Jaime Camil, Wry Rogelio on Jane the Virgin, Brings Worldly Charm to His Expanding Audience

06/08/2015 02:02 am ET | Updated Jun 07, 2016

It's a lot of fun talking with Jaime Camil, an icon throughout Latin America who's currently blazing new territory as the hugely popular Rogelio De La Vega, on CBS Studios International's hit series Jane the Virgin, which airs in the U.S. on The CW. Señor Camil is a performer's performer -- trained in theater and opera, with extensive film and television experience -- and these days, recognition and awards nominations are peaking for him in el norte. He's also hosting this week's Rockie Awards at the Banff World Media Festival. The guy knows his business, and he's an international superstar, but there's no Downey, Jr. attitude to him -- rather, he's charming and easygoing, and a polyglot: he even steps up when my Spanish vocabulary briefly falters. Fresh from a suit fitting, the ever-stylish Jaime is happy to talk shop. Here's our chat:


Jaime Camil

You started off in radio, is that correct?

Correct! I started off in radio. You know, I wanted to sing [Jaime laughs -- possibly knowingly: he's good], and life was like, 'No, we're going to give you these acting opportunities!' When I was very stubborn, I saw these acting opportunities as something that would help promote my singing career. But actually it was God, or the Universe, or whatever, telling me, 'No, you should pursue acting. This is your life.' So I think the Universe was right, and I was wrong. [laughs]

Exploring acting, it seems that you've portrayed some characters who've been pretty amazing, like twins (in the Mexican-Argentine telenovela, Los Exitosos Pérez), and playing a woman--

I played twins in a very funny show called "The Successful Pérez," about these twins who are separated at birth -- and one is gay, the other one is not gay -- it's a funny show. [laughs] And then I played a woman. You know, as an actor, playing a woman is a beautiful, challenging thing to do, because you really have to become not only another person, but another gender. It's just a great privilege to an actor, to play a woman. [Camil's role has been likened to Dustin Hoffman's turn as "Tootsie."] And it's fun to do, setting aside the three and a half hours of every-day make-up I had to go through!

That was Por Ella Soy Eva?

Correct. Very good Spanish, by the way.

Oh, middle school and high school. Did your agent pitch that to you, or how did you come to that role? [Ever the professional, Jaime kindly guides mi pie away from mi boca.]

Well, it's funny, you know: In Mexico, in Latin America, I kind of have an established career, so things work differently than they work here in the States. This particular show-runner -- her name is Rosy Ocampo -- this is one of four shows with her: the Mexican version of Ugly Betty, a couple of others. We always work together, and we always try to put projects together.

That makes sense.

To answer your question, Rosy was looking into rights for this Colombian show, and she called immediately, and said, 'I have this show, I want to do it with you -- I think you are one of the very few actors who can pull this off -- so should we do this together?' And I said, 'Yes!'

Internationally, you've worked in a lot of different cultures, and in different languages. How do you translate comedy -- for different languages and cultures -- or is it mainly universal?

That's a very good question. There's terminology we have in Latin America, the English translation is roughly "Brilliant Comedy" -- but I think comedy, situational comedy, goes beyond languages. It goes beyond cultures. If you approach comedy as a very serious matter -- without trying to be a clown, or to make people laugh by throwing pies at their faces -- I think fine, detailed comedy goes beyond any language or culture. You meet people who have a talent to tell jokes, and no matter the culture or nationality of the people in front of this guy or this girl, when they tell a joke, everybody laughs -- regardless of where they're from. So a certain type of comedy, at least, has an international language.

Well, certainly. It can be a very strong unifying entity, comedy.

That remark you made is brilliant, because comedy is also a very powerful tool, to talk about very passionate subjects. You see a movie like Life Is Beautiful, from Benigni -- talking about the most horrible things in the world, and doing it with comedy, for the love of God -- and you have our show, Jane the Virgin, talking about immigration issues. These are very serious issues, presented in -- I don't want to say a 'light' kind of way, but yes, taking advantage of comedy, to express important subjects.


Rogelio (Jaime Camil) and Jane (Gina Rodriguez)

Indeed. And it's a good segue! The role you play, Rogelio, that's so funny!

Thank you.

But it's almost risky, though -- because he's the romantic star, but he's also hilarious. How do you find the right note, when you're doing that role?

[Laughs] Thank you for your kind words. I think I'm lucky. Jennie Urman [who developed the series from the Venezuelan telenovela by Perla Farías], and her team of writers, they're just brilliant, and I'm very privileged to be playing such a well-balanced role -- because they write brilliant one-liners for Rogelio, but at the same time they write beautiful, heartfelt scenes with Gina's [Rodriguez] character, and Andrea's [Navedo] character, so I have to thank the writers, for being so clever.

At the same time, like you say, it's a character that can get out of your hands quite easily, so we have great directors. This might sound crazy, like it might not make sense, but Rogelio needs to be grounded. He's super-eccentric, and always out there, but he needs to keep it real.

I think you're right: clowning is too easy. Everybody gets Rogelio, though, so congratulations!

Thank you, man. I think you have to be sincere: whenever Rogelio throws out these lines, like, 'I want my daughter to have the pleasure of knowing me' -- you have two choices: either slap him, or hug him, because he's being so true with himself. That's what we were talking about: when you play comedy seriously, you can get away with these kinds of lines.

Is it a conscious choice, or is it simply organic, when you go from the stage to a film set, or a TV set?

It's organic. I've been doing this for over 20 years, so when you're onstage, you understand the culture that theater represents, so you have to act for the guy sitting in row 'W.' When you do television, you may be a little over the top. And when you do movies, you're on a 20-meter screen, so when you lift your eyebrows, that's powerful enough. You get to know how each discipline works, and to respect how they need to be approached and treated, each of these beautiful, lovely disciplines. I would give my life for them, because I love what I do.

Did you imagine 20 years ago that you would be where you are today?

I actually -- no -- this is a very tricky question, because you can come off as a real professional bastard! [laughs] But to be honest, when I was a little kid, and I used to sing in front of my study group, where I did my homework, and I'd grab the lamp -- of course, the lamp was my microphone -- and I was singing, I'd always envision a huge audience! I never envisioned myself in a small coffee shop.


But of course, don't get me wrong, never in my wildest dreams did I think I was to reach the level I was able to reach in Latin America, and in Mexico, and now there's great things happening in the U.S., with the show, the recognition Gina is getting -- I'm freaking out a little bit right now.

That's good! Enjoy that!

Thank you, man. I will tell that to the butterflies in my stomach.

That's great! Um, papillon. I know the word in French. I'm forgetting the word in Spanish.

Mariposa. Papillon, French. Mariposa, Spanish.


Jaime in "Rogelio" mode

Thank you. And Jane the Virgin is going into a second season, so can you tease anything?

Oh, no! I can tell you without hesitation that we, the actors, are not kept in the circle of trust of Jennie Urman and her writers! We don't know what the hell is gonna happen! We're like, 'Come on, Jennie. Tell us a little bit. We're the actors of the show.' 'No, I'm sorry. I can't share.' Which is great, as an actor, because you are always surprised -- you don't know how to prepare for the next season, or the next episode. Just to give you an idea, we found out who Sin Rostro was at the table reading! Like that.

There's a video out there, of Jennie Urman, talking about a little bit of what to expect from the second season -- and that's the only thing we know, as cast members. So I would love to share with you, more information, but honest to God, we don't have it!

That's actually very fun -- that you get to be surprised when you go to work. Let me close with a music question: Do you have more albums or singles in the works? More music?

I have accepted myself as an actor that sings. If my character needs to sing, I do it, they don't have to dub me. No plans. It's a thing that I have, and it helps my career, and whenever a character needs to sing, then I can pull it off.

I don't like to use the word 'craft' -- because it sounds so pretentious -- but you have to keep your craft active. And study. And lessons here, lessons there, just keep doing it!

Photos courtesy of CBS

Official Site: Jaime Camil