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No Plain Jane

Homegrown talent Gina Rodriguez is poised to make a splash with a sexy new TV show this season.

STEPPING OUT
The CW newcomer Gina Rodriguez stars in Jane The Virgin.

North Side native Gina Rodriguez, who parlayed her childhood love of performance with the local salsa troupe Fantasia Juvenil into a burgeoning acting career, stars in one of the fall’s most-talked-about new series: Jane The Virgin, premiering Oct. 13 on The CW. Adapted from a Venezuelan telenovela, the drama-comedy casts the former St. Ignatius student as a hardworking college co-ed who doggedly obeys her grandmother’s dictate to remain pure until marriage—then gets artificially inseminated by mistake. Hijinks ensue. Rodriguez, 29, burst onto Hollywood’s radar in 2012 with the movie Filly Brown, a Sundance Film Festival favorite, but except for a brief daytime stint on The Bold and the Beautiful, she is a relative TV unknown—until now.

You absolutely dazzled the nation’s television critics at the Jane press conference this summer. Before the show even airs, you’re one of the hottest properties in Hollywood.
You know what? That is just bananas! Everybody has been saying, ‘Wow, you did so great; people love you.’ Yeah, but now I have to be really good! I didn’t mean to make a splash. Now my work has got to do the same.

Do you wonder if viewers are going to flock to a series called Jane The Virgin in this day and age?
It’s so interesting you say it like that, ‘this day and age.’ I think that’s very telling, that we all have this universal feeling that something with ‘virgin’ in the title may sway people from watching it. But anything that has to do with virginity has to do with sex also, right? Really, the story has to do with life.

After your success in Filly Brown you were offered a role on the Lifetime series Devious Maids—a far cry from Jane The Virgin—but turned it down. Seems like a big risk.
I had a holding deal at ABC, and they presented Devious Maids as something I should test for. The show was with ABC then, and ABC was already a huge blessing in my life. But I read the script and thought to myself: This is my coming out. If I’m doing this every day, am I going to be happy? I just knew personally that wasn’t what I wanted to fight for. I wanted to fight for storytelling.

ON A ROLE
Rodriguez hopes the character of Jane will “liberate young girls.”

What are your memories of growing up here? Any favorite Chicago places?
I was part of this young dance company, and it really built up my confidence. I was definitely a funny-looking girl. I never grew into myself. But that showed me I could stand up in front of people and embrace my culture, my performance. Theater just seemed like the next step, then I went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Humboldt Park was like my second home. My middle sister [Rebecca] is still there, but for me, it’s definitely the touristy attractions because I’ve been gone so long: Navy Pier nights, Montrose Beach with my friends, Boystown. Love Belmont and Clark! And the Art of Pizza on Ashland is my favorite.

What can audiences expect when they tune in to see you as Jane?
Well, if they want that risqué aspect and that’s what draws them, that’s fine. But the story really doesn’t have to do with her choosing not to have sex. It has to do with circumstances that happen around her. It’s actually a very funny story; the drama is really real; and it deals with some powerful conflicts. So there’s really a lot going on besides her being a virgin.

For instance?
Actually, at the core of it, it deals with a girl who decides a certain way on one of the unpopular choices in life, which I think is brilliant. And it shows how her life is just as turned upside down as anybody else’s. It doesn’t make her any more special. It’s not like she’s Goody Two-shoes, walking around with a halo over her head. On the contrary, she has to deal with pain and darkness, and maybe things that are even more difficult or harsh, because she chooses the complete opposite. So I think it’s going to take people on a really amazing roller coaster of a ride.