Gina Rodriguez Talks Drag Racing on Chicago’s South Side

Golden Globe winner, former street racer and Hollywood powerhouse Gina Rodriguez goes from uptight to alright in Amazon rom-com I Want You Back. Get to know the actress like never before with our Q&A, but first, the basics:

  • Hometown: Chicago
  • Chicago’s best drag racing spot: The strip on 69th Street and Pulaski Road.
  • First crush? Macho. He lived across the street. We were 8.
  • Favorite snack: Snickers. It’s a problem.
  • Location of Golden Globe: On a bookshelf…probably. It broke right away. I don’t even think they put my name on it.

In I Want You Back, your character discovers uniqueness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

It was wonderful to play this tightly wound person who badly desires to be original. She latches onto a new boyfriend, who might be able to help her bring her specialness to the surface. But turns out she’s not unique. And that’s OK.

Your character is backed into a ménage à trois. Tricky scene?

Our director, Jason Orley, created a really safe environment that allowed Jenny [Slate] and me to be silly and funny…as well as half-naked. We wanted the scene to come off as this nuanced experience where we are trying to be experimental but are both uncomfortable and wanting to peel off our skin at the same time.

Your co-star Charlie Day is known for his awkwardness and sublime screeching. Is he really that loud in real life?

Charlie’s the complete opposite—gentle, kind and chivalrous. And he and Jenny are hilarious. There were always comedy riffs and bits going on. I’d have to ask myself, “Do you feel game enough to do a bit against these outstanding comedians?” You want to bring your A-game when you work with people who are that funny.

Ever consider trying stand-up comedy?

Stand-up is terrifying. No.

What are your favorite rom-coms?

Monster-in-Law. Especially the J.Lo and Jane Fonda scene where they slap the shit out of each other, back and forth. I love that. That’s what people really want to do, slap the shit out of each other.

Maid in Manhattan is another one. Obviously I have an affinity for J.Lo.

Your husband is a boxer. Your dad was a championship referee who also held a belt in Puerto Rico. How’s your uppercut?

Growing up in a boxing household and boxing my whole life made me confident in being capable of protecting myself. I’m still a 5-foot-3-inch woman. But I carry a little confidence knowing how to somewhat protect myself. That goes a long way.

Did that mettle help when you were drag racing on Chicago’s South Side?

Ha! I wanted to do F1 and NASCAR when I was a kid. I started racing my mom’s car when I got my license. She wanted a Volvo her whole life. When I was in high school, my father got her one and it was a big deal. It was also huge for me because Volvos are fast. And the street racing game in Chicago was big in the ’90s.

I have so much fear now, but I was fearless then. I also wasn’t afraid to go 80 mph and half-donut. I look back on that and think, “I was really asking for it.” Drag racing helped me make a little side-hustle money. I would win a lot.

How did your wins compare to the cash you made pool sharking?

That was really a lucrative career for me and Jessica, my best friend growing up. High wins were 30 bucks. I was a hustler. I was always trying to figure out how to make a buck. I would put out the garbage and mow people’s lawns in the neighborhood. But pool was one of my strengths and Jessica was a really good shit talker. She ended up becoming a lawyer. She would shit talk and I would win. Still, we got schooled many times. We thought we were sharking but we were being sharked.

Seems like hustling is a skill you need to make it as an actor, director and producer in Hollywood.

Yeah. You can say that. That’s definitely an attribute that helps.

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