Gabrielle Ruiz of 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' on Hollywood Diversity and Boxed Water

Gabrielle Ruiz plays Valencia Perez on the CW's breakout hit "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." We sat down with the former Broadway star to talk about her transition to TV, "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and how good boxed water is.

by Julie Kliegman
Mar 10 2016, 7:00pm

Photo courtesy of The CW

Less than one full season in, the critically acclaimed CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has already proven that outrageous musical numbers can comfortably exist on TV alongside pointed commentary on mental health, feminism, and relationships. The show follows Rebecca Bunch (played by co-creator Rachel Bloom), who has recently rearranged her life so that she might reconnect with her old summer camp flame, Josh Chan (Vincent Rodriguez III).

There's just one thing in the way of Rebecca's quest: Josh's seemingly perfect girlfriend of 15 years, Valencia Perez (Gabrielle Ruiz).

The show's punchy style is best embodied by Valencia gently singing this pearl of wisdom about how important it is that women supporting each other through honesty: "The truth is you're all fat sluts, and that's called sisterhood."

Ruiz, a Mexican-American actress from Edinburg, Texas—who now lives in New York—is tasked with balancing Valencia's over-the-top cattiness and endearing vulnerability. We caught up with Ruiz to chat about her connections to Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, female friends, and boxed water.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

BROADLY: How did you make the transition from Broadway to television?
Gabrielle Ruiz: I don't know, you just do. I'm a big believer in make it up as you go.

I read that Lin-Manuel Miranda, who you worked with on In the Heights, had a hand in referring you to Crazy Ex. How does it feel having him in your corner?
The fact that he's in my corner still, to this day, ever since I came to New York, is such a treat. It makes me feel all fuzzy inside that someone who is so incredible and genius—when it comes to changing the entertainment world with what he's doing with Hamilton—still believes in me. That's something you don't take lightly, and you cherish.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is garnering a lot of notoriety in a really short amount of time. Has that sunk in yet?
Absolutely, it sunk in. We've been ready to be recognized for it. We were so happy and thrilled that not only critics, but also audience members are getting it, and they're getting what we're trying to impress upon society.

A lot has been made of the show's diverse cast. What's it been like being part of that group?
Being part of a diverse cast has been wonderful. The word "diversity" is really in the hot seat right now when it comes to the entertainment business, so I do love the fact that our leading man is someone that you've never seen before, and his [character's] family, [who are Filipino], had a Thanksgiving that has never been showcased on national television before. I'm also enjoying that Valencia—even if she is Latina, her joke [is not always] about being Latina. Her jokes [are] about being a yoga instructor, or being a vegan, or only drinking boxed water, and you can give that to any person of any race.

I feel that Valencia, as strong as she is, has a lot of insecurities and a lot of weakness that she's afraid of.

The part you read for—and I assume the other parts as well—was open casting? There wasn't a race specified?
No, there was no race specificity, and I think once Rachel and [Crazy Ex co-creator] Aline [Brosh McKenna] were attracted to someone's take on the role, they could hear someone saying it the way the were writing it. Then, what they found in that person, they used that as inspiration for the character's development. So that's been fun. I've been able to be a muse for a really fantastic creative team, and then they do spin and make fun.

So you mentioned that Rachel and Aline use you as a muse for your character. What characteristics you and Valencia share?
I love this question because mean girls don't think that they're mean girls, so to speak. So, with my girlfriends—which I do have girlfriends, so that's a difference—we joke that I'm the Monica of the friendship. You know, we cast everyone as the cast of Friends. I'm the Monica who is honest, straightforward, owns the apartment, is a little bossy.

So I hope that Valencia doesn't come off just as mean, because I never come from a place of being malicious, and I don't think she does either. What I can say we have in common and what I understand about her is that she doesn't beat around the bush, she doesn't take people's nonsense for too long, and she eats her own words because she has been taking Josh's nonsense for 15 years. So she is also who she doesn't want to be.

I love that conflict between her, that she's so straightforward and transparent in that way—that she's honest. Consider it a compliment/insult — a "complisult," like we've spoken about before in some articles, that she's doing it kind of for your own good. She's trying to help, and it can come off in a way that isn't very helpful or meaningful. So what we have in common is being really, really honest, being transparent, and I do like water. I do like to drink a lot of water.

I was going to ask.
The first scene I ever shot was in [episode] 102, "Josh's Girlfriend is Really Cool!" It's the patio scene where we're having lunch and we're talking about getting my yoga studio. It was the first scene I ever shot on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and they brought me the boxed water, and I rolled my eyes. I said, "Of course she has boxed water, ugh." Then I drank it, and it's really, really good.

What has Rebecca and Valencia's relationship taught you about navigating female friendship?
Female friendship, for me, is a very important topic. I am an advocate for teaching and inspiring youth in the arts, and so I have not only witnessed it myself in high school when it comes to female friendships and the dynamics between them, but I also am very passionate about helping the next generation not repeat some common mistakes that can happen.

For instance, being competitive, being aggressive, being verbally insulting, being passive-aggressive. The female friendships that are being written for Rebecca and Valencia are true to form. I love that it is also a topic that is equivalent to everything else that we're talking [about] and spinning and poking fun at. [It] helps people realize that this is something that we take seriously, [but] is also something that can be a spoof, in a sense.

I love that Crazy Ex is also addressing female relationships. For instance, in the song "Women Got to Stick Together," Valencia has this real girl power, indie rock, feminist-sounding song—and at the same time, underneath it all, she's insulting women. That, unfortunately, is a commonality in our society that women feel the fear within their own lives and their own insecurities are projected on the women in front of them. I feel that Valencia, as strong as she is, has a lot of insecurities and a lot of weakness that she's afraid of.

There are pretty serious moments that make statements about feminism. Is that hard to balance with the comedic aspect?
I don't think it's difficult because the writing is so damn good. It's a relief that I don't have to try to be anything. I was lucky enough to be chosen to be a part of just saying what is written out loud. As an actor, there's a lot of preparation and a lot of letting go, so when new text is put in front of me, saying it out loud for the first time works most of the time. Then, we try different things, different takes, and different angles from Valencia's point of view, specifically. It's fun to think about what we're doing and the why behind what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is doing, but also not think about it and try something really different.

The show seems to have a big following on Twitter and Tumblr. There seems to be a lot of fan art. What do you think it is about the show that's resonating so strongly with people that they send you all these drawings of Valencia 24/7?
It's been so much fun to get excited and also see the fans' excitement expressed through what they're good at as well, which is fan art—the artists, the drawers, the colorists—they're having fun expressing their love for the show and it's nice to know and nice to see that these characters have a solid impact on the viewership and that they love to hate Valencia.

I am having so much fun being the bad guy for somebody, being the villain for somebody. The provocative question is: Is she a friend or a foe? You decide.