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Jaime Camil on the frustrating reality of diversity in Hollywood

Chatting with the "Jane the Virgin" star about comedy, diversity and Latino representation.
Jaime Camil Rogelio De La Vega
Jaime Camil. Getty

If you watch Jane the Virgin, you know Rogelio de la Vega – brought to life sumptuously by Jaime Camil — is a fan favorite for a reason. As Jane’s father, Camil plays Rogelio as so many things at once: very prideful, very self-obsessed — and very funny. 

But the 44-year-old got into comedy by accident when he tried to bring a bit of lightness to the role of Fernando Mendiola on the Mexican telenovela, La Fea Más Bella, a series that would later come stateside as Ugly Betty.

“The Colombian original version was super serious,” he tells me over the phone. “But the girl has a mustache, for the love of God!” Oh yes, by the way: Camil is prone to sporadic, energetic diatribes (and plenty of delightfully placed F-bombs). “I just started to play it in a comedic way. After two weeks, the showrunner called me to her office and was like, ‘Either you change, or we’re going to kill off your character.’ [Because] when the lead is making fun of himself and allowing himself to be wrong and stupid, [the audience] isn’t used to that.”

Afterwards, he convinced the studio to give him two more weeks to change the audience's minds. And, of course, it worked. “Praise the Lord!” he says emphatically. 

Camil brings this easy sense of humor to his role of Rogelio — and in the second half of the season, Rogelio needs it, as he’s confronted with more changes than ever — including a sprawling, extended non-traditional family, complete with a baby girl named Baby. “One thing that is consistent and one thing that he knows for sure is that he’s a family man,” Camil says. “He loves his family above all.”

Even when he’s at his most fatuous. “When Rogelio says something ridiculous like, ‘I want my daughter to have the pleasure of knowing me,’ you would slap someone who said that in real life! But for some reason when Rogelio says that you’re like, ‘Aw, yes. His daughter should have the pleasure of knowing him.’ He genuinely believes that.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt to have said daughter played by the indomitable Gina Rodriguez, who as the titular character (she's no longer a virgin, in case you were wondering) meets the high and low swings of the series with eager, raw emotion. And she does it off the screen too.

Last week, Rodriguez wrote an essay in Variety, calling for more Latino representation in film, and writing that the underrepresentation of Latinos in Hollywood on and off screen “is not just a feeling; it’s a sad reality.” And Camil is right there with her.

“There is no true diversity in Hollywood,” he says. “That’s just the reality.” He too was shocked at the lack of Latinos nominated this award season, especially at this year’s SAG Awards. “Really? Not one Latino nominated? You’re telling me that Rita Moreno and Justina Machado and our own Gina Rodriguez don’t deserve a nomination?"

He points to some series — that will remain unnamed — that are nominated year after year, but that aren’t doing much of anything special. Certainly, they’re no Jane the Virgin, a show that is constantly, miraculously reinventing itself. “You’re still nominating the same shows for the same categories and the same actors because they've been doing the same s—t for the past ten years? It’s very frustrating.”

Still, despite his disappointment, Camil sees a handful of series where Hollywood is finally confronting its diversity problem. “Jane the Virgin, One Day at a Time, This Is Us. These shows are opening [the conversations about] diversity, they’re talking about it, they’re making a difference,” he says.

“But, woof. We still have a long, long, long way to go.”