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The Jane the Virgin star portrays the famous criminal mastermind in a new animated educational series, which begins streaming on Friday. Rodriguez tells ET it's a role she has always dreamed of taking on and says she couldn't be happier the series found a home on the popular streaming platform.
"I never thought she'd end up on Netflix, nor did I think she'd come back!" Rodriguez exclaimed during a phone call with ET from Miami, where she was hosting an interactive Carmen Sandiego Day with kids. "But I definitely remember talking about it and thinking, 'They need to bring back Carmen Sandiego. She was so badass! Why don't they have cartoons like that anymore?' Literally, I was saying that right out of college. I was 24 and, dude, fast forward 10 years later and I'm playing her."
Rodriguez, now 34, says there were many reasons why she said yes to the series, but feels that it was an extra special opportunity for her as a Latina.
"Because we seldom get to [play these roles]," she explains. "And because representation is clearly extremely important. There were 1700 kids at Carmen Sandiego Day, and that's all they kept repeating to me, how they wanted to see themselves and see their country represented. They all came with their flags and it was insane to see how much pride it brought them when I said their country's name. Like, you see it in the youth. They're aware, they feel it, they want to see themselves reflected."
"As a Latina, seeing that brown skin on animation is revolutionary. When I saw it in the trailer, I started crying," Rodriguez continues. "That's not common. It should be. We give ourselves allowance when we see that. And for women, we've had an incredible year of so many strong, fantastic, brilliant women standing up and saying, like, 'Hey guys, not cool anymore.' So it's wonderful to have a character like Carmen, 'cause repetition is needed. We don't need to see one... we need to see a thousand, a million. Because it's necessary to show time and time again the normalization. That we are all valued, we are all worthy, every community, every culture, every religion."
Of course, voicing the role was no easy feat, as it comes with a massive responsibility -- introducing Carmen to a whole new generation of fans. The world first met Carmen in 1985, as a character in an educational mystery video game series called Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? She was then brought to TV in the '90s and voiced by Rita Moreno, who Rodriguez confirms makes a cameo in the latest version. The franchise clearly had a long-lasting impact on its original fans (more on "The Carmen Effect" here), and there's no doubt that modern viewers will fall in love with the stylish, passionate and smart thief all over again.
Now, the new animated series from Netflix will show fans a whole other side of Carmen, where they'll not only want to learn where she is, but who she really is... and it sounds like the red coat-wearing thief may not be as villainous as we all perceived!
"We do talk about her origin story," Rodriguez confirms. "For old Carmen lovers, we've never known where she was from, we never knew who she was or where she got her name. All of that was such a mystery, and she was a much more mysterious woman back in the '80s and '90s."
"So now, we really get to learn who she is," she continues. "We get to care for her and be a part of her story. We get to see her trajectory and understand what brought her to where she is today. That being said, you do find out her origin. You find out that she's Latina!"
Rodriguez is also slated to portray the iconic character in a live-action movie film adaptation. Netflix has acquired the rights to the project, which is being billed as a standalone adventure. While not much is known about it just yet, Rodriguez says she will, "God willing, be executive producing" it in addition to starring in it.
"I can tell you we are working our tails off! There's no slowing down. The same kind of heart we want for the animation is the same kind of heart we want to spread throughout the entire world of Carmen," she teases. "From the books to the animation to the film. You're going to see an array of cultures and languages and everything you could possibly think of in both the animation and the live action."
"The idea is just to allow you to weave through the world like Carmen does," she adds. "Have a really good time and have a great, entertaining piece of art, but at the same time, stick to the core values of really wanting to create empathy through educating people in other cultures, countries and communities."
Rodriguez also confirms she will definitely be doing "extensive training in lots of different fight styles" for the movie.
"I am going to try to make sure that I get to do all my own stunts," she says. "Anybody that knows me knows that I totally am an adrenaline junkie. And it's just going to be a super baller, multicultural cast. It's going to be awesome. Those are all my hopes and dreams [for it] and I will not sleep until I get them."
Fans can also catch Rodriguez playing badass Gloria in Miss Bala, in theaters Feb. 1. During a press junket for the action film, her co-star, Anthony Mackie, couldn't stop gushing about all the ways Rodriguez is breaking barriers for the Latinx community -- not only with this film and Carmen Sandiego, but also through all her work behind the scenes with her production company, I Can & I Will.
"I'm excited for her," Mackie marveled, moments before Rodriguez began to tear up on camera. "The things that Gina's doing in this day and age and in this business I feel is revolutionary. She's not sitting back and waiting for the hit of her show to garner her work. She's going out and not only creating work, she's finding projects that are right for her, other women, people of color, and using her power to develop that and give those people opportunities."
"For so long, so many people in this business have been given opportunities and they just sat back and waited for Hollywood to give them a job," he continued. "To see someone of her age, of her experience to go out and make that, that's dope. And a property like that, that's such a big property, for her to go and grab it and make it? I'm excited!"
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