ABOVE: GINA RODRIGUEZ (LEFT) WITH ANA ORTIZ IN SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. IMAGE COURTESY OF RAOUL GERMAIN
"I love relatable stories," Gina Rodriguez says. "I love telling stories that allow people to be less afraid to tell theirs." Rodriguez's latest film, Sleeping with the Fishes, does just that. "It relates to how I felt when I was shooting and more so how so many people I love have felt and will feel at some point."
The first feature from Brooklyn-born writer/director/comedian Nicole Gomez Fisher, Sleeping with the Fishes opens at a low for its main character Alexis Fish (Rodriguez). Juggling humiliating gigs as a phone sex operator and a walking meatball sub sandwich, Alexis hardly has time to breathe, let alone process the recent death of her cheating husband (who has left her totally broke, by the way). However, an unlikely stroke of luck arrives in the form of an aunt's funeral. In what seems at first to be further humiliation, Alexis returns home to Brooklyn, where she is subject to her mother's critical eye and sister's "surprise"—a job planning a superhero-themed bat mitzvah. What follows is a late-life coming-of-age story.
Ahead of Sleeping with the Fishes' world premiere at the Brooklyn Film Festival this weekend, we spoke with Rodriguez about film, motherly advice, and becoming a twin-specialist nanny.
ERIN BRADY: You used to live in New York, right?
GINA RODRIGUEZ: I did. I was at NYU Tisch for four years, and then I lived there for four more afterwards. I love New York. I'm going to be there this weekend for the Brooklyn Film Festival.
BRADY: Is New York where you got into acting?
RODRIGUEZ: Well before, when I was really young, I was a salsa dancer. I started salsa dancing with a few different companies and started touring the country. It was fantastic, but I realized that I really wanted to talk every time we were performing. That's a problem because when you're dancing, if you stop to talk, that's not really cool to the other dancers.
RODRIGUEZ: So I started getting into theater and did it in high school a bit. When college came around, I was like "If I'm going to do this, I've got to do it right." Coming from a Puerto Rican family—I'm first generation, and my two older sisters, one's an investment banker and the other is a doctor—I really felt like I had a little bit of pressure to do it in a way that my parents could see fit.
BRADY: Are you a middle child or the youngest?
RODRIGUEZ: I'm the youngest. Yeah, I'm the baby.
BRADY: Your performance in Sleeping with the Fishes has a lot of physical comedy; are there any comedians who influenced you?
RODRIGUEZ: Melissa McCarthy is phenomenal with physical comedy. Kristen Wiig too. Oh! You know who else I love? Maya Rudolph. Actually, though, I did more character work with Nicole [Gomez Fisher], my director. She was a comedian and has comedy in her background.
BRADY: How did you meet Nicole?
RODRIGUEZ: I had a film at Sundance called Filly Brown, and she got together with her casting director, who had cast me in a film right out of NYU called Tiny Dancer. She saw my work and was like "That's the girl I want," and she offered me the role.
BRADY: What attracted you to the project?
RODRIGUEZ: I absolutely loved the script. It's biracial and multi-cultural. It's so reality-forward, and what's going on in the world now. Also, the character was so full, and so there already. Most people would say that the freedom is in being able to ad-lib and improv, but with this, there was so much freedom in having something that was so full and so funny on its own. My work [was] in paying homage to what Nicole had already created. I just had to let myself play and fall into it and really give over to the vulnerabilities of the character, because she's super vulnerable. It's a very relatable story, and I think everyone has gone through that in his or her life. To be honest, I'd never had the chance to play a woman like that, and I was up for the challenge.
BRADY: I think what you said about there being freedom in an already developed character is very true. What makes characters real are details, and if you're crafting a person from scratch, you're probably not going to pay as much attention to a question like, "Does this person bite their nails?"
BRADY: Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
RODRIGUEZ: I haven't seen the final cut. I'm going to see it at the premiere. Seeing myself makes me a little nauseous.
RODRIGUEZ: From the rough cut that I first saw, I'm in love with relationship between Ana Ortiz [Alexis's sister Kayla in the film] and I. Those are always my favorite scenes. She's so brilliant, wonderful, and compassionate and giving as an actress. It felt the way it looked. It felt real and connected.
BRADY: Family was a big theme in this movie, and there was a lot of focus on the relationship between your character and her mom. What's your real mom like?
RODRIGUEZ: The relationship with my mother in real life is so vastly different from the movie. My mother has never cared a day in her life if we're overweight. She's an angel. Not wearing makeup in the movie was actually really easy for me, because I don't wear makeup in real life, and that's because my mom was always like "You're beautiful the way you are."
BRADY: What's the best and worst advice you've gotten from your mom?
RODRIGUEZ: The best advice was you've got to be good to the people around you. You've got to be good to people on the way up, because they're the same people you'll see on the way down. And the worst advice my mom gave me...
BRADY: Not to get you in trouble with your mom!
RODRIGUEZ: [laughs] No, no, she's so awesome. Maybe the worst advice she gave me was, "Gina, you should see a therapist." I get it. I get it. She gives me good advice, besides the fact that she thinks I need therapy. It could be her best advice too.
BRADY: [laughs] So, your character has some pretty crappy jobs. Have you ever worked any odd jobs yourself?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh, my God. I have been a server. I've been a twin specialist nanny.
BRADY: What is that?
RODRIGUEZ: I'd just come out to LA, and I was working my butt off. My sister had twins, and I started working with her nanny, and her nanny was like, "You can make a killing at this." I was like, "Excuse me?" "If you certify as a twin specialist, you can make a killing." I trained for three months, got my CPR, became a twin specialist, and started being a nanny. Let me tell you, you make a killing. It's outrageous.
RODRIGUEZ: I can realistically take care of two kids now. I have no kids of my own, but I'm like bring it on.
BRADY: I'm going to make you predict the future. What does the rest of this year have in store for you?
RODRIGUEZ: I'm going to be shooting my pilot that I've booked with Fox this August. I'll be playing an aviator, like in Top Gun or Maverick. It's called The Wild Blue, and it's from the writers of Justified and the executive producer of Breaking Bad. I'm very excited. So, I predict that it will get picked up and I'll be taking flying lessons.
BRADY: TV and film acting are quite different. Do you have a preference for either?
RODRIGUEZ: I just love to perform in general, but I think that TV and film are so different. For film, you're with the project for anywhere from three weeks to three months, and you're able to create a story and a character for a certain amount of time. With television—God willing—it's a character that you can have years to form. I've been blessed to do feature films, but the idea of creating a character that I get to live with for years—that's so exciting to me. The sky's the limit.
SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES PREMIERES TOMORROW, JUNE 1, AT 7:30 PM AT WINDMILL STUDIOS, 287 KENT AVENUE, AS PART OF THE BROOKLYN FILM FESTIVAL.