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March 30, 2015 12:00 PM

When Gina Rodriguez heard her name being called at the Golden Globe Awards in January, she couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just that she’d won for Best Actress in a TV Comedy for portraying the lead in the CW hit Jane the Virgin. It was also the sight of Oprah Winfrey suddenly cheering for her. “I was like, ‘Oh sh–. It’s Oprah!’ ” she says. “And seeing Meryl Streep when I was standing there was just outrageous.” Rodriguez, 30, says the award is still sitting in a box on her TV stand because she hasn’t quite processed her newfound success. “I feel like I need a year to go by because it is still so crazy … everything leading up to this has just been quite the journey.”

Her First Love

The youngest of three daughters born to native Puerto Ricans Magali and Gino, Rodriguez was raised in Chicago and says she always knew she wanted to perform. “There was just something about being in front of people, making them laugh and even cry, that made me feel like I was flying,” she says. But before acting came along, she thought her real calling was salsa dancing: “When I was 6 years old, I saw this dance group of little girls in sequin dresses dancing salsa. I was like, ‘I want to be in those sequin dresses!’ ” Throughout school she performed with dance companies around the country before heading to New York University for acting.

Her Inspiration

“Growing up, I had these fierce women in my life who were kicking ass, but I never saw them represented onscreen,” says Rodriguez, whose mom rose through the ranks of the Cook County Court from secretary to director of interpreters. Her dad is a prominent representative for the Teamsters, her sister Ivelisse is an investment banker, and her sister Rebecca is a doctor, and yet “the [role models I saw on TV] weren’t ever the color of myself or my siblings,” she says. “I realized: Changing that is my mission.”

Her Inner Confidence

“I always knew I’d have a different journey because I didn’t look like the stereotypical leading lady or the supersexy Latina,” says Rodriguez. “But my parents encouraged my sisters and me to have confidence in who we are. So, working in an industry where I am constantly told, ‘You’re not skinny, tall or ethnic enough,’ I’d be like, ‘Maybe I’m not skinny enough for this role, but I do just fine in real life.’ ” Her boyfriend, actor Henri Esteve, agrees. “He’s my partner in crime and super-supportive,” she says. Now, with Jane coming back for a second season, the possibilities for Rodriguez are endless. “I’m writing a book, and I started a production company,” she says, “and hopefully a family will come – but there’s no rush!”

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