Justin Baldoni isn’t your average heartthrob.
Sure, he has abs of steel, a smile that melts hearts, and a laugh and confidence that is so attractive, but he’s also a triple threat. Not only is he responsible for the collective swooning of audiences across the world as Rafael Solano on The CW’s Jane the Virgin, but he’s directing and producing with his production company Wayfarer while he takes over the world. Justin Baldoni is a man who can and will do it all.
Justin Baldoni didn’t always want to be an actor. In fact, soccer was his first love, but before he found the sport, Baldoni acted in his small town’s school play of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as both Mercutio and Paris at just 12 years old. A self-proclaimed small and “nerdy” kid, Baldoni didn’t get the lead that was reserved for the popular kids. Still, acting gave him something special he never had before.
“I fell in love with it. It was the first time where I got to make choices in front of a group of people and be able to hear their reaction,” Baldoni says. “So if I did something funny, I got to hear them laugh. If I did something dramatic, I got to feel the energy in the place. It was a really cool experience for me.”
When he reached high school, he had to make a decision: theatre or soccer. He chose the latter, sure that his life was heading in that direction. He also ran track and though a part of him always loved performing, theatre conflicted with his sports schedule, so he had to sacrifice one love for the other. His father started the product placement industry in the early ‘80s, so Baldoni met actors and saw sets, but he lacked the confidence to see himself in their shoes. He thought that he was awkward, nerdy, and “everything grew at the wrong time.”
Though he never saw himself as an actor, he wasn’t removed from knowledge of the business. In fact, he didn’t start acting again until the age of 20. Once the time came to audition for Jane the Virgin, he wasn’t acting at all. Instead, he spent those two years dedicating his time to building his directing career and his production company. During his hiatus from acting, the company shot music videos and commercials, amongst other things, and he thought the company was the career path he was meant to take. Lucky for us, that was not the case.
“I never really saw myself becoming an actor,” he says. “It was never really a possible career path for me, especially when you live in a small town so far away from anything like that.”
On Jane the Virgin, Baldoni plays the heartthrob Rafael Solano, who has a heart of gold. He is loyal, loves hard, and has a charisma that Baldoni himself exudes. Rafael has had a world of bad things thrown at him, the kind of fate only realized in a show that loves, respects, and models itself in many ways after the classic Telenovelas: Jane (Gina Rodriguez) was accidentally inseminated with his sperm, so now they share a child; his father was killed by his step mom, an international crime boss who kidnapped his baby; his ex-wife, Petra (Yael Grobglas), took what was left of his sperm, inseminated herself, and gave birth to twins; and to top it all off, Rafael is a cancer survivor, a fact that drew Baldoni to the role.
“I had spent the last almost 2 years doing a documentary series called My Last Days where I traveled the country and I told the stories of unique individuals who were living amazing lives, but who were also dying of a terminal illness,” Baldoni explains. “In those 2 years, I had lost a lot of friends, very dear friends, to cancer. And the idea that here I am now jumping back into acting after taking a hiatus and getting to play a character with that life experience felt meant to be.”
Baldoni’s docu-series, My Last Days, will be a part of the new digital platform CW Good that Baldoni’s Wayfarer Entertainment is partnering on with The CW. My Last Days will also air as a three-night television event in mid-August. It tells the story of how to live from the lens of those who are dying. The series will feature six people who do not let their limited amount of time left on earth keep them from impacting others and the world at large.
Rafael is the first character that Baldoni has played in the last 5 years and he’s an important one. Although Jane the Virgin tells the story of the relationships between three generations of Latina women, Jane and Rafael prove that the relationships outside of family are equally important. Jane may be gearing up to marry Michael (Brett Dier), but she is not only the mother of Rafael’s first child, but she is the love of his life. When Rafael loves, he loves with abandon. He’s loyal and ready to protect his family at any cost, and that’s what endears him to the audience, and in many ways, to Jane. He is an underdog despite his riches, a man who wants a family he has never had, and a chance to be the father his father never was. He wants the opportunity to prove his worth to both his naysayers and the people who already believe in him.
“There is this woman that pops into his life when he least expects it and she offers him something he’s never had before,” he says of Rafael’s relationship with Jane. “Jane is a family woman with integrity and heart who lives her life with morals, honesty, and values.”
According to Baldoni, the two characters come from different worlds, but that’s what draws them to each other. “Jane is very much the part of the fabric that makes America so great, while Rafael, to a certain extent, is part of what makes America great and awful,” Baldoni explains. “He is entitled and very wealthy, but at the same time, he provides jobs.”
Baldoni goes on to say that Rafael and Jane’s relationship is almost like a fairytale, which is something many viewers will agree with. “I think the audience roots for them because they see how different Jane is to everybody else in Rafael’s life,” he says. “I hope they can see the love he has for her and despite the crappy things that are happening, how he longs for a family he never had.”
If you can’t choose between Michael and Rafael, don’t worry—Baldoni couldn’t either. He agrees that both Michael and Rafael have great qualities; Michael seems to be a comfort for Jane, a sense of familiarity and home, whereas Rafael is the adventure, excitement, and something refreshing. Though it seems that Rafael has what Michael is lacking and vice versa, the choice in men isn’t an easy one to make.
“If I was in Jane’s shoes, I would’ve picked the person that made me feel the safest, the best. Maybe I would’ve picked Michael. I don’t know,” he says. “I’m not in Jane’s shoes, but I definitely understand that it is a tough choice to make because on the other hand, you have someone who loves you deeply who you have a family with. I understand why it was so hard for her.”
Rafael is more than his romantic entanglements, but they do help shape his character and often motivate his choices. This begs the question: will his love for Jane and desire for family help or stunt his character growth in the future? It’s likely too soon to tell with a show that rivals even the best soap operas with its flare for drama and outlandish (in the best way possible) storylines. By the way of fate, luck, or pure determination, Rafael has always found his way out of sticky situations. He couldn’t give away much, but Baldoni believes that this time should be no different. Baldoni himself doesn’t quite understand how he comes out on the other side of all of the situations he gets in, insisting that he would have turned to God a long time ago. However, he promises that there isn’t anything he would change about his character. He has total faith in Jane the Virgin’s creator, Jennie Urman, and is excited to see where his character goes.
Unlike a lot of his favorite actors, Baldoni says he doesn’t really have a method when it comes to portraying Rafael, choosing instead to garner the emotions Rafael needs to showcase, whether it be anger, sadness, adoration, or a mix of the three, when need be. He tries to make sure that his body and mind are in the right place so he can feel the emotions. In the past, he has tried to use music to get him in the zone, but that method didn’t stick.
When the cameras aren’t rolling, there is no choosing. In the most authentic way possible, the cast is as close as they seem. In fact, Baldoni’s favorite part about the show is getting to work with the people that he loves. He considers his cast mates to be special people who are hardworking and talented.
“I really love, respect, and admire my cast mates. They have incredible hearts and they work very hard,” he says. “They have lots of gratitude. Every day they show up to work and are grateful for their jobs, and I think that, for me, having another family outside of my close friends and real family is special to me.”
If you are worried about a Justin Baldoni-less summer when the season wraps, worry no more. He will be working with his Wayfarer Entertainment production company where he plans to create content that they think “will make the world better.” In fact, he made it a point to say that they’re “not in the film business; we’re in the reminder business.” He has My Last Days coming to The CW in August and the Warner Bros. studio feature film Clouds in production based on the life of Zach Sobiech, which Baldoni is slated to direct and produce. To learn more, be sure to visit wearewayfarer.com.
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Justin Baldoni Talks ‘Jane the Virgin’ and ‘My Last Days’: Photographer: Quavondo, Assistant: Johnny Martini, Hair/Grooming: Lysette Castellanos, Styling: Yesenia Cuevas