Dare to Dream:
An Interview with Gina Rodriguez
5/2/13 at 10:50 PM ET - LatinRapper.com exclusive interview
"Dream Big" is the opening
song of Filly Brown, the new movie about a young woman focused
on family and dreams of making it big in Hip Hop. But
the song's title can just as easily apply to the life and
career of actress Gina Rodriguez, star of the film.
Rodriguez, a native of
Chicago, honed her acting and spoken word skills in New York.
Only a few years after relocating to Los Angeles, she landed
the lead role in Filly Brown, and found herself working with
film and music veterans Edward James Olmos, Lou Diamond
Phillips, and Jenni Rivera.
Gina immersed herself in
the world of writing and recording rap, working with a variety
of established Hip Hop artists to add authenticity to her
performance. The actress took time to speak with us about her
preparation for the film and her keys to success in our latest
LatinRapper.com: How did
you get involved with Filly Brown?
I did this movie called
Go For It. I shot it half in Chicago, half in Los Angeles.
I play like an off the wall comedic crazy character that's
Puerto Rican. And a really dope friend of mine Jesse Garcia,
amazing actor, he had seen the movie at the Los Angeles Latino
International Film Festival. He had worked with my two
directors prior to watching the movie. He also knew Filly
Brown was in the works with them, they were trying to find
their filly Brown. He brought me to their attention. Next
thing I knew, I was in the audition, auditioning for them.
At first Filly Brown was a
spoken word artist, which I had done spoken word prior back in
New York City. I was like dope. I read the script, I
loved the script. I love the fact that it was a Latino telling
it. I loved that it had music in it, and that she was fierce,
and she was ferocious. I was very excited about the
project, but I was definitely excited that it was a spoken
word artist. I went into the audition, they said "alright, so
it's going to be a rapper now." Oh, alright... Well okay, I've
never done that before. Really I hit like a crossroad. I think
we all hit these points, all the time, every day in our lives.
Yeah, I'm an actor, I'm not a musician. So... Duh.... Or
you say, alright, I can do this, I can learn. I am a human
being that's capable of learning. God gave me strength and the
ability of art, and I'm going to learn.
So I went in with that
mentality. I went and auditioned for them. I did like a spoken
word piece, and they asked me if I had anything else. I was
like, yeah, I wanna freestyle for you. I had no idea what I
was doing at that point. I was like oh my goodness, what are
you doing, you're putting your foot in your mouth. But really,
my pops always said you've got to take a leap of faith, and
God will either provide a parachute or teach you how to fly.
And one of those two went down, because the next day they
brought me in. They said 'Edward James Olmos saw your tape,
and he said you've finally found your Filly.' I was like
(speaking in sassy voice) 'you betta shut your mouth, I am
gonna slap you right across...' No, I'm kidding.
When somebody says that
about Edward James Olmos saying that about you, you're like,
alright, I've made it. I've arrived. I'm done, I don't even
need to do this. From that moment on, I gave all my time and
effort and devoted to being the best musician I could possibly
be. To authenticate the role, and to give homage to the Hip
Hop culture, one that I definitely was raised on coming from
the inner city of Chicago. The rest is history. Is that what
they say? That's what they say, right? (laughs).
So who wrote the lyrics
to the songs used in Filly Brown?
There's a lot of
different... Did you get to see the film yet?
I watched it before it
So you know that it goes
through transitions, she goes through transitions. We ended up
taking music from a lot of different people, there were a lot
of people working on this project. I went into the
studio four days after booking the movie, and I was in the
studio about a month laying down six songs.
The Filly Brown song you
hear three times that transforms was written by the amazing
female rapper Diamonique. They had already found this song
before I came on board. They put me in touch with a few
different other rappers so that I could not only watch them
write the songs, the way they wrote the songs, how they spit
in the studio. So I can actually learn at the same time. I
watched these different artists like a hawk. I had Medicine
Girl, Slow Pain, Chingo Bling, Baby Bash, DJ Dominator, Lala
Romero, Diamonique, Chino Brown.
All these different
underground Latino artists around me, showing me what they
knew best. The beautiful thing is that a lot of them worked on
the movie, so I was able to do it right back at them via
acting. I started writing about three weeks into the movie.
The song you hear with "Yo soy Latina, that's a beautiful hue"
which is almost like spoken word rapping it, that was written
by the director. That was kind of the base of his script. That
rhyme was where he started.
Which director, Youssef
Delara or Michael Olmos?
Youssef Delara, the writer.
I started writing three weeks in. I was around that music for
almost two months. I was in the studio for eight to ten hours
a day, every day, five days a week. If I wasn't watching
somebody, I was doing it myself. If I wasn't watching someone
write, I was in there trying to write myself. Trying to figure
out what this form of art was about. We're all artists.
God made us all artists, we're all creative. I think that art
scares a lot of people, because we get judged. Art is
subjective, everybody believes something different, everybody
holds a different feeling.
Three weeks in, I was on
set, and was like 'man, this is crazy.' There's Jenni Rivera
right there, Lou Diamond Phillips, there's Edward James Olmos.
This is out of control, man. (recites lyrics) 'I dream big,
everyday life's a memory, I wish you could see what I see, I
could be whatever I want to be.' This is coming from a
poor girl from Chicago. I didn't grow up with money. I
definitely didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. I
wish I had a trust fund, because that would make acting a lot
easier (laughs). That was my reality. I grew up with two
hardworking parents, blue collar workers that worked every day
of their life to make sure we had the best education possible,
so that we did not struggle. You know?
Here I am on set, I'm
living my dream. I worked hard to get this place, I've
been working at it many many years, I look a lot younger than
I am. I write this down, and I'm like, I'm gonna write my own
rap. I'm gonna rap. I'm gonna write it. I can do this. I
started working with B Millz, that's my love interest [in the
movie], that's his studio. Just do some solo stuff, on
our one day off. We had only Sundays off. Go in there and just
rap, play, pretend. I wrote Dream Big, the opening song to the
movie, with B Millz on a Sunday working together. We ended up
recording it, loving it, gave it to the producers, and they
ended up using it as the opening song in the movie. That's my
prize possession, my love, my baby, that song. Because it's
the only one I actually got to contribute to the movie, at
You worked with
Diamonique from Inland Empire. I've known her for maybe 10
years, terrific voice and great artist.
Love her. Love her! Ahhhh!
What I discovered was in the Hip Hop game, we all know it's
about competition. It's like 'yo, I'm so much better than you
because of so and so, woo woo woo, I got more money than you.'
But I now do my own rap, I don't want to rap about that.
I want to go old school like Will Smith did, where little kids
can rap along with me. I'm saying empowering words, and
uplifting people. That's the kind of stuff I want to rap
about. That's what Dream Big is about.
One thing I realized in the
game, people are so competitive, almost so competitive they
don't want to share their voice. The one thing I think I
admire the most about Diamonique is that she shared her voice.
Not only her voice but she shared her lyrics, she shared her
talent, she shared her experience with me. And I will forever
thank and appreciate Diamonique for doing that.
Because as a female in the
game, there's only a few of us. We've got to uplift each
other, we can't tear each other down. Diamonique is just that,
she lifts the people around her, she doesn't tear them down.
That to me is an even more responsible artist. That to me is
an even more admirable artist, and I love that woman. She gave
me a gift, dude. And I can never repay her for it.
It shows in the music. I
understand that Silent Giant actually has you doing live
Yeah, they had me do live
shows to really get me in the groove. Right before we left to
Sundance, I had performed in Tulsa, Okahoma and Midland,
Texas. I got to actually open for Bun B from UGK. Which was
outrageous because I love Bun B. It's so sad, I can never
remember his partner's name that passed away.
Pimp C from UGK.
There you go. I love UGK.
Even though they're lyrics are like, whoah, I love their
voices, their sound was so smooth like butter.
So do you perform as
Filly Brown or as Gina Rodriguez?
I've been performing prior
to the movie release as Filly Brown. But now that the movie is
releasing, as much as I love that name and have been rapping
with that name for so long, it's sad to have to get let go.
It's the same thing that happened with Filly. It's the
trajectory, you have to let things pass to go into new
chapters of your life. I'm sad 'cause now that the movie is
out, I don't own the name anymore. It's owned by so many
others outside of my control. So I'm going to start rapping as
Gina Rodriguez, or I guess I'm going to have to come up with
my own name, right? (laughs)
We'll come up with
That's what I'm talking
about. Hey, if you've got any ideas, throw them this way
So you've been in the
arts for a long time, but you've also been Salsa dancing since
you were seven years old.
Yeah, dude. I started as a
Salsa dancer. I would go every year to the Puerto Rican Day
Parade with my parents, mad pride. I must have been five or
six years old, I saw these little girls dancing on stage, they
had their little dresses. I was definitely a tomboy growing
up. They were so beautiful, they looked like little dolls.
They were dancing, their smiles were so bright.
I was looking through the
audience. I don't know if you've ever been to a Puerto Rican
Day Parade, or any parade for that matter Latino, we come out
in force. I'm looking out into all these people. I'm seeing
them smiling, and laughing and dancing with each other.
Kissing, holding each other, looking at their child, dancing
with each other, re-falling in love. I was like, mommy I want
to do that. She was like, you want to do what? I want to
dance. Puerto Ricans, in all of our Christmas parties and all
of reunions, obviously there's nothing but Salsa and Merengue
But I was like, I want to
be on stage, I want to make people laugh and cry. I want them
to hug and kiss because of whatever feeling they're getting
right now. 'Cause I was getting this feeling, I don't know
what it is, but it's making me excited. It's making me strong
and powerful, it's empowering me. I want to do that. I want to
give that to the people. I want to look into a crowd and see
people smiling, and laughing, and crying. So my mom was like
alright, no harm no foul. And of course there was so much
pride, they're like 'my little girl dances Salsa!'
I was about 17 years old
before I graduated high school, and I traveled all over the
country, and to Puerto Rico, the islands. To dance Salsa
with a company called Soneros del Swing. And from that moment
on when I had this opportunity, it led me to acting. I
realized that I love to create stories. And then I realized,
well now I can create stories with my voice. I can tell
stories, I just don't have to put them through my body. And so
then acting was the next approach for me.
I went to NYU Tisch School
of the Arts for Theater, to study, to get trained. It's so
important in this industry to have a foundation of education
and training. And to respect the art. It's like a doctor, 'Nah
I didn't actually feel like going to medical school because
I'm beautiful, I'm just going to be a doctor.' No no no,
you're not going to use that scalpel. You know what I'm
saying? I think that the same respect for acting needs to be
held. At least for me it needs to be held, to pay homage to
all the people that have performed, learned so many different
techniques, and have learned how to be true storytellers.
So from there, from the
acting I continued to hustle and grind. I moved to L.A. four
years ago. When Filly Brown came in front of me, my pops was
like 'take a leap of faith, God will either provide a
parachute or teach you how to fly.' What I realized is
that it's another form I can tell stories, another way.
Melodically with my voice and my body coming together, I think
it's just a combination of what God has set me up for, and I
feel so blessed for that.
Do you have any advice
for Latino aspiring actors?
Get an education. Whatever
that may be. Whether it's the best school you can afford, or
it's community college, or it's the theater in your
neighborhood. Learn the art, learn the business, because then
nobody can take that away from you.
The industry is very
difficult, and if you're coming into the industry for money,
then I would turn around and be a lawyer. Because money is not
guaranteed, and even when it comes, it can go away the next
minute. What you need to do is you need follow your
heart, and you need to follow your purpose in life, and if
that's art, you're doing it because of that.
So get a good foundation of
training, get a good foundation of education. Because when you
aren't booking a job, or you aren't acting, nobody can take
away your talent. Nobody. They can take away your money, they
can take away your house, they can take away your friends.
They cannot take away your talent. Really what that boils down
to in my opinion is they cannot take away your character. God
gave it to you, so fight for what you believe in, don't give
up. Anytime you fail, get up and brush off your knees and keep
trying. If you do right by the Lord, you are bound to see
success. You are BOUND to see success. And trust me, if I can
do it, you can do it ten times better.
Gina Rodriguez official website: http://www.hereisgina.com
Gina Rodriguez on Twitter:
Gina Rodriguez on Facebook:
Filly Brown website: