Gina Rodriguez, soon to become known as “Jane the Virgin,” is one of Hollywood’s hottest and most refreshingly honest stars.
Her outspoken stance on changing the industry’s standard of beauty and the importance of taking roles that positively represent Latinos is the stuff of headlines. Now, with the prime-time TV show lined up to premiere Oct. 13 on the CW, the 29-year-old Boricua seems set for even greater success.
“On [Jane the Virgin] my character’s grandmother speaks Spanish and I reply in English. That is the reality of my whole life and the reality of all my friends’ lives. If that’s not Latino enough for you then I don’t know what is,” she told Fox News Latino.
“Jane” follows the adventures and misadventures of a young college student who had planned to save her virginity for marriage. Suddenly one day, her world comes crumbling down when her ob-gyn accidentally inseminates her during a checkup.
The show, loosely based on the Venezuelan telenovela “Juana la Virgen,” has already been garnering rave reviews from critics.
"It shows a new perspective on a third-generation, second-generation, even immigrant story. Not only do you get the Latino perspective or the telenovela format that brings all these integrated stories, but you also get such an American story with this family dynamic and beautiful writing that has a real heartbeat.”
A week after Jane’s premiere, Rodriguez will hit DVD stands with the movie “Sleeping with the Fishes," a quirky romantic comedy centering around a Latino Jewish family.
Here, Rodriguez plays Alexis Fish, a broken-hearted phone sex operator who’s trying to make sense of her life after the death of her cheating husband.
The movie also stars Ana Ortiz (“Devious Maids”) as her kooky older sister Kayla. Written and directed by Nicole Gomez Fisher, the movie first premiered at the Brooklyn Film Festival where Fisher won Best New Director and in August, the film won Best Director at the 29th Annual Imagen Awards.
Rodriguez said the film was a “total joy” to make, but also admits that the role proved to be a weighty challenge in more ways than one.
“I really got to get inside this character and get outside of my own body and comfort zone,” she said. “For one, I gained about 20 pounds. The character is going through a time in her life when she’s not at her best and feels outside of her skin not only physically, but also emotionally.
During that time I was also going through a heartbreak of my own that I had never experienced. I usually play these very strong, tough, badass women. I never had the opportunity to be as self-conscious and vulnerable as I did with ‘Sleeping with the Fishes’ and it really scared me —terrified me actually, when I read the script.”
A particularly eye-opening moment came when Rodriguez finally saw herself as Alexis on the big screen. “I watched the film almost a year after I had already lost the weight, and mind you, I’m still a curvy girl. But at one point I had to stop myself and say, "‘Wait a minute; what do you base your life on? Your looks or your character?’… We’re programmed by society to look at things a certain way.”
Looking at things her own way is something the NYU Tisch grad learned to do early on. “My amazing parents taught me that you have to look in the mirror every morning and say, ‘I’m enough. Right now. Today. I don’t need anything else to make my dreams come true.’ As soon as we realize that everybody has their own unique journey and that perfection doesn’t exist, we can all be liberated from these ideas that we’re not enough. Because guess what? We are! Now go own your power and kick some ass!”
Although the spotlight is shining more brightly on Rodriguez these days, the reality is that less than five percent of actors in top Hollywood films are Hispanic, according to a recent study by the University of Southern California. It’s a pretty astounding statistic considering that Hispanics are the second-largest ethnic group in the country.
So how important is it to espouse the ‘Latino-ness” of a role considering they are so few and far between and often perpetuate stereotypes? It’s a touchy subject about which Rodriguez has been very vocal but doesn’t claim to have the answer.
“There’s nothing wrong with being or portraying maids or landscapers and telling those stories. But when other stories are not told, you limit the Latino experience for Latinos, for the American mainstream and really for everybody. Sometimes it feels that if Latinos are American then we’re somehow denying our Latino-ness. No, we are bicultural. People know I wave my Puerto Rican flag everywhere I go, but at the same time, I was born here in America, I’m American. We shouldn’t have this fear of having to authenticate one or the other."
For someone who pretends for a living, being real is what Rodriguez does best. “Look, I don’t know the answer. I’m always learning, always growing and I feel like a student who still hasn’t arrived. People don’t need to be smacked over the head with my Latino-ness or my American-ness.”
“I feel that ‘Sleeping with the Fishes’ and ‘Jane the Virgin’ get it right by simply telling a story that doesn’t hit you over the head with one thing or another. I just happen to have a brown face and I love it!”
"Jane the Virgin" premieres October 13 at 9pm on the CW.
"Sleeping with the Fishes" will be released nationwide on DVD by Breaking Glass Pictures on October 21, 2014.