“And, for the record, I am.”
OMG! Understatement is not characteristic of telenovelas — and Jane the Virgin’s series finale certainly lived up to the standard — but when Emmy-nominated voice-over actor Anthony Mendez revealed the identity of the show’s beloved narrator in those six simple words, it was a wonderfully nuanced answer to the show’s final mystery. Yes, it’s been grown-up Mateo narrating the telenovela inspired by his mother’s novel all along.
If you gasped or cried watching Mateo’s (Elias Janssen) beaming face during Jane (Gina Rodriguez) and Rafael’s (Justin Baldoni) wedding ceremony — cuing the narrator’s line after Mateo says that his great-grandmother thinks he would make a great voice-over actor — know that everyone behind the scenes had the same response when Mendez delivered it for the first time at the script’s table read.
Mendez told Vulture that he never read Jane scripts in advance, and that he never wanted showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman to tell him the narrator’s identity, so when he reached that line toward the end of the script, he “kind of broke down.”
“Not only is it so touching, the relation of the narrator to the story and to Jane and the family, but more importantly, to me, as a father, as somebody whose life has been changed by this show, that reveal meant so much,” Mendez said. “It’s almost like I was in a TV show and I saw the entire five years flash before my eyes. It was very, very moving.”
Over five seasons on the CW, the narrator that Jane fans have to come to love became a secondary protagonist with his witty observations, hilarious OMGs, and heartfelt reactions. Directed by Urman to sound like a telenovela Latin lover, Mendez gave the narrator a Latin accent, which he now thinks Mateo would have done too. “That may have been a nod to not only his grandfather and his roots, but to an entire culture because, even at this age, he has zero accent,” he said. “I think Mateo would do what Jennie did, which is not to make the accent the joke.”
Talking about Urman’s direction for the revelatory line in the finale makes Mendez choke up, even now. The script called for “No accent,” so Mendez got to use his real voice on the show for the very first time.
“I get pleasure from playing voice-over characters, but that some of the biggest pleasures I get is when people recognize me from my regular voice,” Mendez said. “I don’t mean recognizing me in public. I mean when they hire me to do something and just be myself. When she gave me that one moment, after five years of playing that character, to play a grown-up Mateo but also to just be myself, it was a little gift and that really moved me.”
Urman always knew that she wanted to tell the audience who the narrator was, but there was a lot of debate in the writers’ room about when and how to do it because she didn’t want it to interrupt the narrative. The return of Rogelio’s stage mother, Liliana (Rita Moreno), proved the perfect conduit to lay the foundation, Urman said. But it was Mendez’s delivery at the table read when he dropped the accent — “But I’m getting ahead of myself,” he says, quickly moving on from the revelation —that everyone became more emotional than she expected.
“It’s the deep connection that the audience and even the actors had to Anthony and how he was narrating the story,” she said. “How you feel that you have somebody that’s guiding you along for the journey and the knowledge that he is someone real and that Mateo turns out well. To me, a lot of that is hearing that your kid turned out okay. Also, that feeling of a very final moment — a real signifier that we are reaching the end. His revelation of who he was and how he was connected to the narrative felt final to everyone in that moment and that made us all emotional.”
Mendez specifically recalls the way 6-year-old Elias looked at him during the table read. “I totally had to give him a high-five because he was staring at me like, I’m you and you’re me,” Mendez said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever had a moment where everything vignettes, then kind of fades around the edge and you only see in the middle like a tunnel. That happened to me, and all I saw was Jennie at the end smiling at me, like she was saying, You’re welcome.”
The script revelation didn’t surprise Elias, though, because his parents, like many Jane fans, had guessed the twist long ago. But the young actor said he still “thought it was pretty cool how he’s telling the story of his mom.” Elias says he will miss playing Mateo because he’s “very rambunctious and crazy and moves a lot, and I don’t really do any of that.” In the future, he thinks Mateo does voice-over work and becomes an actor, like his grandfather Rogelio de la Vega (Jaime Camil), and deals with his attention deficit disorder. “Sometimes during the show, he messes up and he gets kind of distracted, so I think he still has it,” Elias said.
Even though Mendez didn’t know the narrator’s identity beforehand, he says he will miss people asking him about it. Throughout the series, his wife never wanted him to share any of the show’s secrets and managed to avoid all spoilers, except for this one. “We went to the series wrap party and she’s dodging people left and right,” he said. “She’s like a boxer, avoiding anyone who talks about it. We made it to the end of the night and Ivonne Coll came up to us to say good-bye and said, ‘What did you think when you found out you were Mateo?’ My wife was like, Oh no, we almost made it out alive!”
As Jane Gloriana Villanueva would say, “Abuela!”
Vulture staff writer Kathryn VanArendonk contributed to this article.