“Oh my god! Did you see that?” Gina Rodriguez asks her driver as they pass the scene of a near-miss accident on the way home. “That woman really almost got hit by that car. I don’t know how she didn’t, actually. Scary.”
The sight startles the 31-year-old star of Jane the Virgin, but doesn’t faze her for long. Truth is, nothing could. She’s still riding high from the news she got on the drive home the day before. After wondering aloud if she’d get a sign about the show’s future, Rodriguez had her wish granted: Forty-five minutes later, she got a text from her manager that her star-making series had been renewed by the CW for a third season. So today she’s returning after a long day that featured an arduous table read for the next episode as well as a little celebratory filming — for social media.
“Me and Jaime Camil, who plays my father, we did a Dubsmash thanking everyone,” Rodriguez says, “and I’m working on a video I’m going to tweet out — it’s funny.”
Rodriguez’s joy is sincere and hard to contain, not that she feels the need to try. As with all her emotions (confidence, outrage, grief, anxiety, gratitude — especially gratitude), Rodriguez wears this one unapologetically on her sleeve. A lot of this elation traces back to another of Rodriguez’s frequently expressed emotions: humility. Jane the Virgin is adored by critics — Rodriguez won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Television Comedy in 2015 (and was nominated again this year) — and it has a passionate, engaged fan base, so you would think its return would be something of a foregone conclusion. Yet Rodriguez never took it for granted. “You think that if you do good work, then hopefully you’ll have something to show for it,” she says, “but until it’s official, I’m not expecting anything. You don’t really know.”
For the uninitiated, Rodriguez plays the titular 20-something Jane, television’s most memorable virgin mother, whose improbable-but-just-plausible-enough immaculate conception (a madcap mix-up at the doctor’s results in artificial insemination) gives birth to a genre-defying comedy-drama that’s loosely based on a Venezuelan telenovela, but which turns convention, ethnic stereotypes, soap opera melodrama, and just about everything else on its head with its twists and turns. The most surprising revelation is Rodriguez, who is on the cusp of experiencing momentous things herself.
Rodriguez, whose parents are Puerto Rican, was born and grew up in Chicago. She first opened eyes at Sundance in 2012, playing a hard-edged rapper in the independent film Filly Brown. Afterward, she landed a lead in Wild Blue, a big-budget drama about life aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Even without shooting a pilot, Fox picked up the show for a full season, then canceled it a week later — on Christmas Eve. “We were all on cloud nine, and the rug was pulled out from under our feet,” Rodriguez recalls. “Right after that, I had a falling-out with one of my very best friends, and then a few days later, my boyfriend at the time broke up with me. I’m like, You’ve got to be kidding me! My show, my friend, my boyfriend?! OK. Well, God’s clearly making room for something.” This time, the near miss paid off. “Three weeks later, I booked Jane,” Rodriguez continues, “and the past two years have been the most insane experience of my life.”
As the second season approaches the home stretch, the cliffhangers are getting more fraught and the tension is reaching a crescendo. But Rodriguez professes to know exactly zero spoilers. Want to know whether Jane gets married and if it’s to her police detective paramour Michael (played by Brett Dier), who has twice proposed to Jane? Rodriguez and the other actors are kept in the dark until the last possible moment. So she demurs, saying, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to Jane and Michael. I don’t know when they’re getting married.” But even then, she corrects herself. “I know that they’re supposed to be getting married,” she adds. “Again, I wouldn’t put it past any of our writers for something bizarre to happen, but that is definitely the journey that it seems like we are on. I can’t promise anything though. No promises.” And don’t even dream of asking if Jane does the deed.
Rodriguez pursuit of next-level stardom is a bit like her character’s long, strange journey toward sex: The question isn’t so much will she or won’t she, but when and how will she make it. This fall, we’ll see Rodriguez get gritty in Deepwater Horizon, the harrowing story of the sinking of the BP oil rig and subsequent spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, Rodriguez will star in Annihilation, by writer-filmmaker Alex Garland, whose 2015 directorial debut, Ex Machina, helped make stars of Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac. Rodriguez stars alongside Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson, who had a breakout role in Creed. “I’m so excited to work with those women. I just think that they are beyond powerful. London can’t come soon enough,” she says.
Rodriguez clearly loves playing Jane, but she is quick to point out how different she is from her alter ego. “I definitely am not as patient as Jane is. That’s for sure.” Rodriguez adds with a laugh. “If somebody thinks they can get in my face, they are talking to the wrong person, but Jane would be like, Oh, sorry. Oh my God — no conflict. But, for me — I’m a fighter at heart, I’m a boxer — I’m like, Yo, don’t f*** with me.” Indeed, Rodriguez’s father was a boxing referee, and she grew up around the ring, sparring frequently. Her mother, who started as a secretary in the Cook County court system and worked her way up to director of interpreters, was equally influential on Gina and her two older sisters — one a doctor, the other an investment banker. “Sometimes I’ll be like, Come on, Jane. Don’t be such a wimp!” Rodriguez says. “But what I’ve realized is: Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.”
It’s a lesson Rodriguez has clearly taken to heart. She devotes herself to anti-bullying efforts, champions diversity in Hollywood, and gives of herself to her fans. Recently, she received a tweet from a high school student asking if she could have Rodriguez’s Golden Globes dress to wear to her prom. Rodriguez quickly promised to give her the dress from the previous year. (She’d had to return the one she wore to this year’s event.)
“Why wouldn’t I give it to somebody else? When I won the Golden Globe that year, and Badgley Mischka gave me the dress, I was like, this is going to either go to my child or whoever really wants it. And here I am on Twitter one morning, and this little girl writes to me, and I was like, Perfect! Hell, yeah. Wear the dress!”
And here’s the thing with Rodriguez — you wonder if she can possibly be for real with all her unrelenting positivity. Even Rodriguez wrestles with this. She’s currently at work on a part memoir and part self-help book I Can and I Will: Tools My Daddy Gave Me, which uses her father’s sayings as life lessons. “It’s the hardest thing I have ever done in my life,” she says of writing the book. “I’ve been very blessed to have these really great motivational things. Except it’s not all good. And now, in writing this book, I have to share the times that I did fall, that I did fail, the times where my family wasn’t so supportive, and I don’t know how to do that quite yet.”
Still, when it comes to challenges, in her personal life and as an actor, Rodriguez really does return to what her father taught her. As she says, “In boxing, I’ve exchanged spit, sweat, and blood with another human being. But the toughest opponent you have — in the ring and in life — is yourself. You have to believe that you’re going to win, and your opponent is that other part of you that’s rejection, and You suck, and I’m going to beat you — because we fight those battles as human beings all the time.” At this point, Rodriguez seems to be writing her manifesto as she speaks, and maybe, just maybe, she is putting the power of positivity to work on herself. “I feel like I could protect myself. I don’t have a victim walk, which is a beautiful feeling, you know?”