or thought it was funny, in the middle of scene she’d be like, ‘Oh. That’s funny.’ I’d be like, ‘Oh are we…oh we’re going to stop.’ She’s like, ‘No. Keep going.’ At first I was like, ‘Oh, this is so bizarre.’ But then I started to love it because I would always be like, ‘Is she going to stop the scene and tell me it’s good?’ And then when she would, I’d be like, ‘Okay it’s staying in.’

Jai: I think one of the cool things about Lily is she’s not only just a phenomenal actress and a legend and all but really nice. She remembered my name the second day of rehearsal. She was like, ‘Hi Jai.’ She gave me a hug and she was so affectionate and I was still on that ‘I’m in awe of you’ place. So should I tiptoe around her and just be like, ‘Hi’ and be cordial but not be in her space?

Sara: I felt like Reba really set the tone for everybody on the stage. She’s such a nice person…every day at lunch, she would have service and she made her plate and then she sat down at the folding table and we all kind of gathered around her because you just sort of wanted to be around her because she’s just so cool. That created a really nice atmosphere, just feeling like we were all in the same….like everybody was even.

AE: You’re both always so busy. What else have you been working on?
[nods to Rue again] This one is on a million shows.

Sara: I did two more Rules and then this and that’s it.

Jai: Bad Sex is coming back for Season 2. It’s really exciting. Then I have a new show that is kind of a musical hybrid show, docu-reality. It’s kind of soft scripted but musical and hopefully it’ll be on the air next year.

Malibu Country airs Fridays at 8:30 on ABC.