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Rasa Fournier

Modern Family’s Prince Charming

HE’S A SKILLED ACTOR, BUT HE’S OBVIOUSLY ALSO A REAL KID, AND THAT’S WHY FANS OF ABC’S MODERN FAMILY LOVE RICO RODRIGUEZ, AKA MANNY DELGADO

Aulii! Kawai-eee! Guapo! No matter how you say it, there are not quite enough words for cute when it comes to Rico Rodriguez. Who? you might ask. You know him best as Modern Family‘s scene-stealer Manny or Manneee say it with your best Gloria accent. For anyone whose spaceship only just landed, the ABC mockumentary, which plays Wednesday nights (and online at abc.com), depicts the outlandish, guffaw-inducing antics of the Dunphy and Pritchett families. There’s family patriarch Jay Pritchett (Married with Children‘s Ed O’Neill) who’s married to a much younger Colombian knockout, Gloria (Sofia Vergara), who has a son, Manny, from a previous marriage. Then there’s Jay’s grown kids his son who has a partner and an adopted daughter, and Jay’s daughter and her husband Phil Dunphy and their three kids. Together, they form the most embarrassing family a kid’s ever been proud to be part of, and then some.

Rodriguez, whose character is too grown-up for his little breeches, was in Hawaii recently, taking a break from his Hollywood set to appear with TV talk-show host Kelly Ripa on LIVE! with Kelly, which was filming last month at Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa in Ko Olina. His time here was excitement-packed.

“Oh man, it was so much fun at the Aulani Resort where I stayed,” says Rodriguez, bubbling with enthusiasm. “After I did LIVE! with Kelly, I played all the video games there, I went swimming, I went to the beach, so I did practically everything in one day.”

There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. In case you had your suspicions, he seems to be a normal teenager. Despite his disarmingly mature persona on Modern Family, he still knows how to be a kid. That’s what makes the precocious 13-year-old so darned charming. And at an age where most parents are ready to trade in their kids, this young gentleman is one you want to take home.

Where some bright child actors come across as overly refined, mini adults, Rodriguez is delightfully unaffected. His youthful exuberance is evident as he recalls another of his visits to Hawaii. It was for the Season 1 finale in an episode called Hawaii, where things go expectedly haywire as Manny, his parents Gloria and Jay, and their extended family attempt to enjoy their island vacation. The entire cast landed on Maui for the shoot, and Rodriguez said the liberal filming schedule left him lots of time for splashing around.

“My favorite memory is every night we went swimming every night. And then every morning we’d see whales breaching. From our balcony, you could see the water deadon and it was so beautiful.”

Originally from Texas, there’s something else about Rodriguez that Hawaii fans can relate to, and that’s his affinity for family. He moved to California when his older sister Raini’s (Paul Blart: Mall Cop) acting career took off. But their Texas family reunions easily rival the size of any local gathering.

“Here’s a fun fact for you,” pipes up Rodriguez. “My sister coached me on the audition for Modern Family. She told me how to say it so I got a feel for the script. And then when I went to audition they gave me pointers of what to do, what my character is like. I told my sister and she coached me on that, and she actually really helped me get the job. She was my acting coach.”

As they say, the rest is history … and, says Rodriguez, it’s been a thrilling ride.

“Oh, it’s amazing. Being on Modern Family is as fun as it looks! There’s fun people, they’re all so great. There’s also a serious side, which is learning your lines. The night before, I look at my lines and I sleep on it and the next morning I recite them just to remind myself.”

Comedy is said to be the hardest genre to pull off the impeccable timing and the carefully crafted air of spontaneity and levity. Every so often it even involves some improv.

“Whenever you feel the moment’s right, you do it,” says Rodriguez.

He’s also proved recently that he has the versatility to move beyond cute-kid phenom and take on grittier roles.

“I definitely got a taste of the dramatic part (of acting) because I guest-starred on an episode of NCIS. I had never done a role like that before. I was this mean old kid who didn’t want to talk because we found a dead body and a gun.

“Whatever roles come my way, it doesn’t matter. All I want to do is act,” he adds.

And the world can’t get enough of Manny. The show that keeps viewers in stitches and provides for some excellent office banter Thursday mornings premiered in 2009, when Rodriguez had just turned 11. Now in its third season, Rodriguez is growing up before our eyes.

When it comes to his personal life, he says there’s no girlfriend to speak of at the moment but, he quips, “I’m definitely going to take Manny’s moves into consideration because he can be smooth with the ladies.”

Rodriguez is pretty smooth too, garnering lots of media attention for his fashionable style. He dons silk shirts and fedoras like he was born to wear them. So where exactly do we draw the line between Rodriguez and Manny?

“Whenever I’m Manny,” he says, “I go on stage and I’m in Manny mode – I stand up straighter, I talk a little clearer and I just put myself in that mind-set where I’m this character, but once I’m off, I’m Rico the goofy kid who jumps around and … eats candy.”

There it is again, that lighthearted spark that makes him adorable the casting folks must have known they had a gem on their hands. And that begs some additional information about the evolution of his Manny character.

“I’m really in touch with my character now. When we first started, I wasn’t as good. I would mumble a lot in the show, but I’ve corrected that. I have more (of a mind-set of) what would Manny do in the situation and then I’d think more like him, and now I’m totally him.”

It’s hard to pick a favorite character on Modern Family. How do you choose just one of a great thing? OK, admittedly, Sofia Vergara tends to top the list, but Rodriguez reveals who he clicks with most: “I gotta go with the kids on that one because me and Nolan (Gould, who plays Luke) and Ariel (Winter, who plays Alex), we’re always together, either with school or filming scenes.”

He says they have a teacher on the set who’s been with them since Season 1 and there’s a trailer devoted just to school.

“We have bean bags in there,” he notes. “We made it so kid-like, and we also have a basketball hoop attached to the trailer.”

When he’s not in school or in front of the camera, Rodriguez says, just like Manny, he really does play football occasionally when he gets together with his cousins. He also enjoys swimming. But his favorite hobby is magic. “I can kind of call myself a professional magician,” he says with pride, “because I performed at the Magic Castle Awards.”

Magic Castle celebrates the world of magic tricks and is home to the Academy of Magical Arts’ annual awards show, where Rodriguez was a star performer. He also was a roving red carpet reporter at the Academy Awards last month, and just before that he made an appearance on the Cartoon Network’s Hall of Game Awards (featuring the year’s best athletes, stunts and surprises) with this year’s host, Shaquille O’Neal.

With that kind of variety in talent and interests, we’re assured of seeing lots more of Rodriguez. “I’ve been so blessed,” he says. “I enjoy what I do and I just want to do as much as I can.”

And with that, he offers a lively shout out to Hawaii fans:

“Keep watching, and aloha and mahalo.”

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