Even before her headline-making Golden Globe win in January, there were already signs Gina Rodriguez was going to be a big star.
At its annual screenings for the global TV market in Los Angeles last year, executives with CBS Studios International noted the personal touch Rodriguez had with some 1,500 programmers from around the world. More importantly, the buyers were entertained by Rodriguez’s CW series, Jane the Virgin—for which she won the Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy Series, beating out the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Lena Dunham.
Networks in some 170 markets have bought the series so far, and it is expected to pick up more heat at the MIPTV event in Cannes, France, next month.
In the opinion of Armando Nuñez, president and CEO of CBS Global Distribution Group, the series (which originated in Venezuela) has proved to be so successful across geographic borders because of its “strong writing and great acting, making its outrageous but heartwarming premise believable. It gives a nod to the telenovela format, which also makes it an attractive show for buyers in many countries.”
For Rodriguez, who has appeared in films, on television and on the stage, her career slowly gained traction, first in New York and then Los Angeles, before it really caught fire with Jane. Here, the actress talks about joining her father on picket lines in Chicago, what she learned from Rita Moreno and the annoying part of social media.
(Warning: Some spoilers below if you haven’t watched Season 1 of Jane the Virgin yet.)
Adweek: When you first were given the script for Jane the Virgin, was it love at first read?
Rodriguez: One hundred percent, and that probably happens one out of every 200 scripts that you read. In the first five pages, I was like, “Who is this woman that wrote this?” [U.S. series creator, producer and writer Jennie Snyder Urman] is just brilliant. She’s my muse. I am absolutely in love with this woman because she’s writing about a girl who’s a Type-A personality, who’s super planned-out and who is able, in my opinion, to transcend the cultural boundaries that Latinos tend to have in the industry. Jenny continues to surprise me with each script. We read them about a day before the shoot. We don’t get to know anything about the future of our characters until then. She’s gained all of our trust beyond belief.
Jane has been on quite the roller coaster—becoming pregnant while still a virgin was just for starters. For you, what’s the most shocking twist she’s gone through?
There’s been a few shockers. Her leaving [her fiancé] Michael in the sixth episode was a huge shocker. And she very quickly enters a relationship with Rafael [her hot boss, whose semen she was accidentally inseminated with]. That was a huge twist. I was like, “What?!” Another shocker was when we dealt with really heavy baby issues, dealing with a spot on the baby’s heart. That actually happened to Jennie. It’s a very serious fear of women when they’re pregnant. So I was like, “Wow, this is awesome. We’re really going in.” Another one was when they brought up immigration reform, and the fact that Jane’s grandmother was undocumented. It really put awareness on the issue without any judgments.
How close is Jane’s personality to your own?
The more I live with her, the more I want to be like her. She’s patient and understanding and forgiving. And she always gives people the benefit of the doubt. I can definitely understand Jane when she makes fearless decisions because of her convictions. I’m very similar in that respect. She turns the other cheek a lot, and I’m a little bit feistier. Her approach is just so diplomatic, and I’ve been trying to let those characteristics rub off on me.
But we grew up very differently. I had both of my parents in the house; she has a single mother. I have a different culture; she’s Mexican, and I’m Puerto Rican. And I speak in a different register. I talk a little deeper. And when Jane talks [Rodriguez raises her voice], she talks up here. Life is much more exciting and bubbly, and we’re alive! We’re awake! Jane doesn’t bite her nails; I ravage my fingernails.
On the show, Jane’s grandmother always speaks in Spanish. Was that also your reality growing up?
Yes, my grandmother spoke Spanish, and I responded in English. I grew up in a predominantly Latino and Polish neighborhood and a lot of my friends’ grandmothers spoke Polish. And that’s a huge, relatable factor.
It was interesting that after your Golden Globe win, NBC greenlit a pilot for a show called Telenovela, and Norman Lear announced a new Latino version of One Day at a Time. Do you feel like you’re part of a trend?
I definitely feel like I’ve been given a platform to talk about the things that I want to talk about when it comes to changing diversity and culture. We’ve had very specific ideas of what ingénues look like, and I refuse to let that be my reality, because I don’t fit into that. So I think we’ll continue to expand the mindset of what could be, what should be and what is.
Are some the writers behind the show Latinas and Latinos who grew up with telenovelas and wanted to have a little fun making them even more outrageous?
One of our head writers, Carolina [Rivera], comes from an entire telenovela background, so she helps everyone navigate through the telenovela format. But the other writers come from a lot of other backgrounds. One writer was with Sin City and Gilmore Girls and another writer was with 90210 and Gossip Girls. They grew up watching television. And that’s what’s fun about the show. It has the telenovela world of heightened reality, but it has a very American feel of bringing things back to grounded reality.
You trained in New York with some amazing people, like David Mamet and William H. Macy. Is there anything in particular that you learned from them that you could share?
I’ve learned so many wonderful things. I just worked with Rita Moreno, who is and has been my idol since I was a kid. I learned from her years ago that it’s OK to speak up about things that are scary and controversial. We only make change if we start creating awareness. That changed my thoughts about art and my ability to use art to do that.
Who are your role models?
My mom and my dad, who fought for everything they ever had. Both my parents came over here from Puerto Rico in their teens. My mother was an interpreter at Cook County court house, and eventually became a director by the time I got to college. My father was a Teamsters organizer and negotiator in Chicago. When I was a teen I would go with him to picket lines and I saw him fight for others who didn’t have a voice.
Ultimately, that encouraged me to fight for those who didn’t have a voice in the arts, to fight for women who didn’t feel beautiful when they were. We’re a culture that’s so multidimensional, and I saw these success stories in my own home. My sisters—one’s a doctor and one’s an investment banker—I heard them tell stories that I’ve never seen on screen.
Do you get a sense from your interaction with fans that certain types of people are most passionate about Jane the Virgin?
At first I thought it was mostly teens. It seemed evident it was mostly Caucasian or black teens. It seemed there were very few Latinos who were watching the show. Then over time, I found there were a lot of [viewers in their] late 20s, early 30s, and lately I’ve discovered there’s a slew of people in an older generation.
A lot of my friends say, “My grandparents are obsessed with your show.” In the past weeks, I’ve had five or six people say that. If you think about it, the show is grounded in old traditions—saving yourself for marriage, to be honest, to be truthful.
Are there any aspects of media that drive you nuts?
People who are constantly engaging in social media and don’t engage with people in real life. People who go to their phones during dinner and aren’t really present. And I, of course, get sucked into this problem as well. I’m working toward not neglecting the people around me.
Where do you want your career to be five years from now?
Success was when my father turned to me and told me I could be an actor. I already feel like I’ve succeeded. Ideally, the series will last three or four seasons. I’ll do films during my hiatus, making films under my company, I Can and I Will Productions. I would love to produce films and TV shows myself, to help promote stories about diverse cultures and to put on screen what we see in real life.
I’m working on my book this hiatus. It’s been my goal to write an empowering book for youth. And I want to create a foundation with my two sisters to help with education and contribute to ending child hunger. So that would be success for the next four or five years.