Puerto Rican actress Gina Rodriguez made headlines this summer when she spontaneously gave a speech at the Television Critics Association summer press tour about her desire to overturn Hispanic stereotypes on TV. (Read her powerful speech here.) As the titular character on CW’s Jane The Virgin, Rodriguez isn’t a sex kitten or a cook—instead, she plays a college student whose life is turned upside down when she finds out she’s been accidentally artificially inseminated.
The dramedy—based on a popular Venezuelan telenovela—was recently given a full season order and Rodriguez, 30, has become one of the fall’s breakout stars. Here, she reveals why she decided to become an actress and why she refuses to conform to narrow stereotypes about beauty and race.
How did you find out that you got the part of Jane?
Well, I had a studio test with CBS, a network test with the CW, and then I did a screen test. So I went through a serious process of tests to get this role. After my third test, after maybe a week, I didn’t hear anything. I was training for a half marathon, and I’m running from my house to the water, which is about two miles and back. It was a nighttime run, about 7:30 p.m. I ran to the water, and I kid you not, I fell to my knees and I started praying: “God , take this away.”
“If it’s mine, it is, and if it’s not, give it to the person that’s meant to have it. Take this away, and I let it go. I lay my career at your feet. Just give me the patience and understanding to accept the story you have for me.”
I get up, I wipe off my tears, literally start running. It had to have been two blocks outside of that sand. I’m listening to music, and I get a call that says it’s from [executive producer] Jennie Urman. And I’m like “Aw shit, okay.” And I press accept, and I go “Jennie?” And she goes, “You got the role baby.” And I just started screaming. I’m in the middle of Santa Monica and everyone’s looking at me like “this girl is crazy” [laughs]. I felt so light headed, I thought I was going to faint. She said “Hands down, it was yours and sorry you had to go through this grueling process.” I said ‘I would have done it 10 times over. I would have tested for you a hundred times.” I decided I was going to sit in this feeling before telling anyone. So I put my music back on and ran home. And then I called my mom.
What did she say?
Nobody picked up! My mom didn’t pick up, my sister didn’t pick up, my other sister didn’t pick up [laughs]. My eldest sister called me that night but my mom, my parents and my other sister didn’t call me till the next morning. And then I conference-called all of them and told them all at once. My parents really had no idea what it was that I had booked.
You’ve been offered parts on shows like like Devious Maids. Why did Jane the Virgin seem like the right series for you?
Filly Brown introduced me to the industry. At Sundance, I was in a similar situation as now, where I got a lot of love and support. We were doing interviews, and people then were asking me what they’re asking me now: ‘Why are you doing this? What are you after?’
I would tell them there are two things that important to me: changing the way Latinos are viewed in the industry and in media, because the way I saw my culture was poor. Not poor like economically, but in a poor light. And that’s not true. I’m sitting here with two older sisters who are killing the game in their industry, and I don’t see that on TV. I don’t see them included in what’s in TV, on film. I want to make sure that every role I do contributes to that greater role. And I want to change beauty norms. I want to change the way people see beauty.
Is it at all ironic that you, a girl who never watched telenovelas, has had to embrace the genre in order to show her true self?
It’s interesting because yeah, I never was raised on telenovelas. I’d seen them many a time. My next-door neighbor Marisa had a daycare at her house, and every time I was sick, I’d stay there. And Marisa had a TV in the kitchen and a TV in the living room and a TV in the room and a mini TV in the bathroom. And they all had telenovelas playing 100 percent of the day. It was hysterical. It’s the honest to God truth. She was all about her stories. So I was definitely familiar with the acting.
The crazy thing is that I used to date a virgin. He was a 32-year-old virgin, saving himself for marriage. So the telenovela thing doesn’t blow my mind since I’m Puerto Rican and I totally know about telenovelas. I’m just so glad we’re grounded in our show. The comedy is fun, over-the-to,p but the drama is very grounded. But dating a virgin who’s literally so like Jane, and now I’m playing Jane—it’s the best character study ever.
You came from a niche background, between Filly Brown and a project with [Hispanic cable channel] NUVOtv. As you have your big moment with Jane, will you focus on mainstream work, or will you continue doing Hispanic projects as well?
My community stays with me. My culture, my people, my 54 million plus people stays with me wherever I go. That will never change. I’m all about my Latinos. And all Latinos. I’m not just talking about Puerto Ricans. I’m the every Latina. There’s no specificity in that. The beautiful thing we share is the language, that love for family. This beautiful crossover, this introduction to the mainstream, doesn’t change that.
You were introduced to audiences as a rapper in Filly Brown. I know back then you were writing music for an album. What happened to that album—and will we ever see that music from you?
I think I think you will. Anything is possible. I started doing some songs, but I never had the opportunity to release them. I don’t want to say I’ll never do music, but I just want to do it at the right time. And like I said, I’m patient. I have patience and I have faith that everything will happen the way it’s supposed to as long as I keep working hard. But music was a beautiful thing. It was a beautiful discovery, and it was an art form I had never owned before. I was able to dabble in it and now I feel a little more confident. And hopefully however life turns out, I’ll have more opportunities to do that.
Maybe it’ll happen on Jane! Maybe you can do a hip-hop episode.
Dude, there’s definitely music in Jane and I could easily be rapping in it. Just saying.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Jane The Virgin airs Mondays on the CW at 9 p.m.