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.
Was there a lot of discussion of how to handle this story, specifically, as to whether it should be treated incidentally to show that it shouldn’t be considered a big deal or that it should be given the special episode treatment, to help shine light on something we don’t see a lot in pop culture? What was that balance?
The writers did a good job of that, because there’s that great scene in the beginning [of the 100th episode] where she comes out to the squad and tells them. There’s not a lot of “Oh sh—! We had no idea, girl!” It’s sort of a really calm situation in which everyone’s like “Oh! Okay. Well, we’re with you.” Charles’s reaction in the 99th episode, he’s just excited to be the person that she’s telling. It has nothing to do necessarily with what she’s telling him, but more that she chose him to share that news with. Charles is such an intimacy addict — that to him is the biggest part of it.
How does Charles handle her secret moving forward? He’s someone who could be overjoyed and overwhelmed with the responsibility.
Oh, Charles, Charles, Charles. Charles’ excitement about things gives him away so quickly that he’s probably the worst person to keep her secret, and maybe subconsciously that’s why Rosa told him.
The next episode really explores her coming-out in a multidimensional, heartfelt way, yet things are not tied up in a bow. What can you hint about her revealing this information to the squad, which is run by Captain Holt (Andre Braugher), who’s gay?
The squad gets a Rosa-allotted amount of time to ask any questions that they want to about it, but as per Rosa, it’s fast and furious, it doesn’t last long…. This is a group of people who are accepting and loving of each other. They have a gay captain and they’re 100 percent behind him all the way, so it’s not going to be too much of a stretch to see them embrace this thing for Rosa with open arms, but not everyone in Rosa’s life is going to embrace it in the same way.
Which brings us to her parents, Oscar and Julia (Olga Merediz). Danny Trejo plays her father. How does he handle the news, and what’s her relationship like with him?
Rosa and her dad are a lot like. She gets a lot of personality traits from her dad. Danny Trejo was my first choice. Dan Goor asked me, “Who do you see playing your parents?” I was like, “Danny Trejo! Danny Trejo!” immediately. I think he’s been in my imagination forever, and then when we actually got him, I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled. And he is so the opposite of how you imagine. I’m hopeful that I’m able to trick people as well as Danny Trejo tricks people, meaning he’s the sweetest person in real life. Rosa and Oscar are a lot alike, they have many personality similarities and they’ve gotten a lot closer since she’s gotten out of prison. But it’s difficult for my dad and my mom initially, it’s not the way that they imagined their kid’s life going at all. Both of them had ideas and dreams about who Rosa was going to grow up to be, and this completely takes them off the course of where they thought she was going.
Rosa is just starting to delve the world of personal relationships, just in the last year or two, and so having any kind of difficult conversations is still really, really tricky for her. And she trusts Jake [Andy Samberg] implicitly. She’s known him longer than she’s known anybody else in the squad, so if anyone’s going to be able to help her get through this, it’s Jake. And it may mean that Jake has to tell a white lie or two to get her through getting the news to her parents.
What was it like filming this episode, and in what ways — if any — did it mirror your own coming out?
It was absolutely joyous for me because I never, in a million years when I was a kid, could have dreamed that some day I would be on a set filming that story — a main character getting to tell that story. It’s not specifically my story but it is specifically hers, and it might be somebody else’s. That was so joyful for me to think that I am living in a world in which I work for an incredible group of people who said, “This is important to us. It’s something we want to explore with you, and we think we can do it in a way that’s fun and also real in the beautiful world that sitcoms live in, which is, I can deal with this really real stuff that also can move you but then laugh in the next turn which is the best way to go through life.”
The hard stuff has to be balanced with laughter because if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be able to get through any of the crap that we all sift through on a daily basis. It was absolutely mindblowing to me I was standing there doing a scene in which I’m looking over and there’s Andy, and then next to him is Olga and then next to her is Danny, and then we’re surrounded by a crew of people that are all excited to be a part of this story? Like, what life is this? Who am I that we’re getting to tell a bi-coming out story on a network TV show? For all its bullsh—, it’s a pretty fantastic world.
I’m hopeful that this starts some conversations between people that would not have had them before. Or maybe makes it easier to have a starting point to start conversations about how people feel one way or another about this character’s revelation or this character’s journey or path. This is not going to be everybody’s cup of tea and that’s fine. There’s room for all kinds of people… If you watch the show and forget that Captain Holt is gay, that’s okay, but also remember he’s gay and that you love that character. I guess we’ll see how it’s received, but I was really proud to be a part of it.
Will we soon meet this mystery woman on the phone?
I really hope so. Because there are lots of amazing actresses that I would love to play these scenes with. I can’t even imagine the good stuff that could get written for that relationship. I just think it would be so fun. All of my fingers are crossed that we’re going to see if not [her] then maybe another girl that Rosa is dating.
How will Pimento react to this news?
I think he’s going to be psyched. I think he’s going to be really pumped. I think he might suggest polyamory which I don’t think Rosa is ready for — or into. If Rosa ever decided that she wanted to marry a woman and then get pregnant, Pimento would be the first in line trying to be that baby daddy. Families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes now so I can’t imagine Pimento’s ever going to be far from Rosa’s life.
That answer warmed my heart on many levels. Always want more Pimento.
I love him too. They’re not a great romantic match. Can you imagine Rosa being pregnant with Pimento’s kid while getting married to a woman? I mean, get out of here! We’ll see what happens.
Between this and “Moo Moo,” which explored racial profiling, the show is proving that it can tackle deeper issues powerfully, yet still make them funny and even Brooklyn goofy. Have the actors been activated by these episodes? Do you feel this gives the writers confidence to do more? Is there an appetite there?
One of the gifts that the writers have with the actors is that they know us really well, even if they haven’t been with us since the beginning, they know what we’ve done over the course of the season, and with that backstory, you have a built-in place to jump off from. I don’t think that an episode like “Moo Moo,” or this one or any of the others that have had more feelings in them [could] happen in the first season. It wouldn’t have been right for the show… There’s a stable foundation now because we’ve had so much time to get to know each other.
Some fans have been obsessed with the idea of Rosa and Gina as a couple. What was your take on that?
Before any of this stuff started to develop, that was a thing that some of the fans ‘shipped, as the kids say. And I thought that was really cool that they saw these two characters and said, “These two should get together.” When I was a teenager, it wouldn’t have even been a thing that I would have suggested to friends about a show that I was watching, because it wouldn’t have been normal to say that. And now we’re living in a world in which that’s totally a normal thing to say, that these two female characters should get together, and that is amazing in itself. And I do think that in some ways those two would make a really great team, but there is that slight problem that Gina is probably straight [laughs], so that will stop a relationship dead in its tracks.
That’s one thing. Her self-obsession may get in the way too.
Yeah, probably. Rosa would be good at coddling Gina for a little while, but not for very long.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on Fox.