Gina Rodriguez on her ‘Jane the Virgin’ directorial debut: ‘I can’t wait to see where it leads’
On the set of “Jane the Virgin” on a rainy January day, the dawn of Gina the Director is in progress.
Gina Rodriguez, who normally devotes her time to playing the titular heroine of the CW’s telenovela dramedy, is standing behind an assortment of monitors. She’s pumping her fists in the air as a scene involving Petra (Yael Grobglas) and her lawyer, Jane Ramos (played by guest star Rosario Dawson), unfolds inside Petra’s millennial pink office.
(Sorry, guys, the show’s narrator is territorial about plot breakdowns, so we can’t divulge anything beyond that.)
“That’s so money!” Rodriguez shouts after the cameras take a pause, rubbing her thumbs against her index and middle fingers. “Let’s do it again.”
At 33, Rodriguez has made a name for herself as an actress — outside of her TV alter ego, she can be seen later this month in the feature film “Annihilation,” opposite Natalie Portman — and is steadily building her portfolio as a producer (she had two series in development this cycle under an overall deal at CBS TV Studios for her I Can & I Will Productions).
With Friday’s episode of “Jane the Virgin,” titled “Chapter Seventy-Four,” she adds another hyphen — director — to her resumé.
Rodriguez, who studied at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, says she has long been interested in the craft. But it wasn’t until the end of the second season of “Jane the Virgin” that the desire to direct became something she seriously considered.
“When we first started ‘Jane,’ I was definitely focused on just killing it as an actress,” Rodriguez says by phone. “It's already so difficult as a woman of color but especially when being the lead of a show. It's like you get a minute to be good out the gate or a show gets canned — and you have to be good because we just don't have that many chances.”
That she would eventually jump behind the camera was inevitable, she says.
“I'm the actor that asks questions, that asks the camera operators what lens they're using or why does that look different than the last lens,” she says. “What is the reason for this, for that. I've gone into editing rooms and watched people edit, I've been on movie sets and TV sets for many, many years now. I've been able learn from other people successes and mistakes.”
With creator and showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman aware of Rodriguez’s ambitions to get behind the camera, it was a matter of finding the right episode.
“I wanted to support this dream of hers, because I really believe she can do everything,” Snyder Urman says. “And she approached it the way she does everything: full commitment, so much preparation, confidence and humility, which is what you need to direct. She’s in nearly every scene, so it was just a logistical thing of finding an episode that would give her time to get ready.”
In addition to Dawson, the episode includes guest stars Brooke Shields and the women of “The Talk,” as well as a wolf (which was originally written to be a bear). Her costars say, she handled it with grace.
“I had no doubt in my mind that she would be brilliant,” says Jaime Camil, who plays Jane’s father, Rogelio. “She was always clear about what she wanted in every scene.”
Added Grobglas: “She knows the show so well, obviously, and she knows what it takes to make it what it is. She’s been telling the story so long as an actor, she was able to seamlessly translate that behind the camera.”
Rodriguez also handles the episode’s big ending, which Snyder Urman knew she wanted Rodriguez in control of.
“I thought she would have a nice way to approach it,” Snyder Urman says. “And also empowering. Once I knew which episode she was directing, I had it arc out so she would be in control of that scene.”
For Rodriguez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, the decision to direct is important in another sense: representation. Latinos directed just 4% of episodic TV shows in the 2016-17 season, according to a report released last fall by the Directors Guild of America.
And Rodriguez is intent to keep at it.
“I'm going to direct more next season,” Rodriguez says. “I really feel like I've missed out on so much of this part of my passion and I can't wait to see where it leads.”
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