Since her breakout role on the television series Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez has been building a resume of diverse performances, including the lead in romantic comedy Someone Great, the Peter Berg true story disaster movie Deepwater Horizon, the titular voice role in Carmen Sandiego and so much more.
Her latest release is Awake, a sci-fi thriller from director Mark Raso, available to stream on Netflix now, about a sudden catastrophic event that wipes out all electronics in the world, along with everyone’s ability to sleep. With society crumbling and turning on each other from the mental toll of staying awake, and the fear of what will happen next, a former soldier (Rodriguez) must fight to keep her children (Adriana Greenblatt and Lucius Hoyos) safe in this increasingly terrifying world. Shamier Anderson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Barry Pepper co-star.
The timely nature of this plot and the ideas it explores within a fragile society is not something that was lost on Rodriguez, a topic that we dive deep into during my conversation with her about her new film. While discussing Awake we get into the ways that Rodriguez tackles any part she takes on, as well how the film presented her with the opportunity to address the things that she finds most important in life and how she wants to evolve as a person moving forward in the world.
It was a thoughtful, moving discussion that I’m excited to be able to share with you all below:
Mitchell Beaupre: How has your last year and a half been, managing the hectic nature of the world? You’re on set now in Hawaii. What feels most different about shooting these days?
Gina Rodriguez: We have all had very different experiences this past year and a half, and for me personally I’ve tried to stay as positive and appreciative every moment of the day. Right now we’re shooting the second season of Diary of a Future President, and it really is a different experience as you’re seeing us all working together and having this camaraderie where there’s a lot of love everywhere. Everybody is working together to keep everybody safe, healthy, and protected. I really have felt that across the board, where every production is putting the human first. I hope it can stay that way moving forward. There’s been a big shift I think where there’s this understanding now that every body matters, every person on set matters, and I can’t lie it wasn’t like that before.
MB: In Awake we see how quickly a massive event can cause people to turn on each other, while also seeing the opposite where this crisis can bring people together as well. Does watching the film now in the context of our current moment give it a different resonance than it would have had two or three years ago?
GR: One hundred percent. When you’re shooting a sci-fi film you always live in that imaginary land where everything you do is working to expand your mind and live in this reality, to say that this is what could and would happen. You really have to believe what you’re trying to sell. We never could have imagined when making this that we would have this experience, and it does make me look at the project and think about it differently, especially when it comes to the moments of seeing people coming together. I heard earlier about something our director Mark said, that this last year has been like a reset and I found that incredibly profound. I feel like that’s what the last year has been for me, this reset where I really looked inward and tried to work on myself and my growth, the ways in which I could do better.
MB: What would you hope that people watching the movie would come out of it at the end thinking about and reflecting on?
GR: I always think it’s such a privilege to be able to have any say in how you want anyone else to feel. It makes sense as an artist because you put an energy into something from wherever you were in your life when you were making it, and you want to either experience something personally or use that experience so the audience can get something out of this. That’s such an ego-driven thought because who am I to say that anybody should get anything out of anything? (laughing) I will say that what I feel now in retrospect of the film is thinking about the opportunities in which I can stop and reset the programs in my brain so that I can expand my perspective – how I may utilize empathy and compassion more in my daily life. You never know where someone is coming from when you meet them, and you don’t know their story until they tell it to you. That reset is what I walk away with, thinking about how I am either contributing or detracting, and how to work on that.
MB: The film in subtle ways challenges how we perceive others based on surface level observations. We see recovering addicts, escaped convicts, police officers, medical professionals, etc. and are constantly being met with the impression we have of these people based on those things and then seeing those perceptions shift. Was that something that appealed to you about the project?
GR: Absolutely. I’m constantly challenging my own perspective of identity and the way that I attach myself to identity, how I limit myself by that, and in turn how I limit others. If you don’t free your own self then you’re only going to project those things onto someone else, and so it always starts from within yourself. One thing that I found profound in the movie was how Lucius’ character and Ariana’s character each perceive their mother differently. They see her as either not being capable of being a mother or as being this godlike figure, and then we see how the circumstances can change things and how what were once seen as someone’s flaws or weaknesses can now be their strengths.
We see it with Shamier’s character as well and how my character responds to him at first, and what he ultimately becomes for this family. I think it really speaks to that idea of never knowing where someone is at in life, and so we all just need to take a second to get to know someone. I can only speak from my own perspective but that is something that I need to do in my life and is something that constantly needs to be broken down. We always need to be reminded of that, not just for myself and my own liberation, but for the ability to open channels with someone else. I think that’s imperative right now.
MB: Speaking of your character’s children, how crucial was her role as a single mother in you getting into her headspace and figuring out her drive and motivation as she worked to take care of these kids during a time of such intense crisis?
GR: It was extremely important, and I think it was so nuanced as well because I was playing someone that was in the thick of looking at themselves in the mirror and saying that there are things I need to work on and ways I need to fix myself or else I can’t have my children in my life. At the same time this is someone who is battling the unfortunate disease of addiction. I’ve had experience in my family where I have a very personal relationship with those incredible souls that have at times not won those battles, so playing that was a very real experience that is not clear at all.
Playing this character was like having these chapters of a book that have to be filed through, and then having all of that be erased and all of that identity becoming unimportant as she suddenly needs to deal with the here and now. It all gets stripped away and I use that as a reflection of my own life and how I hide behind identity, or use it to my benefit, and neither is good. I want to be stripped of that ego, but that’s a life’s journey. Playing those real things in this character was so important to me because when I act it’s always about what parts of me and my journey and my experience, or other people’s journeys, can I use to make this real?
MB: You’re an actor who always brings the mental and the emotional, but you also bring the physical component to your roles, whether that’s in Deepwater Horizon or Kajillionaire, which it’s criminal that you weren’t nominated for an Oscar for, by the way. Your character in Awake has a specific background that leads to her holding her body in a certain way and to have a very particular physicality. Is that something that you really value when getting into a character, is being able to throw all of yourself into the part, both your body and your mind?
GR: Thank you so much Mitchell, what an incredible compliment! I feel like I’m done, I can never act again (laughing). Yeah, I was a dancer as a young girl and physicality I think is a part of everything. It’s in how we hold ourselves, how we move, all of the little eccentricities that we have. Gesture is a big part of my process. Jane had very specific hand motions and a very specific run that was almost like a waddle run. It was a funny run that I had created in the beginning and then it was just her, it became how she always ran and was such a part of the character. I’m always going to bring myself to every part I do, so I also try to create these aspects that are not me, that can be the character.
That was a big part of it here for Awake – how she stands, how she walks, how she runs, how she moves, how her facial expressions shift. I am very expressive in my face, that’s why I love doing comedy, but here it was about pulling those things back because this character does not express much with her face. Thank you so much for watching Kajillionaire, I had so much fun making that movie, and yeah that character was really different and it was awesome to be in that body, and it was the same thing here in Awake. It was physically demanding, and I got really strong for the project and that was a cool thing to add – learning that I could get stronger. That was something that I didn’t even know I could do.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]