Gina is gracing the cover of the summer issue of Glam Belleza Latina. The cover and outtakes from the photoshoot have been added to our gallery.
Last summer I was invited to dinner with Gina Rodriguez and the mostly Latino cast of Jane the Virgin, the comedy-drama that was set to air on the CW network later that fall. At the time I knew only that the show was inspired by a Venezuelan telenovela, Juana la Virgen, and that its lead, Rodriguez, was the much-buzzed-about actress from the Sundance Film Festival indie hit Filly Brown. A few hours and many laughs later, I knew we’d be hearing more from this off-the-charts-charismatic star.
And boy, have we. Jane the Virgin, with Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva, a virgin who gets mistakenly inseminated and impregnated at the doctor’s office, is returning for a second season. The show has also been picked up by multiple foreign markets, won the People’s Choice Award for favorite new TV comedy, and earned Rodriguez a Golden Globe win for best actress in a TV series, musical, or comedy. She is only the fourth Latina to win an acting Globe since the awards’ inception, in 1944. The Puerto Rican beauty’s joyful acceptance speech was the highlight of the show that night, with the loving shout-out to her father running on an endless loop on social channels that evening and the morning after. “My father used to tell me to wake up each day and say, ‘Today is going to be a great day; I can and I will,’ ” she said. “Well, Dad, today’s a great day; I can and I did.”
For Rodriguez, 30, this moment was years in the making. Born and raised in Chicago, by parents who moved from Puerto Rico, the actress got her first taste of the spotlight by dancing salsa professionally all through high school. After convincing her parents to let her pursue acting, she enrolled at New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Her career started slowly but surely, with her booking her first leading role in the film Tiny Dancer right after graduation. A bevy of guest spots (Army Wives, Law & Order) led to Filly Brown in 2012, and Rodriguez’s portrayal of a struggling rapper earned her much critical praise. Soon after, she landed the prime role as Jane the Virgin.
I couldn’t wait to catch up with Rodriguez over breakfast in New York City this spring. We were dishing before she’d hit the chair, discussing everything from our favorite salsa singers to her standing as the unofficial spokeswoman for Latino representation on TV.
Vamos, let’s chat!
GBL: When you and I first met last summer, Jane the Virgin hadn’t aired yet, but the buzz was quickly building. Fast-forward a few months: Not only is the show a tremendous hit but you’ve also won a Golden Globe. Did you ever imagine all of this?
GR: I never could’ve guessed that we would come this far this quickly. And across the world too! I was recently in China, and a guy stopped me on the street and said, “You’re Jane the Virgin!” And my boyfriend was like, “That 40-year-old Asian dude did not just stop you!” [Laughs.]
GBL: Your acceptance speech was a highlight of the night. I jumped off my couch to cheer for you! Is your head still spinning over it?
GR: I was so scared—I didn’t have anything written! Actually, my father spoke through me in that moment. He always told me that in order for things to happen you have to believe they can. And that is the truth.
GBL: What did the win mean for you?
GR: Obviously the win was fantastic, but the nomination itself was the win. I want to be acknowledged for what I do. For people to stop and say, “She can act her ass off. I want to work with her.” That way I can tell more stories. And I can open up more doors. And God willing, I’ll get to a place where I can executive-produce shows and I can put other people on.
GBL: Why do you think the show has struck such a nerve?
GR: It has a relatable quality. Jane is humble and hardworking, which is very much within the Latino culture. You know that if we’re not those things, our family will tell us, “Cojelo con take it easy!” I also think that people are drawn to the generational story of being super Americanized, with a grandmother from somewhere else.
GBL: How refreshing—an American girl who also happens to be Latina, portrayed on a hit network TV show.
GR: It’s so refreshing. The show is fun and goofy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Yet the drama is very grounded, and the cast is really strong. As [show creator] Jennie Snyder Urman so eloquently said, “I’m not writing for a Latina. I’m writing for a woman.”
GBL: You’ve been working for several years now. Does the success of Jane make you think about your professional journey?
GR: It all makes sense now, like when I wondered why I didn’t work consistently. Or when I questioned what I was doing with my career. It’s because I was waiting for this. And I know I was waiting for this because my purpose has become so clear.
GBL: Which is what?
GR: Which is that I want to change the idea of minorities in the media. Or contribute to that movement—I’m not single-handedly doing it. Growing up, I never saw my home life reflected on-screen, and that made me feel a certain way about myself. It’s not only about my ethnicity; it made me feel a certain way about my beauty. Not seeing a woman like me as a lead made me feel like I’d never be skinny enough, I’d never be pretty enough. I want to give young girls, like my niece, the tools to see a billboard and think, That [non-Latina] girl is beautiful, but that’s not the only form of beauty. Jane’s story is about a beautiful, normal girl. We don’t talk about her weight or her looks.
GBL: And now you’re being credited by the press with starting a real conversation about diversity on television. Is that your goal?
GR: I want Latinas to look at the TV and get confirmation that, yes, we are the doctors, the lawyers, the investment bankers—we encompass every facet of life. And the reason that’s important is because little kids look at the screen, as we did when we were growing up, and wonder, Where do I fit in? And when you see that you fit in everywhere, you know anything is possible.
GBL: Tell me about the documentary that you’re working on with your production company about Latinos living in the United States. Why does this project mean so much to you?
GR: The more I learn about my place in society and in the industry, the more I realize that ignorance within our own culture is preventing our power from being heard. For instance, we talk about how Latinos single-handedly put Obama in office, right? And we did, because there are 54 million of us in the United States. But these millions are broken up into so many different subcultures underneath that “Latino” umbrella. You have Dominican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Guatemalan, and on and on. Then you have the people who were born in the United States. You have the people whose first language is Spanish and those who don’t speak Spanish at all but come from Latino backgrounds. It’s just such a broad grouping, and yet we’re fighting each other.
GBL: You’re referring to how we judge one another? And how you’ve been judged? Because we can be pretty harsh, especially when it comes to how well we speak Spanish.
GR: Exactly. We all have our own upbringing and that’s that. Spanish is my second language—my parents didn’t want us to be teased for having an accent the way they had been—and so I’m nervous speaking it. Yet I can dance salsa circles around people, but I’m not Latino enough for you? We just have to understand our collective strength. Because if Jane the Virgin does well, [Hollywood] is going to open the door for five new shows that are Latino focused. We’ve already seen this start to happen. Jane the Virgin got a Golden Globe, and this pilot season everybody wants a Latino lead.
GBL: Right, like NBC’s Telenovela, executive-produced by and starring Eva Longoria.
GR: Yes, Telenovela and The Curse of the Fuentes Women and Warrior, which Natalie Martinez just landed. The more we show them that our united front can blow something up, the more they’re going to open those doors because it’s no longer a risk. This isn’t about racism. It’s about money.
GBL: Where does this activism come from? Have you always been this passionate?
GR: Well, I was raised like this. My father was a Teamster who would fight for people’s jobs. And I had a grandmother who protested at Vieques [Puerto Rico] when the U.S. Navy was bombing it. She got arrested at the age of, like, 72. My sister Rebecca is a doctor who works at a free clinic. She went down to Haiti when the earthquake happened. I have these people in my life who fought against injustices, who spoke up for the voiceless.
GBL: Are you having fun with the glam part of your job, getting dressed up for red carpets?
GR: I’m loving it. My amazing hairstylist, Paul Norton, and I get to play with my hair with lengths and weaves. And he knows how to enhance my confidence. And my makeup artist, Carissa Ferreri, is incredible.
GBL: You’ve told me that your mom raised you to look natural, not too made up, right? How are you reconciling her advice with the glam vibe of your new life?
GR: I still embrace the values that I was raised with. When people post pictures of me on social media looking crazy, in midspeech, I can still see beauty in those pictures. I’m real and I’m not put-together all the time. Like, that is just the truth. And to live up to that is just too much. It’s not sustainable at all.
GBL: Is it nerve-racking to walk red carpets?
GR: No, because I belong there. I just do. So do the girls behind me and the girls in front of me. We all do. Genesis Rodriguez, Natalie Martinez, Melonie Diaz. I support them all. I’ve got their backs because we’re not alone.