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Why Gina Rodriguez Is "Unafraid" To Walk Into "Uncomfortable Spaces"

Claire Harmeyer
·4-min read

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

Talking to strangers seated next to you on planes is one of those things that people typically have two stances on: They love it or they hate it. I personally fall into the latter category, as I'd much rather bury my nose in a book than chat with my aislemate for two hours. But Gina Rodriguez's Kajillionaire character Melanie, who befriends a couple by ordering them drinks and cracking jokes during a flight, definitely falls into the former. And, as Rodriguez tells HelloGiggles, so does the actress herself.

"When it comes to meeting strangers, I'm 100% similar to Melanie," Rodriguez reveals, speaking via Zoom in early September. "I’m fascinated by someone’s story: where they’re from, how they grew up, what they believe, what they think, how they see the world. My husband will be like, ‘Alright, we’re done here,’ and walk away but I’m like, ‘Really? Tell me more!’"

"So, it was really awesome to play this character who was unafraid to go into those uncomfortable spaces, which I really love in real life."

—Gina Rodriguez

Kajillionaire (out in select theaters and VOD today, September 25th) tells the story of an oddball family of con artists—a mother, father, and their 26-year-old daughter (Evan Rachel Wood)—who charm Rodriguez's bubbly character into joining them on their latest scheme. Luckily for these desperate scammers, Melanie is just bored enough to fall into their trap.

"Melanie is at a place in her life where she's just longing for connection and life, and she feels like she’s on pause," Rodriguez says. "So they come into her life at a time where she’s like 'Alright, I wanna press play. I need to start living.’"

Courtesy of Focus Features

Rodriguez is no stranger to embodying vibrant, confident women, whether it's the titular character on Jane the Virgin or a fiery music journalist in the Netflix rom-com Someone Great. But Melanie's personality wasn't what initially drew the 36-year-old actress to the role—it was Kajillionaire's writer and director, Miranda July, who Rodriguez calls a "brilliant, brilliant artist".

"The second I was told ‘Miranda July wrote a role for you’, I was like, ‘I’m in,’" she recalls. "I wanted to learn from her and be in her orbit. And then I read the script and I was like, ‘Done deal, baby seal. Let’s do this.’"

Rodriguez remembers the atmosphere on set with July, who's best known for her 2011 dramatic comedy The Future, as being "even more magical than I could have predicted." The star says that July's passionate spirit for the project led her to really dive deep into the role, letting the character completely take over.

"I have these moments when I feel really in my heart," Rodriguez explains, placing a hand to her chest. "I’m on fire in those moments. I feel it coursing through my veins. At times I’ll be done with a scene and I’m like, 'I blacked out.' I was so inside of this human being that I don’t even remember what happened. With Miranda, that happens all the time."

Kajillionaire is anything but unmemorable—the quirky plot progresses from socially awkward scammers embarking on small-scale swindles to a genuine romance. Rodriguez calls her character's journey through the winding plot "an evolution of curiosity." As Melanie steps further into the family's one-of-a-kind world, she and the quiet, self-conscious Old Dolio (Wood) develop deep feelings for one another.

"Love can be anywhere and with anyone, and I think that’s what’s beautiful about this love story," Rodriguez says of the characters' relationship. "We have been given visions of love and if ours don’t fit that mold, then we can limit our experience. What’s great is to see that love comes in all ways and from the unexpected."

"If your heart is open, you can find love in so many places that are unexpected."

As Kajillionaire demonstrates, you never know where you might find a genuine human connection—all it could take is deciding to strike up a conversation with a stranger on a plane.