Ode to Rogelio: Why Jane the Virgin's Narcissist With a Heart Has Captured Ours
The CW's Jane the Virgin is a beautiful tropical fish of a show—bright and nimble and quick, full of color and life. Executive producer Jennie Urman and her writers have given us a sumptuous emotional feast in the form of the titular Jane (Gina Rodriguez) and her mother and grandmother, but one of their greatest achievements is Rogelio De La Vega, international telenovela star, lover of lavender (the most manly purple), and Jane's father, who provides the sorbet that completes the meal.
The line between an accurate portrayal of a novela star and a caricature of same can be thin. That's not a knock on the massively popular format, it's a statement confirmed by Rogelio himself—well, the actor who plays him, real-life novela star (slash singer slash director slash just about anything else you can think of) Jaime Camil. "The way Rogelio acts in his telenovela scenes is making fun of the way of acting that ends up on Clippos Magnificos on The Soup," he says.
"His lines are so absurd, so ridiculous, the only way to land them is to be super honest and super real," Camil adds, and that commitment puts Rogelio on the correct side of the accurate/caricature line. (Some of the more memorable examples: "As you all know, like Kanye West, I have recently acquired a daughter," and "I left word with a U.N. ambassador and Gloria Estefan. One of them will stop the deportation. Most probably Gloria Estefan.") It also doesn't hurt that Rogelio and his actor's stories are eerily similar on the surface: huge Mexican stars whose careers migrated to the States.
Camil is quick to downplay his own fame and its consequences, though he does tell a story about having to sneak through the kitchen of a restaurant to avoid a mob of fans out front, only to find the kitchen staff just as eager for a photo op. Camil's been the center (or close to) of some of the biggest Latin American TV series: the Mexican version of Yo Soy Betty, La Fea (a.k.a. Ugly Betty) and Por Ella Soy Eva (For Her, I am Eva), in which he played a man who posed as a woman to win back the coworker he loved and lost through a series of unfortunate events. "I'm a pretty hot chick, actually," Camil says, and, as with Rogelio's lines, the sincerity shines through. (He does cut quite the figure in a dress, incidentally.)
To say Rogelio embraces his fame is to achieve a level of understatement reserved for British comedies . He lives it, breathes it, Instagrams it. Which was one reason his sudden axe-ing from the novela he'd made a hit (Passions of Santos) was so devastating, both for the audience and Rogelio himself. (For viewers, it meant the end of the delicious Santos scenes; thankfully, Rogelio will be back on Santos imminently.) To be near Jane and her mother, he took a role on his nemesis' show, ultimately ending up as no more than a floating head. Bummer for Rogelio, but it did give us this:
— Dave Nemetz (@Dave_Nemetz) April 28, 2015
It's hardly the most ignoble treatment a novela actor has experienced. Camil pulls out a memory from his early days: "You are going to love this story," he says. "There was an actress on a novela who was being difficult, arriving late, keeping the set waiting for hours. The producer finally had enough, so they fired her. The way it worked was that this actress went through a door into the kitchen to get a glass of water, and when she came out, it was another actress." He laughs. "We just kept going like nothing had happened."
There wasn't much Rogelio in Jane's pilot, though what was there was served as the perfect appetite-whetter. "He's maybe 80, 85 percent comic relief—we have fun with him," says Camil. "But there's that 15, 20 percent that shows he has a huge heart. That's what makes him real." A proportion any different, he says, would reduce the character to a mere clown. Thus the beauty of a line like, "I just became an international star a few years ago—imagine what a disservice it would have been to the world if I had given up!" The breathtaking ego is there, but put in context, i.e. Rogelio encouraging Jane's mother to continue pursuing a singing career, the advice is sound and heartfelt: Don't give up on your dreams.
The 15-20 percent Camil references comes from the grounding of Rogelio, which began with his realization that "being a good father" and "giving your daughter a Mini Cooper" are not necessarily the same thing. "In his defense," Camil says, "he doesn't have the flight time, he's learning." Still more depth came from the rekindling of his relationship with Jane's mother Xiomara (Andrea Navedo). Xo is prone to similar dramatics, which is both a blessing and a curse as far as coupledom is concerned, and there've been a number of peaks and valleys thus far. "There's a beautiful story there," Camil says, employing his favorite adjective (12 endearing uses in one interview). "They fooled around when they were 16 or whatever, and Xo got pregnant, and that was it. But Jennie is making this a fairy tale story about a family coming together."
Next Monday's finale (9/8c) will see the birth of Rogelio's first grandchild, followed by a long drought until the second season premiere in the fall. To help ease the pain, there's Rogelio's Twitter account, mostly run by producer David S. Rosenthal—"I think Rogelio is his alter-ego," Camil says—with input from Camil and others.
I ship Rizzoli and Isles.
— Rogelio De La Vega (@RogelioDeLaVega) April 29, 2015
And so, until the fall…
I am my own spirit animal.
— Rogelio De La Vega (@RogelioDeLaVega) April 2, 2015