Jason Rodriguez is a royally bred roper who’s put his cowboy skills to good use helping Hollywood. The son of ProRodeo Hall of Fame team roper Jimmy Rodriguez and the grandson of ProRodeo Hall of Fame all-around cowboy Gene Rambo—Gene’s daughter, Cheryl Gay, is Jason’s mom—serves as a stunt coordinator and stuntman in movies, television series and commercials. Rodriguez, 51, is a native of Paso Robles, California, who currently lives in Agua Dulce with his wife, Deidre, and has five kids, Jacy, 17, Sienna, 13, Luke, 12, Boone, 5, and baby Buck.
Q: The stunt business sounds like a wild line of work. When and how did you get into it?
A: I got started in 1992, when I moved to LA to pursue an acting career. I did some acting and modeling, and I also did some stunts for a TV show called “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.” I doubled lead actor Bruce Campbell, and worked as a non-descript stuntman.
Q: What made the stunts end of show business make the most sense for you?
A: I was lucky with my timing when I moved to Southern California. “Unforgiven” won several Oscars in 1993, including Best Picture, so every studio had a Western in production. And at that time, there was a lack of stuntmen who could do the horse stunts. I slowly realized that I was a better stuntman than actor, so I pursued that as my career. I started working as an extra on the TV series “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”—doing horse work and driving wagons—and that led me into the stunt work. Every show is different, but on a lot of jobs I might say one line, then get shot by somebody.
Q: Are you considered a specialist, where most of your stunt work is related to horses, roping and cowboy stuff?
A: When I started, all I did was cowboy stuff. I got advised to diversify or I’d starve. Now I do cowboy work, car work, fire work… And when I stunt coordinate, I set it all up, but I don’t have to hit the ground anymore. People tend to transition from stunt work into being a stunt coordinator for longevity sake, because you can’t keep hitting the ground forever. I still do stunts, but nowadays I do the ones I think will be fun, and put the right people in the right places to do the others.
Q: What’s the craziest stunt you ever pulled off?
A: I did a shot for Terry Leonard (who’s renowned in the stunt business) once where I fell a horse through a storefront window for the movie “Cowboys and Aliens” that was pretty cool. That was one of my more memorable stunts. The stunts don’t really scare me like they did when I was younger and lost sleep worrying about it. There’s a lot of pressure, like there is when you’re running a high-team steer. But either way, it’s all about execution.
Q: Name a few of your other favorite projects.
A: The movie “The Patriot,” which starred Mel Gibson, was a lot of fun. There were 50 to 60 stuntmen working together and staying in the same hotel, and the cast was really great. It was just a really cool experience. I’m working as a stunt coordinator on the (Paramount-produced TV series) “Yellowstone” right now, which is great. It’s horse and ranch work that I’m very familiar with, with roping, branding and cattle-drive scenes. We also have rodeo sequences that are fun to do. It was my job to rope a bear while stunt-doubling for Ryan Bingham’s character in an episode in season one. We’ll pack up our whole house—family, horses, dogs—again this month and move to Park City, Utah, to work on season three. We’ve made the same move the last couple years, from July through Christmas. I love that show. The actors and the crew are awesome.
Q: How much have you team roped in your life?
A: I started team roping when I was 7, when my grandfather put on roping schools there at the ranch (near Parkfield, California). I’ve been team roping my whole life. I like heeling, but I’m a better header.
Q: As busy as you stay with work, how much do you get to rope now?
A: I have an arena right here at my house, and rope every chance I get when I’m not away on location. I love working on “Yellowstone,” and in addition to the work we do in Utah, we also shoot the ranch scenes in Montana. When we’re in Utah, we lease an arena where we work with the actors to help them with their roping and riding, so we always have an arena and cattle. The set where we film in Montana has an arena, so we film roping scenes there also.
Q: What do you consider the highlight your own cowboy career?
A: The most recent one would be getting to rope with my dad at some of the Gold Card ropings since I turned 50. My dad’s favorite rodeo is Salinas, and getting to heel for him in the short round on Sunday there last year was pretty cool.
Q: Did you feel pressure growing up the son and grandson of hall of famers to follow in their footsteps?
A: Every day. It was always pretty daunting when I rodeoed when I was young. I know you’re supposed to tune that stuff out, but when the announcer says the same thing every time you ride in the box, it’s hard not to ever hear it. But it’s been great. Dad helped me fill my permit when I started roping in the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), and we’ve had a lot of fun.
Q: What have you learned from your dad and granddad that’s helped you in the stunt and movie business?
A: I would say the biggest thing I learned from both of them is that even if you have a bad day or fail at something, it’s not the end of the world. You just have to keep going. They were both so successful, and they both had short-term memories when they didn’t do well. When they were going down the road, their motto was that win or lose, you ride out of the arena with a smile on your face. It’s like that in the stunt business, too. If you haven’t failed at a stunt or had a bad day, you haven’t done it very long. In rodeo, you fail a lot more than you succeed, too—I don’t care who you are. Nobody wins all the time at anything in life.