TV’s Coolest Mom Talks About Her Empowering Role

Andrea Navedo, who plays Xiomara Villanueva on “Jane the Virgin,” tells us what to expect next season.
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Christopher Polk via Getty Images

The last we heard from Jane Villanueva and company, the romantic heroine’s new (like, new new) husband Michael appeared to have been murdered. But in a show like “Jane the Virgin” that’s full of sharp turns, borrowing its template from telenovelas, it’s probable that the kindly heartthrob lives on in Season 3, which airs Oct. 17.

Jane’s mother, Xiomara “Xo” Villanueva, has a winding story arc of her own. Last season, her entanglement with Jane’s superstar father fizzled cordially after it became clear that the two fundamentally disagreed on whether or not to have more kids. Andrea Navedo, who plays the character, spoke on the phone with The Huffington Post about what to expect from Xo in the upcoming season.

She also touched on the show’s political bent, which has veered toward issues previously untouched by sitcoms, like the Bechdel Test and the personal tragedies that can accompany stricter immigration policies. Between seasons, Navedo produced and performed in a remake of a timely play, “Other People’s Money,” which features a character that she describes as “sexist, racist, misogynist, and so on. He was a Wall Street trader. Apparently Trump loved this play so much.”

Here’s hoping that Season 3 of “Jane” finds a way to smartly bring issues surrounding the upcoming election into its whirring storyline, too. Below, Navedo talks about her “empowering” role, and motherhood on- and off-screen.

Christopher Polk via Getty Images

Before you played Xo, you got your start acting in soap operas. How was that experience different from your role on “Jane the Virgin”?

Soap operas I liken to boot camp for TV acting. It’s very fast-paced. They expect you to get it down in, like, one or two takes. There’s a ton of dialogue. You can get your script a week in advance, but you’re still shooting the current episode. I would go to work ― I’d probably be there eight to 10 hours ― then I’d go home, eat dinner and learn my lines for the next day, go to sleep, get up the next day, and do it all over again. It was kind of grueling sometimes. I spent most of my time learning my lines.

You had to be really prepared, because they really wanted you to get it in one or two takes. You didn’t have time to do multiple takes. Sometimes, if you did a bad take, on the third or fourth time they’d just move on and they’d keep it. You’d want your stuff to be quality, so you had to check your p’s and q’s. One of the things I did learn from the veterans on “One Life to Live” was that if you didn’t like your take, you didn’t like the way it was going, in the middle of a take you could throw a curse word out, and then they definitely couldn’t use it. [Laughs]

So, I’m guessing there’s not a whole lot of that on the set of “Jane.”

That’s not an issue. We have the luxury of takes. Although there’s plenty of cursing, too. But it’s not because we’re trying to save ourselves, it’s more ― you get frustrated, or whatever.

Is there anything you learned from soap operas that you brought to the show?

Just work ethic. I wouldn’t say I learned anything about acting on soap operas. I learn more when I do a play. I produced and performed in a play in New York this summer, and I did it because it had been a few years since I had been in an acting class and I felt like I needed a reboot.

“Jane the Virgin” is, at its heart, about the relationships between Jane, Xo and Abuela. What has it been like playing part of this all-woman family dynamic?

It’s been really empowering for me as a Latina and as a woman to be on a show that is led by a woman, who also happens to be a mother. And then to work with Gina and Yvonne, who I idolize. What they bring to the table is incredible. Whenever we have scenes together, it’s like family. Even though that’s what we’re playing, we just click. There’s a chemistry there. Those are things you can’t formulate. I learn from each of them, watching them do their thing, I learn how to be a better actress.

And that chemistry definitely comes across on the show. How, in your opinion, is Xo different from other TV moms?

She’s not ... like me, the real mom that I am, who sets boundaries, creates rules, trying to protect them. Xo does protect Jane, but they’re more like sisters. That’s how it’s different. It’s almost like “Gilmore Girls,” which Jennie Urman was a writer on. She has brought “Gilmore Girls” up several times in our discussions of our characters.

What I love about Xo is that she really tries to be the best mom that she can ― like any mom, really ― you just have the tools that you have. But at the same time, she’s flawed, and vulnerable, and feisty. I love all those things about her.

And do you bring your own experiences as a mom into how you approach playing her?

A little bit. It’s funny because I will get tweets from fans, or I’ve even had a few fans come up to me and say to me, “I wish you were my mother.” And it’s flattering on one hand, but on the other hand it breaks my heart because I don’t have that relationship with my daughter, who’s 12. It’s a tough age. I wish I could be my daughter’s friend but I can’t. That dynamic that Xo has with Jane ... I don’t think that’s gonna happen until maybe my daughter’s in college.

You touched on this a little already, but what’s the most fun part about playing Xo?

I also love my scenes with Rogelio [De La Vega, played by Jaime Camil] because we just have so much fun. But on the other hand, I really love those intimate, heart-to-heart scenes between me and Jane and me and Alba. And I get to sing and dance! Yesterday we filmed, for Episode 6, a dance battle between me and Rogelio.

Are there any other ― not spoilers, per se ― but tidbits you can share from the upcoming season?

They never tell us, really. Xo has an ex-lover who comes on the scene, who she was madly in love with. He really messed with [Xo] when we were dating, and apparently he had been married and I didn’t know. He comes back, and he is the actor who played the husband of Eva Longoria on “Desperate Housewives.” I met him for the first time yesterday, we spent the whole day together ― really nice guy. He fit right into our family, which most people do, because it’s just that kind of set. We love whoever comes to play with us. We had a good day yesterday. He’s the new thing that’s happening in Xo’s life.

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