Much of the praise for the CW’s Jane the Virgin centers around surprise Golden Globe–winner Gina Rodriguez’s luminous performance. But Jaime Camil, who plays Jane’s long-absent father and telenovela star Rogelio de la Vega, has gained a fierce fan following thanks to his effortless charm, comic delivery, and unusually endearing vanity. While U.S. viewers are only now discovering Camil, the man is a bona-fide superstar in Latin America, known most widely for his role in the telenovela La Fea Más Bella (Mexico’s original Ugly Betty series). Vulture spoke to Camil about what draws him to the soap format and what’s in store [spoiler alert] for Rogelio now that he’s unemployed.
You starred in two of Mexico’s most famous telenovelas of all time before transitioning to the telenovela-esque Jane the Virgin. What is it about that form that really allows you to shine?
The projects I have done on television, they’re sitcoms, situational comedies. The problem is, maybe because they go on every day, Monday through Friday, one-hour format, maybe that’s why they’re labeled as a telenovela. But technically speaking, they’re sitcoms because they’re situational comedies. The project you’re probably talking about is the Mexican version of Ugly Betty, and we were lucky enough to break historical ratings records in Mexico City, Latin America, and also in the U.S. You know, the classic story of the Univision network is the mainstream pretends that the network doesn’t exist, but then when it comes to sweeps or the ratings, they just have millions and millions more viewers than ABC, Fox, and CBS combined, it’s that kind of a success story. But they’re sitcoms. And I love doing comedy and I love doing that kind of acting. When you receive a script about a girl that is going to be the lead actress of a show and she practically has a mustache, like Ugly Betty, you’re like, Wow, this is something different and nice. I would like to explore it. So then you take it.
After establishing yourself in the Spanish-language pop-culture realm, what is it like to be breaking through with American audiences at this point in your career?
It’s amazing. I love to be challenged, and I’m never sitting comfortable in the mediocrity chair. I was very privileged to have three offers last pilot season. One was for Netflix, one was for ABC, and the other one was for the CW, Jane the Virgin. I read the three scripts, and Jane the Virgin just captivated me. It’s such a well-written script, and I loved the turn of events and how fast-paced the story is. In the first episode, my character, I think he delivers five lines. [Laughs.] It was not like, Oh yeah, this character is amazing. He has so many pages. No, it was just, I loved the script. And of course I did talk to Jennie and say, “Jennie, I would like to know where this character will go.” [Laughs.] Because I don’t want to be this character that delivers five words every episode, right? So she was super-cool about it and sent me a little of the story on where the character was going to develop, and I liked it even more, of course. It’s one of those projects that you read and you kind of remind yourself of why you became an actor and why you love acting so much.
You’ve had a remarkably diverse career: You’ve starred in film, on TV, onstage, you’ve released an album, you’ve even studied opera! How do you manage the diversity of your interests and decide what to pursue when?
Look at you reading my whole bio, oh my God, I’m impressed! [Laughs.] I just like to decide which project I’m going to do based on the script. If we have a good book on our hands and the script makes sense and it’s brilliantly written, like Jane the Virgin is, I think you just decide to go with the flow and undertake a project that you like. Also, we have to be thankful about the fact that we have work and people want to employ us. I think whatever work is offered, it should be taken as a blessing. And you should just do it. Of course, I don’t mean you’re going to be a prostitute and you’re going to be doing any project they throw in your face, but if the project is decent enough, then you take it, and if you like it, even more.
Rogelio is, or was, quite the ladies’ man. Do you find yourself bringing a lot of yourself to that type, or is it more of a put-on?
That never stopped them! No, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. [Laughs.] No, of course I’m kidding. I love my wife. I have nothing to do with them. These womanizers, I’ve never been like that. I’ve actually never taken advantage of the celebrity status. I have friends of mine that are actors or singers and they’re the classic guys where, they’re onstage and they’re like, “Okay, the blonde in the third row, seat 24, bring her to my dressing room.” I’ve never, never taken advantage of that, I swear to God. I’ve been with my wife for 11 years and I love her to death. We have a 3-year-old daughter and we have a beautiful 4-month-old son. I don’t function properly when I’m far away from them. I try to arrive nights and give my daughter a bath and put her to sleep or wake up in the morning and take her to school. I’m a big fan of fatherhood, and I’m a big fan of my family.
Because Rogelio is this exaggeration of the telenovela star, is it liberating to poke fun at that type through the role?
The thing is, because I did sitcoms, they’re more the comedic side of television in Mexico, we never played the [dramatic angle], why haven’t you called? But now it’s not that we’re making fun, we’re doing it very seriously with a lot of respect. We’re paying homage to the novela, actually, in some kind of funky way. And that’s great because it’s a show that has a very strong Hispanic, Latin presence and Latin heritage. What I love about the show, about the Hispanic heritage, is that it’s not a caricature. And just the fact that it’s not a caricature, like because we’re Latinos, we don’t have to be shouting and screaming, “Tacos! Fiesta! [trills]” every single line. That’s amazing. We just behave as normal people. Well, you know, not Rogelio, of course. I’m talking about Jane’s family. They just behave as normal people, as normal Latino families would behave without having to shout about tacos or fiestas, without having piñatas hanging from the ceiling. I think just that fact makes it very dignified.
You just spoke about how important your family is to you, and in that vein, what are your hopes for Rogelio and Jane’s relationship moving forward on the show? What place would that character like to get to with Jane?
I think he’s getting there. What I love about Rogelio, to be honest, he might be perceived as the comic relief of the show, but he has beautiful, heartfelt scenes with Jane and with Xiomara. Even last episode, he brings up this funny and comedic side of the show, but then, when Santos dies, it’s a real death. It’s a real, dramatic death. It’s not like a funny, Oh, I’m dying. Look, I’m goofing around. No, he’s actually dying. I think that balance that Jennie and her team of writers write so cleverly into the character gives him this beautiful duality of being comic relief but at the same time having a lot of heart. I think that in every single episode we laugh with Rogelio, but we also learn a lesson of a real dad who wanted to be closer or wanted to become close to his daughter. I think we’re getting there, and Rogelio [in] every single episode is getting more and more close to Jane and is becoming a more present father figure in Jane’s life. Now, I would love to see Rogelio fight more with Rafael because, as a dad, you will never approve of whoever is dating your daughter. You will always hate that guy. [Laughs.] So I think that’s a story line that could be more developed.
Looking ahead to the next episode, now that Rogelio is unemployed, what will we see from him? Is he going to collect unemployment?
[Laughs.] Well, finally, he’s one of the many actors that occupy Los Angeles that are unemployed. So now he’s a normal guy. No, I’m kidding. [Laughs.] I think now Rogelio will have a lot of time on his hands, and that’s not good for Rogelio because he needs to fill up that time, and that’s going to be a pebble in everyone’s shoe. To the point where Xiomara will go, “Dude, just get out of my house and get a job!” When it comes to that, he’ll have to face this decision of taking a role that will feed Rogelio’s ego and will also keep him as this amazing, well-known actor that he is in Latin America, or maybe take a less fortunate job that will keep him closer to his family. I think that’s what’s coming in the next episode. It’s going to be a very nice turn of events for Rogelio for sure.