Andrea Navedo has appeared on daytime television in One Life to Live and Guiding Light and night-time dramas such as Law and Order, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Damages and Blue Bloods. Her film roles include Washington Heights, El Cantante and Remember Me. But it is her current role as Xiomara “Xo” Villanueva on the critically acclaimed CW series Jane the Virgin that has earned her a legions of fans.
I recently chatted with Andrea during a break in filming about Xo, Jane the Virgin and strong Latina women. To find out what she had to say, read on.
What was your audition process like for Jane the Virgin?
“It’s very interesting. I ended up having a general meeting like two months prior. I’m a New York based actress and I was in LA following up on a movie. My manager had set up a meeting before I left. I got to meet with the casting directors of The CW. That’s when they told my about the project. Not that they were considering me for the project, but just saying that I would be good for the role of the mom and the name of the project was Jane the Virgin. It sounded like such a funny title to me and the character’s name was really different.
I really didn’t pay much mind to it. I went back to New York and my father-in-law passed away. Then my mother-in-law was in the hospital so I was stressed for time and I have two kids. My manager wanted me to come back out for pilot season. I was afraid to leave my husband with the two kids, while my mother-in-law in the hospital (since he had just lost his dad). It was a really tough time. To be honest, on some level there was like a fear for me to go away for a month in that situation and not come back with a job.
There was all these self doubts and things like that. So I talked to my husband about it and my manager kept calling me saying things like, ‘Are you coming out? You should come out.’ I knew in my heart that it was something I needed to do. So I spoke to my husband and he said, ‘Yes, go’. I was surprised and was like, ‘Okay’. I didn’t believe him (laughs). So two weeks later, I asked him again. And he was like, ‘I told you to go! Just go. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of everything’. As soon as he said that, I got on my computer and ordered my plane tickets. I called my girlfriend to see if I could stay with her. I got the babysitting in place, and I went.
Three days later, my first audition, happened to be for Jane the Virgin. The producer was there, Jennie Urman and others. I just connected with the character right away. I had the whole room laughing. I just felt so good when I walked out of that room. I felt like the stars had aligned. My manager calls me like an hour later and asks, ‘Andrea, how did your audition for Jane the Virgin go?’ I said I thought it went well. He goes, ‘It must have went well because they called like a half hour after you left asking you to come back!’ I was like, ‘Really? Oh My God, that’s great’ (laughs).
Long story short, I had to screen test twice. One with the network and a chemistry read on tape with Gina. The rest is history! It was just a process from my first audition to my chemistry read with Gina, it took almost four weeks. I was proud to say when I came home that I booked a job. It was like I hit the lottery!I hit the jackpot with this one (laughs).”
What do you enjoy most about playing Xo?
“Gosh, there’s so many things. I guess what I love the most is when you take her at face value, she is the typical Latina that you see all the time and is a stereotype. What I love is that she is written like that to show that she has so many colors, so many layers. She’s a very responsible mother, she’s a very conscientious mother. The fact that she has these dreams, yet chose not to have an abortion and raise her daughter. She puts her daughter first in so many ways. It’s just that level of consciousness that we haven’t seen too much in Latino characters. So I guess that’s what I love. I feel like it’s breaking the stereotype, it’s breaking that wall.”
Are there any of your own personality traits you bring to your role of Xo?
“I’m actually more Jane than Xo (laughs). Sometimes I think Gina’s more Xo than Jane (laughs). Gina’s a lot more bold. She has a vivacious love for life which I admire. I’m just more quiet in real life and much more conservative. Xo reminds me of my grandmother in so many ways. My grandma is the life of the party and loves to show her sensuality and never has any qualms. To this day, she’s 93 and will still talk about how hot Jeter is (laughs). She’s a big Yankee fan. She makes no bones about how old she is and that she’s a woman and owns it (laughs).
I’m more shy and more conservative. The only thing I really love and can totally relate to as Xo is the fact that we’re both moms. I’m an aspiring artist who’s going for my dreams and even with children and being married, I’m still going for it and not letting it hold me back. I’m not using it as an excuse to say ‘I couldn’t because, no excuses (laughs)’ And Xo is the same way. She’s saying ‘I have a kid but I have dreams and I’m going to go for it’.”
Can you tell us about any memorable moments on the Jane the Virgin set?
“There’s so many. Having Rita Moreno on our show is great. She’s such a firecracker (at 83 going on 84). I was just working with her today. We have these crazy conversations in the trailer with all the actors and hair and makeup people. Rita was there yesterday. It was fun, we were laughing. Somebody asked her what’s your key to success? And she says joking around and said, ‘Putting out’ (laughs).
Here she is at 83 and saying stuff like that. Moments like that are very memorable. I just love Rita! I love having her around, having the guests that we’ve had. Last season, Rita was supposed to call me Xiomara but she forgot my name and called me ‘Xechenoco’. She knew it wasn’t my character’s name but she knew it started with an ‘X’ (laughs).
It’s just a friendship that we have amongst the cast and crew, we’re really tight, we enjoy each other’s company. One of the reasons why the show is so successful is our chemistry as a group. And we are like that even with our guests and background actors. We’re very welcoming, we’re very opening. We totally appreciate everything they have to offer to contribute to the Jane the Virgin story. We make sure that they feel good about themselves and what they did that day. And the main cast, we just enjoy each other’s company, so we play.”
Is there any particular direction you envision for Xo?
“I would like to see her develop as a performer and come to a place of self-confidence and self-love. I don’t know how they would write that or how that would come across though (laughs).”
Jane the Virgin focuses on strong women. How do you feel about playing a strong Latina woman?
“The funny thing for me is the term ‘strong Latina woman’ is redundant. In my family, it was the women who ran the ship, it was the women who went out to work, to earn the money to put the roof over our heads. It was the women who showed up to parent/teacher meetings.
My father was in my life, but I have to say that it was my mom and my aunts and my grandmother that were the strong hold. They were the ones that kept us all together. And I’m so grateful for that. To me, to play a strong Latina that’s just what it is (laughs). It’s just a reality to me because that’s what I know. So it means a lot to me that my mother, my aunts and my grandmother get to watch the show and see themselves being reflected in a positive light. And in a light with flaws because we’re all human. It’s not an idealized character.”
During Jane the Virgin’s hiatus, are there any other activities you’re working on?
“I’ve got my kids with me here in LA so I’ve got a lot of things going on. I got a call today from my daughter’s tutor and wanted to make sure she was studying for a science test (laughs). So besides Jane the Virgin, I’ve got to keep my kids on the straight and narrow.”