Spoilers ahead for Monday night’s episode of Jane the Virgin.
Jane the Virgin’s Xiomara has been doing a lot of soul-searching this season after she had an abortion, her daughter got married, and she failed at auditioning for Gloria and Emilio Estefan. At the end of Monday night’s episode, Xo, played by Andrea Navedo, has an epiphany that arrives in the form of a musical, a version of Grease’s “Beauty School Dropout” presented by her family. By the time the song is over, Xiomara’s decided she’s opening her own dance studio.
“It was extremely entertaining and a lot of fun because I got to sit there and watch Ivonne Coll, Jaime Camil, and Gina Rodriguez perform for me,” Navedo told Vulture during an interview. “I’m very happy with the story line for Xo.”
Navedo, who is best known for her role on Jane, cut her teeth in acting in the mid-’90s on daytime soaps and has appeared on other TV shows, including three seasons of Law & Order. Navedo spoke with Vulture about what it means to play the kind of Latina character she dreamed of seeing on TV as a girl, what she thought of Xiomara’s pregnancy story line, and how she feels bossing Will Smith around on Netflix’s upcoming movie, Bright, now filming in Los Angeles.
What has playing Xo meant to you? What have you enjoyed about the role?
Gosh, there are so many things about her that I love. I really needed a show like Jane when I was growing up, so being able to portray a positive Latina character means a lot to me because I feel like it’s helping me to contribute to someone’s dreams. And support someone and to help them feel included. I do hear so much from the fans about how much they love the show and how much they say that it feels like their families. It means a lot to me to be able to be a part of that because I remember what it felt like to not feel included when I would watch TV or watch a movie when I was growing up. That’s one of the reasons why I love playing Xo. To me, she is an inspirational character in that she is an aspiring singer/performer who is a single mom, and having her daughter hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her dreams. I can completely relate to that because I, too, am a mom, and I am still pursuing my dreams. It’s like a never-ending quest.
Do you remember as a child being aware there was no one on TV like you, or was that something you realized later?
What I remember consciously thinking was that — I hate to use the word “white people” — but white people seem to be the important people. I remember thinking that or feeling that and I remember feeling like I was part of a lower class because of what I saw on TV. So whether, I didn’t necessarily say to myself, Oh, I don’t feel included because I don’t see myself, I automatically thought I must be less important because I don’t see people like me, and the important people are the people on television. I’m involved with the Geena Davis Institute for Equality of Genders in Media and one the quotes that they use is, “If she can see it, she can be it.” It’s trying to improve gender equality in the media, and I think it’s a great quote because that’s how I felt when I was a kid. Since I didn’t see it, I didn’t believe that I could be all of these types of characters I saw on TV, especially in terms of careers. I didn’t think I could be an actor because I didn’t really see myself reflected that much. So I think it’s important that we do show more equality — gender equality as well as racial equality — on TV and film because we are setting an example for the younger generation.
You grew up in the Bronx. Did you grow up in a Spanish-speaking home?
No, mainly English, but I was around Spanish all the time. My grandmother is bilingual but she preferred to speak Spanish at home so she would speak to us in Spanish and everyone responded in English, sort of like what happens on Jane [laughs].
Is your family Puerto Rican?
Yes, we’re Puerto Rican.
Did your grandma watch telenovelas?
Oh yeah. She still does. [Laughs]. Very much so, it’s like the world stops when the telenovelas come on and she’s like, “Alright, be quiet. Shh.”
Did you watch with her?
I watched a little bit. I wasn’t like a frequent watcher with her only because I did not understand Spanish when I was a kid. I am fluent now, but English was my first language, so I would watch a little bit and I remember how important it was, and even though I didn’t understand what was being said, it was so entertaining to me. Just the drama and the reactions! The gasps that would come out of my grandmother’s mouth!
I watched a lot of telenovelas with my grandmother, but then I would turn around and watch Happy Days with my sister. I think I got a message that it was supposed to be segregated like that — Latinos were only on this channel.
That’s interesting. I could see that.
Then when you started your acting career, your first stop was One Life to Live — a soap. Different than telenovelas, but still a soap.
Yes, but still dramatic [Laughs]. Totally dramatic.
I read that you were disappointed in that role because it turned out to be more stereotypical than you thought it was when you auditioned for it.
I felt like I had been duped. It was one of my first professional television auditions and I was just starting out in the business. I didn’t know that sometimes when a show doesn’t have a character written yet, they will use a previous character that has been shot already in a scene to audition someone. But I was not aware of that at the time. So when I got the scenes for the audition, I thought that was the character I was auditioning for, and she was like the girl next door. She was almost a Jane-type character and it was a leading role and I thought to myself, This is perfect for me. I’m the girl next door. I felt like I was, and why shouldn’t I be a leading lady? I was really excited and I prepared a lot for the audition and went in and read for casting directors and I really did well. They called me back again and I did it well again and actually right there in the room, they offered me the role, which was never heard of. I was so surprised, so excited. I was walking on cloud nine and they said, “The role starts tomorrow, are you available? Can you do it?” I’m like, “Yeah, absolutely!” They asked if I could go to a fitting right then. When I went to the fitting, they had me try on different outfits, different kinds of clothes that didn’t make sense to me — mini-skirts and a combat boot and bamboo hoop earrings. I was like, “This is not fitting with what was on the page.” I asked, “Why are you putting these clothes on me?” They go, “Oh, well she’s the girlfriend of a gang leader.” I was so crestfallen and heartbroken when they told me that. I thought TV was turning around and it was starting to see Latinos in the mainstream and in a new light and not only in negative stereotypes. I was really, really hurt only because it was the first major TV role I had been offered and I felt torn because, on one hand, I didn’t want to participate in the stereotype, but on the other hand, I wanted to work and I had to pay my bills [laughs]. So I really felt like I was painted into a corner. I did decide to play the role, but I chose to play her not exactly the way she was on the page. I tried to not do all the stereotypical things that you would think this character would do, and I gave her a conscience and a heart. The role ended up lasting for two and a half years, and the character changed over that time when she became a good girl. So that was good. I think a lot had to do with the fact that I wouldn’t play it the way it was on the page.
In last night’s episode of Jane, Xiomara has an epiphany. She’s been soul-searching for a while and finally lands on what she wants to do with her life. How did you feel about where she’s headed?
Well, you know, Xo’s growing up. She’s maturing, she’s growing up, and I think it’s great that the writers are doing that. They’re keeping her more real because what ends up happening is that, if Xo continued on the path that she was on she would just be almost another stereotype in a sense. The character should have some growth, emotional and psychological. Why not? Everyone else does. In real life, we think people don’t change but they do. People do change in profound ways with all the different major things that happen in their lives.
Have you had any input in Xo’s story?
Not really. Although [showrunner] Jennie [Snyder Urman] has asked in the past, “Where would you like to see your character go?” With the disclaimer being, that doesn’t mean she’s going to write it but she just wants to know what I’m thinking. But I, to be honest, have never felt confident or creative enough to come up with anything that would be any good. Everything they come up with is so creative and out of the box. I’m just happy to be playing Xo and be on Jane the Virgin. Whatever they come up with, I’m more than happy and willing to do it.
What did you think of the pregnancy story line?
I’ll have to be honest: I was kinda bummed out that she got pregnant and she went and fooled around like that. I was like Eh, come on, I really want her to not make that decision. But she did. But I liked where they chose to go with it in terms of the pregnancy and the decision to have an abortion. I thought that it was an important thing to represent as another option. Not to preach to anyone that that’s how you should be living your life, but dealing with pregnancy has been shown in different ways on Jane the Virgin and this is just another way of how a pregnancy impacts a woman’s life. What choices she should or does have. So I thought it was an important story line and it needed to be set up in such a way for the story line to happen. I was happy with it.
It was an interesting choice on the writer’s part. You automatically think she and Rogelio are going to raise the baby together. And he is very nice and supportive but it goes into a direction where Xo is thinking about who she is and what she wants.
I completely get it because my kids are not fully grown like Jane is, but in real life my kids are 9 and 12 and the thought of having another baby right now, I’m feeling like, No I’m done. I’ve had that phase. I’m moving on.
Gloria and Emilio Estefan were on the show. What was it like working with them?
Oh my god, another amazing day. It was like having your tio and tia come over to the house and hang out. They fit right in. We had such great chemistry with them. They were hilarious as a couple. You can see how they work as a unit. They are so together. I guess after a couple has been together for so long, then through all of the things they have been through, they need each other. It’s really fascinating. And they love each other so much and there’s a bond there that is so strong. They complete each other’s sentences, that kind of thing, you know? [Laughs]. It was really cool to hang out with them.
You’re filming Bright for Netflix now. What can you tell us about your role as Captain Perez?
It’s a Netflix feature starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton and it is a fantasy-action film that is super gritty, directed by David Ayer. Super real and down to earth. I play a police captain called Captain Perez, and I play Will Smith’s boss, actually. So yeah, it’s a good film with a lot of good messaging and fantasy. It also has Edgar Ramirez. I’m excited to have the opportunity to do something with them, but also do something different than Xiomara.
How do you like bossing Will Smith around?
I love it. It was a little nerve-wracking. I’ve never played someone in command like that. I have a scene where I come in and I’m giving roll call to all my policemen and -women and it’s just real gritty, set in L.A. I mean it comes from the director of the End of Watch and Suicide Squad so it’s just a real macho, testosterone kind of director. But I can totally get into that. People don’t know that about me, but I can get real aggressive. They think, Oh she’s so sweet. She’s so nice. Yes I am, but I was also born and raised in the Bronx. I can get up there and spar with the best of them. I won’t take any crap.