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Interview: Gabrielle Ruiz

The CW has been known to take chances with different types of television series. In 2014, the network greenlit the series Jane the Virgin which follows the life of a young woman whose life is turned upside down when she is artificially inseminated by accident.

The series was met with critical acclaim and series lead Gina Rodriguez won a Golden Globe for her performance in the lead role.

Well, it seems lighting may strike twice for the network. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the newest series the network has greenlit with a style and vibe all its own. The series stars Rachel Bloom and like Jane the Virgin, has become a hit with the critics. One of the reasons the show has become a success for the CW is the work of Gabrielle Ruiz.

Gabrielle got her start in Broadway with productions such as A Chorus Line, Evita with Ricky Martin and If/Then with Idina Mendzel. But the actor, singer and dancer doesn’t stop there. She’s also setting her sights on the world of television with parts on series such as Orange is the New Black and Law & Order: SVU. Currently she can be seen playing the role of Valencia on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Today, we talk with Gabrielle about her breakout role on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, her work on Broadway and what advice she would give to up and coming actors.

Pop Culture Principle – Did you know you wanted to be in the entertainment business when you were younger?

Gabrielle Ruiz – Yes, absolutely! I’m originally from south Texas and I am born of Mexican-American descent. I am from the region where Eva Longoria and Selena Quintanilla are from. Before YouTube, social media and smartphones, there was no exposure to musical theatre or entertainment. I remembered that I just love to dance first and foremost. I was the big ham on stage with my dad videotaping me in the audience and I would look right into the lens at the age of three.

I went to New York for the first time around twelve or thirteen and I saw Broadway shows and that’s when I knew exactly what I wanted to do. So at a young age I knew in my heart that I wanted to be an entertainer, I just didn’t know how yet. I am so grateful for all of my mentors, my public school education as well as going to a college that had a really great program for entertainment. So, I figured it out at a young age and utilized it more and more as I got older.

Pop Culture Principle – What was it like stepping on stage for the very first time professionally?

Gabrielle Ruiz – My first big gig from New York was a Broadway production of A Chorus Line. I remember the first time I was on stage; I knew it was exactly where I needed to be. I was comfortable, I was excited and I was honored to tell a story, especially that story which is all about dancers and their life in the business. It was a gift to be able to represent that and I feel that I have been able to carry that through the years of working in this business.

Pop Culture Principle – Can you tell us what it was like being a part of the Evita production and working with Ricky Martin?

Gabrielle Ruiz – It was so much fun! He is a dreamboat from his heart and also when you look at him. I came into the company after it opened, so when I was learning the show in rehearsals, part of my work was to watch the show in the evening. The first time I saw him walk on stage and take off his hat, he had this presence to him that made me squeal and yell with the audience. At this point, I need to be a colleague and not a fan. I have a big rule about being a colleague and not a big fan, but he has the magic and I learned a lot from him.

The most memorable moment with Ricky is that we have a funeral at the beginning and we all stand on stage. We all are on stage at the very top of the show and in the show where I was standing, he would be standing right next to me and would always give me a kiss on the cheek and say have a good show and he smelled so good. Not only is he nice, not only is he handsome, but he smells really good!

He just has the “it” factor and you just know. Also, seeing him do live theater was a treat, because from his Menudo years, he trained and grew up on the live stage. Not a lot of people can crossover that way and he has been able to.

Pop Culture Principle – Can you talk about your recent work on If/Then with Idina Menzel?

Gabrielle Ruiz – Idina is the best. She is not only a supernova which we all know, but she’s really great at her craft. I don’t need to share that in this interview, but what I would love to share about her is that she is such a lighthearted goofball on and off stage. She taught me that what we do is serious and we are professionals, but also not serious because it’s just theater. It’s just acting, it’s just singing and it’s ok if you mess up.

She would stop and take the scene back and sometimes address it to the audience and they would go crazy because they felt a part of her journey doing not only the story, but Idina Menzel doing a show. She would invite the audience in that way and it was so special to be a part of that and also not take it so hard if the lights didn’t work the way there were supposed to or if someone would drop a line or if someone would trip, she would laugh with you.

It taught me and reminded me that what we do gives us joy and it’s also good to authentically express that as yourself as well as the character. So, that is what I took away in working with her. I really look up to her because she makes sure she has an equal presentation of work and life in her own and I really respect that.

Pop Culture Principle – Has anything really surprised you while working on and off Broadway?

Gabrielle Ruiz – That is a great question because there are so many answers for that. The one thing that always keeps me on my toes is that I am always reminded in live theater that it is never going to be the same. We always have a chance to do it again the next day. That is a gift, but it can also be a curse. The fact that live audiences are there rooting for us to be entertained and we have to remember to let go every time the show goes very well or the show doesn’t go well, we have tomorrow to do it again.

I feel that surprises me every single time it occurs and you relearn it many, many times over and over and we still keep learning from it even though we expect a different result. We always have a chance to do it again and that’s something that I remind the next generation any time I do question and answer sessions or master classes that it’s really ok if you don’t feel like this was your best show or you tried something new. You can try it again tomorrow or not. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but once you let that go, it frees you up and it gets better.

Pop Culture Principle – With all your theatre background, did you have any ambitions to do television or film?

Gabrielle Ruiz – The only thing I always wanted to commit to and have a goal for was to just be working. I’ve been able to get a little taste of television with Law & Order and most recently Orange is the New Black. The glimpse of television was always appealing. I came to New York to do musical theater and live the dream of Broadway. I’ve loved it and had wonderful years and lots of shows of doing that, so right now it’s been a really great change of pace with the television work I’m doing. I’m loving it and it is kind of fun doing one scene for five hours versus doing an entire show in two and a half hours. They are vastly different and they each have their own discipline and I am loving it.

Pop Culture Principle – Speaking of Law & Order: SVU, what was it like stepping onto that set for the first time?

Gabrielle Ruiz – The one thing I really took away from that show working with these amazing people, the amazing team and being on this amazing set, I remember that was my first major television gig when someone asked me what kind of breakfast would you like and I didn’t understand the question. I was telling the AD that it was ok, I can get my own breakfast and already had coffee at home. He kept insisting that he could get me anything and I was just blown away by that!

Being able to shoot a gun for the first time and being taught how to do that was a lot of fun. Mariska Hargitay was so cool and nice and we got to work in a shooting range scene together. It was really fun to be in a drama that everyone has seen over and over again and I get text messages from friends and people who have seen the episode I was in.

Law & Order: SVU never gets old, the stories are always so great and the cast is fantastic. It’s a revolving door that people can return to. It was such an honor to do and be a part of. It’s such a big stamp on your resume, especially in New York, for actors who have done Law & Order. You feel like as though you have made it if you have done Law & Order: SVU.

Pop Culture Principle – How did you land the part of Valencia on the hit CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend?

Gabrielle Ruiz – Well there are two answers to that. I did audition and I was recommended from a list of people that Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created Hamilton and hired me for my first Broadway show The Heights, he referred me to be seen for Valencia. I didn’t know that until months and months after I was already a part of the show. So, from my point of view, I put the audition on tape and read the scene with a broad stroke idea of who the character was and for every actor out there that knows what I am talking about when you audition so many times and one just hits, this one finally hit and it was meant for me to do.

A lot of the callbacks that I had were on Skype with Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna in Los Angeles. We were able to go back and forth and share our thoughts on the character. So, not only was I auditioning for it, but I was already collaborating with the team and that’s when I knew this was something special and it could potentially be really fun. Even if I wasn’t going to get the part, although I did want the part, even if I didn’t, I just knew that these people doing television like this was such a great opportunity to be a part of. Again, even if I didn’t get the part, I was looking forward to working with them someday on something else.

Pop Culture Principle – Are you personally like your character Valencia in any way?

Gabrielle Ruiz – I don’t know, am I? What do you think? You know Valencia is my girl. We are similar in the fact that we are the friend that is comfortable in telling you the tough love truth. Even if it doesn’t come off that way and it’s too much for a friend to handle, friends in Gabrielle’s life come to me for those questions and those hard conversations.

Now, learning about Valencia and who she is, I see why I got the role the more episodes that I do. I love how she doesn’t ask for permission to speak her mind and I also understood the feelings and the wall that she has built between other women. Feeling vulnerable with a woman is rare or having girlfriends and I remember what that was like in high school. So, that was a vulnerable history that I could relate to easily, that high school girls can be mean and you have to learn how to survive and Valencia had to do that, so I related to her in that way.

It’s like a rite of passage for women, but I love that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is taking the responsibility of spinning those ideas of feminism and the way that women look at each other. The last song I did, Women Got to Stick Together, is the song that really made fun of that and the idea that women are so nice to each other and so critical of one another. So, I am loving what Rachel and Aline are doing with the show in that way for Valencia.

Pop Culture Principle – Do you hope that Rachel Bloom’s recent award wins will shine a brighter light on the series and bring in new viewers?

Gabrielle Ruiz – I do. I feel that it has and it has created winds in our sails already. The viewership and the ratings I don’t really look at them a lot. It’s an old habit from the theater life of not looking at reviews and just doing my work. Rachel is completely climbing the success ladder so quickly, that curve for her of having success and being recognized for it has happened so quickly. She deserves all of that and she is ready for that.

I feel like most new television shows are part of the evolution of what is considered viewership and when you watch. A lot of people watch shows on their computers and no one really buys cable anymore.

I do hope that it shines a light on the show, but we are really happy with the fans that we already have. We live tweet every Monday during the shows with the fans on the East coast and West coast and we are really proud of what has happened thus far.

Pop Culture Principle – One of the great things about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is that it gives viewers something completely different and fresh to watch on television. Would you agree?

Gabrielle Ruiz – It is definitely something fresh to watch. It is definitely something that we are enjoying that the smart people are getting the jokes. It’s smart comedy and a dark/romantic comedy that if you don’t necessarily pay attention, you’ll just see the title and completely judge what you think it should be versus just watching it.

That’s why I take pride that Rachel and Aline chose that title for our show because it completely proves our point that you need to watch something to understand that you can accept it. Being surprised every Monday night, being shocked, being awed, laughing, crying and having empathy for Rebecca and all the other characters in West Covina, it’s really ok to feel uncomfortable and laugh at yourself and I love that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does that.

Pop Culture Principle – What advice would you give to an up and coming actor?

Gabrielle Ruiz – All of the times that you hear no and it seems that they never end are so worth that one glorified yes. It’s so worth it and just keep going. I think of auditioning and this career as a poker table where you have to stay at the table and wait for that good hand and put it all in.

My mentor in college said something to me that I will always take with me and that is this is show business, not show begging. We are so indifferent and so passionate about what we do, we take it personally when we are rejected most of the time and most of it has nothing to do with you. Think of it as a business where you have to change your odds, change locations, be smart with your finances. It’s so worth it when that one hits and for me, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend gave me that chance to put it all in and I’m so glad that I did.

We would like to thank Gabrielle for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk with us. Remember, you can catch new episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Monday nights at 8/7c only on The CW. If you would like to keep up with Gabrielle's latest news and projects, you can follow her on Twitter @ImGabrielleRuiz or her official website here.

**Photos courtesy of Scott Everett White/Robert Voets/Eddy Chen/Tyler Golden/The CW**

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