Gina Rodriguez Stars in ‘Not Dead Yet’

'Jane The Virgin's' Gina Rodriguez plays an obituary reporter who speaks for (and with) the dead in 'Not Dead Yet', a high-concept sitcom packed with high-profile guest stars

‘Jane The Virgin’s’ Gina Rodriguez plays an obituary reporter who speaks for (and with) the dead in ‘Not Dead Yet’, a high-concept sitcom packed with high-profile guest stars

She was once best known as aspiring writer Jane Villanueva, the hard-working, virtuous girl in her early 20s who, despite being a virgin, becomes pregnant with her boss’s child on Jane The Virgin. But now-38-year-old actress Gina Rodriguez admits she relates more to her new comedic character Nell Serrano—a broke, single, self-described disaster. “Jane was so pivotal in my life,” says Rodriguez. “It was a character so vastly different from myself. I got very lucky to play such a kind, loving character that always did the right thing and was honest. That really helped me in my real life—to reflect on how I should be more like Jane.”  

Nell, however—a writer once full of promise, who left her career opportunities behind for a boy, only to return home five years later to the only job she can find: writing obituaries for a local newspaper—feels to Rodriguez like a character closer to home. “To have someone that is in her 30s, thinking that she’s got it together, and then it all falls apart is, to me, so much easier to connect to,” she says, adding: “As I go into this next chapter in my life, I have no idea what I’m doing.”  

Not Dead YetCTVWhat Rodriguez is referring to, specifically, is the much-anticipated birth of her first child who, despite being hidden by plants, folders and cubicle walls on Not Dead Yet, is very present throughout the first season of the new sitcom. “I’m going to fall, I’m going to trip, I’m going to make mistakes, and I’m going to need to lean on all of the incredible people around me,” says Rodriguez, on the doorstep of new motherhood. “I will forever be someone that’s shedding like an onion and peeling away at the layers of what I think I know. And Nell is that. She’s at times afraid to learn and rejecting of those lessons and then at other times really is so appreciative. Her life depends on learning from those moments. It’s really cool to be playing this at a time where I’m continuously unravelling and rebuilding myself.” 

Not Dead YetCTVAdding to the undoing of Nell is the arrival of some unlikely advisers. Whenever it is time to write a new obituary, Nell is visited by the ghost of her subject, who refuses to leave her alone until she’s gained some pivotal insight about life. It’s not just an opportunity for good character arcs, it’s a great chance for stunt casting. “That’s what we were so excited about, thinking about being able to write a new character every week,” says co-showrunner Casey Johnson. “We kind of dreamt, who would be our dream cast? And we’ve got some really fantastic people.” They include Ed Begley, Jr., Rhea Perlman, Paula Pell, Telma Hopkins and Brittany Snow, as ghosts-of-the-week.  

Not Dead YetCTVBut the greatest gift Nell’s new gig affords her is a brand-new friend. Cricket (played by Angela Elayne Gibbs), the widow of one of Nell’s first obit subjects, soon becomes her port in the storm and guide in life. “I love that they’ve written a character who is three-dimensional, an older woman who still has a lot of life to live,” says Gibbs. “When I met Gina for the chemistry read, ours was instant. I think it’s because we really do live in that world where we’ve got an aunt or a girlfriend—someone who is older, someone who is younger—and we are informing each other, learning from each other. There was that [connection] immediately. Cricket is flawed, she’s bold and she’s scared. And Nell’s character is flawed and bold and scared. We get to journey that together, inform each other and heal together.”   

Not Dead YetCTVFor Rodriguez, who also serves as executive producer on the sitcom, the set that includes co-stars Hannah Simone (New Girl), Lauren Ash (Superstore) and Rick Glassman (Undateable), felt shielding at a time when she needed it the most. “It’s my first time experiencing [pregnancy at work] and they’ve been so loving of me accidentally getting pregnant right before the show started,” she says. “I had so much support from these incredible human beings on set always. Rick would randomly text me and be like, ‘Thank you for doing this. I know it’s tough. I want to complain, but then I see you. So, I won’t complain.’ It would just make me feel so loved and supported, and it was a huge gift.”  

Not Dead YetCTVAnd much like her character, Rodriguez feels the experience has brought her closer to recently deceased loved ones. “I have always felt like my ancestors have been around me, been present in my journey and taking care of me in moments of fear or doubt,” she reflects. “I’m just going to keep hearing my grandmother. ‘I can do this.’ I have the strength of these women that have come before me.” 

Not Dead Yet airs Wednesdays on CTV2 & ABC