Best of 2016 (Behind the Scenes): Jane the Virgin showrunner on that animated sex scene
Over three seasons of Jane the Virgin, we’ve come to know and love Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez) pretty well. We’ve watched her deal with being artificially inseminated, wrestle with her feelings for Rafael, meet her father, have her son. We’ve seen her become engaged to, then call off the wedding to, then marry Michael (phew — this is a telenovela, after all), and so much more. This season, in episode 3, which premiered in October, Jane finally ditched the whole “married virgin with a baby” thing and consummated her marriage to Michael (Brett Dier). Only… the buildup was too much, and our heroine was left disappointed.
Throughout the course of the episode, our favorite lovebirds worked out their issues, and viewers got to watch it all go down in an adorably imaginative animated sequence that featured Jane and Michael jet-setting around the world to the tune of “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.” We spoke to showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman for a behind-the-scenes look at how the scene came together.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You told us when the episode first aired that the animation “fit [your] magical realism world.” So what was the inspiration for choosing this as the way we see such a pivotal moment in Jane’s life?
JENNIE SNYDER URMAN: We knew we wanted it to be more magical and more emotional, and that was sort of what I came into the season with, talking to the writers about, how can we represent this? And it was pretty early on, one of our writers, David, suggested that it be animated and more representational. It was one of those easy decisions, because once he said it and we started to think about what the visuals could be, we got excited about it, and then the writers of the episode, Micah [Schraft] and Carolina [Rivera], really developed it and fleshed it out. And what we wanted was for the first one to be really quick and anti-climactic but to set the table for the second one when it gets better. We were sort of stressed about — it’s going to feel anticlimactic on our show anyway, she’s going to have sex, and then what? There’s no fireworks. Life goes on. And so we were trying to get that feeling into the animation, making the first one short and the second one longer.
Who did the actual animation, and how did you nail the look?
[The animation company Cuppa Coffee] did a great job and really seemed to understand the process, what we were looking for in the characters. They sent a whole bunch of different kinds, and I didn’t know a lot about animation. When they asked us for the style, we wanted it to be a little bit retro in that I Dream of Jeannie was kind of a reference, old Hanna-Barbera cartoons were references, rather than something more modern. And once we settled on that, then we started to develop what the characters would look like and their expressions. Jane and Michael took the longest to get right. And then we started working on the backgrounds and the backdrops, and keeping it in our color palette and making it whimsical. It was a lengthy process.
How about the song [“(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” by Jackie Wilson]. Did you pick that one?
At first, I wanted to keep it in our sort of musical lexicon, so we went through a lot of our cues. But then I realized that I wanted something that we hadn’t heard before, and we composed for a little while, but at the same time, I asked Kevin Edelman, our music supervisor, to look for songs as a backup. Once that song was in, it just made me smile and made me feel like, “This is exactly the right feeling.” It was an easy pick.
When you were working on the scene, did you ever worry that it might be seen as too PG an approach to something that was so decidedly “adult” for Jane?
I sort of thought, it has to be something representational for the show and also, there’s something I love about mothers and daughters watching this together, so I wasn’t afraid that it was very PG, because I wanted it to be more about the feeling of when she loses her virginity than actually having sex. I mean, what is Jane the Virgin going to show that people don’t see on HBO or Showtime? What nuances can we even show? And also, I’m so close to this character — I wanted to give her some privacy. I was always looking for something that was more representational. Our show has a fairy tale quality, so I didn’t mind leading into that because I knew that what we were going to unpack emotionally wasn’t juvenile.
You’ve said that before the series even began, you knew that Jane was going to lose her virginity in season 3. But how long had you been planning this scene, and did you always know it was going to be with Michael?
I knew that it was sitting ahead of us like a pressure point we knew we were going to have to hit, and I knew that she was going to wait until she got married and that she was going to get married to Michael, and that’s who it would be with. So I knew all those things, but I didn’t have an idea of what it would look like. And I knew there was a lot of pressure on the show in general, because that’s the title, to make it not just a regular episode. But at the same time, I didn’t want it to be a very special episode. I wanted life to go on around Jane, and so I came in this year and said, “We have to figure it out, and we have to start thinking about it early because it’s gonna happen early.” But I didn’t have any idea of how we would do it. I just knew it was going to be something in our magical realism world.
Do you think animation is something that we’ll ever see again on the show, or was it just for that one special moment?I don’t have plans for it now because I’d like to leave it as its own special moment, and we’re trying really hard not to repeat, except thematically, some of our magical realism elements. So at this point, I’m not thinking, but you know, things could always come back around, and there might be a story in turn that that feels right for. But I think right now, it’s so labor-intensive and time-intensive and also, I like that it happened in this episode and not another episode. So I think probably not. But who knows?