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Jane the Virgin, the CW’s new series, has a pretty far fetched premise. A mix-up at a doctor’s office (Yara Martinez) leaves Jane (Gina Rodriguez) artificially inseminated, which means pregnant in plain English. Though it makes sense in the pilot when you actually see the harried doctor respond to a personal crisis, you realize she should not have even gone to work that day, let alone handling patient’s sensitive and private bodily fluids.

Justin Baldoni as RafaelThe situation is further complicated because Jane has been saving herself for marriage. So not only does she have a baby that is not her boyfriend’s, but she’s never even had sex. The insemination was meant for the fiance of a man Jane admires (Justin Baldoni), but never had a chance to get close to before their lives were involuntarily intertwined.

We were impressed with Rodriguez herself when she spoke about her character to the Television Critics Association in Los Angeles recently. “Jane is strong and independent,” Rodriguez said. “She's striving to make her dreams come true, and she's working so hard to have a better life than her parents. Not saying her parents had a bad life, [but rather] meaning, I think everybody's goal as a parent is to say, ‘Now you're going to have a better life. I'm having you, and I'm going to make sure that you have a better opportunity.’ Jane is, like, grasping at that with both hands, and she's trying so hard.  The mix-ups that happen in her life and the mishap that happens in her life, I think is just a beautiful example of what we face in real life.  We face things all the time, whether they be positive or negative.  It's going to be really exciting to go on this journey with this girl that has a very serious thing happen to her and see the way she chooses maybe not the most popular choice in life, or the most unpopular on, i.e., her virginity.”

Gina Rodriguez as Jane and Brett Dier as Michael

Demonstrating such a definitive understanding of her character, Rodriguez further clarified the complicated decision with which Jane is faced. She wanted to be sure the audience understands she was not referring to keeping the baby as a positive or negative choice.

“On the contrary,” she said. “I meant like the way we approach things in life, whether it be positive or negative, the events that happen in your life, whether they be positive or negative, it's nice to see the way people react to them and the way they take them.  I think it's going to be a really exciting journey to see what [executive producer] Jennie [Snyder Urman]'s beautiful mind decides the journey for Jane would be.  I love the idea of playing a girl that is tackling a difficult situation and may fall.”

Where Rodriguez really won us over was when she spoke about Jane as a role model to counter balance all the Miley Cyruses and Rihannas out there. They’re all wonderful, but the more salacious ones have been hogging all the attention. It’s time to give girls like Jane a turn.

“I think that that's a really awesome thing to put out into the world right now, where we are bombarded by twerking,” Rodriguez continued. “And don't get me wrong, I can twerk. But we're bombarded by those images, and I see what they do to my niece and nephew that are four years old.  I see what they do to my cousins that are 13.  And I think, ‘well, if I can use my art and what I love to do every day to change that perception, that's awesome. “That's the blessing. That’s the money for me.”

Rodriguez first won acclaim for her portrayal of the title character in the Sundance hit Filly Brown. She had a holding deal with ABC, but found the only show they offered her was the ABC Studios production “Devious Maids.” Devious Maids went on to be a hit on Lifetime, but Rodriguez wasn’t ready to commit to playing a Latina cleaning woman.

“I wouldn't say that I chose Jane over Devious Maids. When I was presented with Devious Maids after I did a film at Sundance, and I had an ABC holding deal, I found it limiting that that was the one that was available to me. For the stories that Americans have, I feel like there's a perception that people have about Latinos in America, specifically. I grew up in Chicago, English being my first language, Spanish being my second, but I feel we are perceived a very certain way.  Our stories have been told, and being a maid is fantastic. I have many family members that have fed their families on doing that job, but there are other stories that need to be told.  I think that the media is a venue and an avenue to educate and teach our next generation.  Sadly, right now the perception people have of Latinos in America, are very specific to maid, landscape, pregnant teen.”

Jane in the hospital

Realizing the irony in presenting a twist on the single pregnant woman stereotype, Rodriguez had a laugh. “Mind you, I am playing pregnant, not a teen, but I didn't become an artist to be a millionaire. I didn't become an actor to wear Louis Vuitton. I became an actor to change the way I grew up. The way I grew up, I never saw myself on screen.”

Jane and the pregnancy testRodriguez continued, “I have two older sisters.  One’s an investment banker.  The other one is an actor, and I never saw us being played as investment bankers and actor.  I realized how limiting that was for me.  I would look at the screen and think, ‘well, there's no way I can do it, because I'm not there.’  As soon as you follow your dreams, you give other people the allowance to follow theirs.  And for me, to look on younger girls and to say, ‘Well, Gina's like me, maybe not necessarily the same skin color, maybe not necessarily the same background, but like that's me.  I'm not alone.  I can do it too.”

The situation in Jane the Virgin may be far fetched, but that’s drama. The reality of seeing a woman like Gina Rodriguez play Jane has even more significance to her.

“Every role that I've chosen has been ones that I think are going to push forward the idea of my culture, of women, of beauty, my idea of liberating young girls of feeling that they have to look alike a specific beauty type. I wasn't going to let my introduction to the world be a story that I think has been told many times.  I wanted it to be a story that was going to liberate young girls, and say, ‘Wow, there we are too, and we're the doctors, and we're the teachers, and we're the writers, and we're the lawyers, and I can do that too.  And I don't have to be a perfect size 0. I can be a perfect size me.’  And that's what I live by.  So Jane, I waited for her patiently.  And now she's here. And thank you for being here with us, because this is a dream come true to me.”

Jane the Virgin is based on a Venezuelan telenovela. The CW is giving it an American twist, but kept Jane a Latina woman. Jane lives with her mother and grandmother, and Rodriguez could also totally relate to this household, too.

Gena with two womenWhen I read the script, I was like, ‘Jennie's in my house.  Jennie knows my life.’  It is what it is.  I do not speak back in Spanish to my grandmother at all.  My grandmother only speaks to me in Spanish.  She knows what I'm saying, but she refuses to speak English back, and I refuse to speak Spanish, and there's a moment in the show where I'm describing to my grandmother how I got inseminated. I say, ‘I don't even know how to say this in Spanish.’  We're talking to 50 million people in this country when we say that line.  It is outrageous how on point Jennie really is, not only encompassing the culture, and that first, second, third generation story to anybody that came over from outside, that have the language in the house, have the traditional food in the house, and then hamburgers and hot dogs outside the house and speak English.  It's pretty awesome.”

Ivonne Cole plays Jane’s Spanish speaking grandmother. “I think what we usually see is the super tiny, like, shuffling [grandmother],” Rodriguez said. “This is a hot babe right here, hot babe grandma, but you also see the delicate side of her when they talk about certain things. ‘When your mother came to me and I told her to have an abortion, like, it was my fault,’ I believe  I would imagine that they would continue to tap into that softness.  When you're a matriarch, the thing about any culture, when it's just the mom, like, moms go hard regardless of the culture.  I have a Jewish grandmother, and she is just as fierce as my Puerto Rican grandmother is.  It's that, like, ‘We have to protect.  We have to protect.’”

Jane the Virgin may bring telenovelas to a new audience of young viewers of all ages, just like the shows that captivated Rodriguez. She was raised on American sitcoms, so telenovelas are a new world to her, too.

“I never watched telenovelas growing up,” she said. “I watched Growing Pains and Family Matters, and those were like telenovelas to myself. I was like, ‘What?  No! Cosby Show was like, ‘What are you doing, Rudy?  Why?’ So this is a new world to me. Even in heightened reality, I get to be so grounded, I get to be so natural, and the cast, they're phenomenal.  It's easy. It's awesome.”

Jane the Virgin will take over the 8/7c timeslot with its series premiere, and the series will have a premiere encore on Friday October 17, at 8/7c  at The CW. Don’t miss it!

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 163 - October 2017
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