On her new CW series, the relative newcomer plays the titular Jane, an ambitious 23-year-old virgin who gets pregnant after she is accidentally inseminated. Like the title, the premise seems a little wacky, but Rodriguez says that with "patience and faith," people will see past that.
"People [are] like, 'Oh the title, what could this be? This seems ridiculous!' But there are a lot of things in life that are unrealistic and then they actually end up happening," she tells TVGuide.com. "And don't tell me your life is not a telenovela! So I think it's about waiting and letting people make a decision on their own and not base it on a breakdown or a synopsis, which to me is still a fun synopsis. I'm always about something that's controversial or a little different."
But aside from the charming characters and surprisingly relatable plotlines (except for the whole accidental insemination thing) — which earned the show a spot on our short list of Editors' Picks — talk to Rodriguez for just a few minutes and it's clear she's not only going to be the breakout star of the fall season, but a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood. At 29, she understands the privilege that comes along with being an actress and gratefully accepts the responsibility to be a positive role model for both the Latino community and young girls.
"For me, I've always known that if this was something I was going to go into with seriousness, then as an artist, I have a responsibility," she says. "We are given the blessing of recognition, obscene financial abundance, free things when lord knows you can afford it, and to not use [my position] to create change, to liberate people, seems like a waste of a gift. So I've never felt pressured. But I do stand here for all the young girls, regardless of their skin color, I sit here for all the Latina girls born in America who speak both English and Spanish — or for the girls that don't speak Spanish but are expected to speak Spanish — I stand here for all of those categories I fit into to say, 'If I can do it, you can do it. If I can follow my dreams, you can follow your dreams. If I can do this with respect and integrity and morality you can too.'"
That's not to say it was always easy for Rodriguez to stand up as a leader, especially when she couldn't even see a path she could follow. "I would look up at the screen and I would see very few [actors] that looked like me, very few that had my experience or represented what I saw in the real world," she says. "I have an amazing family, two older sisters — one's an investment banker, one is a doctor — but I never saw that on screen. We came from humble beginnings, we didn't have anything handed to us, so the idea of working hard was a privilege and was something there was pride in, like, I can and I will do this."
Rodriguez continues: "I used to hear my mom say, 'Cream always rises to the top, Gina, be patient, they just need to see you.' I would be like, 'I'm not pretty enough, I'm not tall enough' and she'd say, 'You're exactly who you're supposed to be; you're enough. Just let people see it.' Now I can talk to more girls and tell them that any skin color, any economic background, any shape they were born into is perfect and right and strong and beautiful and enough because I'm sitting here not the stereotype. The cream rises to the top."
Like Rodriguez, her character Jane is also proud to step outside the box. "What's beautiful about Jane is that she has chosen the unpopular choice in life," Rodriguez says. "It's very popular to have sex and do drugs and rock 'n' roll, but it's not very popular to say, 'No, not for me. You do it, I'm fine. Nobody has walked that course yet, but I can try.' And that's Jane and that's me."
Watch our Editors' Pick video for more on why Rodriguez is the breakout star of the fall season:
Jane the Virgin premieres on Monday at 9/8c on The CW.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS, one of The CW's parent companies.)