Our Lady Of Prime Time
For her title role on the CW’s comedy hit Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez became one of the first Latinas to win an acting Golden Globe. Here, the trailblazer reveals the real woman behind “the Virgin,” and opens up about masturbation, her man, and finally making it
By Erika W. Smith
Photos by Kat Borchart // Styling by Ashley Avignone
Hair by Kristin Heitkotter // Makeup by Carissa Ferreri // Props by Chelsea Maruskin
It seems impossible, but Gina Rodriguez may be even sweeter in real life than her character is on the CW show Jane the Virgin. Here are a few things that happen in the first five minutes of our interview: As she orders a late breakfast of scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, and avocado, she stops to ask our waitress about the origins of her name (“Silke”), which she proclaims “stunning.” She compliments my long hair, saying that she can’t wait until hers grows out again (she got an undercut to film the action movie Annihilation last year). She takes a quick Facetime call from her boyfriend, actor Joe LoCicero, tells him, “Baby, I’m in an interview, I love you so much,” hangs up, then says, “It took me 32 years to find him, so let’s hope I can hang on to him!” And after all that, she finally launches into describing for me her unbelievably busy schedule promoting the Season 3 finale of Jane the Virgin, which will air just a few days after we meet.
To say she’s been “busy” is an understatement—Rodriguez is still wearing a white Kate Spade dress (which she has to return later, she tells me) from an early morning appearance on Live with Kelly and Ryan, and the day before, she followed up her BUST photo shoot at the Gramercy Park Hotel with an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where she talked about finally paying off her student loans. After our interview, she’s off to train for her next film role, Miss Bala, in which she’ll star as a woman who becomes a CIA agent. “I was a starving artist for so long, and then it hits, and all you do is work,” she says. “My parents are like, ‘For the first 10 years, you were practicing relaxing. Now, you get to work!’”
In fact, Rodriguez, 32, has been acting professionally for half her life; she was admitted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts at 16, where she trained with David Mamet and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Her first TV role was in 2004, a one-episode appearance on Law and Order. But it wasn’t until 2012 that her first big break happened: She played an aspiring rapper in the indie film Filly Brown, which was nominated for a Sundance Grand Jury Prize. The movie got her some attention, and two years later, she landed the starring role on Jane the Virgin, an impossible-to-categorize program that can be described as both a satirical romantic comedy and a dramatic telenovela. It is, on the surface, a show about a young, devout Catholic woman saving herself for marriage who, after she becomes accidentally artificially inseminated with her boss’ sperm, decides to have the baby. But along with its soapy plotlines (multiple pairs of secret twins have shown up), Jane the Virgin has made headlines for the way it handles social issues including immigration, abortion, and purity culture, and has received praise from progressive organizations including Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the NAACP. And, NBD, it’s won a ton of awards, too—including a Golden Globe for Best Comedy Actress for Rodriguez, which made her only the second Latina to win in that category since the awards began in 1944.
Playing a fictional virgin (Jane finally loses her virginity in Season 3 after marrying her longtime boyfriend Michael) means that Rodriguez is used to fans telling her about their sex lives. “Lots of young girls tell me that they’re saving themselves for marriage, or they want to wait longer, or, ‘I’m 16 and I’m still a virgin!’ And I say to them, ‘You go girl, it’s your body, it’s your ownership, it’s your decision,’” she says. The openness of her fans has also made Rodriguez more ready to talk about her own sex life. “I have no discomfort with sex whatsoever,” she says. But she does admit to feeling a little nervous—after demurring in earlier interviews promoting Jane—about finally sharing her own virginity loss story on comedian Phoebe Robinson’s podcast Sooo Many White Guys this past April. In a nutshell: She was 17, it was to her high school boyfriend of about a year, he was also a virgin, and “it was pretty magical.” After that episode aired, Rodriguez says that she barely got a reaction, which was OK by her. “It was as if my fans were like, ‘Alright, get it girl!’”
Earlier this year, Rodriguez also announced that she’s going to play the most famous virgin ever, the Virgin Mary, in an animated nativity movie called The Star. “All the virgins, I play all the virgins,” she jokes. (BUST readers might be more excited about another animated project—Rodriguez will also be voicing Carmen Sandiego in a Netflix reboot of the ’90s hit kids’ show.) Rodriguez’s own religious views, however, are a little complicated. She grew up in a Catholic, Puerto Rican family in Chicago, has some Jewish extended family, and explored Christianity and Buddhism as an adult. “I think I’ve settled on the all-inclusive religion of love,” she says. “I think God is love.”
Although Jane is a devout Catholic, Jane the Virgin shows how its main character sometimes suffers under the pressure of a culture that highly prizes sexual purity—including feeling lost after finally losing her virginity within marriage and hesitating to have sex outside of marriage after her husband dies. When I tell her that as a former Catholic, this felt very true to me, Rodriguez answers, “Hell yeah. Guilt, are you kidding? I was definitely raised with that. In all honesty, I used to feel guilty for masturbating. Oh my God, this extreme guilt! And that lasted way too long. Or maybe I masturbated too much!” She adds, “It’s OK to look back in retrospect and be like, it wasn’t good that I felt bad about touching myself. And it isn’t bad that I want to share my love with my boyfriend. I’m 32 years old, I’m an adult, I can do that!’”
Another thing she’s old enough to do is take her politics to the streets to march against inequality, something that Jane also does in response to increasing ICE raids. In January, Rodriguez joined the Women’s March in Los Angeles, wearing a shirt that read, “Torch your bra.” But that wasn’t the only march she’s attended. “I march whenever there’s a march,” she says, adding that she also participated in A Day Without A Woman. “I told the CW that I wasn’t going to come to work,” she says about the national strike day. “You need women, or else this TV show does not exist.”
Considering the kinds of marches she’s been attending recently, Rodriguez’s answer to the question “Are you a feminist?” comes as no surprise. “Hell yeah!” she says. Then adds, “Everybody should be a feminist.” Her definition of feminism, she says, is simple: “Equality.” It’s something she learned growing up in a household with four women—her mother, her grandmother, and her two older sisters. “My grandmother is the biggest feminist,” she says. “She is an activist, she is a voice against injustice. I grew up with that.”
For herself, she considers acting in Jane another form of activism. “I feel so fricking lucky to be part of a project that understands its ability to be a platform for change,” she says, giving credit to “brilliant” showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman. Rodriguez personally has also been using the Jane platform to become an outspoken advocate for putting more people of color, particularly Latinos, both in front of and behind the camera. In her Golden Globes speech in 2015, she said, “This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes.” Rodriguez has backed that up with her production company, I Can And I Will Productions, which earlier this year signed a deal with CBS. It’s named after a saying from her dad that she quoted in her Golden Globes speech. “My father used to tell me to say every morning, today’s going to be a great day, I can and I will. Well, Dad, today’s a great day, I can and I did.”
“If I didn’t help create opportunities for other Latinos, I would be doing myself a disservice because I am the collection of everyone’s hard work,” she says. “So how can I not do that for others?” She has been vocal before about turning down roles because she was tired of seeing the only Latinas on TV be “the pregnant teen, the maid, or the landscape artist.” But she’s also quick to clarify that there’s nothing wrong with a Latina in the real world being a maid. “There’s nothing wrong with the job, it’s that we’ve seen these roles played,” she says. “We haven’t seen the lead lawyer DA be a Latina, we haven’t seen the President of the United States be a Latina, we haven’t seen the character I’m playing next in Miss Bala, who is a woman in the CIA, be a Latina.”
Rodriguez is also using social media as a form of activism. After the #OscarsSoWhite conversation in early 2016, she began posting a photo and bio about a person of color in the film industry or activist sphere every Monday to her 1.7 million Instagram followers; recent spotlights include Black-ish star Yara Shahidi; comedian Nasim Pedrad; actor John Leguizamo; and Puerto Rican activist and attorney Iris Morales. These posts sometimes prompt dialogue with more conservative fans, and when that happens, she’ll go the distance to engage with them. “I can love a Trump supporter,” she says. “Maybe not a racist, that would be very hard for my heart. But I’m saying that you don’t have to have the same political views as I do in order for me to love you and be kind to you.”
It’s impressive how Rodriguez is able to have such a compassionate response in the face of so much social media hate. “I get so much shit,” she says, going on to describe what happened when she interviewed then-President Barack Obama for the Latino web series We Are Mitú, during the 2016 election. “I asked him, ‘What would you tell our undocumented citizens?’ I consider them citizens because of what they contribute to this country. And I had such a sense of joy and pride to interview, to me, the best president we’ve ever had. But I got destroyed, I got hate, I got people telling me they were going to kill me because I was going to throw off the election. It sucked.”
It was Lena Dunham, ultimately, who gave Rodriguez some advice to get over it. “I asked her, I was like, ‘Dude, I am getting destroyed, I am getting hate mail, I am getting attacked, and all I said is that I believe in the inclusivity of people from other cultures and religions and ethnicities coming to our country.’” Dunham’s advice? “She was like, ‘Girl, it’ll be over in a few days. They’ll be on to the next person to destroy. Don’t let them steal your joy.’ And I started to let go of that, because there was also a lot of love. There is always love amidst the negative, even though the negative is always so much louder.”
Rodriguez currently has two great loves in her life: her aforementioned boyfriend, Joe LoCicero, and her eight-year-old dog, Casper (featured in the photos for this story). She rescued Casper in Los Angeles seven years ago, back when his fur was so matted, “his legs could barely stretch.” Rodriguez took him home to groom him and decided to keep him. “He’s been my road dog ever since,” she says.
And as for Rodriguez and LoCicero, they celebrated their one-year anniversary in August. They met when he appeared on Jane the Virgin, playing a stripper dressed as Don Quixote for Jane’s bachelorette party (and he later reappears as a stripper dressed as Prince Charming for Jane’s mother’s bachelorette party). While she says she thought he was hot when she first met him (“He’s so cute, he’s so pretty, his body is ripped for days”), they really connected when they ran into each other at Rodriguez’s boxing gym—she’s been boxing since she was three—six months after his first appearance on Jane. “The second time I saw him, I didn’t realize who he was. He came in through the door and I was like ‘Good God!’ and I fell into his eyeballs.” Rodriguez reintroduced herself, and they ran into each other at the gym for the next four days. “On the fourth day, he asked me out, and I have been dating him ever since,” she says. “Now I know what it means to date your best friend.”
It’s a much more stable love life than the one written for Jane, who, in the first season, was caught between her longtime boyfriend Michael and her boss/former crush/baby daddy Rafael, before marrying Michael in the Season 2 finale; Michael dies midway through Season 3, and the Season 3 finale sets up a new love triangle between Jane, Rafael, and a new character named Adam. For her part, Rodriguez says, “Jane with Michael was everything to me, and I really can’t imagine Jane being with anyone else.” But she’s on board with the fans who ship her with Jane’s frenemy (and Rafael’s ex-wife) Petra, with the couple name “Jetra.” Rodriguez says she sees that fantasy pairing online “so often,” adding, “and so many fans ask me if Jane is bisexual. Jane is the furthest from bisexual—maybe Gina’s a little closer than Jane is!—but I love that they want that. And I’m all about ‘Jetra.’ I love ‘Jetra.’” She’s also on board for playing her longtime friend Stephanie Beatriz’s girlfriend on Beatriz’s show Brooklyn Nine-Nine, something fans have suggested for the pair on Twitter. “I want to play her love interest so bad,” says Rodriguez. “I really hope they make that happen.”
Along with her #MovementMondays and volunteering to fictionally pair up with Beatriz, Rodriguez has also used social media to be open about her health, both physical and mental. She was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s—an autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid—right when Jane was beginning to film. One of the symptoms is depression, which Rodriguez says she struggled with while shooting Jane’s third season. “For anyone who deals with depression,” she says, “it’s like, ‘My family’s great, my boyfriend’s great, my career is great, so why can’t I smile? Why don’t I want to get up? Why is this so much harder?’” Another symptom is that it’s difficult to lose weight, which Rodriguez says she has learned to embrace. “It gave me a new fight,” she says, “to change the way I felt about myself. So many girls believe they have to be two fricking pounds to be any kind of success, and that is not the truth. I believed it for so long, and it hurt me. But then at 27, I was like, ‘They say I can’t be a lead because I’m not skinny enough, tall enough, pretty enough, light enough, white enough, Latino enough, whatever enough. That’s bullshit, and I’m going to change that.’” She also names Dunham, Mindy Kaling, and America Ferrera as other women who are inspiring her to fight to bring body diversity to TV.
Whether it’s size, gender, or race, Rodriguez knows that we need to see more diversity in pop culture. And even if you don’t have a hit TV show, your own production company, or millions of social media followers, you can still do something about it. “Don’t consume the products [that don’t represent you],” she says. “Especially Latinos! Latinos make up 38 percent of the box office every weekend. That’s a lot! So if you want to see Latinos in big studio films, and they don’t exist in them, don’t see them, because in this industry, money talks more than anything. If you do not see yourself and your community in the ways that you want, don’t purchase tickets. If you don’t purchase, they’ll stop making [something exclusive]. If you don’t purchase, they’ll start to include.”
Top photo: H&M shirt; Use Unused skirt
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2017 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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