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Jane the Virgin’s Moms on How Their Moms Influence Their Characters

Jane the Virgin returned Monday night for the back half of its second season, and outside the usual intrigue, the heart of the episode were the moments between the Villanueva women, who clash over how best to put Mateo to sleep. The show has always explored the relationship between single mothers and their daughters with depth and nuance, and since the birth of Jane’s baby, it’s become even more adept at handling themes of motherhood with emotional realism. Vulture caught up with Ivonne Coll (Alba) and Andrea Navedo (Xiomara) recently to talk about how profoundly their own mothers have influenced their characters.

Ivonne Coll (Alba)

What advice did your mom give you about becoming an actress?
Oh, my mother never wanted me to become an actress because she thought that I should be a secretary. [Laughs.] At that time, in the ‘60s, a secretarial job was like money in the bank for you. It was a salary. And an actress in Puerto Rico, at that time, was like, “What? No.” [She thought this] in spite of the fact that she put me in dance class since I was 5 years of age. I started performing at 5 in baby ballet concerts and in flamenco, Spanish shows. But she said she would do it just because she wanted me to be refined and have some style.

She was an award-winning hairstylist, and she took me to New York to model for her. I also modeled for haute-couture runway for a long time. But she never thought that that would be a career.

Then, when the Miss Puerto Rico thing happened [Coll was Miss Puerto Rico in 1967], that’s when they gave me an audition on TV. First, I was a singer-dancer in Puerto Rico, I had a TV show. So she was happy for that because I was glamorous and looking good. But when I started acting, she was upset at the fact that they made me look older. [Laughs.] She wanted me to always be glamorous, you know. She couldn’t understand. But at the same time, she was very appreciative of the talents I developed. And I think my talent comes from her. You know, my mother passed last July, but she gave me the best advice in terms of how to support myself and not depend on anybody. She was a self-made woman. She came from nothing, from extreme poverty. And her parents died when she was very young. She was orphaned at 9 years of age. And she only knew how to work and get by. She taught us to be self-supported, not to depend on anybody, period. And that was her main thing. She was an incredible woman who taught me everything I know as a woman.

Do you adopt any of your mother’s mannerisms for your character on Jane the Virgin?
Well, I make my character not sentimental because my mother was not sentimental. I make Alba very pragmatic. I never saw my mother cooking. We always had help because she was always outside working. So, in Alba’s case, that’s something I integrated into the character. The minute they gave me a plate of food, I said, “You know what, I don’t want to be beholden to be cooking, because I don’t think my character cooks, because she’s working outside.” I thought, Who supported the family when that girl gave birth to a baby? Me. I was alone. So Alba is always working. She works as a home health-care worker. So I think Alba is very much like my mother in that sense.

I also give Alba some of the ways my mother would have said things, you know, how she would have said or reacted to something. And many other times it’s Ivonne reacting as Alba, or my godmother, or my many aunts. You know, those aunts that are not really aunts, but they’re your “aunt.” In my little town in Puerto Rico, because she had no help back when we were growing up, everybody would take care of us. And those became our aunts. I grew up in the ‘50s, seeing all these women thinking and behaving like Alba does, because Alba is very much from the ‘50s, you know, her mentality.  So I’m drawing from all those women, and especially from my mama.

Did your mom watch Jane the Virgin?
Yes, and she loved it. She watched it all the time. Actually, it was a little bit late for her to watch it, but they would wake her up so that she could watch it. She loved the comedy. And she would even tell me, “Oh, that sounded like me.” Because sometimes I give inflections to the lines that are just like she would have said it. Like when Alba goes to confront Rogelio, for example, that she would walk that way to the Telemasivo Studios and then get starstruck when she sees him. She had experiences like that with people she admired. She was ready to confront them, and then, “Ah, gah gah gah.” That was my mamita.

The other day we had a scene where I was criticizing my daughter. I said, “Well, you wanted change, here are the changes. What do you expect from your mother?” She would have said it that way. And then Jane laughs, and I laugh, too — my mama would have done that, too. She sometimes would go [off], and then if I would laugh, she’d [laugh, too]. I have many little scenes in the show that are those kinds of moments.

Do you think she was Team Rafael or Team Michael?
My mother was 91 years old. She doesn’t care about those things. She was only concerned about seeing me. She liked everybody else, but it wasn’t about everybody else. It was just about me. She doesn’t know about Team Michael or Team Rafael. She would just say to me, “Oh, he’s very handsome, Ivonne, very handsome.” Especially Rafael. Because of the muscles, you know. “My God, very handsome young man.” So I guess maybe she would’ve been Team Rafael. Maybe. Who knows? Especially when he takes his shirt off.

Ivonne Coll (left) and Andrea Navedo. Photo: Scott Everett White/CW

Andrea Navedo (Xiomara)

What advice did your mom give you about becoming an actress?
The only thing she said to me — after a long pause and sigh — was, “Learn how to type.” She figured that was a good skill for me to have so I could pay my bills while I was pursuing my career. So if you really think about it, it’s a supportive thing to say because, you know, she didn’t say no. A lot of people would say, “Nobody makes any money, the chances of you being successful are one in a million.” She never said that. So, to me, that was really important. Because I was afraid to tell her, thinking that I would get a negative reaction. And I didn’t. And now she sees my work and she’s so proud. My mom struggled for a long time growing up poor, and then we were on welfare when I was a kid. So to see her kids, not just me, be successful and making money and happy and healthy and in good relationships — it means so much to her after all that she’s been through.

Does she watch Jane the Virgin?
Yeah, she does, religiously. She’s very supportive. From what I understand, she watches the same episode twice a week: when it’s on Mondays, and then when it re-airs. It’s a fast-paced show, so they watch a second time, because then they get more of the jokes [and things they] didn’t get the first time.

Is your mom Team Rafael or Team Michael?
I don’t know. I have to ask her. I’m gonna take a guess. I should text her now. I think she would be Team Rafael. I should say my grandmother, who’s 92, would be Team Rafael, because I’m sure she thinks he’s hot. And maybe my mother would be more like me, ‘cause I’m team Michael. More like: He’s tried and true. Michael’s always been there. He respected her vow of chastity. He’s sweet and endearing and supportive. So I think my mom would say Team Michael. But I’m texting her right now. It would be funny if she answers. I’m curious, I want to see if I’m right.

Do you adopt any of your mother’s mannerisms for your character on Jane the Virgin?
Probably everything. [Laughs.] It’s really hard for me to see myself. You know, I will say probably when I’m stern. I’ve gotten this before. I used to work on One Life to Live. Whenever my character would confront someone or be angry or even just not happy about something, some people in my family would go, “Oh, look at that look on Andrea’s face! That’s the Serrano look! That’s the Serrano stare!” It probably went through all the women in my family. When you cross us, you get a look that makes you stop yourself in your tracks.

Are there any scenes that made you really emotional when you were thinking about your mom?
The baptism scene in the church, when the three generations read the letter to the baby that’s being baptized. It was such a beautiful letter. I could relate to it as a mom myself, but it [also] made me think of my mother and what she’s been through in her life, which has been really tough. You know, how hard it was for her to raise me and my sister, growing up in the South Bronx on welfare. Every mother wishes the best for her children. They’re doing the best that they can with what they’ve been given. But every mother’s ultimate wish is for love and happiness and health for her kids. When we were filming that scene, it made me think of my mom and what she’s been through, and the fact that she gets to see me be successful, see my sister be successful. It’s almost like her deepest wish as a mother came true.

I saw a picture on your Instagram of your mom and your family visiting set. What was that like?
That was so great for me because in the 25 years I’ve been acting, my mother has never come to any of my shows because she lives in Florida. And you know, [she] couldn’t afford to get on a plane, or whatever the case may be. Having her there meant so much to me. She’s never been in that environment on the set, and she was out of her element. But she was so cute, she was like a tourist. She was taking pictures everywhere. When she got back to Florida, she every day was posting tons of photos from her set visit. You know, they weren’t the best photos, but they were important to her.

Do you have a strong group of women in your life?
Oh my God, yes! It’s my mother and her sisters and my grandmother. I didn’t grow up with my dad. My dad was in my life, and he was actually a very positive influence on me in my life. He was always there. He was a great dad. But my parents divorced when I was 5, so I grew up in a single-parent home. My grandmother was a single mom later on in her life, with her younger kids. It was always the women who kept it together, who made it happen. It was the women who put the roofs over our heads, the food in our bellies, the clothes on our backs, who showed up to parent-teacher meetings, who showed up to the playground to put somebody in their place who was bullying me. The women are so strong in my family. And I see it in myself now, too, although I still feel a little weak, but that’s a whole other story. But without the women in my family, we would not be where we are today. It’s because of them and how hard they worked, how much they sacrificed. And how much they bonded together.

My aunt moved to Florida with my grandmother, I don’t know, 25 years ago, and then shortly after that another aunt moved down, and then my mother moved down. So they’re all there, and they live within five, ten minutes of each other. And it’s just a beautiful thing. They are a tight core. So I relate so much to the women, to me, Gina [Rodriguez]’s character, and Ivonne’s character. My mother loves it, too, because she sees herself being reflected as a Latina mother. She sees herself for the first time being reflected on television. Not only that, but she’s also seeing herself being reflected in a positive light. So it’s a beautiful thing for my mom and for the other women in my family to see that.

Wait, my mom just responded. She said, “Both. Laugh out loud.” I wasn’t wrong. She doesn’t even know why I asked. I’ll tell her later.

 These interviews have been edited and condensed.

Jane the Virgin’s Moms on Their Moms