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Do the Hustle

Playing a deceased gay porn star may seem a strange way to launch your acting career. But for Shane C. Rodrigo the dead icon is opening up a world of opportunity.

text Rhoyce Nova photography Harold David

The late porn star Joey Stefano and actor Shane C Rodrigo are worlds apart. Known as ··The best bottom in the business··, Stefano found fame on the strength of his perfect bubble butt and a willing­ness to take it like a man. Rodrigo, who stars in Homme Fatale: The Joey Stefano Story might share the requisite pert piece of anatomy, but the similarities end there.

While Joey Stefano was a cheeky white-trash hustler who sold his body for food, money or a place to sleep, Rodrigo is a sultry dark­-haired thespian with a driving ambition to succeed. Where Joey was a drug-addled denizen of New York's underworld, Rodrigo is a clean­-living Aussie residing in Sydney, who still visits his parents in the Blue Mountains. And while Joey made movies merely to get fucked by his man of the moment, Rodrigo put his love-life on hold and his sexuality under scrutiny to play Joey Stefano.

As an actor, Rodrigo is committed and convincing. Committed enough to put up with lightweight pay cheques and spend his down­time chatting with his audience; convincing enough to play a gay porn star - even though he's straight. "I have a lot of gay friends and homosexuality doesn't faze me in the slightest:· Rodrigo says. "I've been brought up to live and let live; the idea that you've got to be attuned to all races, creeds, sexual preferences and so forth. If you've got a block in any one area, it will impede your performance as an actor."

Rodrigo received rave reviews for his portrayal of Joey, despite warnings that he should expect a backlash from the gay community over a straight actor playing a gay icon. Fortunately, it never happened. The largely gay-male audience who saw his performance during the Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival took to him like a tot to a teat. Maybe it had something to do with that perfect butt, the fact that Rodrigo spent very little time on stage actually clothed, and that the front rows were encouraged to cop a feel during the strip scenes.

So how does a straight health-nut from the suburbs relate to the tragic comings and goings of an urban-dwelling, drug-addicted, HIV-­infected gay porn star? Rodrigo asked himself the same question and found the answers in the hardships of his own life.

The past years wrought several major changes in the life of Shane C Rodrigo and his family. This decade has seen the passing of an aunt, two uncles, both grandfathers, two close friends and, yes, even his dog. But far and away the greatest life-changing event came in the form of an accident - an accident that transformed Rodrigo from a mild-mannered bank clerk to one of Australia's most in-demand young actors.

➔ Six years ago, Rodrigo was doing some work in the storage department of his bank when a shelving unit crashed down on him, changing his life forever. He received a brain injury that left him temporarily paralysed from the waist down. "l was knocked unconscious and received severe brain-swelling," he recalls. "Everything was still working but while my brain remained swollen, none of the messages could get through to my body. By the time the swelling had gone down I had to relearn pretty much everything."

It took 13 months of rehabilitation to return Rodrigo to his current peak physical condition. During his convalescence, he discovered healthy living - yoga, herbs, swimming and dance movement classes - and hasn't looked back since. Although Rodrigo credits his sporting childhood with giving him the kind of constitution that bounces back from a life-threatening injury, he feels it is the natural therapies that have healed him. "When I got into the herbs and the movement classes," he says, "my nerves started to come good, I started to get connected, and I thought, "This has been so good for me, why stop?"

Rodrigo's accident also gave him the perspective to sort the wheat from the chaff. "One thing that comes out of having an accident like I had is you find out who your friends are. You find out who you can trust and rely on. I have always been a very trusting person and as a result I"ve been burned a few times. People can say lovely words of friendship but their actions don't always say the same. But things like this only make you stronger and wiser. I've grown from the experience of my accident."

It was during his convalescence that Rodrigo decided to give the bank the flick and risk a career in performance. "I decided that I had to do what I really wanted to do because life is too fragile," he says. Self-healed, self-motivated and self-trained, he set about finding acting jobs, and gaining confidence in himself and his work. "Obviously I want to be a successful, well-rounded actor," he affirms, ··but to do what I love doing and be able to make a modest living from it - I don't really ask for anything else. I adhere to that old saying: "Choose a job that you love and you"ll never work a day in your life."

It was also during his convalescence that Rodrigo met Uriel and Asmodel, the angels that would become the guardians of his personal and professional life. "Uriel is my archangel," Rodrigo explains. "He is my angel of creativity, he is like a muse that helps me in all of my

creative endeavours. Asmodel is my Taurean angel - she watches over my star sign and protects my everyday being."

Rodrigo credits his guardian angels with having inspired his portrayal of Joey. "Things were not going well at all during the first week of Joey. I asked myself how I could portray the misery of a character whose trademark was that he never showed his hurt. I called upon Asmodel to let me do justice to Joey's story," he recalls. ·"Everyone knows the tragedy of Joey"s story, just let the positive aspects of Joey show through," was Asmodel's reply. "From that time I felt his spirit," says Rodrigo. "During the play we had this mirror centre stage that was used as a device to show the different Joeys. On a few occasions it was almost like Joey was right there in the mirror and I had this feeling that we were totally connected and it was beautiful."

It's lucky for Rodrigo that he's bonded with his character: he's going to be spending quite some time with Joey. Homme Fatale will tour Australian cities outside Sydney over the next six months and, more impressively, the show has been invited to the Edinburgh Festival.

Rodrigo feels the buzz of live theatre is the perfect place to play out the physical. emotional and spiritual lessons he has learned from his accident - and his angels. "Theatre has that element you just can't beat," enthuses Rodrigo, "you know when you're cooking, you know when you're not." He believes that, "Everyday, from just living, you take your daily observations on stage, and, if you're in tune with yourself, you grow from every performance."

Certainly no-one's complaining about Shane C Rodrigo's personal and professional growth. With a body that goes beyond perfection, melting black eyes and unspeakably healthy black curls, Rodrigo is Australia"s answer to a young Antonio Banderas, minus the Latin Lothario pretensions. He has the kind of unselfconscious, affable charm that man, woman and beast respond to. Gay men think he"s gay, straight women swear he"s straight. Either way, it doesn't matter.


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