Rosemary Rodriguez is an outstanding TV and film director who has directed many episodes of The Good Wife on CBS. An interview every woman should read, particularly women in male dominated industries.
You know when you like a movie so much that you sit through all the credits at the end? That’s exactly what happened to me after watching “The One Percent” episode of The Good Wife. I liked it so much that I was glued to the screen waiting to see who had directed it. Was I pleasantly surprised to see it was a woman: Rosemary Rodriguez!
You would think, given that the star of the show is Julianna Margulies, who plays a strong lawyer navigating the politics of one of the most male dominated industries, The Good Wife would have many female guest directors. But no, Rosemary is the exception and not just on this show.
Film and TV are among the most male dominated industries. During the 2013-2014 season, 69% of all TV episodes were directed by white men, 17% by minority men, and 12% by white women. And only 2% of TV episode directors are minority women.
A kind, honest, hard working professional, Rosemary Rodriguez was born in Boston, grew up in New Hampshire and
married Nestor Rodriguez, a stand up comedian and radio host. (Hence her last name.) She radiates equal parts ambition and generosity. Someone who pursues big dreams with her feet firmly planted in reality. Someone with a passion for her craft who still, even after her amazing career track, has some trouble owning her success. Rosemary has directed episodes of some of TV’s most popular shows: The Good Wife, White Collar, Rescue Me (the first woman hired in five seasons), Vegas, Hawthorne, Elementary, and many, many others. She has also written, produced and directed two independent movies of her own: the Sundance premiere “Acts of Worship” and the upcoming “Silver Skies.”
We are proud to honor Rosemary Rodriguez in our Red Shoe Movement Hall of Fame.
Women in male dominated industries break the mold
Oftentimes male dominated industries have remained so because of a perception that they require men’s strength. Like construction or transportation, for example. But film directing? Why has it remained one of the most male dominated industries?
If you look at the history of the film industry, women were the first to make money. Alice Guy-Blache directed the first narrative film, and Lois Weber was an auteur comparable to DW Griffith, yet only a few have heard of her in comparison. As soon as films started to become a popular medium and there was money to be made, the guys stepped in and pushed the women aside. It’s one of the biggest money making industries and one of the biggest exports of our country. But usually, when there’s money to be made, the women get kicked aside.
In interviews, I’ve read that women executives say that women don’t want to lead 200 people and a crew in a big production. They try to put a twist to the reason for the lack of women directors, but that’s not true. Every woman director I know would relish the opportunity of doing a big Hollywood movie. There’s also a myth that there aren’t enough women directors. There are tons of women directors but many are desperately under employed.
What attracted you to this field?
I grew up in New Hampshire watching movies on TV after school. I was always drawn to the old Hollywood films. I remember the first one I ever saw was Serpico, and I loved it. I was attracted to hard-edge, realistic, 70s films. At the time I didn’t know I wanted to make movies, I just loved them.
How do you see things differently than men? Is there an advantage to being one of a handful of employed women directors?
I’m not sure there’s a difference in storytelling between men and women. But there is a difference in the way of working.
The way in which I connect with the crew and actors is a priority to me. I need to protect them, acknowledge how hard they work, make their work easier. I don’t think that’s a male way of working.
The advantage, if there is one, is being in a position to inspire and help other women who work and want to work in this industry. I also try to set an example and be a woman who hires other women.
Is there a reason for the lack of diversity in the field?
White people are doing the hiring. At the end of the day the guys hire people they want to go to the bar and have a drink with. As in other male dominated industries, the decision makers seek people who have the same interests, who look and sound like them. It’s scary to go past what you’re comfortable and familiar with, and when there’s money involved people avoid making those choices. It’s a bad equation when people think that hiring a woman or a minority director is risky.
Numbers-wise, there’s increasingly more money to be made with minorities, but that still doesn’t amount to what can be made with the general population, so executives are playing it safe.
Overcoming stereotypes of male dominated industries
What were the hardest hurdles you had to overcome to be accepted as one of the women in male dominated professions?
I once had a meeting with a woman network executive. She asked me what show I’d like to direct. When I told her, she said, “Sorry, we already have our minority hire for that show.”
From her perspective, they have one slot for a minority. From my perspective, I just want to be on her list of great directors.
That’s one of the biggest hurdles: To get hired for my work instead of being put into a diversity slot. At this point in my career, I think there’s still a little of that going on in placing me, but much less so than before.
This is a tough industry for everyone but I know it took me many more years to get my work appreciated than it would have taken a guy.
Who gave you your lucky break?
I got a shot at directing because of John Wells (ER, West Wing, Third Watch) who had a Fellowship to help minority and women independent film directors to transition into TV directing. I owe my entire career to him and his company. The first person to hire me for an episode under this program was executive producer Christopher Chulack
Are you incorporating more examples of cultural differences and gender diversity into your work?
I’m trying. The first thing I did was write, direct and produce a feature film, “Acts of Worship,” to give the underdog a voice. It’s a movie about the realities of drug addiction, not the glamorized version of the disease we usually see in movies. My new film, “Silver Skies,” is about older people, because seniors, just like women, also get pushed aside. In our society, when you get old, you have no more value, and that’s not true.
Also, in casting a TV show I always try to hire cast that is outside of the box.
The Good Wife — Even in male dominated industries there’s sometimes a surprise
The Good Wife, a popular TV show, has become the voice of the new feminism. A show that openly discusses the difficulties of career success for women in order to move the needle in female representation at the executive level.
You have directed many episodes of a show beloved by millions of women: The Good Wife. What would you say are your most powerful contributions to the show?
The idea of being a good girl, doing the right thing, is something that haunts all of us. How you are perceived, how not to live in a man’s shadow. I’m fascinated by the gray areas in the business world that the character navigates and her constantly having to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. I bring a lot of experience navigating moral and ethical situations like the ones the character, Alicia Florrick, is confronted with. It’s thrilling and exciting, because I feel I’ve been on the same journey.
How did you get to be part of this show?
Juliana Margulies got me to direct the show. She is an incredible, loyal woman and a good friend. From the first season, she said she wanted to get me there and she did. She looked out for me. To me, being given an opportunity by another woman has a lot of weight and meaning. We have a lot of fun working together. I think they keep asking me back because the writing is intuitive and bold and that’s sort of who I am.
You directed the episode “The One Percent” which features a female CEO who was fired from her company. What was it like to direct that episode?
As with any script, I try to connect with it. I’m very open and honest. I was able to connect with the story of the woman CEO being mistreated and fired. In the real world, you face people who mistreat you, talk down to you, disregard you and your work. To me, any script that gives me an outlet to express those frustrations gives me an opportunity to let all of that out in a healthy way.
Do you believe that a show like The Good Wife can contribute to changing the public narrative about empowering women and gender parity in the workplace?
Yes, absolutely. What’s interesting is having a female character that’s strong and beautiful. There’s never a perception, never a question that she can’t do her job because she has kids. And that perception is nagging at the world big time right now in a negative way.
Bringing your total self to work
For a few years you struggled with drug addiction. Where did you find the strength and the support to overcome that very difficult time?
There’s a misconception when you are a drug addict that you can say no whenever you want. The truth is that you’re suicidal, you want to die, you can’t say no to getting high. I was homeless for three years in New York City living like a cockroach, shoplifting, shooting heroine. I lost contact with my family; my friends wouldn’t let me stay in their homes any more because I would steal from them. I was really out there.
Suddenly I woke up in an ER and realized I didn’t want to die, that I always had a dream to be a director. I moved from New York City to Florida and got better there. I started to clean up my act when I met someone who came down on vacation from NYC. We fell in love. We saw each other four more times and the fifth time we got married.
Listen, when you get to the other side of drug addiction and you meet someone who brings you back to your dream, our meeting didn’t seem like a coincidence to me. I believe I have a lot of grace in my life.
I knew when I met him that I wanted to get back to New York and get back to the world of movies. It took us 8 years. All our money went into the movie, which was about drug addicts because I felt a passion for that. I don’t know how it happened, but my movie went to Sundance. And that was it. I was a director.
A director is a storyteller. How do you use your own life story to help you connect with characters and the actors playing them?
My ego doesn’t get in the way of telling a good story. No matter who beats me up, nobody can take that away from me. That’s my purpose and that’s what I was put on this earth to do: to tell great stories through directing. When I’m on set directing is when I’m at my strongest. My head is clear. I’m decisive and clear.
We highly recommend reading: Women in male dominated professions and industries