Gina Rodriguez is sobbing on the Los Angeles set of Jane the Virgin. The actress has filmed numerous takes of a tearjerker scene for the season 3 premiere, and given the heart-wrenching news her character has just received, it’s no wonder the waterworks are flowing. Despite everything plucky Jane has gone through over the past two seasons — including a surprise artificial insemination with her ex-crush’s sperm, two devastating breakups, finding her long-lost father, and defeating the odds to chase her dreams of becoming a professional romance writer — the momentous scene in a bleak hospital hallway might just be the most sobering moment on the series to date.
But the second that director Gina Lamar yells “Cut!” Rodriguez wipes away her tears and breaks into a sunny smile, revealing a glimpse of the everygirl charm and natural talent that helped catapult her from an unknown actress to one of young Hollywood’s brightest stars and earned her a Golden Globe.
“You learn to replace your energy in some other thought than the one in the scene,” the 32-year-old actress explains. And she’ll be doing a lot of that, as this season brings out a different side of the normally lighthearted Jane. “You see her in the lowest of lows,” reveals Rodriguez of her character’s emotional arc ahead. “It’s very heavy.”
For showrunner and creator Jennie Snyder Urman, putting her leading lady through the proverbial wringer is part of her plan to take Jane — a loose adaptation of a popular Venezuelan telenovela — into new creative territory.
“This year’s theme is about growing up in a real, deeper way,” says Urman. “All of our characters are taking major steps forward.”
Growing up, however, doesn’t mean abandoning the show’s signature blend of heartfelt story lines, soap opera tropes, tongue-in-cheek humor, and a sincere — not stereotypical — depiction of Hispanic culture. Over 44 episodes, Urman’s family-focused effort has earned success with critics and millennials alike, a surprising feat for a show that markets itself as a sweetly comedic spin on the typical telenovela format.
“I really feel the balance of our show works best when it has all of these different elements,” reflects Urman. “As long as we have a lot of those elements going on, which is the trick of the show, it can hopefully speak to and affect a lot of different kinds of people.”
NEXT: Urman spills on changes to come in the season ahead[pagebreak]
One of the most popular aspects of the show is its use of magic realism — a storytelling style responsible for past seasons’ hilarious iterations of Jane as a sequin-spangled Bachelorette contestant and an unapologetically fierce Lucha Libre-like wrestler. The upcoming season promises to feature its share of fun fantasy sequences, but in keeping with Urman’s desire to see her characters mature, the plot will provide a natural jumping-off point for some experimentation.
“We are doing some structural things differently,” explains Urman, whose plans for the premiere include incorporating flashbacks to the early days of Jane and Michael’s courtship. “You’re going to be learning a lot more history than you knew originally…. You’ll figure out how the past impacts the present.”
RELATED: Hear what TV shows to watch and avoid this fall
And that past is…complicated. Since the show’s debut in 2014, Jane has had two very different suitors competing for her love in what could be one of TV’s most dramatic (and certainly melodramatic) love triangles: Rafael (Justin Baldoni), the roguish millionaire and the man whose sperm was used to inseminate her, and Michael (Brett Dier), the sweet boy next door and on-again, off-again fiancé. As both are fully fledged characters, with ardent fan bases of their own, there seemed no clear winner between the pair — until Jane took the plunge and revisited Michael’s marriage proposal. Married in the finale episode of season 2 with a flashy party that included Bruno Mars as the wedding singer, Jane finally seemed set for a wild night of passion — that is, until her brand-new husband was shot.
The premiere picks up just four short minutes after last season’s jaw-dropper, and Urman promises it will address all matters that have kept fans manic for the show’s return: Did Michael survive after having been shot by an in-disguise Rose (Bridget Regan)? Will boy-crazy Xo (Andrea Navedo) stick to her resolve to grow up and reveal her surprise pregnancy to sometime love Rogelio (Jaime Camil), mother Alba (Ivonne Coll), and daughter Jane? And will hunky Rafael react to losing Jane by rebounding with his scheming ex-wife Petra (Yael Grobglas), who’s really her twin sister, Anezka?
“I feel so much pressure,” admits Urman of the challenge to devise twisty plots for the 20-episode season ahead. “You want to make sure you’re uncovering new things and not repeating the same story lines and mixing characters up in a way that feels natural.”
NEXT: Jane will have sex (No, really: girlfriend’s gonna get down!)[pagebreak]
One thing’s for sure: The will-she-or-won’t-she nature of Jane’s love life will remain a mess, further complicated when a certain someone makes an unexpected appearance. “You’ll meet someone from Jane’s past, before she met Michael,” teases Urman. The showrunner is also planning the ultimate toe-curling scene, the highly anticipated moment when Jane loses her virginity. Though Urman refuses to spill on the identity of the lucky man—”There’s obviously a lot of tension and question marks over that” — Jane will have sex during the first half of the season. “It’s keeping me up at night,” says Urman. She pauses, then laughs. “We want to give real expectations, knowing that it doesn’t always come together all at once.”
Romantic uproars aside, an epic “dragged-out fight” in classic telenovela style is in the works, as is a season-long arc featuring Jane’s adventures retracing her abuela Alba’s immigration journey—complete with ’70s-soundtrack-laden scenes and groovy fashions. And in keeping with the show’s track record of stellar guest appearances, season 3 will see Gloria and Emilio Estefan grace the set when Rogelio attempts to adapt a Mexican telenovela for American audiences. “They’re Rogelio’s second-best friends,” Urman explains of the characters the Estefans play. “He calls in a favor that’s been 20 years in the making, and that’s how they come.”
And while there’s plenty in the way of playful moments, socially aware scenes, and heartwarming plotlines in upcoming episodes, one thing is certain: Rodriguez won’t hesitate to turn on the tears if required. “It makes me excited to work harder and try to stretch Jane more,” she reflects. “It allows me moments where I can see my real strength.”