IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Lovable, lumbering Clifford shows kids 'you belong,' says actor Paul Rodriguez

The renowned Latino comedian and actor plays a store owner who helps a little girl keep her dog out of trouble in "Clifford the Big Red Dog."
Image: Clifford The Big Red Dog
From left, Jack Whitehall, Darby Camp and Izaac Wang in 'Clifford the Big Red Dog'.Paramount Pictures

“Clifford the Big Red Dog” is crossing over to the movie screen and streaming exclusively on Paramount+ on Wednesday, almost six decades after Scholastic first published the classic children’s book series about a 25-foot red Labrador puppy in 1963.

Mexican American actor and stand-up comedian Paul Rodriguez says that the story about an 8-year-old girl’s first love for a dog is exactly what everyone needs to see right now.

“Clifford doesn’t have a message, other than it’s OK to be the oddball,” Rodriguez said in an interview with NBC News. “Things turn out OK in the end. I think that’s why people look at movies, because there’s a happy ending. And we’re all basically looking for a happy ending to our lives — we want to be comforted that our families are secure and we’re OK.”

The mixed CGI, live-action film, which was shot in 2019 and then delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, will take both young and old viewers on an adventure through New York City after the iconic red puppy surprises Emily Elizabeth, a private middle-school student (played by Darby Camp), by growing well beyond her family’s apartment. 

Elizabeth will need the help of her local bodega owner, played by Rodriguez, and other diverse neighbors to keep the fantastic Labrador out of trouble as he continues to grow with her love.

“I hope this picture brings an interruption of the nastiness of what’s going on and gives people a chance to distract them from whatever their troubles are,” Rodriguez said, “a chance to step out of this reality and go into a fantasy.”  

Paul Rodriguez in "Clifford the Big Red Dog."K. C. Bailey / Paramount Pictures

Rodriguez, a renowned comedian whose movie and television career spans over 35 years, was born in Culiacán, Mexico, before moving to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Compton with his family. 

He's shared the big screen with Cheech Marin in the 1987 comedy “Born in East L.A.”; Will Smith in the 2001 biopic “Ali”; and Clint Eastwood and Jeff Daniels in the 2002 thriller “Blood Work.”

Thinking about kids in his native Mexico and the Southern Los Angeles where he grew up, Rodríguez says that “Clifford” would have spoken to him growing up because the books and the movie deliver a warm, fuzzy message about being accepted.

“It doesn’t matter what your color is, you belong," said Rodriguez. "There’s a purpose for you.”

And this, he points out, echoes the larger diverse reality of the United States.

“America as a whole, is a country made out of immigrants from everywhere,” he said. “You try to fit in, try to find your own niche there.”

Now, thankful for his many years in the entertainment industry, the 66-year-old grandfather says that “Clifford” is another step in bringing greater mainstream visibility to a Latino community that is “too vast to ignore.”

“Hollywood has a long, long way to go to fully represent Hispanics. We are the largest ethnic minority in America,” he said. “And I hope that it happens in my lifetime where people whose last name ends with a ‘z’ are as common as anybody else.”

Follow NBC Latino on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.