Profile: Gina Rodriguez

Golden Globes Gina
Photo: HuffPost

I first saw Rodriguez in an independent movie called Sleeping with the Fishes – I remember it being a Sunday and it was incredibly quiet in the neighborhood. As people were congregating at their churches, I quite possibly the only person in my street still at home. As the leaves hit the pavement, I was enjoying watching Rodriguez portray a troubled young widow deal with disappointing her mother (a character that eerily reminded me of my own grandmother) and trying to get back on her feet with the help of her older sister. Fishes introduced me to Rodriguez and her comedic and dramatic abilities as an actor. I watched as she easily navigated from one end to another and wondered why the film wasn’t well known in Hollywood.

Then I realized that the film was written and directed by (award-winning) Latina Nicole Gomez Fisher, and starring a Latina – there was no way this was going to hit Hollywood’s radar – but I digress.

At the time I saw Fishes, I hadn’t had the pleasure of Rodriguez in Jane the Virgin but knew that her performance in the title role had to be something great since she was awarded a Golden Globe. Then I was able to stream the series that gave her so much recognition on Netflix and binge-watched the shit out of it. I couldn’t stop laughing and I couldn’t stop seeing parts of my life as a Latina in all aspects of the series. It’s like I saw myself in her performances, and also in her body type – something that’s proven to be rare.

One of the things that I love about Rodriguez is that she not only has great comedic range, but gives spellbinding dramatic performances with the same ease.

Her performance in Filly Brown is riveting. She easily tears at every emotion inside you, and along with the late Jenni Rivera (who performs her character so well it made me hate her) Brown is a film that any person who loves good movies would enjoy. The story is strong, the performances are stronger – even if you don’t like hip-hop or rap, you can appreciate the fact that Rodriguez’s Brown is trying hard to make her dreams come true. This movie was one of the few, or probably the only one other than La Bamba where I didn’t mind Lou Diamond Phillips playing a Mexican-American. Don’t get me wrong, Phillips is a strong actor, but I’m always remiss that he’s continuously cast as a Mexican-American when there are many other actors who actually are Mexican-American and can play the part just as well (example: Yancey Arias).

But I’m moving away from the point of this post – Gina Rodriguez. She’s impressed me so much with her versatile performances that my wish is to one day direct her in one of my films.  Rodriguez has personally faced criticism for “not being Latina enough” something I’m quite familiar with as well. She eloquently dealt with her haters and continued on proving people she was worth all the awards and recognition by performing flawlessly on screen and working with several philanthropic agencies to help women in impoverished countries, and the National Bullying Prevention Center.

In closing, besides wanting to work with Rodriguez in the future – I can see her career blossoming and opening doors for many more Latinas. She’s real, she’s honest, she’s an inspiration to many people both in her acting and personal life.

Profile – James Norton

happy valley
James Norton as Tommy Lee Royce and Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley Photo:IMdB

As a director I’m always looking for great performances and versatile actors in both film and television. Actors that can make me smile or hate their characters on a whim.  While there are many actors that have caught my attention lately, my first profile piece will be focusing on British actor James Norton.

Born in London, England to teachers Hugh and Lavinia Norton, James is quickly becoming the actor everyone wants in their films and series. And why not? He’s an incredibly versatile performer that convinces you of his pain, his hate, his love and his happiness.

I was first introduced to Norton in the Amma Asante’s Belle a beautiful film in which he played a posh aristocrat with no fortune vying for the love of mixed-race heiress Dido Elizabeth Belle. His charming portrayal of a high ranking socialite effortlessly seducing what many in that time would consider exotic and taboo was captivating.

The next time I saw him was in Happy Valley – in a role that was vastly different from Belle’s Oliver Ashford. His performance as a murdering rapist was disturbing, so disturbing it took me three episodes to realize that he was the same man who had portrayed such a charming character in a film I love.

Equally mesmerizing was his portrayal of eternally depressed and painfully heartbroken Russian Prince Andrei Bolkonsky in the epic television adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s historic drama War & Peace. I often found that when he shared the screen with Paul Dano, who I also think is an amazing actor – he stole the show with his gloomy personification of Bolkonsky.

The fact that Norton has the ability to portray all types of characters in what seems to be effortless performances is quite unique – even more unique is that I believed each portrayal and I hated him, and loved him, then hated him again, then loved him again.

Most recently I had the pleasure to watch this versatile actor in PBS’s Grantchester as a young vicar who is inadvertently thrust into a series of murder investigations as he deals with faith, love and PTSD from serving in WWII. Again, his performance is entirely believable. He’s raw at times, and at others you can see the vulnerability and naiveté of a faith-abiding man who just seeks justice for his parishioners and is trying his best to do the right thing. While I haven’t had the opportunity to watch his performance in Lady Chatterley’s Lover I’m sure that it won’t be a disappointment since Norton is good at playing every character.

As a lifelong fan of film, one of the many things that I look for is the way actors perform – I often get turned off when a character is miscast and begin to think about another actor who could have done a better job. Not once have I done that with Norton’s performances. As a director I ask myself “Do I believe this?” and it has translated into how I want my actors to perform when I’m in a scripted film project. The ever-important question in storytelling for me is “will the audience believe this performance?” and Norton makes me believe each and every performance of his – which in my honest opinion is quite rare.

I see Norton going places and his career enduring the test of time. His star won’t fizzle with his looks because his performances are engaging, and oftentimes he transforms himself with each of his characters – something very important for the longevity of any actors career.