You know that feeling at the top of the rollercoaster? When you’re seconds away from the first big plunge and feeling that perfect mix of excitement, anticipation, and fear? Gina Rodriguez feels like that pretty much all the time these days. Or as she puts it, grinning from ear to ear during lunch at a Culver City restaurant, “terrified as fuuuck.”
The 34-year-old actress has filmed 10 movies during her time off from the instant hit Jane the Virgin, but it’s the upcoming Miss Bala where she lays her reputation, future career, and big-screen viability on the line. She stars as Gloria, a Mexican-American who finds herself swept up-and complicit-in the deadly crimes of a cartel. Taking this professional leap, she says emphatically, makes her really scared. But she’s not preoccupied with achieving box-office success or critical acclaim.
“I felt very alone growing up. I didn’t feel represented. I didn’t feel a part of the conversation,” she explains. “And if you see yourself projected, you believe you are worthy, valuable.” Miss Bala as a whole is groundbreaking. The majority of the cast is Latinx, and so were many of its crew. “When Hollywood reimagines films, they have historically whitewashed them. In this case, the American girl is me, a Latina born in this country. I find that revolutionary.”
Of course, Gina would like the movie to follow in the barrier-breaking footsteps of Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians. But if it bombs? “Hopefully, it’s the same thing that happens every time a white movie bombs,” she says. “They just make another one!”
Gina arrived for our lunch wearing cropped Levi’s and a cozy cream sweater, her hair pulled into a messy bun. But the casual look and warm energy mask this workaholic’s ambition. “I was a broke, starving artist for years before I got Jane,” she says of her drive and jam-packed schedule.
Her intensity is obvious in our freewheeling convo, which skips from feminism (“It’s not ‘women are better.’ It’s equality”) to reproductive rights (“If abortion is illegal, ejaculation should be too!”) to whether she wants to freeze her eggs (she doesn’t).
In fact, Gina can trace her ambition back to when she set a goal for herself, at 14, to star on a TV show. She orders a mimosa as she recounts what it was like back then, when she lived in Chicago, one of three first-generation daughters born to Puerto Rican parents. Her mom made killer arroz con pollo, and Nuyorican salsa music was always playing. “For years and years, I tried,” she says. “When I was 29, I hit it.”
That’s when she landed the role of Jane Villanueva, a virgin whose life takes on telenovela-level drama when she’s mistakenly inseminated with a sample from her smoking-hot, wealthy boss. It’s a part that scored Gina a Golden Globe and made her a household name.
“It’s interesting. As a performer, you have to quite literally bury your life,” she says. “At the same time, every day on-set I’m like, How the hell did I get this lucky? To live out your dreams is a really surreal experience.”
But not every day is peachy. While filming the fifth and final season of Jane, Gina’s beloved rescue pup Casper started walking funny and had to be rushed to the vet. She found out he needed emergency spinal surgery between takes. “And I couldn’t cry because I was doing a scene where Jane’s happy and things are great,” she says. The next day, she got an update.
“As I’m walking into my Cosmo cover shoot, thinking, Wow, I’m finally gonna be a Cosmo girl!, the doctor says, ‘Casper has no motor function in his legs.’” In the moment, all Gina could think about was how he was doing. But you’d never know it, looking at these photos. Because part of her job is to put a big-ass smile on her face, even when it’s the last thing she wants to do.
The struggles of being in the public eye have hit Gina hard. “The anxiety started coming, like, two years into Jane. I had my first panic attack at a sushi restaurant. All of a sudden, I thought I was going to die, and people are taking pictures. It was horrendous,” she says, shaking her head. “There are a lot of things in the manual of living out your dreams that you don’t know about. Like you don’t have any more friends. You never go out to eat. You never see your family, your boyfriend, girlfriend, or whatever you have....”
What Gina has is her fiancé, Joe LoCicero. They got engaged last summer and stans lap up their PDA on social media. (The couple met when Joe played a stripper during season two of Jane.)
“Dating Joe was a new experience for me because I put myself first,” she says. “For so long, I put every man in front of me. As a successful woman, it is so hard because of our cultural norms that, like, the man has to be the breadwinner! And the man has to be the more powerful one. It was so difficult for me to find a man who didn’t want me to dim my light for his ego.”
Their love lies in the little things too. Keeping the house clutter-free is one of the ways Gina curbs her anxiety. Even after a 14-plus-hour day on-set, she compulsively tidies up. Recently, she mentioned to Joe how relaxing her nights had felt, and he confessed that he’d been doing all the dirty work before she got home, to save her the stress. “He was like, ‘I just want you for 15 more minutes,’” she says, tearing up. “It made me cry. I was like, ‘Fuck, yeah. Get rid of the clutter! Thank you, baby.’” She grabs a napkin and dabs her eyes. “And he puts the seat down,” she says, “and sometimes I leave the seat up for him.”
When I ask how she knew Joe was her person, she compares him, surprisingly, to an autoimmune disorder she’s had since she was 19. “I said this to Joe the other day, and he was like, ‘That sounds terrible.’ But it’s true,” she says. “My Hashimoto’s, it’s just a part of me. That’s how I feel with Joe. There was this moment of, Oh, I’m going to be with you forever.”
Gina’s condition can cause fatigue, depression, and weight gain, something she finds frustrating. “I remember my first cover shoot. I heard them whispering, ‘When she stands like that, it doesn’t look good.’ Those comments feel like knives from across the room,” she says. “I can hear you! And who fucking cares if it doesn’t look attractive? This is the way I look when I sit. My shit folds!”
But her life-her stardom, romance, and self-worth-has changed.
“I finally love my body,” she says. “I let go of the anxiety and the fear of not looking beautiful. Because it’s not about the picture. It’s about the fact that I stand on this cover with every Latina who wished she saw herself reflected. Because it’s not my face-it’s the 55-million-plus girls who are like, ‘Holy shit! We belong.’”
Photographer: Jason Kim. Styled by: Aya Kanai.
For more of Gina, pick up the February 2019 issue on newsstands January 15, or click here to subscribe to the digital edition.
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