To say that Gina Rodriguez is an “up and coming” Hollywood actress isn’t quite right. That’s something you’d say about that Hemsworth fellow who isn’t engaged to Miley Cyrus or one of the Pretty Little Liars who had a Lifetime movie in 2010. Nor is Gina Rodriguez “one to watch” – nor is she some sort of “IT girl.” She’s just hard core.
Gina hails from my own adoptive home of Chicago, though she’s now based in Los Angeles. And she’s got a real excitement and commitment to the craft. She left Sundance this year with a wake of industry chatter over her most important role to date, playing the leading character in the career-making Filly Brown. To be released widely in mid-April, Filly Brown tells the story of an LA poet-rapper, caught between the brink of fame and the responsibilities of a volatile family situation. Filly Brown is what Hollywood marketing agents would call a “Latino movie,” but it’s got an electric quality that’s damn near universal. Written by Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos, the film stars Rodriguez in the title role alongside the late and incredible banda and norteño icon, Jenni Rivera.
Gina is the true multi-talent. An actress with the NYU credentials, a musician with a side project adapting lullabies and fairy tales into raps – she even knits and crochets like a self-described “Latina Martha Stewart.” We at inconnu got the chance to talk to her about playing the lead role in Filly Brown, her new television project with FOX and, of course, JLo.
Gina is in the business of breaking down barriers. She’s not out there to be your Sundance darling. Nor is she out there to be the second stereotyped biddy to the right. She’s just out there to kick some ass.
inconnu: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Gina Rodriguez: I grew up in Chicago. I was a salsa dancer. For like ten years, from ages 7 to 17. And then I wanted to do film and television so bad … so I auditioned for a bunch of schools. NYU was my first choice and I was blessed enough to get in. And so then I went out to New York. I did some really great off-Broadway regional theater and my Law & Orders, of course. And then I did an awesome movie called Go for It! that brought me out to LA. And then I moved and it’s been the best transition of my life, I’ve been here for almost four years.
inconnu: So you have a really strong background in theatre and acting technique.
GR: Oh yeah, girl. I didn’t play around! I was like, if I’m going to do this, I’m gonna do it hard core. And it was also because I had some crazy Latino parents who would not be down with the idea of me being an actor to begin with. You know, I come from humble beginnings, and they didn’t want me to struggle any more than we already had. So they very much wanted me to be a lawyer, versus an actor, but I knew that if I just did it hard core, and I did it the right way (girl could you imagine me being a lawyer? I would just, mmhmm, no). So I figured if I did it the right way, then they would support me and sure enough they did. They saw my perseverance; they saw I wanted to get a good education. I really wanted to be trained. I didn’t just want to be a little floozy, you know like some crazy girl.
inconnu: Sounds about right. I saw you recently booked a pilot for next season.
GR: I just booked a TV show with FOX! Pilot season has been quite, well it’s been really rough. I’ve been auditioning a lot, and testing a lot, and getting so close. So it’s just such a blessing to finally book a project that I really believe in. I really believe in this one, it’s such a great script with great actors already attached to it. It’s called Wild Blue, it’s about a young crew in the U. S. Navy and I play one the toughest female pilots on the force. So I like that. That’s what I’m about.
inconnu: Congratulations! That sounds so fun. And you just had a project go up at Sundance, right?
GR: Yeah, Filly Brown. It’s a strong, strong cast of amazing actors. I play Filly Brown. I play the lead female who is in search of helping her family and her mother. And through her persistent need to help her family she finds her dream, she finds music. It’s built on, you know, lies and deception so it comes crashing down on her. It’s a beautiful story of family and music, and fighting for your dreams. And also fighting for your family.
inconnu: And you learned to rap for this role?
GR: I sure did. It was really cool, really cool. That movie pretty much gave me music.
inconnu: Yeah, I’m sure your dance background helped with that.
GR: It’s funny, you know, you’re the first person who has ever said that. Everyone’s always like, “Oh how did you do it?” But I really did feel like because I had already been a dancer and just knowing how to stay on that rhythm – it really allowed me to find that rhythm in music. For sure.
inconnu: So how did you go about preparing for the role?
GR: Well for this one specifically, because music was so new to me, I watched, learned, really studied musicians like a hawk. I mean, I booked the role and four days later I was in the studio making the first Filly Brown song… We had great musicians on the project, so I was able to really learn and study and watch they way they stood on the mic when they made a song, and how they enunciate their words, or how quickly they would pick up a rhythm … I was able to find the voice that best suited me, not just try to be someone else, and really make Filly Brown authentic.
inconnu: So authenticity is really important here.
GR: Well music, and hip-hop especially, it’s all about authenticity. It’s all about bringing it, you know. It’s so competitive, so male-dominated, that I knew that if I was going to do this, I had to come correct. And I knew I was going to get scrutinized for the music if I didn’t come prepared.
inconnu: So who would you say are your biggest influences in music?
GR: I mean, I really pulled from the old school. Salt-n-Pepa. Queen Latifah. Women that were hard, that were not about the sex appeal, you know, the sex symbol. That represented what I really dug and who I felt Filly Brown would really dig. So I really watched those female artists specifically.
inconnu: And in acting?
GR: I’m influenced by so many actors and I feel so blessed that many of them are friends. Anna Ortiz is a phenomenal actor. Women that are paving the way for me, America Ferrera and Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz. And JLo. Obviously I mean Latina artists, because it’s very important to me that we become more and more common. But girl I’m on a female streak, you know what I’m saying? I’m trying to go big. And who can deny that JLo is a beast? That woman is a beast. She’s a monster, she transforms. She’s unapologetic, she’s fearless. And I just crave that, I just hope I can see a glimmer about that one day.
inconnu: For sure. And sort of with that, do you ever get offers for roles you feel are stereotyped for a Latina actress?
GR: Yeah, and I try to steer very very clear of them. Yeah, it’s not easy to say no to a project, when you’re a struggling actress. Or when you’re an actress in general, it’s not easy to say no to an opportunity where you get to act. But it’s really important to me, you know growing up in the ‘hood of Chicago and growing up where I didn’t feel like I had many influences as a kid. You know, people who looked like me, who came from my area, that I really could relate to and grab onto, and feel connected to. I didn’t feel it that much growing up, and I certainly had amazing Latinas in my house. But it’s just for me; I’m going to make my art a platform to change the way minorities are viewed in the media. So that means I gotta say no to a role that obviously I could play. I could be a pregnant teen, I could be a maid, and these things exist in life and they rock. Any job where you’re working hard for your family is admirable. Do we need them to be played by Latinos anymore on screen? No! We’ve seen it. We got it! We understand all of this. And for me personally, I hope that I get to play roles that are going to be more outside-the-box. And that are going to make that space a common one for brown faces, for Latin faces.
inconnu: It becomes a very personal and political thing, then.
GR: Yeah, I just know for my life, I want my nieces and nephews and cousins and kids from my neighborhood to be like, “I could be that one day, because Gina’s doing it.” And that means a lot to me.
inconnu: Do you see yourself taking this attitude back to the theater?
GR: Yeah, in theater, in a way, there is no discrimination. And you could play anybody, you could be anyone. And that’s a very exciting world. I love theater, of course I’ll go back. It takes a lot more time, right, and you’ll be out of film and television for a while but if there’s a great role that comes by I will not miss it for the world.
inconnu: Do you have a dream theater project?
GR: Yeah, so badly, a goal of mine is to bring Bodas de Sangre – Federico García Lorca, his play, which is Blood Wedding – to the West End. That would be awesome. And it is so good, and it’s like avant-garde, he’s one of my favorite writers of all time. I would love to do that, with like some really dope actors! That would be, phew! I am always open to any possibility of being able to perform.
Cheers to that! Filly Brown hits theaters everywhere April 19, 2013. See the trailer here: