Cows, cars, buffalo, horses, boats, bulls, and more, Jason Rodriguez juggles them all – safely and to great effect, as Stunt Coordinator on the Paramount Network series Yellowstone. Taylor Sheridan created the contemporary Western, has written and produced all 30 episodes to date, and directed nine of them, while Kevin Costner heads up the cast and serves as Executive Producer.
It’s the perfect gig for Rodriguez. His father (Jimmy Rodriguez) and grandfather (Gene Rambo) are former world champion cowboys, with both enshrined in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, and he’s worked his way up the ladder over the past 30 years from background actor to stuntman to Assistant Stunt Coordinator, amassing such credits as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Fresh, The Mask of Zorro, The Patriot, 3:10 to Yuma, Iron Man, Cowboys and Aliens, Fast & Furious, From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, and Antebellum.
Below the Line recently caught up with Rodriguez for a Zoom conversation, in which he discussed his four seasons with Yellowstone, how he got into the business, and his aspirations to direct film and television.
Below the Line: What is your personal definition of a Stunt Coordinator’s responsibilities?
Jason Rodriguez: A stunt coordinator choreographs all the stunts that the writer writes on the page, and the director wants to see on film. So, he’s in charge not only of the core choreography, and figuring out how to achieve the stunts, but also of making sure that everybody’s safe that performs the stunts.
BTL: Lives are literally at stake often in your job. How do you find the right people to do what you need to get done?
Rodriguez: It takes a lot of looking. I’ve been in the business for 30 years. So, generally speaking, as soon as I read something, or see something, I know the handful of people that can accomplish it. If it’s a specialized thing that that’s not really run of the mill, then I have to go investigating and talking to people about who can get the job done?
BTL: You have a team that you regularly use…
Rodriguez: I’m a member of Brand X Stunts, which is basically a stunt fraternity. You have to be invited into the group. They have to vote you in. So, it’s a really tight-knit group of stunt professionals who are together and support each other. A lot of times I have to hire guys that are outside the group, especially on Yellowstone, where you find more of the stunts are real day-to-day cowboy stuff. A lot of stunt professionals just aren’t really familiar with that kind of work and the stuff that we do.
BTL: How did this gig come your way?
Rodriguez: A friend of mine, Wade Allen, he coordinated Wind River for Taylor, and that’s where they met. Taylor invited him to do the first season of Yellowstone. Wade took that on, and he was the stunt coordinator on the first season. But he brought me on because my background is horses, ranch life, all those different things that Wade really wasn’t familiar with. So, I started doing that. And then we when we started season two, Wade wasn’t available. He was doing some other shows. So, I took over the reins.
BTL: What are the stunt challenges that are unique to Yellowstone?
Rodriguez: Well, Taylor always brings me some really unique challenges. The unique ones are… we’ve done buffalo chases, and you don’t you don’t really do that very often. I’ve been in the business 30 years, and I think that was the first buffalo roping that I’ve ever tried to do. So, he brings it and, like I said, Yellowstone is more of a day-to-day ranch story. There’s not a lot of stunt people that that grew up on ranches like I did, and are able to perform a lot of those things. Those are the main reasons I have to go outside the stunt community sometimes to find real working day-to-day cowboys to come in and double some of the guys to get the scenes accomplished that we need to do.
BTL: How in sync do you need to be with the animal wranglers?
Rodriguez: The wranglers and I work together as a team to do whatever Taylor writes, to prep the animals for what’s needed, to protect the animals and make sure they’re not they’re not injured or abused or anything, and to make sure that they’re properly prepared for all the sequences. So, the wranglers and I work very, very closely together. Picking the right horses… some horses won’t want to be around a bear, so we have to figure that out. We have to figure out which ones don’t mind the buffalo, because some horses don’t like to be around buffalo.
BTL: Beyond Taylor, another of the bosses on the show is also its star. What impresses you about Kevin Costner?
Rodriguez: Kevin impresses me because, for one thing, he’s always prepared. He’s a phenomenal actor. He’s always very interested in what we’re doing and what we’re trying to accomplish with him. He’s also a really good horseman, and he rides very well and does most of his riding and everything himself. I don’t really have to worry about Kevin when he’s on a horse.
BTL: Season Four is wrapped, right?
Rodriguez: Season Four has been filmed. There’s a lot of exciting things in it, and I can’t wait for people to watch it.
BTL: You grew up in the rodeo and in wrangling circles. Your whole family is deeply entrenched in it. What was that like, and how did it prepare you for what you do now?
Rodriguez: Oh, it was great growing up on a cattle ranch and around horses. I loved my experience rodeoing through high school and college and professionally for a couple years. It was a wonderful environment to grow up in. How it prepared me for what I’m doing now… I first moved to L.A. to pursue an acting career, and then I started doing stunts because, at the time, Unforgiven had just won an Oscar and the studios had tons of Westerns that they were filming. But there weren’t that many guys available that could do horse work. Because I come from pretty famous rodeo family, a lot of the stunt coordinators that were cowboys knew my family and therefore gave me a shot. That’s how I got my foot in the door doing stunts. Then I fell in love with it, and I just started pursuing it from there.
BTL: You mentioned that you wanted to be an actor. How surprised have you been by how your career has evolved?
Rodriguez: It’s just been a crazy ride. I came down there to try to act. I was acting in local commercials and stuff around our area, and then I moved to L.A. to try to pursue it. I had some successes in commercials, but never really broke through the door. Then the stunt thing came at me so fast (starting with Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and then The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.), and I just really enjoyed it. Acting started to take a backseat, until I eventually just concentrated on being a Stuntman, Stunt Coordinator and Second Unit Director, and I really didn’t have the drive to pursue acting.
BTL: How did you make the leap from stuntman to stunt coordinator? Who was it that believed in your and your abilities to promote you to the next level?
Rodriguez: I was always very interested in filmmaking, and I really got into it. A few Stunt Coordinators that were working at the time, Chris Howell, for one, Freddie Hice, for another, took me under their wing, and I became their Co-coordinators. I was underneath them, assisting them and working with them. I was Freddie’s Assistant Co-coordinator on 3:10 to Yuma. I was the Assistant Co-coordinator for Chris Howell on Gods and Generals. Then I really got interested in that. A lot of people don’t like being in production meetings. I don’t mind them. I enjoy the creative aspect of it. It made me want to pursue that career, too. Plus, I got some good advice from people, where it was like, “You need to start coordinating because your body just won’t last. You can’t keep hitting the ground over and over again. You’ve got to think long-term.” Then, I had some friends that started to do their own independent movies. A really good friend of mine got a six-picture deal with Sci-Fi Channel, where they were doing movies for a $1 million per. Because he couldn’t basically afford the bigger coordinators, he let me have a shot. Those were great because, when you don’t have very much money, you have to be very creative. I just loved it. And I pursued coordinating more and more because it fed my creativity.
BTL: What are you working on right now?
Rodriguez: I went back to doing stunts for a little while, and I was doubling Josh Brolin on a TV show called Outer Range. That’s going to be on Amazon. Right now, I’m stunt coordinating an NBC TV show called MacGruber, which is an SNL skit that Will Forte brings to life.
BTL: You’ve not only acted in the past, but you’ve written, produced and directed. Are those paths that you will return to, or are you in your slot right now, and you’re going stick with that?
Rodriguez: Those are paths that I still pursue. I got to direct a little second unit, third season, on Yellowstone, and I still am pursuing the second unit directing. Eventually, my goal is to be a television director or to direct features. And I’m still writing. I still throw scripts out there.
BTL: Hal Needham blazed that directing trail for stuntmen…
Rodriguez: Hal Needham, and the late David Ellis, who did Snakes on a Plane and Final Destination 2. Just recently, it’s David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, who have the Wick franchise and all the things that they’re doing, so there’s a path there. You just have to get on it.
BTL: Last question, what would an Emmy nomination for Yellowstone mean to you?
Rodriguez: Oh, that’s been a goal of mine. It would be a great honor. It would put me up there with a lot of stunt coordinators that I’ve looked up to for years. It would be a wonderful thing.
The first three seasons of Yellowstone can be streamed on Paramount Network. Season Four has been filmed, and a premiere date is expected to be announced in the near future.