Photo: Irvin Rivera

Lee Rodriguez

She stole your hearts as Fabiola Torres in the hit Netflix teen coming-of-age series, Never Have I Ever, and now she’s about to steal your hearts with her brand new single “Afterthought.”

Lee Rodriguez knew since school that she wanted to act and sing. While living in California, she attended a performing arts school where she worked on her skills and performed for the school theater group. After graduating, she headed to L.A. where she dabbled in some modeling and guest starred on the TV shows Grown-ish and Class of Lies

The actress and singer got her big break on Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever as Fabiola, best friend to the show’s protagonist, Devi. Fabiola is a robot enthusiast, intelligent and kind, and also going through the journey of figuring out her sexuality. The show is now heading into its fourth and final season, which will see the beloved characters tackle their senior year of high school. 

In conjunction with acting, Rodriguez is also working on her music under the moniker La Rhonza. She was inspired during the pandemic and decided to build herself a home studio where she could write songs and play the guitar and piano. Her first single, “Afterthought” was released on June 1st. 

 We sat down with her to chat about Never Have I Ever and “Afterthought”!

You’ve played Fabiola Torres for four seasons now. How has she grown as a character and how have you grown as an actor and person playing this character?

By season four you really see Fabiola in her element, and just being able to exist as a queer person. And she’s come such a long way from not really feeling like she knew who she was. And I’ve grown as an actress by just having the experience of being on set and being able to grow in my character for four seasons.

What initially drew you to the character of Fabiola?

I loved all of her special moments in each season where she has a big realization or just a moment of growth, and I always enjoy being able to portray those beautiful moments of hers.

How similar or different would you say you two are?

Style-wise and interests wise we’re different. But we’re similar in our dorkiness, queerness, and always being there for our friends 

I think one of the things I found so realistic and relatable was that Devi, Fabiola, and Eleanor are all women of color. Growing up and even now, I find a lot of comfort and guidance in my friend group, which consists of women of color like me. How did it make you feel being a part of such a diverse cast that represented so many groups of people and a show that spoke of inclusivity often? 

I feel like it was what the real world looks like — diverse! I also have always had mostly women of color in my friend groups, it was always my comfort. And I think it’s awesome that this show showcases a strong friend group of all women of color.

This season is all about the last year of high school, which means college admissions. I know after high school, you went straight to LA. Did you ever consider college or another acting school, or did you always know you were ready to enter the working world?

While everyone else in my class was submitting college applications, studying for SATs, and whatnot, I did all of that as well but had very little motivation to try for it. I guess I never really thought about college when growing up. I didn’t know what I’d do exactly after high school, but I knew I had a lot of passions that didn’t necessarily need me to go to school to pursue. I did a lot of research and did my best to make sure I was setting myself up for success before graduating high school. And luckily it worked out!

Fabiola is a part of the robotics team at her school. What extracurriculars were you a part of when you went to your performing arts high school? 

I did choir, performed in school plays, and was on a traveling performance team!

Given that this is the last season of Never Have I Ever, did you guys get up to anything fun on set?

We did so many fun things in our downtime. We’d play games, make TikToks, eat lunch together, and overall just have fun times we’ll all remember forever! 

You’re now getting ready to release music of your own. As an artist, what comes first – the melody or the lyrics? And what is typically your process when working on a song?

It depends. I always write down lyrics in my notes app that comes to me randomly that I can potentially use in a writing session later. For a lot of my songs, I already know the title of the song before actually making it. It just allows me to know what I want to write before and is fun to be able to successfully do. Sometimes, I freestyle to a guitar, piano, or track and see what comes. It just depends on my mood on that specific day I guess. 

Can you tell us about your single “Afterthought”?

It’s my first single as La Rhonza, which is the artist name I go by. It’s a very empowering song, and it’s one of my favorites, so I hope people love it just as much as I do!

Who are your biggest inspirations or who do you listen to when you need inspiration for the music you work on?

Currently, I pull inspiration from Sabrina Carpenter and SZA!