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Jane the Virgin’s Yael Grobglas on Playing Twins, Wigs, and Fanfiction She’d Like to Read

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Petra has a twin! In a delicious soap opera twist that we all should have seen coming, Jane the Virgin gave the steel-backed mother of twins a long-lost twin sister herself. For actress Yael Grobglas, this meant an opportunity to fashion an entirely new character, Anezka, which she says was inspired by her longtime relationship with cats. Vulture spoke with Grobglas ahead of the season-two finale about eyebrow acting, fanfiction, and Petra’s arc, from battling postpartum depression to trying to create a family.

Let’s talk about twins! Did you see that coming?
Well, I had some wild guess at some point that was pretty unrelated to anything. I remember texting [showrunner] Jennie [Snyder Urman] and her kind of answering me, like, “Haha.” Not really giving me an answer. And so I put that aside and said, Okay, that’s not happening. And then suddenly I got the script where I thought Petra was running away and Anezka shows up at the end. I was like, Why am I in a wig? Why is Petra dying her hair? What’s happening? It fooled me just like it fooled everybody else.

So you learned with that script that you would be playing a twin.
Exactly. That’s the best part about it. You should see how our table reads go down. We get the scripts only a day or so before we start filming it, and that’s the day of the table read or the day before the table read. We’re all as excited as the audience would be — maybe even more because we’re so invested in our characters. There’s a lot of screaming and excitement and tears. We’re going through it with our characters, as the audience would.

What conversations did you have with Jennie about building Anezka?
We spoke about how much accent there should be and what it should be like and what she’s like. Then I started doing my own work and figuring out how to build a character that’s very different from Petra, because I wanted them to be as different from each other as possible, a) because storywise it’s just a lot of fun to see that, and b) because selfishly, can an actor have more fun than playing two completely separate characters in the same show? It’s an incredible opportunity.

How did you develop the physicality of Anezka?
To be bluntly honest, Anezka is kind of based on a few of my cats’ character traits. So I’m a cat lady, like, seriously. I’ve always had at least four cats. I’ve had cats since the moment I was born. I had a cat like rolled up in my crib with me when I was baby. So you learn a lot from cats — this is so funny, but it’s true — and their mannerisms. Jennie was saying that Anezka has got personal-space issues: Somebody approaches her, she kind of leaps back, yelps backwards, and scratches or something like that. That fit right into that category for me. And so a lot of her voice, her yelps, her scratches, her body language, I call it “getting the fear.” So she gets the fear sometimes, you know? She’s based on a few of my cats.

One of my colleagues was saying that you are doing some fine eyebrow acting.
When I was going through the first projects I did, which were more dramatic and less funny, a lot of times you’d hear, “Okay, less with the eyebrows.” Or through drama school, “Do less eyebrows. You’re doing a lot with your eyebrows.” So you kind of like learn how to neutralize that. And then with Petra it was like, I’m letting the eyebrows go! The eyebrows are a big part. I thought it was very telenovela.

Definitely. I think every telenovela actor should have a good eyebrow arch.
I think you need an eyebrow technique. There should be an eyebrow class.

You and Jaime Camil can teach together.
That would be incredible. I would love that. A TED Talk: Eyebrow Acting 101.

In your brain, I’m wondering how you think about Anezka playing Petra.
I love it, because it’s getting more and more complicated. It’s fantastic. In my brain, well, I have to decide if Anezka was going to be doing a good Petra or not be doing a good Petra. And I think she’s doing her quite well.

So I’m wondering, are there scenes that you’ve already done where Anezka has played Petra, but we assumed that it was Petra because we didn’t know?
Ooh, I can’t answer that.

I’m also obsessed with the wigs. Do they help you get into character?
Absolutely. We had a blast seeing me for the first time in this mousy Anezka wig. It just created the entire thing. That and the norm-core attire. The physicality with the hair falling forward in front of the face when she leans forward a little bit. It helps a lot. I’m a firm believer in wardrobe helping build a character so much. And also shoes. When I first read that I was going to do Anezka, one of the first things I asked for was high-tops. I was like, Okay, but she needs high-tops. And it’s basically her only pair of shoes.

Our most recent Vulture TV Podcast was about trauma, and one of the things that we were interested in was just how shows dealt with things like postpartum depression, which was a really big part of your character’s story line. How was it tackling that?
I was so happy that it was in there, because I love how Petra’s entire pregnancy and birth scenes and dealing with being a mother is so completely different from Jane’s experience. So within the same show, you get to see motherhood in all its different forms. I mean, obviously there’s more, but it shows you a few different people’s stories. And it’s not passing any judgment and it’s not telling you This is wrong or This is right. It’s just saying, These are what these people are dealing with. With postpartum, I did my research, and so I was in shock to find out how common it was. I didn’t even know. It’s very, very common. And it’s a problem many new mothers deal with. With Petra, it’s not like somebody was like, “Oh, you have postpartum” and she was like, “Yup!” She had a hard time accepting that, and it really shows her struggle with it. I thought it was done really beautifully.

During the scene when everyone is celebrating Jane in that video for Mother’s Day, I was just thinking about Petra. How was it playing that scene?
I think there was a lot in there, because she was ignored at that moment, and people forgot it’s her Mother’s Day too, and she’s going through her own struggles. She might not be as naturally maternal or come from a background where she has so much feminine power behind her. Jane was raised with these two women next to her. They come from this very warm, loving, maternal family. Petra didn’t have that example, so for her it’s a whole different struggle. All these things were just running through my head while filming that scene. Petra basically has no family. The only thing she had was her mother, and that didn’t end very well. Her relationship with her mother is very complicated because the whole time she was thinking, Well, she might be weird but she’s always got my back. Until that one moment in season two when you’re like, Whoa, she doesn’t have my back. She’s actually just looking out for herself.

I realized how lonely Petra must be. She’s got this tough exterior and she’s trying so hard to not need anybody, but she does. And I think that that moment when Anezka stepped up and actually acknowledged that Petra has done a lot for her daughters meant the world to Petra. She wasn’t expecting it and she’s never gotten that before.

Petra really gets put through the wringer.
Yes, she does. She never catches a break. Which is funny because as a person who is now living with Petra [for] two years and loves Petra — I think of her almost as a friend, like a weird friend, but a friend — you’re like, Jesus, can’t she catch a break? Can’t she just find someone who really loves her and have some friends and be happy? But then as an actor you’re going, No, no. I want her to keep going through all this stuff because I want her to be interesting. 

Do you feel like she should let go of Rafael? What do you want for her?
She’s had enough bad relationships with men. She just needs a friend who will be honest with her and put her in her place when she needs to be. Kind of like Jane has been doing. What I love about their relationship is that they … it’s not like they just clicked and decided, Now we’re friends. It’s constantly complicated. They both have such walls that they won’t let each other in, but they secretly respect each other and like each other. I absolutely love that dynamic.

There have been some sort of fan theories that the show might kill Michael or put him in a coma. Do you have any feelings on this?
Yes, that I hope not. I don’t know, are you sure this isn’t made up by Team Rafael?

It might be!
I love following all the theories on Twitter. I’ve definitely gotten a bunch since the whole Anezka/Petra thing. And in general with Petra there’s all kinds of wild ones out there. I love it. I hope someone writes some fanfiction.

What would you like to see?
God, I don’t know. There are so many theories of Jane and Petra running off together, seriously, to raise their children by themselves. I thought that would be great.

Jane the Virgin’s Yael Grobglas on Playing Twins