Jaime Camil on Poking Fun at Novela Actors and Bringing “Dignified” Latino Stories to Primetime

In the new hit CW show Jane the Virgin — starring Gina Rodriguez as a young woman who becomes pregnant through an accidental artificial insemination — actor Jaime Camil (Pulling Strings) plays Rogelio de la Vega, a famous telenovela star and (as audiences found out in the pilot episode), Jane’s biological father.

We caught up with Camil on the heels of the show’s premiere. He talked about the excitement he’s feeling over the early success of his new show and how he’s enjoyed the Latino characterizations, which he says are never stereotypical. We also talked about what he’s looking for in terms of future projects and the kind of advice he gives to young, aspiring actors hoping to break into the industry.

Jane the Virgin has become one of the most talked about and critically acclaimed shows to hit TV this fall. How do you feel knowing you’re part of this series?

We feel really blessed and truly honored. We’ve had such an amazing response from the audience. We’ve been going up against the top two shows in the nation, which are Dancing with the Stars and The Voice. That doesn’t make things easier for us. (Laughs) We’re definitely boosting the ratings for the CW. I don’t think they’ve had these kinds of ratings since the season finale of Gossip Girl about two years ago. We are really happy that people like our show.

“In order to make people laugh, you have to make them cry that way they can enjoy the laughter even more.”

Audiences have definitely been tuning in, but do you think it was a hard sell initially because of the unconventional storyline?

It was challenging to describe the show before the show aired. People would ask, “Jane the Virgin? What? Who is that?” We would say, “Well, it’s about a girl who gets pregnant by artificial insemination.” It didn’t make any sense to some people. The themes are a very natural part of the show. I think the themes are very embedded in the show.

You know as well as I do that shows with Latino characters at the center of the narrative are very few and far between in the TV landscape. In recent cases, most have missed the mark. Why is Jane the Virgin working?

What I love about the show is the way they dignify Latinos. Gina Rodriguez’s character’s family has Hispanic heritage, but it doesn’t mean that they have their house decorated with piñatas on the ceiling or they have to be screaming at each other like, “You want tacos?! You want paletas?!” They are a middle-class Hispanic family and that’s it. The show doesn’t ridicule that or turn it into a caricature. They portray a Latino family in a very dignified way.

Jane the Virgin is adapted from a TV show from Latin America. Do you think its roots are important to the show and where it’s going?

You know, I think [executive producer] Ben Silverman knows how to bring non- American projects to the U.S. He brought The Office and Ugly Betty to the U.S. He knows how to make them work for the mainstream market. Now, Jane the Virgin is very loosely based on the Venezuelan show [Juana la virgen]. The show’s writers are taking this Venezuelan premise and creating new scripts and story lines in a brand new way.

What do you like most about your character?

I think he has a lot of heart. I think he’s the comic relief of the show. So far we know my character turns out to be Jane’s father. In the following episodes, you’ll start seeing my character playing into the story even more. It’s a journey about how he wants to get closer to Jane. He has these beautiful, heartfelt scenes. In order to make people laugh, you have to make them cry that way they can enjoy the laughter even more.

Talk about Gina Rodriguez in the lead role. What does she bring to Jane that is so special to this show?

She is amazing and a beautiful human being. Not only that, but she is very talented as well. (Laughs) That helps a lot when you’re an actress and have to bring these characters to life. I think it’s really great that we have Gina as the center of this show. It’s great to share the set with someone who has the same work ethic as you. She’s always eager to work and have fun. She transmits this to all of us – the cast and the crew and even the network executives.

What are you looking for when it comes to future projects, whether it’s a role on TV or film?

“If you want to be an actor because you want to be recognized on the street and have people ask you for autographs, look for another career.”

Well, I love scripts. I love to read scripts. But I am very happy right now to say that I am a working actor. In this town of Los Angeles, the phrase “I’m an actor” is overrated. So, I like to say, “I’m a working actor.” (Laughs) I love to be a working actor and I love to read scripts as they come in. If I find the script or character that is interesting, I want to transform myself into that character.

What do you tell other young actors who want to do the same thing you’re doing? We both know only a very small percentage of actors become working actors. So, do you sugarcoat those facts or let them know how it really is in the industry?

Well, first, they have to know and understand why they want to be an actor. If you want to be an actor because you want to be recognized on the street and have people ask you for autographs, look for another career. If you want to be an actor because you love being on stage and want to capture a person’s heart, go for it. The most important thing is to understand that this career is not about speed. It’s about stamina. This is a marathon. It’s not a 50-meter sprint. You have to persevere and understand it takes a lot of time. You have to know you’re going to knock on 100 doors and 99 of them are going to close in your face. But that one door that opens will have a great surprise for you.

Jane the Virgin airs on Mondays at 9pm on the CW.