Gina Rodriguez was one of the biggest breakout stars of the 2014 TV season this year, nabbing awards and critical praise for her role on the CW’s Jane the Virgin.
Now, the Chicago native is hoping that her TV stardom translates to a slightly different on-screen debut, when she joins the cast of Celebrity Game Night on NBC tonight. Rodriguez will be flanked by other big name stars like Tom Arnold and Zachary Levi on the weekly game show, which is hosted by Emmy-award nominee Jane Lych.
Before the games get underway, learn a bit more about the NYU graduate and her life away from the cameras. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Rodriguez Got Her Show Biz Start as a Salsa Dancer
It didn’t take long for the entertainment bug to bit Rodriguez. At just seven years old the Chicago native got her first taste of performing when she joined a salsa company in Chicago called Fantasia Juvenil. She continued dancing throughout middle and high school until, at 16, she was one of just 13 teenagers to be accepted into Columbia University’s Theatrical Collaboration.
Rodriguez discussed her dancing career with Ok! Magazine earlier this year:
I started out as a little salsa dancer, from age 7 to 17. It’s when I decided performing was for me. It made me feel alive! I liked dancing, but I needed to talk. I could have just gone to California to be an actress, but my parents are super into education. I went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. I wanted to be an actress because I didn’t see anyone with my face up on the screen.
Rodriguez entered NYU and spent the next four years training at both the Atlantic Theatre Company and Experimental Theatre Wing. Directly after she graduated, she booked her first lead role in the feature film Tiny Dancer.
2. She Won a Golden Globe For ‘Jane the Virgin’ This Year
Rodriguez had one of the most memorable moments in recent awards show history when she defeated four of the top names in Hollywood to win the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.
It was the first-ever Golden Globe winner for the CW Network. But while the history-making win was impressive, it was Rodriguez’s speech that was truly award-winning. Fighting back tears, the star took the stage and thanked her family, with a particular moment for her father, who had worked as a boxing referee while she was growing up:
Thank you to my mom and my dad who taught me to dream big and to never stop dreaming. My father used to tell me to say every morning, ‘Today is going to be a great day. I can and I will.’ Well, Dad — Today is a great day. I can and I did.
Check out the full speech here:
3. Rodriguez’s Older Sister, Ivelisse, Paid For Her College Education
Rodriguez’s older sister, Ivelisse Rodriguesz Simon, who currently works as a partner at Avante and was previously Vice President at Reliant Equity Investors and subsequently at Palladium Equity Partners, was always a major part of the actress’ life but no more so than during her college years.
After learning that Rodriguez was no longer eligible for a crucial scholarship at NYU because she had missed too many classes due to a thyroid disease, Ivelisse stepped in and paid the remainder of the tuition.
Rodriguez recently honored her sister by featuring her on the AOL web series My Hero, calling Ivelisse “a very honorable woman.”
4. She’s Been Dating Henri Esteve Since 2014
Rodriguez has been dating actor Henri Esteve since the two met during a wrap party in Hollywood.
Esteve previously played Javier Salgado on Revenge and the two realized they actually spent a good amount of time on the same studio lot. It was romantic revelations from there on out.
Esteve joined his girlfriend for her Golden Globe win earlier this year, tweeting out:
5. She Turned Down a Role in ‘Devious Maids’
Although Rodriguez was able to book a handful of roles prior to her breakout on Jane the Virgin, the Chicago native actually turned down a role on Lifetime’s Devious Maids, produced by Eva Longoria. Rodriguez explained the decision, saying she didn’t see a future with the storyline:
I didn’t want to do a show about maids because there are other stories to be told (about Latinos). I know all the women on ‘Devious Maids’ and I love and support and wish them only the best. … It just wasn’t my dream.
Prior to her award-winning performance on the CW, Rodriguez made a name for herself in a handful of low-budget standouts, including former Sundance favorite Filly Brown, which garnered her “it girl” status at the prominent film festival. She’s also appeared on The Bold and the Beautiful as well as Army Wives.