There’s something about the way Gina Rodriguez enters a room that makes you think of a candidate for public office. She struts with a noticeable degree of authority, smiling large, acknowledging people in her midst, her entourage remaining several feet behind her.
It’s been a whirlwind few years for Rodriguez. She was just another struggling actress until a little show called Jane the Virgin came along and changed her life. A colourful dramedy with a then-unknown cast and a seemingly ridiculous plot – avowed virgin Jane Villanueva, from a Hispanic family in Miami, accidently gets pregnant during a routine gynaecological exam, at which drama and high jinks ensue – the series was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2015 for best comedy and Rodriguez herself walked off with a Globe that same night for best actress. The show is about to go into its third season with the second season finale ending with Jane’s new husband, Michael Cordero (played by Brett Dier), getting shot on their wedding night.
Rodriguez, whose family is Puerto Rican, has also recently completed filming Annihilation in London, a science-fiction film helmed by Alex Garland (who also directed the acclaimed Ex Machina and more famously wrote the cult novel The Beach) and co-starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and “a nice little splash of Oscar Isaac”. She had to shave off 10cm of hair for the role. She also appears in Deepwater Horizon with Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell, based on a true story about the worst oil spill in US history.
On this afternoon, Rodriguez is breezy and outgoing, wearing a fitted, appliqué dress and high heels. Asked who the dress designer is, she replies that she has no idea, and turns around to let the label be looked at (it’s not a name brand). Rodriguez proceeds to chat about her life – both with and without Jane – with just as much candour.
Last year, Jane got married with some tragic consequences. what can we expect from this for season 3?
We’re growing up. The characters are growing up. There are going to be huge transitions and transformations. [Showrunner] Jennie Snyder Urman just keeps getting smarter. This year, she did something that she’s never done before. She sat us down and gave us a little blueprint of our year and it’s better than the past two seasons hands down. Now I’m terrified because I have to tackle that.
Does Jane finally stop being a virgin this season? Is there any pressure to get that right?
The show is not about sex. [Saving yourself for marriage] has been such an incredible theme to talk about and to make this unpopular idea popular. I think that’s been the coolest aspect about sex on the show – to talk to young girls, and say, “You can still be attractive and strong and sexual, to understand temptation and save yourself for a time that’s going to feel great.” That’s a really awesome message to send to the world. But the show is also about conviction, about honesty, family and love and understanding oneself and being fearless. The show is about journey and discovery, and hopefully Jane has sex [laughs].
The show has really resonated with audiences around the world. But is the pressure on to bring in even more viewers?
The goal is always to affect as many people as possible. Ultimately my life’s purpose is to help create change, especially for young girls in cities that I grew up in, and who are limited by the surroundings that they were born into. The only way I’m going to be able to do that is if I continue to work at creating a platform where I can reach them. Now we’re on Netflix and more people are seeing [the show]. I was just in Europe and I get recognised in Europe way more than I do in America. So, we’re affecting something. Some kind of change is going on. If I just keep working hard, I see it slowly growing. It’s grown a lot more from the first year – the second year got a little better in terms of people viewing and our being able to expand internationally. I’m hoping that if we just keep our heads down and focus on good work, then by the third season we’ll get even more people.
The season finale was a real cliffhanger. How quickly did your phone and email blow up with people wanting to know what happens?
They still do it now. [It happens on] Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, to my family, with people that I meet on the street. It was crazy. I had my father be like, “You are going tell me, right?” I’m like, “Dad, you’re ridiculous. No. I am not telling you. Blood is not thicker than water.” But yeah, it’s lovely to see how involved people are.
How are you similar to or different from Jane?
We’re both pretty fearless and we both live in honesty. I’m a very honest human being because it makes me feel free. But I wish I were as patient, as understanding. At times I remind myself that one can make decisions for oneself and that’s OK and that’s not selfish and that’s important. It’s something I’ve needed to learn, because I am a people pleaser. Probably most actors are, but that’s not always the best thing because you’ve got to take care of you. I want to be good to the people around me, and I want to create this great world and I want to do amazing things that help younger girls and I want to liberate others. I have all these things I want to do. If I didn’t have Jane, I don’t know if I’d be thinking about it as much.
What about those non-Jane projects? Was it difficult doing something different from the TV role that everyone knows you for?
Deepwater was a different transition. The girl that I played was a real-life hero and I was able to study her and the testimonies and I was able to hold on to something tangible. It was reality. Annihilation was very much about imagination and very scary. I feel very accomplished.
What’s it like getting back into Jane?
It’s terrifying. But when I’m sitting there with that script in my hand, I know Jane lives inside of me. Jane was somebody I was waiting for to play. Jane was the reason why I said no [to certain roles] when I couldn’t pay rent. It just gets more and more important to me to do well. It’s always very big in the stakes for me, because she’s more than just me, and she’s more than just my career and my experience. This is also for my family. This is for the younger generation. But I’m very excited for people to meet the different characters that I’ve been, because I’ve worked really hard, even getting the two movies that I’ve done now in between Jane. It was a tough fight to get both of them, because people see me as Jane. What they don’t know is that Jane has been a catalyst for me, training in both comedy and drama. And I feel so strong.