behind the scenes

How Gina Rodriguez Pulled Off Jane the Virgin’s Unforgettable 7-Minute Monologue

Gina Rodriguez in Jane the Virgin.
Gina Rodriguez in Jane the Virgin. Photo: Tyler Golden/The CW

You’ll know the most incredible scene in Jane the Virgin’s fifth season premiere when you see it. After four years of mourning her dead husband Michael (Brett Dier), Jane (Gina Rodriguez) has discovered that he’s actually still alive, but suffering from amnesia. Before Michael’s sudden reappearance, Jane was on the verge of getting engaged to her boyfriend Rafael (Justin Baldoni), she’d just figured out what she wanted her life to look like, and she’d had a breakthrough about how to structure her new novel. Now, with this ghostly, not-quite-there vision of her former husband walking back into her life, everything that finally felt safe for Jane collapses, culminating in a remarkable monologue that lasts for nearly seven minutes.

The scene begins with Jane’s mother Xo (Andrea Navedo) asking if she’s okay. The monologue then moves through the full range of what Jane’s feeling, beginning with simple statements of fact. No one knows if Michael’s memory will return, but Jane says she has to help him because she’s his wife. But also, she’s not sure if she’s still his wife, because Google isn’t super clear about what it means, legally, if you just believe someone’s dead. As Jane lays out everything that’s happened in the last day, she starts unraveling all the knotty, unfathomable emotions she’s trying to cope with. She is at least a little furious with Michael for doing this to them, even though she also feels terrible for that emotion because she knows it’s not his fault. She cannot wrap her mind around what to do with the fact that he’s not even Michael anymore — he now thinks he’s Jason, some stranger who speaks too slowly and smells too familiar.

The situation is absurd, and Jane’s explanation becomes a snarl of frantic, disbelieving, giddy bafflement, undercut with grief and guilt and hope and rage. For nearly seven minutes, she spins out of control. She laughs and tears up; she stuffs her face with arepas; she scolds the movers who arrive to take her things to her new apartment; she talks to Michael’s cat, Faith. She explains, as baldly as she can, what it feels like to learn that your beloved dead husband is alive, and that he does not remember you. Her mother and grandmother can’t do much except sit and look at her in alternating sympathy, concern, and fear.

Jane’s monologue is impressive in part because of the writing, which twists and spins through the kinds of odd specific details that stick in her mind (which box do you circle at the doctor’s office: married or widowed?), while also touching on the ineffable emotions of what she is trying to cope with. But the scene wouldn’t work without Gina Rodriguez’s performance. As showrunner and writer Jennie Snyder Urman explained during the table read for the episode last August, “When you have an actor like that, you can write something with full confidence that she’s going to kill it. It’s so freeing, as a writer.”

But this monologue is triply impressive because Rodriguez also directed it. The process of directing yourself, especially in a scene as complex and demanding as the monologue, relies on making rapid-fire shifts. While they filmed the episode last September at Manhattan Beach Studios, Rodriguez had to dash from the set back to video village so she could watch playback, getting her hair and makeup retouched while scrutinizing the footage for potential changes. The process was not unlike the monologue itself, a sequence of quick changes and hairpin emotional turns that swooped between being exhausting and exhilarating.

Rodriguez told the small group of press who watched the table read that it took her about an hour and a half (and four run-throughs) to learn it. “It’s easy to memorize because I know the story. It’s not like Jennie [Urman] threw in some wacky new information. She had me talking like a normal human being would, going from one thought to the next seamlessly and realistically. When you’ve got magic, it’s butter. It’s nothing.”

Rodriguez planned to do the monologue in a single take, following Jane around the kitchen and house as she kept talking and talking and talking. She’d spent the prior day on a hammock visualizing and planning the entire scene, and the first take, after only one rehearsal on the set, went off without a hitch. Urman and Rodriguez were thrilled — “Who gets it on their first take? We could just stop now, but we’ll do it more to have more options,” Urman said — but Rodriguez wanted to make sure the scene would be perfect.

On the third try, Faith the cat jumped out of Rodriguez’s arms after she picked her up, so Rodriguez improvised a line: “Don’t go anywhere, Faith!” On the fourth take, she became more emotional when Jane sat on Xo’s lap and explained that Jason “smells exactly like Michael.” Later, she added a curtsy toward the end of the scene when Jane thanks her mother and grandmother for listening, as a little moment of self-awareness from Jane about how strange the whole thing felt. (The fourth take, with the curtsy and the added note of emotion, is the one that makes it into the episode.) Minor adjustments aside, the monologue scene in “Chapter Eighty-Two” is shot exactly as Rodriguez envisioned it. The production schedule had allotted five hours to film the monologue. The scene wrapped in 90 minutes. “Some directors do scenes over and over, even when they know they have it, because they want to recapture that feeling of that great take,” she said. “But we got this.”

The monologue is unusual within the world of Jane the Virgin. Urman is obsessive about the show’s fast-paced rhythm, and pushes to keep things moving swiftly lest the story get bogged down. Much of that pacing happens in the editing process, where scenes cut quickly from one shot to another, from one plot thread to the next. It’s fundamental to Jane’s style, but it’s also a matter of practicality. There would be no way to stuff the show with all its many plots and characters and meta-layers if it were ever allowed to dawdle. So the monologue, which follows a single character inside of a single space, for a sizable chunk of the episode’s runtime, is a noticeable departure. Rodriguez, through her direction and her performance, has to carry Jane’s pacing entirely on her own, without witty quick cuts or snappy dialogue exchanges to help.

For all of its standout qualities, though, the monologue is still plugged into Jane’s core themes. The show has always coupled melodramatic twists with realistic emotional responses; it has always been as much about how characters process joy and trauma as it has been about the events that excite those emotions. And previously on the show, the kinds of events that characters responded to were immense and strange, but also sort of familiar. When Mateo was briefly kidnapped at the end of the first season, Jane processed that violation and fear; when Michael died in season three, she coped with grief. But to have your former husband return from the dead with amnesia?! It’s so wildly beyond the scope of human emotions that some massive break with form feels necessary to encompass its impact. Anything less would’ve felt inadequate.

It’s also a demonstration of how Rodriguez and Urman intend to take advantage of every moment they get in the show’s final season. At the table read for the premiere episode, Rodriguez surprised the cast by performing the monologue from memory, subbing the cast’s cupcakes for the arepas she stuffs into her face during the scene. After the room gave her a hearty round of applause, actor Jaime Camil joked that no one would be able to flub their lines again.

Later, Rodriguez told press her decision to perform the monologue at the table read was inspired by executive producer Brad Silberling’s offer of $100 to memorize it. But, she said, she also wanted to set the tone for the season ahead. “I wanted the cast to know that we’re not taking this opportunity for granted. We’re going to do this last season with all of our heart,” she said. “I wanted all the actors to see that I will imbibe that, whether they want to join me or not. I will bring everything I possibly can to this last year.” While shooting the monologue scene a week and a half later, Rodriguez could tell her vision was coming together. “This is working! This is fucking working!” she said.

Gina Rodriguez Pulled Off an Unforgettable Jane Monologue