On tonight’s Jane the Virgin, viewers saw a different side of Xiomara as she recovered from mastectomy surgery and struggled to accept being cared for by her mother. Xo’s breast cancer story line resonates personally in a painful way for Andrea Navedo, but the actor told Vulture she was excited to tackle it because of what it has allowed Xo to learn and reveal about herself. In the previous episode, Navedo delivered a raw, poignant performance as Xo shared with her husband what she had come to realize: “For most of my life, I’ve been a single mother, leading with my body. It’s how I attracted men. It’s where most of my confidence came from. It’s how I defined myself. And it’s hard to let those pieces of me go, because it feels like I’m giving up myself. But then I realized, none of what defined me before defines me now. I’m a wife. Your wife.”
Navedo spoke to Vulture about her approach to Xo’s emotional and physical journey, how she relates to it as an aging woman, and how she feels about her own “tatas.”
Last year when we spoke, Xo had an abortion and was pursuing her dance school dream. Now she’s facing something much harder. How did you feel when you heard Xo would have breast cancer?
I loved that they were gonna do something like that. It was a big departure from everything Xo has done on the show so I was excited about that, but I was also nervous because I really wanted to do a good job, and I knew how heavy the story line was. I have a cousin who, at age 36, passed away from cancer and she left three girls. It’s such a crazy battle for anybody to go through, and I really wanted to do it justice and be as honest as possible so that people could connect and feel like it wasn’t glossed over or taken lightly. It’s kind of a big deal, in my opinion.
Which can be tough because Jane is a comedy, or has a lot of it.
For sure. It’s challenging to find the right tone when you have to do comedy when there’s such a serious story line, but I feel that one of the things I’ve always stuck to was to be as honest as possible in whatever situation my character is in, even if it seems outrageous, because the funny is gonna come out of that. Or the tears or whatever. There’s so much humor in serious things sometimes.
How did you approach it as an actor? A lot of actors will use things from their life to get them into the right mood and place in the performance. Were you thinking about your cousin?
I rely on my imagination a lot. I’m not so method, you know. So I imagine what it would be like to be in a situation and I play that out in my head, and then I also will think back to real situations I’ve experienced or I’ve seen other people experience, and that’s how I tap into the headspace of a character, especially Xiomara. But you know, Xiomara has been kind of easy, in a sense, because I feel like I get her, I know her.
What has been the most challenging part of the cancer story line?
It’s draining. It’s very energy draining. It’s heavy scenes, knowing where I have to go with the scenes emotionally, and when I get into hair and makeup, it’s a big mental and energy shift, and I go into slow-mo. It’s so funny. Gina [Rodriguez], the other day says to me: “Oh my god, Andrea. Every time you’re in this makeup, you’re so slow! Come on! Hurry up!” She realizes the effect that it has on me. When they call us to set, I’m walking slowly. I’m not doing it on purpose! It just happens. My shoulders slouch, my head goes down a little, and I just have less energy. It reminds me of some of my acting training where we had to work on sense memory and remembering the experiences of feelings that we would have in certain situations. And then we also had to work on physical impediments. So, if you have a limp or a pain, or something. I feel like all that training came into play really well.
It’s a completely new side of Xiomara. She’s a dancer. She’s fit. She’s beautiful. Like she says to Rogelio, she’s been body-first for most of her life. And now she can’t be.
And I can totally relate to that. I really tapped into that very easily because I’m a woman of a certain age. I’m getting older, seeing things are shifting. You look at your body and you’re like, “What the hell? Where did that come from?” [Laughs.] So, there’s that. But it’s also the reality of Oh, I’m not the young hot thing anymore. And I don’t have regret or anything like that. It is what it is, but just having an awareness of it.
Another thing that came to me, or stuck with me for a very long time, is one of my acting teachers had said to me years ago, “You’re only gonna be cute for so long, so make sure that you’re investing on the inside.” That came into play for me in this role as well because I really embraced the unglamorous side of this story line. I’ve seen other actresses refuse to be ugly. Even if the story line calls for it or the character calls for it, they just can’t go there for vanity’s sake and they don’t want to be perceived in an ugly way. I was like, nah, I wanna go for this. I even normally have eyelash extensions, which, you know, are life for me. I love eyelash extensions! [Laughs.] Like, ahhhh! When I discovered eyelash extensions, it was like, the sea has parted, the sun came out. It was everything. But, anyway, when it came time to the story line, I had them taken off, especially when she’s going through chemo. It would have been unrealistic to have these beautiful baby-doe eyelashes and then have this chemo look. And it helped because then when I would look at myself in the mirror, I went, “Oh, my god.” Because I got so used to seeing myself with the eyelash extensions. It really helped to make it look convincing with the chemo look.
That scene in “Chapter Seventy-eight” — that you just touched on with Rogelio, where Xiomara reveals that she realizes she has to let go of this part of her was just beautiful — what was that day like?
It was very intimate. Justin [Baldoni, who directed the episode] was wonderful at creating a very relaxed, supportive, safe atmosphere where we could just be. Everyone was quiet and understood. We have a bomb-ass crew too. Super experienced. These are like blue-collar guys, but they’ve been on set for over 20 years. They understood. They gave me the room to do my thing. Justin was great about not invading too much of my space or not overdirecting me. And then I asked for my close-up right away. Usually, we shoot wide and then we come in close, but for that scene, I wanted my close-ups first because I didn’t want to get dry with the emotions and not be connected to it anymore.
I saw an interview with Justin where he said he was crying watching you.
Yes. Yes, yes, yes, he was. [Laughs.] After the take, he came up to me and I could see the tears in his eyes. He was such a sweetheart.
What about Jaime Camil?
Super supportive! He calls me Andreita. So he’s like, “Andreita! Oh my god, that was so good!” [Laughs.] So, just very present, very calm and open and receiving to me.
And then there was my favorite line when Abuela asks, “Como fue el boob party?”
That was a great line! She was perfect, the best delivery too.
And that ended up being so sweet. The audience thinks it’s gonna be like what Jane thinks — a party with cake and balloons. But the boob party is just a sweet moment between Rogelio and Xiomara.
I think that’s my favorite scene in the whole episode. As emotionally charged as the other one was, with me breaking down crying and talking about my identity as a female, that one was so tender, so sweet, and so loving.
How did you prepare for the scenes in tonight’s episode? Xiomara’s already had the surgery and is recovering from the mastectomy. She’s walking slowly. She’s in pain.
Costume and makeup really inform. We had to make it look like I had a single mastectomy. To see myself with like, one side flat, and then to have the drains hanging there, that alone just makes me physically change. I can’t even help it. The power of suggestion, that’s what it is for me. And that’s when I say I rely on my imagination so much as an actor, that’s what that is. I imagine: What would this be like? And I look down on my body and I see these drains, and I see one side is flat, and, wow, it just has such an impact on me. I’m very sensitive in that way. Without me even trying, my body language changes.
You actually have an idea of the horror of going through that.
And I mean, I like my boobs! In real life, Andrea likes her boobs. I really do. I’ve always had a nice set of tatas. It’s true. I’ve even heard people whispering when I’m walking down the street. Somebody will say, “Oh, boob job.” And I want to turn around and go, “These are fucking real, okay?” As a female, there is so much identity in that. At least, for me. I don’t have your typical derriere, but I have a nice set of tatas. I mean, I even nursed my children with these things. There’s so much involved in that area of your body that it was just so easy for me to go there and imagine, oh my god, what if I didn’t have them.
Gina’s been dropping some hints that next season will be the last. What do you know?
I will say this — I have heard Jennie Urman say from the beginning that when she originally came up with a concept and everything, she planned out the series and she saw it ending in season five.
Has that been confirmed recently?
This interview has been edited and condensed.