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Jaime Camil of ‘Jane the Virgin’ takes the fatherhood role to a funny new level

Actor Jaime Camil, who plays the father of the title character on the TV series "Jane the Virgin," photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio on May 11, 2015.

Actor Jaime Camil, who plays the father of the title character on the TV series “Jane the Virgin,” photographed in the Los Angeles Times studio on May 11, 2015.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times

It was the kind of scene in which Rogelio de la Vega would revel: costars taking a break from production inside Stage 26 at Manhattan Beach Studios to heartily discuss his talents, just feet away from a billboard bearing an absurdly grandstanding image of his face.

Just a run-of-the-mill #blessed kind of moment, as he might say.

Except the praise on this sweltering fall day was for Jaime Camil, the man who has spun the character of wonderfully self-absorbed Rogelio de la Vega on "Jane the Virgin" into a singular figure in the annals of TV dads.

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Gina Rodriguez may have captured the attention of critics and viewers last season with her portrayal of titular heroine Jane Villanueva at the center of the modestly performing CW dramedy, but it's Camil's depiction of the cluelessly narcissistic telenovela star and Jane's once-estranged father — who doesn't pop in peach but can rock a lavender suit jacket — that has emerged as the show's scene stealer.

If "Empire's" Cookie is the most quotable TV matriarch to come out of last season, Rogelio is her less-brazen equivalent on the patriarch front. He once said that he and Jane would "conquer Hollywood together, much like Jon Voight and Angelina Jolie." Another time he said he didn't like to use the term "triple threat" because it "suggests [he's] only limited to three skills." And then, of course, there's his canny ability at crafting hashtags on the show, which returned for its second season earlier this month.

"I have tons of fun," Camil said earlier in the day while having his mane tugged with a brush and blow dryer to achieve the pomp of Rogelio's perfectly coiffed hair. "The writers craft a very well-balanced character that is full of comedic moments and, at the same time, full of heart. You want to hug him, and then he says the most ridiculous things."

There's a reason Camil makes the over-the-top character seem effortless: The Mexico-born actor is widely known in Latin America for his role in popular sitcomlike telenovelas such as "La Fea Más Bella" ("The Prettiest Ugly Girl," which was Mexico's adaptation of the popular Colombian telenovela that inspired "Ugly Betty"), "Qué Pobres Tan Ricos" ("So Poor Yet So Rich") and "Por Ella Soy Eva" ("For Her, I'm Eva") — all of which aired in the U.S. on Univision.

But he's not just a TV star in Latin America. Camil, over the course of his 20-plus-year career, has worked in film and theater. He's even released albums, hosted his own talk show (or two) and was named one of the sexiest men alive in 2007 by People en Español.

And if, like Rogelio, we use Twitter followers as a measure of popularity, Camil comes to the U.S. with a substantial Latin American fan base built-in: He has more than 3.7 million followers.

"Whenever I say who is on the show, if the person I'm talking to is Latino, I will say Jaime's name first," said Andrea Navedo, who plays Jane's mother and Rogelio's complicated love interest, Xiomara Villanueva. "You'll see them light up. All of a sudden that gets their attention."

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Camil was born in Mexico City, the son of a Mexican businessman of Egyptian descent and a Brazilian mother who was a singer. He initially pursued a singing career and regarded his acting gigs as a means to draw more attention to his records, which include "Para Estar Contigo" (2000) and "Una Vez Mas" (2001).

"But life kept giving me acting opportunities, and I thought maybe I should shift my focus and pursue acting more seriously," Camil said. Not that he doesn't still put his vocal cords to use — he sang the national anthems of the U.S. and Mexico when the Dodgers played the Colorado Rockies last month in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.

In recent years the 42-year-old actor has steadily made inroads into the U.S. market. He had an appearance on the Lifetime series "Devious Maids," from Eva Longoria and Marc Cherry, as well as a starring role as a mariachi in the feature film "Pulling Strings" (2013).

But last year Camil made a push to get cast in U.S. pilot season. Cue the dramatic music: And that's when he received the script for "Jane the Virgin," about a twentysomething virgin Latina who is accidentally artificially inseminated during a routine OB/GYN exam, much to the confusion of her Catholic abuela.

Rogelio as the telenovela star, initially, appears in Jane's daydream sequences — before becoming a full-fledged, three-dimensional character once Jane learns Rogelio is actually her father.

In super Rogelio fashion, Camil did an elaborate set-up, complete with dramatic lighting and shadows, inside his "Que Pobres Tan Ricos" dressing room in a Skype conference call with show creator Jennie Snyder Urman and director Brad Silberling in his quest to nail down the role.

"I do remember that the lighting was good," Urman said. "But, yeah, I read him scenes from future episodes because in the pilot his character has like two or three lines. He had a paper with some of the scenes, and I remember he was telling me how funny the lines were as he was kind of acting them out. And it was just so clear he was Rogelio."

"Jane the Virgin" would ultimately enter the TV marketplace at a time when broadcasters were beginning to more openly embrace the idea that shows with diverse casts could find a mainstream audience.

"We live in a multicultural country," Camil said. "To pretend that we don't have a multicultural population, it would be absurd. This is a show with heart and purpose. It's a story about people, about family. We're not Latinos shouting or being 'spicy.' We're normal people."

A season later, things are coming full circle for Camil. The actor, who spends most of his time in Los Angeles, is gearing up to promote "Jane the Virgin's" launch across Latin America and Brazil next month. And, appropriately, he is dubbing his own voice for the Spanish-language version.

"It's like an alternate dimension," said Camil, who can randomly recite Rogelio lines from memory. "It's weird. It's like recording the episode again. But, come on, I had to dub myself. How could I not?"

One bit he leaves to someone else is the fake Rogelio de la Vega account on Twitter, manned by show writer and producer David S. Rosenthal. Twitter Rogelio is just as shallow and preposterous, telling his 15,000-plus followers (a.k.a. Rogeliovers) to tune in to "fall in love with him all over again" or reminding them that he "Woke Up Sexy, Spent The Day Sexy, Going To Bed Sexy!!! #LivinLaVidaDeLaVega"

"Jaime the actor and Rogelio, the character he plays, just crack me up," Rosenthal said. "Their voice is almost one in the same. A lot of times I'll tweet things on set — especially if I'm with Jaime, things will occur to me just from being around him. Or if I think of a line that can't go into a script, I'll tweet it out. Jaime gets a big kick out of it. I kind of do it now just to make Jaime laugh. If I can crack Jaime up, I feel like I've done my job. "

Camil's penchant for comedy is almost always on display. With hair and makeup finished on set, the actor, who cites Steve Martin, Martin Short and Mexican comic Mario "Cantinflas" Moreno as inspirations, stops from riding his bike outside the "Jane the Virgin" soundstage to demonstrate the art of a Dubsmash video — the popular phone app in which users can record a video of themselves lip-syncing to funny soundbites. (He had recently posted a video of himself riding his bike while singing Queen's "Bicycle Race.")

#dubmash

A video posted by Jaime Camil (@jaimecamil) on

"He is our source of laughter," Rodriguez said during a break from filming. "And he is like my fake TV pops off the set too. He hit me up last weekend and was like, 'I'm in Santa Monica at Color Me Mine — want to come make pottery with me?' I think I was stuck at Target, and I remember I was so mad and laughing too because, hello, I would love to do that. It's the most random thing in the world."

That's what Rogelio would call #flove (family + love).

Follow me on Twitter @villarrealy


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