Not all heroes wear a white hat.
Gina Rodriguez prefers red.
The “Jane the Virgin” star is taking to Netflix Friday in a scarlet trench as the voice of new animated series “Carmen Sandiego,” a project that revives the ‘90s franchise that spawned computer games, TV series and a kid-focused game show.
On a recent soggy Saturday in Los Angeles, Rodriguez, 34, stands barefoot in her freshly Marie Kondo’d kitchen, waiting for her French press to brew a pot of coffee. Her fiancé, professional Muay Thai boxer Joe LoCicero, has just returned from a grocery store milk run but he arrives…not holding a carton. She sleuths this out immediately.
“Babe?” she calls. “Did you get the – “
“It’s in the car,” he grins.
It’s the little things that make the dream work in Rodriguez’s bananas schedule. She directed the first episode of “Jane the Virgin’s” fifth and final season (which hits the CW March 27), and she’s currently directing the ninth episode. (She also recently directed an episode of the CW’s reboot of “Charmed.”) On Feb. 1, she stars on the big screen in “Miss Bala,” her first action thriller, as a Los Angeles makeup artist who’s abducted by a Mexican cartel.
“I stay busy because I was a struggling actor ‘til I was like, 29!“ says Rodriguez, dressed casually in black coveralls and a white T-shirt, her face makeup free under a pair of tortoise-shell and black frames. “There was so much of my life that was like, trying and failing and rejection – I had a lot of sleep. So I’m ready to not sleep.”
“Carmen Sandiego” has been reimagined from its ’90s heyday after the franchise sat dormant for decades. The educational computer game “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” was born in 1985 after researchers found kids were falling behind in geography, says executive producer Caroline Fraser. (A PBS series followed, from 1991-1995.)
See how master criminal Carmen Sandiego got her moniker in this exclusive clip from Netflix’s new version of the animated series, based on the videogames, starring Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”)Courtesy Netflix
The new animated adventure series, targeting 7- to 12-year-olds, hopes to “introduce kids to different people and places and cultures around the world,” she says. (Don’t worry, there’s plenty of nostalgia for adult fans, too).
Today the glamorous superthief – who dresses in street clothes and kicks by day – is pulling off oh-so-2019 heists in Morocco, Indonesia, Switzerland, Equador and the Netherlands. “Carmen” also imagines an origin story that has Carmen raised as an orphan on a remote island by top professional thieves.
“I grew up with Carmen Sandiego – and we knew nothing about her,” says Rodriguez. “And then the fact that she’s brown-skinned. On the animation! It makes my heart glow.”
Two years ago, after Rodriguez agreed to voice the Netflix animated show, she dreamed of starring in a live-action version of the project. In killer shape, and boxing with her dad between takes on the Mexican “Miss Bala” set, “I was like, I want to bring Carmen to life,” she recalls telling producer Kevin Misher. “I want to be rappelling off the side of a building! I want to be gliding off the Eiffel Tower or something super sick like that! And he was like, alright, let’s do it.”
The project is now in the script stage at Netflix.
But right now, the end of “Jane” is looming. “This is the first thing I’ll be saying goodbye to that is of this magnitude, says Rodriguez. “I owe Jane a lot.”
That even includes meeting her fiancé, who guest-starred in 2016. “Jane” creator Jennie Snyder Urman swears his casting wasn’t a setup.
“But I’m happy it happened on the set of ‘Jane’!” says Urman. “They re-met later at a boxing gym, and she told me they were dating. I didn’t know him well at all, but now I’ve gotten to know Joe, and he is the best.”
It’s the preparation-junkie Rodriguez – known to invite Urman over even on Christmas morning to lay out her vision for directing an upcoming episode – who knows all the “Jane” plot twists before anyone else (including last season’s Michael surprise).
“We’re partners in this,” says Urman. She remembers the day Rodriguez auditioned: “I came home and told my (now) husband that she was the one, and I felt more sure about her than I felt about him,” she chuckles.
“But she was exactly who she is now,” Urman continues. “She was humble, confident, open, endlessly kind and talking to me about what she wanted to put out in the world, and what kind of difference she wanted to make. She was inspiring from the get-go.”
So after “Jane” closes its final chapter this spring, what does Rodriguez want for herself?
Leading the action-packed “Miss Bala,” which could push Rodriguez into “Jason Bourne-like” territory if successful, “is a different kind of pressure.” But it would prove to Hollywood yet again that a Latinx-led film can win at the box office, she says. “It just feels like the stakes are different.”
Recently, her I Can and I Will production company “just sold a dope show” called “Diary of a Female President” to Disney’s planned streaming service “It’s about a young Latina girl in middle school, and you flash-forward to the future and she’s the president of the United States,” she says.
And what about, you know, a wedding ?
“To be honest, we were thinking about getting married a few weeks ago just like, in our backyard,” she says, learning the reporter in front of her recently performed a wedding.
“You’re ordained? Be careful,” she warns with a grin, looking out at her waterlogged lawn. “In the rain could be amazing.”