Gina Rodriguez Reveals the No. 1 Thing She Has in Common With Her Character on 'Not Dead Yet'

New ABC comedy starring Gina Rodriguez as an obit writer premieres Feb 8.

The Jane the Virgin star Gina Rodriguez, 38, returns to TV as the star and executive producer of the new comedy Not Dead Yet (Feb. 8 on ABC), as Nell Serrano, a journalist who left her life behind five years ago to follow her fiancé to the U.K, and is now unengaged, unemployed and insolvent. When she comes home and lands the only job she can find—writing obituaries at the company where she used to work, Nell starts getting life advice from the dead people whose obits she’s writing. Rodriguez, who is married to actor Joe LoCicero, spoke with Parade the day before their first baby was due.

What was the appeal of a series where your character gets advice from ghosts?

I connected with this show so much because I have always felt like my ancestors have been with me, have been present in my journey, and are taking care of me in those moments of fear or doubt. And, so, when I read this script, I was immediately attracted to this idea that when people pass, when they transition, that they can come back and give you elements of knowledge that you wish you had or that you need in the moment. There's this idea that we can learn from our ancestors and the people that have gone before us, whether they're a feeling, or they're there with the knowledge they gave you when they were in the flesh.

We've watched your career ever since playing Jane. She was such a driven character and, in real life, you’re a go-getter. What was it about Nell that made you say, "I want to do that?"

It's so funny because Jane was so pivotal in my life. It was such a phenomenal character to play, it was so vastly different than myself. I got very lucky to play such a kind, loving, always good, did the right thing and honest [woman]. That really helped me reflect on how I should be. I would literally say, "I should probably be a little more like Jane." But the good thing about that is I would go out into the world, and all of the beautiful viewers of Jane would be so loving and treat me like I was Jane. And I was, like, "I am learning, and I'm failing, and I'm tripping, and I'm flawed, and I have so much to grow."

So, to play a character like Nell, who is flawed and learning and makes mistakes and has this beautiful space to grow in and has space for redemption—whether it's between her and her roommate, or her and her best friend, or her archnemesis—just to have someone that is in her 30s, thinking that she's got it together, and then it all kind of falls apart, to me, is just so much easier to connect to because now, as I go into this next chapter in my life [motherhood], I don't know what I'm doing. I have no idea what I'm doing. I can't even see past the birth. It's like a void past there. And I'm going to fall, and I'm going to trip, and I'm going to make mistakes, and I'm going to ask for help and I'm going to need to lean on all of the incredible people around me. And I'm going to have to ask for forgiveness. And I will forever be someone that's shedding that onion and peeling away at the layers of what I think I know and what I don't know and what maybe I do know and what I'm good at.

And Nell is that. So, to play somebody like that in a time where I think we are all just constantly growing and looking for a safe space and for joy and forgiveness, and also we are all so connected on social media, and we are all so into each other's lives and into each other's spaces that it's great to play somebody that gets to fail but gets to learn from her failures; that gets to try to do better. She gets to learn from the people around her, and she's at times afraid to learn and rejecting of those lessons, and then at other times really is so appreciative. Her life depends on learning from those moments. So, it's really cool to be playing this in a time where I'm now just continuously unraveling and rebuilding myself.

How did you hide your pregnancy while filming? 

It's my first time experiencing this and [the producers have] been so loving and supportive of me accidentally getting pregnant right before the show started. Out of love, obviously. My husband and I were very excited about it, but it definitely wasn't planned, but he [pointing up to heaven] planned it.

[Executive producer/director] Dean Holland was always there to make me feel very comfortable about the experience because it was very new. He helped all the directors come up with very creative ways to cover the belly, whether it was costumes, or my cubicle, or a plant, or a refrigerator.

But the greatest thing and I'll never forget it because each stage, I felt like, Oh, my God. It's so big. I can't imagine hiding it. How are we going to hide it now? I look back on that baby bump, and I was, like, that was nothing. That was nothing. I was so afraid. But I was, like, "Oh, Dean, I'm not going to get smaller." And he was, like, "You are pregnant. You are a miracle. Just live in it, and we'll figure it out." And they did.

Since you have a different ghostly co-star each week, who are some of the guest stars that we'll see? 

We got lucky. We have Rhea Perlman, Paula Pell, Ed Begley Jr., Mo Collins, Telma Hopkins, Brittany Snow, Julia Sweeney and Tony Plana.

Have you ever seen a ghost? 

My grandmother passed this summer, and my mother's been going through her experience of grief. And since my grandmother passed, I have felt her presence more than I ever have in my life, through this experience [pointing to her pregnancy belly]. I had an awesome spiritual baby shower, and my mom was very sad that my grandmother wasn't there. "She's supposed to be here," she kept saying. And I'm, like, "But she is. She totally is."

I know that the strength that woman had towards the end of her life—it was so visible and so commendable. She had perforated bowels, and she had two pelvic surgeries, and you'd ask her, "How are you doing, Grandma?" And she would always say "bastante bien," which means "I'm doing just fine."

And now that I'm going into my journey, I'm just going to keep hearing my grandmother, "bastante bien," like, I can do this. I can do this. I have the strength of these women that have come before me.

This show, to me, is an element of being able to have that kind of reflection in life with laughter and joy and friendship and self-reflection and growth and how do we continue to grow in every age of our life, in every chapter of our life? Because I know mine is not done, my growth. And I don't want to stop growing, because then I'm stagnant. And I don't want to be that for my child. That's for sure. I just always want to be a student. So, Nell is kind of just always a student, and I really like being a part of a project that helps us all take a second and be, like, What can I learn? What can I grow from? Let me rise above blame, shame, or guilt and let me blossom, because it's never too late.

How will your character change when the ex comes back into the picture? 

I think, like any of us would be, she’ll be thrown off, excited, falling back into old feelings, not wanting to repeat the past—just real life and all the nuances of how one feels when somebody they were with for five years comes back into their life, especially when she's rewriting this new journey. Does he fit? Does he not? What's beautiful about our incredible staff of writers is that they really captured life and all its nuances. That's my favorite kind of television to watch and to be a part of, to know that you can't have the happiness without the sadness, the good without the bad. It all is just how you walk through it.

Does your Latina culture play into your character in the series? 

It's impossible for it to not. I'm always Latina, you know? It's so much of my identity. She's just like Jane in the sense that I have writers that are writing a woman and experience, a human—and I always bring something of myself and that’s those nuances that connect me to my culture, my passion, my love and my family.