Gina Rodriguez staying grounded despite 'Jane's' success

Gina Rodriguez: 'The one thing 'Jane' has given me is my freedom as an actress and my ability to help others'

The night she won the Golden Globe for her warm, funny and versatile work as the kindhearted title character in the CW comedy "Jane the Virgin," Gina Rodriguez brought her whole family — Mom and Dad, her two older sisters and their husbands — to the celebrity-filled InStyle after-party at the Beverly Hilton. They hung out for about an hour, people watching, but Rodriguez mostly sat with her parents while her sisters Iveliss and Rebecca tracked down Channing Tatum for a selfie.

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Once that mission was accomplished, Rodriguez and her parents headed back to her one-bedroom Santa Monica apartment, where the 30-year-old actress made up her couch ("Of course, my mom and dad get dibs on the bed") and conked out early. She had to be on set at 5 a.m. the next day.

"The reason I got the Golden Globe was because of my job, so I needed to make sure I wasn't a hot mess the next day," Rodriguez says. "Yes, they probably would have cut me a little slack, but I didn't want to disappoint."

You could chalk up Rodriguez's refreshing humility and lack of pretense to the fact that she's just now establishing herself eight years after graduating from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and hasn't had time to hone a diva attitude. But that wouldn't take into account the moment at that InStyle party when "Jane" creator Jennie Snyder Urman, fresh from crying like a baby over Rodriguez's Globe win, made a beeline to meet the actress' father so she could pick up parenting tips. "I want my daughter to turn out like Gina and her sisters," Urman says. "So I was asking: 'What did you say?'"

What Genaro Rodriguez said during his daughters' formative years could fill a book (and quite possibly might some day). Rodriguez calls her father a "ball of sayings and stories." He's the reason behind her intense work ethic and why she calls her post-college years a time of "hustling," not "struggling," as the latter would imply she was hanging on by a thread — and she wasn't. She was banking nice paychecks working as a twins-specialist nanny and a waitress/hostess/bartender at Sushi Roku in Beverly Grove.

Dad is also the reason she views acting as her "mission" (a word she loves) and the reason she kept going to audition after audition because, she says, "I knew his words of 'I can be anything I want to be' were true. That's what kept me strong. You fall; you get back up. If you don't get back up, you're already stopping your success."

That success eventually came with "Jane," but Rodriguez says her true break happened seven years before that when her parents flew to Florida to see her play the title role in an American Stage Theatre production of "Casa Blue: The Last Moments in the Life of Frida Kahlo." Later, over a dinner celebrating the show and her 23rd birthday, her father told her, "You know, Gina, you're really good. You could do this."

"The world stopped around me at that moment," Rodriguez says. "The chains were broken, and I had my freedom."

Rodriguez thought her turn as a tomboyish rapper in the 2012 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner "Filly Brown" would fast-track her career, but mostly it just gave her access to a better class of auditions. But one person who saw the movie, Ben Silverman, ended up being an executive producer on "Jane" and recommended Rodriguez to Urman. "Patience and faith, man," Rodriguez chants. "Patience and faith."

"Jane" sports a crazy premise — a young woman is accidentally inseminated during a medical mishap and decides to keep the baby despite a complicated relationship with the father — along with a heightened tone in keeping with its Venezuelan telenovela source material. What's made it a hit with critics (it became the first CW series to win a Globe) is the compassion and courage Rodriguez brings to the title character, a young woman possessing a strong sense of self-identity and cultural belonging. It's groundbreaking. Jane is a good girl, but even with the show's soapy sensibility, her decency is always treated with respect.

As Rodriguez ticks off Jane's admirable traits — hard-working, forgiving, wise, resistant to the trappings of power, status and money — she adds that playing the principled character has helped her cope with her own burgeoning fame. (During a fish taco dinner, a couple of young girls, eager for selfies, approach. "I don't think they realize ... if they think they're excited, I'm excited!" Rodriguez enthuses after posing.)

"It's not you who changes with success," Rodriguez says. "It's the people who assume things about you. No, I'm not as good as Jane. But I've definitely been learning a lot from playing a character that makes the choices she makes."

Urman uses the same words to describe both the actress and the character: "Not a goody-goody, just a good person." In other words: human with a generous spirit. Example: Just as Rodriguez started "Jane" last year, she took in a college friend and her 4-year-old daughter, setting up a divider in her apartment's living room. The friend found a job and recently moved out, and as Rodriguez talks about the "blessing" of their 10 months together, it's all about the help and support the friend and her daughter provided her. You give. You receive.

Rodriguez's five-year-plan (she probably has a 10-year-plan too, but we didn't jump that far ahead) includes items she's about to check off (she landed a lead in a big-budget film, "Deepwater Horizon," starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by Peter Berg, that she'll make this summer on her hiatus) and goals she's still working toward achieving, like the free clinic she wants to open with her sister Rebecca, who's a doctor.

"The one thing 'Jane' has given me … is my freedom as an actress and my ability to help others," Rodriguez says. "That and my family ... that's what it's all about. Everything else is irrelevant."

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

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