Rosa Diaz (or as her neighbors know her, Emily Goldfinch) is full of surprises — we just don’t get to know many of them.
On Tuesday night, in the 99th episode of Fox cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the notoriously tight-lipped, emotionally guarded, and altogether badass detective played by Stephanie Beatriz revealed something significant to the ever-inquisitive Charles (Joe Lo Truglio). After he asked her why he heard a woman’s voice on the phone refer to Rosa as “babe,” she tried to throw him off the scent before finally sharing that she is dating a woman and that she is indeed bisexual. She also quickly brushed him off when he tried to be enthusiastic and supportive, only to later apologize, explaining she didn’t think it was anybody’s business and that she didn’t want anything to change. And while it felt therapeutic for the woman who has only let slip little shards of insight into her life — she owns an ax, she studied ballet before being kicked out of school for “beating the crap out of ballerinas,” her idea of a perfect date is “cheap dinner, watch basketball, bone down” — to share this part of herself, she wanted them to return to not talking about this ever again. (Request denied by Charles.)
The 100th episode, which airs next Tuesday, will explore Rosa’s story in greater depth, emotion, and humor as she sets out to share the news with those closest to her. Right now, though, Beatriz takes us inside the show’s decision to have Rosa declare her sexuality, how Jake (Andy Samberg) will get entangled in her plans, and, sure, what Pimento (Jason Mantzoukas) might think of this revelation.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where should we rank this one on the Rosa revelation scale?
STEPHANIE BEATRIZ: I mean, if you’re 14 years old and an avid Twitter user, it’s probably been something that you’ve been hoping for for a while, so I don’t know if it’s a major revelation if you’re any kind of LGBTQ teen who’s desiring representation on TV. I think for Rosa, this is something she’s known about herself for a long, long time. For the audience, some people may be surprised, other people are going to rejoice and say, “Finally!” For me, as an actress, I’ve always felt something there. But for the writers, that’s something they’ve discovered organically over the last four seasons.
Where did the idea to have Rosa come out as bisexual originate? Did the writers approach you more specifically after you came out on Twitter last year, or was it something that you pitched to them when discussing the character?
I think I mentioned something. There’s a great episode [season 1’s “The Vulture”] where Jake and Rosa mention Tonya Harding, and Rosa off the cuff says, “Yeah, she’s thick,” as a compliment to Tonya. Ever since the episode, which was pretty early on, I thought, “Oh, Rosa is not heterosexual. She’s much more open to being bi or queer than I would have thought before.” And then it was a little while later that I nonchalantly came out, and this last season before we started shooting, [co-creator] Dan Goor and the rest of the writers had each of the actors come in and talk about ideas that they had for the arc of this year or things they’d like to try. I pitched a bunch of stuff and that was one of the things that I wanted to come in with as a pitch, but to my surprise, they already had it in their brains when I got in the meeting. They were like, “We were thinking of maybe doing this. What do you think about it?”
I was really excited about it. I hadn’t really seen much of that representation in television that I personally watch. I know it’s out there, but often times it’s written in a specific way. “Let’s introduce a gay character and quickly kill them off,” so you have the ride of the complexity of this amazing character, but also [you do] not necessarily deal with them over the course of our entire show. Obviously, that’s probably not going to happen in this case [laughs], because Rosa is a core member of this ensemble. It’s not like she’s going to come out and then get hit by a car and get killed off. It’s really cool to me that our show is exploring something with almost the safety net underneath it, telling the audience, “Look, we’re not doing this so that we can explore a story and simply throw it away when it’s convenient for us. We are going to keep this person around because we love this person already.” It’s part of the family.
Oftentimes bi characters are hypersexualized and sometimes duplicitous, and they’re playing both sides, or they’re simply defined by their sexuality and not by anything else. That’s not to say that every bi character on TV is like that, but … a lot of them are, and that’s disappointing to me as somebody who identifies as bi or queer, because I’m not duplicitous or villainous. [Laughs.] At least I try not to be most of the time in my life. And let’s say you live in a place that you don’t know very many bi people, or you haven’t had access to many people that identify as LGBTQ in your life, and you’re gathering information from television — or let’s say you’re a kid who’s still figuring stuff out about yourself and you haven’t come out, and you don’t even know who or what you are and you’re seeing images of parts of yourself reflected in TV — the way other characters respond to a mirror of yourself, those messages are big. And they’re really taken in by all of us. There’s a reason that people sometimes think bisexuality is not something that’s a real thing, which is so mindboggling to me, but I can see how that might happen if that access isn’t there. How are you ever going to appreciate, I don’t know, the color blue if you’ve never ever seen it, you’re just going to be terrified of this weird thing — there’s this weird mix of green and yellow, and you don’t understand it at all.
Plus, Gina was already hit by a bus, so I don’t think they’re going to go back to that trick.
Exactly. They’re not doing that.
What do you think is important to see in the representation of bisexual characters on TV now?
I can’t speak for everyone; I can really only speak for myself, and for me, what I think is important is a person that is fully fleshed-out in all the ways that we would like the character to be. I love that in this specific iteration, this is someone that the audience already knows, they’ve already established a relationship with, and they care for her. And now on top of that, they’re getting to know her a little bit more. The relationship is deepening.
For me, the most important thing about this part of Rosa was to show that she isn’t just a steel wall. She does have vulnerabilities, and one of her vulnerabilities is now whether or not she will be able to continue to blossom the relationship that she has with her family who she really cares about, but whose value system is different. And I just felt that that was a really interesting way of telling that story. There are a lot of good coming-out stories. There are a lot of really rocky and horrible ones, and then there are some in the middle. There are some that are complex and different. They’re not all the same.
Did you have any concerns or requests when this story line was being fleshed out? It certainly comes across that Rosa, and by extension, you and the writers, didn’t want anything else about the character to change. She still is who she is.
That’s the main thing that I thought was so wonderful from Dan Goor — his inclusion of me in the process of developing the story. I was really touched by him and the other writers, Carly [Hallam] and Justin [Noble], they used me as a resource quite a bit: I met with Carly once, I met with Justin to talk about the story line, Dan and I talked extensively about it. That was really meaningful and special to me that they weren’t just saying, “We want to tell the story and let’s go tell it. No, let’s find someone who’s bi. Oh, guess what? The actress who comes out as bi also happens to be bi. Let’s talk to her about her own experience and bring this into reality.”
Not to say that my story is the same as Rosa’s at all. It’s not. But there were things that we wanted and thought would be really important — like the word itself: bisexual. To me, that’s an important word in my coming out. I know that not all people are totally celebratory of that word because it’s from a time where it was like these two genders — that’s all there is. And now there’s a lot more flexibility and fluidity in sexuality, which is why sometimes I gravitate toward the word queer as well. For me, bisexuality includes people that are trans, it can include people who identify in different kind of ways. But for Rosa, there was a point for her where she heard that word somewhere along the line and she saw herself in that word, so for her, it was important for her to identify in that way. I suggested that that word was really important to Rosa and that it also would be really important to the bi community to have that word said aloud on TV. Not just a suggestion that she dates girls now, but a clarity on this character: This is who I am, and I’d like you to know it — and accept it.