Gina Rodriguez makes her way across The Tasting Kitchen, a popular hot spot on trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, California. Wearing a vintage white flowing crocheted maxi dress, her black hair tousled, she looks carefree and happy, but as soon as she slides into the booth, she immediately bends over, clutching her side. "I just had an IUD placed, and I'm in incredible pain," she admits. "I legitimately want to just keep squeezing my pelvis right now." It's that kind of refreshing honesty that has elevated the 32-year-old Jane the Virgin star to cult status among her fans. She may be in pain, but more than anything, Rodriguez is a fighter.
Growing up in a largely Polish and Latino neighborhood on the Northwest Side of Chicago, Rodriguez was raised by dad Genaro, a teamster rep who rose to union vice president, and mom Magali, a secretary who worked her way up to director of interpreters at Cook County court. Theirs was the classic story of the immigrant experience: They were close to their neighbors, worked all the time, and lived in a neighborhood that was both family-oriented and limited in opportunities. In their community, where many boys ended up in gangs and girls as teenage mothers, education wasn't always a priority—survival was. Rodriguez's parents, who came from Puerto Rico, were deter-mined to provide a better life for their three first-generation daughters, making "total and utter sacrifices" to send her and her two older sisters to private schools.
"There were no extras," Rodriguez recalls of her upbringing, which involved battling giant rats in their basement apartment. "Only one of my parents graduated from high school. Everything we had was funneled to education. My parents were both very aware that education was our only means of escaping [our circumstances]." Every morning, her father lined his girls up and had them repeat the mantra Rodriguez made famous during her 2015 Golden Globes (best actress in a TV comedy or musical) acceptance speech: "Today is going to be a great day. I can and I will."
Here, a few highlights from our interview, in our January issue on newsstands December 13:
On wanting to act and getting her start: "My path wasn't laid out for me in my family or my culture, because there are so few of us in the industry. That's how my whole career happened. Your eyes are open; you don't know what the next answer is going to be, but you're open. And you take every opportunity that comes your way."
On turning down roles that perpetuated stereotypes: "I decided I was going to take roles that progressed the image of Latinos in the industry, and I was going to choose those roles over money. I wanted to make sure I was contributing positively and not allowing limitations to dampen my experiences and my journey."
On loving herself: "I'm currently working on accepting love. I'm constantly working on the part of myself that doesn't feel like 'enough.' This relationship has been possible because, for the past six months, I have vowed to work on loving myself. I want to know that I don't need another to be full. So that whenever another person, an endorsement, or a project comes into play, they are an addition, not filling a need for value or fulfillment or worth or love. Because if I do that, I will forever be hungry."
On pursuing her dreams: "When I was 15 years old and the opportunities I have now didn't seem so accessible, I still knew that I was capable of going after anything I wanted—whether or not I accomplished my goal. The only thing that can stop you is you. And how powerful is that? You are going to fail, but hopefully you have the opportunity to fail big. How great is it that I am given the chance to fail miserably? How awful would it be if I sat by, never touching the opportunity, never taking the chance? I want to eat life. I want to try."
On her 2015 Golden Globes speech: "I didn't have the guts to write anything down, but my heart knew what it wanted to say all along. My father always says that if you don't lie, you never have to remember anything. When I'm honest or real, that's when life goes best for me."
Read the full interview and see more photographs in the January issue of Marie Claire, on newsstands December 13. And for a little behind-the-scenes action to hold you over, see more of Rodriguez at her cover shoot here:
Featured Music: Birdee - "Can't Fight the Feeling"