Have you ever thrown a punch?” asks Gina Rodriguez. She and I are standing in the garage behind her beachy-modern bungalow in Westchester, the pleasantly unassuming neighborhood on the West Side of Los Angeles where she lives with her boyfriend, the actor Joe LoCicero. A late-October heat wave is gripping the city, and I am wilting along with the Halloween yard decorations on Rodriguez’s street. The garage, snug but pristine, houses a treadmill, a large weight-lifting rack, an area covered in padded flooring, and—hanging ominously from the ceiling in one corner—a massive black punching bag.
I have never thrown a punch. Rodriguez, on the other hand, grew up around boxing. Her father, Genaro “Gino” Rodriguez, a former boxing official—he once refereed a fight for eight-time world champion Manny Pacquiao—taught Gina and both of her siblings how to box as young kids on the Northwest Side of Chicago. (The only art in the garage is a large mixed-media graffiti collage featuring an old black-and-white photo of her dad in the ring, dukes up.) It has proved a useful skill in Hollywood: Later, in an impromptu #MeToo moment, Rodriguez will share that, seven years ago, a male director invited her over to “read his pilot”—air quotes hers—and she rebuffed his advances by punching him in the jaw.
But I knew none of this. So when Rodriguez first suggested a boxing class, I had imagined a trainer barking orders as we shadowboxed our way through an hour of light cardio. It is now clear that I had it all wrong—Rodriguez is the trainer. She tosses a pair of boxing gloves and punch mitts at my feet.
Though Rodriguez, 33, has just wrapped a long day of shooting Jane the Virgin, the hit CW comedy that has delighted audiences with its screwball reinterpretation of a Venezuelan telenovela, she is brimming with energy. Her blows land with a speed and force I can only faintly imitate. By the time she’s done with me—more mitts, plus five sets of weight-bearing squats—I am spent and wobbly. The line from When Harry Met Sally . . . comes to mind: “I’ll have what she’s having.”
Rodriguez wasn’t always the picture of inexhaustible stamina. In 2014, she was running upwards of 20 miles a week training for a half marathon, but it was having no discernible effect on her body. Part of the reason, she would soon learn, was a tricky autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s disease—a syndrome related to hypothyroidism in which your immune system actually attacks your thyroid gland. Although you can have one without the other, Hashimoto’s is the most common cause of hypothyroidism: More than 10 percent of Americans have some level of the Hashimoto’s antibodies in their system. Women are roughly five to eight times more likely than men to develop thyroid conditions.
Rodriguez was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in college and got on medication then but took no further measures. “I rejected the fact that I had a disease,” she says. The subsequent Hashimoto’s diagnosis prompted a similar head-in-the-sand response, one that, on the surface, resembled something like body positivity: “I went against the current by saying, ‘Hollywood has to accept me because I’m curvy, and that’s just the way it is,’ ” she says. “But I wasn’t accepting me.”
It was LoCicero’s influence that sparked her eventual metamorphosis, Rodriguez says. The two first met on the set of Jane—you may recall his appearances first as a male stripper dressed as Don Quixote and then as Prince Charming—but didn’t start dating until the summer of 2016, after running into each other at Wild Card West, the boxing gym in Santa Monica. Rodriguez had just finished shooting Annihilation, Alex Garland’s forthcoming science-fiction thriller with Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh. “She’s a bulldog,” Rodriguez says of her character in the film. She put on fifteen pounds of muscle for the role, and when she returned to L.A., she didn’t feel like herself at all. A few months into their relationship, during a hiatus from Jane, Gina and LoCicero went to Phuket to study Muay Thai for a month, and Rodriguez credits the trip with instilling in her a greater sense of control. “This is what I look like when I fight,” she says of the killer shape she got into in Thailand. “This is what I look like when I don’t.”
She began to take a proactive approach. Last May, as she was preparing to shoot Miss Bala, a forthcoming remake of the Mexican film about a beauty-pageant contestant who becomes embroiled with a Tijuana drug gang, Rodriguez revamped her diet under the guidance of nutritionist Shauna Faulisi. “The focus for Gina is to support her gut,” Faulisi says, noting that a good portion of one’s immune system resides in the GI tract. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is no evidence that a specific diet will reverse changes caused by Hashimoto’s. But because fatigue is among the condition’s strongest symptoms, eating to maximize energy can go a long way toward mitigating its effects.
Rodriguez needs the endurance. In addition to Jane, Annihilation, Miss Bala, and two animation projects—she is the voice of Una in Ferdinand, a remake of Walt Disney’s 1938 classic Ferdinand the Bull, and of Carmen Sandiego in a forthcoming Netflix reboot—she recently recorded a rap track for “Almost Like Praying,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s relief song for victims of Hurricane Maria, which destroyed her grandmother’s home in Puerto Rico. The two met in New York, back when they were “just two Latinos trying to make it,” says Miranda. “There was no doubt in my mind that she would slay the interlude.”
In the midst of all this, Rodriguez has somehow found time to develop Latino-focused TV and film projects through her production company. “I want to put women and Latinos in front of, and behind, the camera,” she says, to “control what there’s a lack of, versus just feeling helpless about it.” To this end she has sold four TV shows to major networks, including a timely sitcom to the CW, called Illegal. The comedy is based on the true story of its Ecuadoran-born writer, Rafael Agustin, who grew up in the U.S. and was class president, prom king, and an honor-roll student at his American high school when, in the course of applying to college, he discovered that he was undocumented. Although the series is “very funny, very lighthearted,” Rodriguez says, the goal is serious—to “create empathy.” Much of the animosity directed toward immigrants is based on fear, she says. “Art can shatter that fear.”
When she can, Rodriguez still puts in time at Wild Card West, the gym where she and LoCicero reconnected in the summer of 2016. It’s owned by Peter Berg, who directed Rodriguez in Deepwater Horizon. She and Berg first sparred in New Orleans while on location for the film and trained together for the rest of the shoot. “She’s a formidable boxer,” Berg tells me. He could see she was legit when he witnessed her methodically wrapping her hands. But for the first three rounds of their initial match, he held back. “She resented that.” By the end, “I forgot it was the lead actress of a film I’m directing. Like, I’m in survival mode,” Berg says. “Gina can fight.” Source : Vogue.com