With her first major movie, deepwater horizon, coming out this fall, gina rodriguez is set to be a global star - and she's taking her Latino community along for the ride.
Photographs by Jeff Lipsky By Shirley J. Velasquez
Don’t even think about touching Gina Rodriguez’s exquisitely curated playlist— which includes Justin Bieber, Kanye West, and,
of course, Drake.
When someone suggests changing up the soundtrack at her photo shoot, she winces and snaps back, “No, this is my playlist.” You can tell she’s toning down her real feeling: Go ahead, shut off my Drizzy and see what happens!
It’s quite a contrast with her Jane the Virgin persona, the role that earned her a Golden Globe in 2015. In her first two seasons on the popular CW series, audiences came to know and love Jane Villanueva, the bubbly, 20-something Latina whose easygoing ways are steadied by a moral core so firm that she keeps a pregnancy after being artificially inseminated by accident, and saves her virginity until marriage. (Spoiler alert: Producers have revealed that Jane will finally have sex during the show’s upcoming third season.)
Along with her Latina costars Andrea Navedo (Jane’s mom) and Ivonne Coll (Jane’s abuela), the Chicago-born boricua has endeared herself to Latino audiences and non-Latinos alike, thanks not only to her acting ability, but to Jane’s clever yet heartfelt dialogue and the straightforward manner in which the cast addresses difficult, real-life issues from immigration to abortion and ageism.
If the series showcases America’s multicultural DNA , then the Afro-Latina, part-Jewish NYU graduate has become a prominent champion of the virtues of diversity. It’s a role Rodriguez handles gracefully on social platforms, especially Instagram. Her #Movement Mondays hashtag came about in a eureka moment at home, she says. “I’m like, ‘Dad, I gotta do something to contribute. People aren’t uplifting each other. There’s a lot of negativity.’ And he was like, ‘Well why don’t you use your social media thing.’ And I was like, ‘Exactly!’ ”
When we caught up with Rodriguez, we found an inquisitive actress who was concerned with everything from stopping online bullying to developing herself as an artist who’s stepping up with leading roles in two upcoming movies—the star-studded Deepwater Horizon, opening September 30, and 2017’s Annihilation, a sci-fi adventure with Oscar Isaac, Natalie Portman, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. In both films, Rodriguez plays the kind of fearless woman she aspires to be in her own life and to our people.
You’ve given a lot of thought to identity issues—to being Latino and all-American at the same time. How do you balance these?
I love being able to represent both cultures. I was lucky enough to be born with both. I eat hamburgers and hot dogs, I eat arroz con gandules. My grandmother speaks Spanish, my professors speak English. It’s this extra delicious gift that I have.
Now You’re using your gifts on the Movie screen. How was It shooting your first big film, Deepwater Horizon, about the giant oil rig Explosion in 2010?
Peter Berg is a genius. Mark Wahlberg is a badass. John Malkovich, Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson—I learned so much from these people, from this cast, from this family.
A lot of movies were offered to me after the Golden Globes—Jane opened so many doors—and when the Deepwater Horizon script came across my iPad, I was like, this is the movie I’m going to fight for. This is the one I want to do.
You fought for it? Who were you up against?
I play Andrea Fleytas, a real-life hero, who’s a Latina from California, and I thought for her not to be portrayed by a Latino would have been devastating. It didn’t need to be me. I told Peter, “If it’s not me, it could be Natalie Martinez. It can be Melonie Diaz. It can be Génesis Rodriguez. It can be Stephanie Beatriz. It can be Melissa Fumero. It can be any Latina out there crushing it and killing the game.”
How was it working with Mark Wahlberg? Did he understand your struggle as a latina and woman?
We never had a conversation about color, ethnicity, or culture, but we had the conversation about struggle. One thing that I find extremely empowering about Mark is that he doesn’t want to do it alone. He wants to help everyone around him, uplift everyone around him. Mark understands that he got to where he was because of all the people that helped him get there, including himself. He got me. He got the idea that shit was hard and I pushed through. It wasn’t just hard as a Latina, it wasn’t just hard as a curvy leading lady, but it was hard as a woman. It was hard as somebody that came from the ’hood. He gets struggle, and he could see it in someone else. He definitely was super supportive of me. He knows how to run his industry, his empire, and yet preserve himself. He wakes up and he prays and he gives thanks. He’s grateful and appreciative, and he’s giving. The man is where he’s at not only because of his fight but also because of his heart. You could tell, because ’hood knows ’hood, ’hood recognizes ’hood.
"WE'RE STRONGER IN NUMBERS. AS LATINOS, WE PUT BARACK IN OFFICE. WE COULD DO THE SAME IN MAKING SURE THAT DONALD TRUMP DOESN'T GET IN OFFICE. WE ARE THAT STRONG."
- Gina Rodriguez
We recently interviewed Diane Guerrero from OITNB and discussed how it seemed Latinos were helping each other out professionally in Hollywood and beyond. Do you see that?
We are definitely helping one another. One thing that I love about Jewish culture is that anthill effect. Every ant brings food to the anthill and everybody eats. Sadly our culture has been living the crab-in-the-barrel effect. We’re so afraid there isn’t enough room for all of us that we fight to get to the top. We don’t need to do that. There’s room for all of us. We’re stronger in numbers. As Latinos, we put Barack in office. We could do the same in making sure that Donald Trump doesn’t get in office. We are that strong.
How has it been, working with director Alex Garland and the cast on Annihilation?
Alex Garland is absolutely brilliant. You can read any of his books and you’re like, this man can just create any kind of world out of nothing. Annihilation is based on the sci-fi novel by Jeff VanderMeer and Alex adapted it into a film. Oscar Isaac plays Natalie Portman’s husband. I love Oscar so much. He is so encouraging and he’s been so lovely and so supportive. It’s about five women who are going into the Shimmer, an entity that’s starting to destroy the world. So we’re trying to stop it. We have guns, we’re doing some badass stunts and it’s a brilliant storyline. I play Anya Thorensen, a paramedic from Chicago who happens to be a lesbian and an ex-addict going into the Shimmer to be the hero that she’s kinda always wanted to be.
and you shaved your head for that movie!
I think it all plays into the idea of being your own hero and not feeling like you have to live up to other people’s expectations. I am not my beauty. Who I am is not my f*cking hair, and to be an actor is to transform. To represent a community is to commit, to give my entire all. So if I’m going to represent Latinos in the industry and in art, if I’m going to represent my little cousins in Chicago, they’re going to know that I went full out. Who are we afraid of? What are we afraid of? The worst thing that can happen is we die. Anything else you can handle.
You’re a leader in a new generation of Latina actresses that proudly own their heritage. Do you see that about yourself?
A strong leader is one who creates other leaders. So if I am encouraging young girls to take control of their lives, to spread kindness, then I am doing the job God put me here to do. With every attempt we make within the industry, with every project I take, it will be to advance women. Not only women of color but all women and men. One doesn’t exist without the other. I’m just going to continue to keep my head down and keep trying to do the best work I possibly can, never really saying I’ve arrived
or that I’ve made it anywhere, but just that I’m going to continue to try.
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