Gina Rodriguez can relate to island life

‘Jane the Virgin’ star’s Puerto Rican heritage connects her to Hawaii

Gina Rodriguez beams after being presented her Maui Film Festival Navigator Award at the Celestial Cinema at the Wailea Golf Course Amphitheater on Thursday evening. The Golden Globe-winning movie and television actress is best known as “Jane the Virgin” in the CW series. The Maui Film Festival continues today with the presentation of the festival’s Rising Star Award to movie and TV actress Maya Erskine, whose new movie “Plus One” will be shown after the award presentation. Also to be honored is actor, producer, director and writer Joe Manganiello. He will receive the festival’s Shooting Star Award at the Celestial Cinema from his actress-wife Sofia Vergara. The festival, which began Wednesday, runs through Sunday with events and movie showings in Wailea and at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

WAILEA — Television and film have brought steady waves of success to Golden Globe-winning Gina Rodriguez, but her family and her humble beginnings keep her firmly grounded amid the changing tides of Hollywood life.

“I’ve been very blessed in our industry; it’s financially lucrative,” Rodriguez said Thursday evening. “But that is not success to me only because that’s flippant. It fluctuates.”

Rodriguez also credited her Puerto Rican culture, which she said is similar to Hawaii’s culture, for keeping her eyes fixed on what’s important in life.

“The island feel has that communal sense, the community heartbeat,” said Rodriguez, laughing about the times she’s been mistaken for Polynesian, Filipino or Thai. “But also our cultures are similar with the dancing, the food, the love, the passion, the family.”

Fittingly, then, the 34-year-old star earned the coveted Maui Film Festival Navigator Award, which honors a “film artist for carving a path of distinction through the turbulent waters of the entertainment industry without sacrificing their fundamental commitment to excellence.”

Gina Rodriguez listens to a question by Hawaii News Now’s Mileka Lincoln on Thursday at the Four Seasons Resort Maui and Spa. The Golden Globe-winning movie and television actress, best known as “Jane the Virgin” in the CW series, accepted the Maui Film Festival Navigator Award later in the day.

Rodriguez, best known as the lead of the award-winning CW series “Jane the Virgin,” accepted the 2019 award Thursday night at the festival’s Wailea celebration. She joins previous recipients Elizabeth Banks, Connie Britton, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson, among others.

Concluding its fifth season this year, the Jennie Snyder Urman-created series “Jane the Virgin” was nominated for a Golden Globe and was named Program of the Year by the American Film Institute. The romance and comedy follows a religious Latina woman who becomes pregnant after accidentally being artificially inseminated.

The red carpets and golden awards of Hollywood are a far cry from growing up in inner-city Chicago with her parents and two older sisters, though. Despite socioeconomic factors that impacted her upbringing, Rodriguez said, she was fulfilled in fundamental ways.

“I wouldn’t change any of my upbringing for nothing,” she said. “It was challenging at times, only from the perspective of desire, to want. I did not want for love — I had it. I did not want for care or direction — I had it.”

She said her parents taught that education, along with being a kind, service-oriented human being, were priorities in life.

Gina Rodriguez received the Navigator Award at the Maui Film Festival on Thursday night. Other winners of the award include Elizabeth Banks, Connie Britton, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Colin Farrell and Woody Harrelson.

“In retrospect, the wants were never necessities,” she said. “My parents took good care of us.”

Rodriguez’s “jackhammer drive” to perform started at a young age. She excelled at salsa and toured around the U.S. This led to a passion for theater, and she went on to graduate from New York University’s renowned Tisch School of the Arts.

“Filly Brown,” in which she starred as a hip-hop artist facing a moral dilemma on her rise to fame, was her breakout film role.

Rodriguez moved on to film Paramount’s “Annihilation,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “Ferdinand” and “Smallfoot.” Also, she provided voice and production work for the Netflix animated series “Carmen Sandiego,” revived from popularity in the 1980s and ’90s. She will star in a live-action project based on the globe-trotting thief character that’s been announced for the big screen.

Recently, she starred as the title character in Sony’s action thriller “Miss Bella” and will be starring in the upcoming Netflix film “Awake,” which will start shooting in August, she said.

Gina Rodriguez hugs Maui Film Festival co-director Wendy Goodman on Thursday in Wailea.

She also finished shooting the final season for “Jane the Virgin,” whose finale will air this summer.

Off screen, Rodriguez has developed a high profile of activism. Her production company, I Can and I Will Productions, sets out to “create art that tells stories from the traditionally unseen and unheard.” Established with her family, her We Will Foundation is designed to focus on arts education and scholarship funding for the less fortunate “with the aim of championing and lifting up young women and men,” a festival news release said.

On Thursday night, overlooking the Pacific Ocean’s ebbing waves, she said that success comes and goes.

“I don’t know the timeline or what will unfold in my future,” she said. “I will save and work very hard.”

Rodriguez said that her goals, such as family, love and health, are the same as when she was young, before the fame began.

Because if money and success were her only aims, “all that can be taken away,” she said.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.