'Not Dead Yet' Star Gina Rodriguez on Finding the Funny With Help from the Afterlife

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Gina Rodriguez

It was a happy moment in the season 1 finale of Not Dead Yet when Nell (Gina Rodriguez) broke up with Phillip (Ed Weeks) and as a result of no longer being under his controlling personality regained her ability to commune with the ghosts of the people whose obituaries she writes.

So, when season 2 premieres tonight, Nell is a little further on her journey to finding herself, but that doesn’t mean she still doesn’t have far to go and so will be entertaining us as she continues her voyage of self-discovery.

“What I think was a really great wrap up of the first season was her saying Phillip wasn’t right for her,” Rodriguez tells Parade in this exclusive interview. “I think that there are people in our lives, and I can say from my own experience before meeting my husband [Joe Locicero], there were relationships I revisited thinking, ‘Well, maybe if I just go at this differently, maybe if I just give this one more try,’ and it took me almost too long to learn this person wasn’t good for me.”

So, season 2 will definitely see growth in Nell now that she’s ditched Phillip, but it won’t be all smooth sailing. More like one step forward and two steps back as she tries to figure out what’s best for her.

“I’d like to see her address her relationship to love,” says Rodriguez, who will be visited by ghosts embodied by a great lineup of guest stars this season, including Wendie Malick, Nico Santos, and Rob Corddry. “I’d like to see her address her relationship to boundaries and setting them in her life. I’d like to see her approach her relationship to these ghosts, and what it means for her and what they are doing for her. I would love to continue to play with this idea of milestones we’re supposed to be reaching at certain ages in our culture, and her not [reaching them], and what that does to her and how she can combat those cultural norms of where we should be in our life at certain ages.”

Hannah Simone, Lauren Ash<p>ABC/Scott Everett White</p>
Hannah Simone, Lauren Ash

ABC/Scott Everett White

As she deals with the ghosts in her lives, the question remains if Nell will share this special ability she’s developed with her best friend Sam (Hannah Simone), her roommate Edward (Rick Glassman) or her new friend Cricket (Angela E. Gibbs), especially because it was Monty (Martin Mull), her first ghost, who led her to Crickett. Plus, Cricket seems to be the one who might believe her.

“Right, right. I agree with that,” Rodriguez says. “I hadn’t thought about how she would approach her friends with this thing. I think there’s less danger in telling a guy she meets than in telling her friends because she would hate to lose them, they matter so much more to her. I think what’s unfortunate is that she still believes she would lose somebody should they know this about her. And that’s me talking as the character because I do know that that’s engrained in the fabric of Nell’s fears.”

Related: Gina Rodriguez Is Back With Not Dead Yet Season 2: Everything to Know

During our conversation, Rodriguez also gave a breakdown of what to expect from some of the other characters this season, including what the addition of Brad Garrett means to the cast, more on whether Nell will find romance this season, and why Rick Glassman plays such a special role in her life.

Is Nell going to be any more together than last season? She came back from London expecting her old life and was shocked to find out she had to start all over again. It has been a learning experience, but has she learned?

I feel like in the reality of life there are some lessons we learn that we don’t repeat, and then there are other lessons it takes a few goes to let it settle in and let it be something that you don’t want to repeat again. So, I feel like there is definitely growth in Nell, as I would say in my own life, and there are other things that did that lesson really settle in and are we in the space to grow from it or to actually let it get into the fabric of our being? So, Nell is just on the journey like everybody else of figuring out what’s best for her.

And for Nell, I think wrapping up Season 1 by saying, “You know, this guy, he doesn’t get me and this new me needs to be heard in a different way. I can’t be with this man. I don’t know what my life is moving toward and, obviously, I wish I had love right at this moment, but this isn’t the right love,” was a really great wrap up. Because now Nell is moving into this next season having more clarity that when she meets someone, she’s not going to be able to lie about what’s going on with her.

Or maybe it’s still going to be a hard conversation and still an adjustment of being like, “Hey, so there’s this thing about me that I don’t know what it is, but I need you to know that this is who I am.” And so, it’s going to be cool to explore that when she finds love moving forward in this next season, and in the seasons following should we be so lucky to continue these stories. But I think Nell is definitely shedding old habits and learning new ones.

Gina Rodriguez<p>ABC/Lara Solanki</p>
Gina Rodriguez

ABC/Lara Solanki

What was really interesting about the way the Phillip situation was dealt with was she lost her ability to hear the ghostly voices because he was so controlling, right? Could that mean if part of what the voices are is her inner voice telling her what she needs to hear, as a way of doing it without a big, "Oh, this is my inner voice.”

Wow, that’s super profound and something I’m going to start taking with me moving forward acting in this season. Because I had never thought about it in that way and I really am super grateful for this conversation now with you because I still have five more episodes to shoot. And I’m going to utilize that perspective because now you just opened up my mind and my heart to the idea that like, yeah, yeah, there were so many reasons why I thought she might be listening, hearing these ghosts.

And we joke around with the idea of even she’s just breaking down, she’s having a nervous breakdown as she approaches 40. But yeah, I think it’s super profound that her subconscious would be approaching her in this way to be like, “Hey, listen, you need to listen. And I’m going to create many different ways for you to listen because there are lessons that need to be learned in order for you to start opening your heart and mind to new journeys in your life.”

We don’t want to change the show too much because we love it the way it is, but there were some other things that happened in the finale for other characters. Like Sam speaking up for herself to Lexi, but will she be able to maintain that? Lexi is still her boss even though they’re friends, will she be able to keep that change going? It would be realistic if she couldn’t.

I think you hit the nail on the head that it’s very realistic that she couldn’t, right? I feel like we get these moments of bravery in our relationships, or in ourselves, to speak up for ourselves. What I found really profound in this season is the conversation of boundaries, because I will say for myself, boundaries is a very new concept. I did not grow up being taught boundaries.

I was definitely quite the people pleaser and it’s something in my own journey as Gina and therapy of creating boundaries. And so, I find myself setting boundaries and then failing, and going back and being like, “Ah, it’s okay for this one time.” And so, I think that that’s a really realistic journey to fluctuate in -- your capabilities of speaking up for yourself and then kind of being like, “Well, it’s okay in this circumstance,” but it’s not, and how do you continue to keep boundaries in your life? So, I think we’re going to keep playing with that for sure.

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

How about Nell and Lexi? Do they have more of a rapprochement this season or is Lexi going to continue to be a thorn in Nell’s side?

That is one of my favorite storylines this season, is Nell and Lexi and the evolution of their relationship. I don’t want to give too much away because there’s a new journey that happens that brings Nell and Lexi together, and I’m having a lot of fun seeing the evolution of that relationship and playing the evolution of that relationship.

Brad Garrett<p>Disney/Sami Drasin</p>
Brad Garrett

Disney/Sami Drasin

Could Brad Garrett be a part of that? He joins the cast as Lexi’s father.

Brad plays our boss, the head man in charge and Lexi’s father. And he is so funny, so incredible, and all of us get a chance to work with him and he’s just outstanding. He’s a comedic legend and he doesn’t hold back. He’s very different from the characters you’ve seen on screen from him. He’s quite literally outstanding and he elevates all of us.

As an exec producer, you’re in meetings, so are some of these things that you pull from your real life?

Oh, no, not so much. I feel like I can definitely relate to some of these experiences, but I guess I pulled from my previous life, pre-baby, you know? But I’m definitely able to relate to them as there is no emotion that I haven’t experienced in life.

Related: Gina Rodriguez Nails Motherhood As She Ballroom Dances While Breastfeeding

I mention it because last season you said Nell was more like you than Jane [Jane the Virgin].

Oh, for sure, and still is. I mean, Jane was such a departure from myself. And it was interesting to be introduced to the world as an actress via Jane because I think what happens is that the viewers said, “Oh, this is this person.” I would meet so many of the fans of Jane and they would be like, “Oh, you’re just like her.” I would be like, “No, I am not.”

It was such an interesting journey for me because so many people related to me as they relate to Jane, and I was just so different. And so, it was really hard to balance people’s expectations of me when they just saw Jane and thought, “Well, that must be what she’s like.” Now I’m playing this character who’s just a hot mess and growing and failing, and succeeding at times and then failing again, trying to learn, and that’s definitely more what my journey has looked like. Just falling and standing up again and falling again and trying really hard.

Rick Glassman<p>Disney/Temma Hankin</p>
Rick Glassman

Disney/Temma Hankin

We haven’t talked about Edward (Rick Glassman). He liked the new Nell when she was with Phillip because she was neater. How are the two of them going to deal this season?

Again, I don’t want to spoil it, but there’s a dynamic shift. There is definitely a shift that happens that’s pretty profound for their relationship, and they both have to navigate this new journey that they’re on. What you did find out though was that as much as Edward likes Nell tidy, he likes her happy. So, that still continues as Edward’s longing for and desire for Nell to just be happy, whatever that looks like, even if it means she’s messy.

He’s a new friend, albeit roommate, as opposed to her old friends, so it’s nice to see the contrast in the relationships. And also, he’s on the spectrum, right?

What I think is the most profound in their relationship, and actually in mine and Rick’s in real life, because Rick is also on the spectrum, we talk about this all the time, how devastating it is that in our culture we’ve decided that lying to each other is okay. And with Rick, we don’t lie to each other, the honesty is pretty profound. It’s probably my most sincere and loving relationship, too, because there is nothing between us that is not said, and it’s really safe with Rick. I feel really safe with him because I know he’s going to tell me the truth, and I know I can come to him with the truth, and it’ll be appreciated, and it’ll be loved and it’ll be respected.

I wish that was actually more prevalent amongst everyone in the world, and in our industry especially. So, I talk about it just even amongst my team, about how unfortunate it is that we find it okay to lie to one another. That that should be something that’s not as prevalent as it is, and it should be safer to tell the truth and it should be more accepted to tell the truth. So, I’d say that is what’s really great about Nell and Edwards relationship, and mine and Rick’s.

The second season of Not Dead Yet premieres tonight at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC, next day on Hulu.

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