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Among campy and classic on TV for Halloween is the toothless Vampire Bats,
which nevertheless gives a local actor his big break.

St Peterburg Times

24 October 2005

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times TV columnist
Published October 24, 2005

Whether viewers are craving classic or campy or downright gross, television delivers this week with a trick-or-treat bag full of Halloween programming.

New shows from CBS and Showtime top the list for big-budget fare, but it's hard to argue with the classics, Hitchcock and Brown, Charlie Brown, that is.

CBS gets credit for filling the glaring cultural need for a companion to last spring's bugfest Locusts with a sequel, Vampire Bats, on Sunday. Though it's disappointingly short on bats and bat attacks (Locusts featured creepy rubber- and computer-generated bugs in virtually every frame), Bats gets extra credit for giving Pinellas County actor Brandon Rodriguez his first big break.

"I did theater all through high school. Acting is just something I've loved since middle school," Rodriguez said. "I've always known I wanted to make this a career."

But until Vampire Bats, Rodriguez, 20, was a waiter, working at a Macaroni Grill in Clearwater. He left Florida State University to pursue his acting dream, and his parents warned him that while they were behind him, he would be on his own financially.

A graduate of East Lake High School, Rodriguez had done a few commercials, some crowd scenes, but never a major role.

Then, he got a call. His Orlando agent told him about the new Lucy Lawless tour de force, Vampire Bats, where the former Xena: Warrior Princess reprises her role as Dr. Maddy Rierdon, sexy expert on everything. With some actor friends, Rodriguez hit the road, headed for a casting call in Louisiana.

"We got about two days' notice," Rodriguez said. "We drove all the way over to New Orleans, four of us booked one room and it had one bed."

All part of the acting game, he said. Wanna-bes bet their own money, spending everything for a few minutes of audition time to impress a casting agent. This time, it paid off.

"It was amazing, I met so many great people," Rodriguez said. "Just working with Lucy was great, she was really encouraging."

Bats filmed in New Orleans in August, and the crew had a week to go when Hurricane Katrina swooped in. Lawless, in a conference call with reporters last week, said evacuations came down to "controlled chaos" as the cast inched out of the city while the first rain bands swept ashore.

The experience haunts her. "I was really quite bummed out about it for about a month," Lawless said.

The ensemble moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, for final shots.

Lawless remembered Rodriguez fondly and said she adopted the mother role during shooting, keeping him and his cut-up pals in line, reminding them to behave professionally on set.

"I wasn't going to let them be shoddy, they should know they can't get away with bad behavior early on," Lawless said. "I felt it was important to them. I just love them."

She said the young cast performed admirably and predicted strong futures in acting for all, including Rodriguez.

A few new Hollywood projects are already brewing for Rodriguez, who's moving to L.A. in December.

As for Bats, it struggles, even in the genre of schlocky made-for-TV fare (too much convoluted environmental stuff, not enough pictures of bloodthirsty bats). But Rodriguez does a solid job of playing a college kid and scores a lot of screen time.

Bats gets bonus points for shots of Lawless in tight T-shirts and for bringing back Brett Butler, who's been pretty much invisible since Grace Under Fire.