You could forgive Gabrielle Ruiz for being a little bit sad. She may be the happiest sad person ever, though, because while talking about the end of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she's equal parts sentimental about her collegiate-like four years on The CW musical comedy and excited about what the future holds, which at the moment is her very first foray into pilot season.
Ruiz is a triple threat, who was able to showcase her acting, dancing and singing abilities in a way that very few are able to when they enter the TV arena. Years on Broadway honed not only her skills on stage but also her love for the craft. Though she didn't expect to move from New York City to Los Angeles for the bright lights of Hollywood, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend gave her just that opportunity, and she's now relishing in the possibilities that the progressive show has brought not just for her but for many women in the entertainment space. Couple that with the excitement she feels for her fellow Latinas like Eva Longoria, Gina Rodriguez and America Ferrera moving the needle forward for diverse women as well, and you can see why the future is so bright that Ruiz has just got to, well, dance.
ET spoke with the 29-year-old actress shortly after the Crazy Exseries finale wrapped, and we looked back on her four years in West Covina (we promise no spoilers before the April 5 finale!), where she hopes her character, Valencia, will end up, and how she hopes to combine the Broadway and Hollywood worlds for a creative space all her own.
ET: I was lucky enough to see the table read for the series finale, which was full of tears. Was taping the actual episode just as emotional for the cast?
Gabrielle Ruiz: For that table read, what I did was, and what I typically do -- Skylar [Astin] does the same thing, we both admitted it to each other -- is, I will scan for Valencia's name in a script and be like, "OK, so that's what I say." I do that not in a selfish journey for myself -- it's more to just watch and listen. For the only time, I can watch everyone in those table reads and organically experience what the storyline is, because we get so in-depth and we cut and paste scenes out of order when we shoot it that you don't really get to experience it like a viewer. So, I saw the final table read kind of just like you did, and when Rebecca talks about happiness, I lost it. I love how in the first episode and throughout the entire series, that is the most simple storytelling you can do: happiness. Everybody understands what that is. No matter if you are severely depressed or severely happy, you know what that feeling is and how much we fight for it every day. Bow down to Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom for creating such a beautiful arc in four seasons. I feel so honored to be a part of this show. But that was more my tear session, because the final day... we were actually able to enjoy it together and everyone kind of wrapped as series regulars all together. They were very thoughtful to do that. Despite it being 2:30 in the morning, no one complained, because it was the last day. There had been many moments where Crazy Ex-Girlfriend feels like summer camp, and this was at its truest form.
When you first found out that Valencia's character was bisexual, how did you feel about this new arc for the rest of the series?
Aline took me aside before we cast Emma Willmann as my love interest. She took care of me to let me know this was happening, and she just really wanted to confirm that I was 100 percent on board, which I thought was very thoughtful. They've always been that way, both her and Rachel, since the beginning. I was just like, yes! It makes complete sense, and Aline was like, "What I really want to talk to you about though -- I don't want to offend you -- you're not going to get a song for it." And that also made complete sense. She said, "I have a friend who was married, had kids, kids went off to college, got a divorce, and she's now married to a woman, and I remember everyone being like, "Whoa, what a change. Did you always know?" And she was like, "No, I just fell in love with a woman. It so happened to be a woman." Aline's experience with her friend -- I hope I quoted it correctly, that's what I took away from it -- she was like, pun intended, the song and dance of it all is not a story you always see on TV. Valencia didn't have the struggle, she didn't have the song to announce it like Darryl did, "I'm Getting Bi." She didn't have that because Valencia is so confident in her decisions, she just moves forward. It was absolutely brilliant, and I love that that story is also told where she didn't have to talk to her parents, they don't disown her, her friends don't get offended, no one has to encourage her. She just did it, and that's so badass.
Aline and Rachel have written very smart scripts and really seem to have thought out every detail. Does it feel that way to experience their writing as an actor?
I'm obsessed with both Aline and Rachel's brains. Just to even keep up is such an honor. Their shorthand conversations on set -- you just stay out of the way, especially when Aline directs. But the whole Valencia conversation of introducing her bisexuality and that time jump when Vella Lovell's character, Heather, is pregnant, I thought it was brilliant that they did that there. I'm a heterosexual in real life, and I loved how my chemistry with Emma was very, very sincere. We really understood each other. We felt very comfortable physically with each other, and she was such a dude. She was just so cool and simple and took care of me on set. It was just the best match for me, and I love where they end up.
Valencia has grown so much in four years. Is there one major development of hers that really stood out to you?
Her being bisexual. The way it was handled, like I mentioned, was spectacular. The one thing that's always stood out to me, and Rachel Bloom and I have discussed this off-camera a lot, is that the fans always knew, from season one. I remember the couch scene in [the episode] "Josh's Girlfriend Is Really Cool," when my character was slated for her two episodes only. I was ready to go back to New York because this gig was a guest star role. I was thrilled it was recurring -- I could take a little bit more money back with me to audition. When Rachel and I had that couch scene that was part of the audition sides, everybody spotted it. Everybody wanted Rebecca and Valencia together. Aline and Rachel were very big about us live-tweeting at the time. I would read and respond a lot, and a lot of the fans would clock it, and they always had a Vabecca hashtag. They would always ship us. Even through seasons two and three, people yearned for them to have a relationship. Rachel and my chemistry off-screen has evolved into me sticking around more because she's the creator and she wanted to keep me around and be her muse for a lot of other songs, and then the girl group thing happened, which was even stronger of an arc for everybody's characters. But that's what's stuck with me the most, is that our fans knew it all along, before we did, I think. At least before I did!
Do you have any songs or dances coming up in the last episodes that you're particularly excited about?
I am excited that the #girlgroupforever moments get a full-circle story, and I'm really excited to finally work with Rachel Grate, who plays Audra Levine. She's the "JAP Battle" rap nemesis of Rachel Bunch from New York. Rachel and I became best of friends after season one. I even subletted from her and she's now engaged! There are some moments where Valencia actually gets to have conversations with Audra Levine, and [the characters] really are very similar. We get to hang as a girl group with Audra Levine in a very fun and peculiar story that's coming along. With that storyline, Donna Lynne [Champlin], Vella, myself and Rachel really got to create a final story arc for the girl group. And in the final episode, which I didn't know in the table read, Aline, as the director, took great care with our final moments in a few rewrites. It's a huge moment. I got emotional with her just explaining it to me, like, "Oh my god, it's really over!"
Where do you hope Valencia will be five years from now?
I do truly know that Beth and she would take advantage of their power couple skills and be executives of their own events firm in New York, at least with one kid and pregnant with the other one. She's going to live her multi-level marketing life in her 40s.
Crazy Ex is known for its songs. What's on your playlist these days?
A lot of Ariana Grande. I'm loving Lizzo. I just discovered her and her song, "Juice." And always what Pete Gardner says is "Yacht Rock" -- a little disco, a little pop. Now that it's pilot season, the last thing that's on my list is classical music for when I memorize and study. It keeps me chill but alert, and I'm a little more productive.
You've been on Broadway and it always seemed like that as far as being a triple threat, dancing was your main focus. Now that you've done this show for four years, do you want to go back to focusing on dancing or has that trajectory changed?
Before Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I was on my third Broadway show. In all three, I was always an understudy, the first replacement on Broadway, so I was never part of the creative opening moments of the shows that I did. I was very honored that I could be the first new person the creative team trusted to be able to repeat what was going on so well, but I was craving at the end of that season to be part of creativity, to be part of a new project, something that hasn't been done before. Hamilton was just starting to percolate off-Broadway, and I was ready. That was the season of Aladdin, On Your Feet and Hamilton, and all three shows, type-wise, I matched, but they just didn't ever work out. I always say God's plans are so much more fun than mine because when Crazy Ex-Girlfriend happened, I was able to do that on a scale that I never thought I would be able to be a part of, which is television. Then that Bollywood number happened, "I'm So Good at Yoga," and it became part of Kathryn Burns' winnings for choreography. I know that dancing will always be a part of what I do because I was a dance major in college and I do miss that. My body doesn't! But I do feel very grateful that I was able to exercise that part of me in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Pete always says, "I love seeing you dance, you sparkle in a very different way," and I forget that I'm not a dancer in Hollywood! I don't know where the dance studios are here. I did that for so long in New York and I do miss that part of the dance energy in a room. It's refreshing to see that again for the little moments that we have in Crazy Ex that have very strong dance [scenes]. But then I have to go to cryotherapy the next day!
When I was growing up, there was no Hamilton, and the most diverse Broadway musical I remember going to was Rent. Did you ever feel like it was harder to break into the Broadway world as a Latina?
No, it wasn't. I was always the token brunette with all the blonde girls, because for being Latina, I was a little more fair-skinned. I was the only girl in In the Heights with straight hair -- I didn't have wet, curly hair. People thought I was Italian or Greek, so I was able to honestly blend a little bit. But the first day I walked into rehearsals for In the Heights, Eliseo Roman said, "You walked into that room, and I said, 'She's a Mejicana.'" He just knew I was Mexican-American like Selena Quintanilla, Eva Longoria-type Tex-Mex. I was never specifically known to be Latina unless I was around a lot of Latinos. Like those On Your Feet auditions, you'd put us all next to each other, and I looked very Latina, or very Mexican, specifically. The diversity in the ensemble was always welcomed on Broadway and in theater. I feel lucky to be introduced to Hollywood in this new development of diversity for women and for minorities, where the definition of minority might change in a couple of years, I hope.
Eva Longoria, Gina Rodriguez and America Ferrera are all having very big moments producing and directing and it feels they're making space in Hollywood for more Latinas.
Absolutely, and bringing us to the table with them. That's what is so wonderful to see and the Latino community has always been open like that. From my experience in the professional world, like when Lin-Manuel [Miranda] was doing In the Heights with us, even though it was small and mighty, back then to where it is now, they were a part of that. They were bringing those people with them because there were enough seats, just add a chair. If there's not a chair, we'll just go get one for you. That's what I want to be a part of.