EXCLUSIVE: 'Jane the Virgin' Star Justin Baldoni on Rafael 2.0, New Romance and Aftermath of Michael's Death

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Life is very different for the crew three years after Michael's tragic death.

Warning: Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you haven’t watched Monday’s episode of Jane the Virgin. You don’t want us sending Rogelio to knock some sense into you!

Three years after Michael’s shocking death, the world looks very different on Jane the Virgin.

Here is what everyone’s been up to: Jane (Gina Rodriguez), an assistant at a publishing house and mothering her hyperactive son, Mateo, lands the final spot at a major Miami author showcase and debuted a chapter from her finished book -- not the one about her “abuela,” but a romance novel about her relationship with Michael. Sob.

Meanwhile, Rogelio (Jaime Camil) and matchmaker Darci (Justina Machado) get “married” solely for their Keeping Up With the Kardashians-esque reality show, which causes a strain on Xo (Andrea Navedo), who’s portrayed as Rogelio’s “evil ex.” Much to her dismay, Rogelio agrees to do another season, mainly to reach his dream of starring in an English-language version of The Passions of Santos.

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But Rafael (Justin Baldoni) may have had the biggest change of all. (Petra, if you’re wondering, is the new head of Marbella and sleeping with the owner of the adult entertainment club next door.) After spending time in prison, he has a completely new perspective on life, becoming Zen Rafael and adopting a carefree attitude, ditching the tight pants and becoming Jane’s main support system. He’s even in a one-year relationship with new love, Abby (Minka Kelly).

“A lot of fans were definitely shocked and hurt by what happened, and for a moment, it felt like Jane of Thrones,” Baldoni, 33, tells ET exclusively. “One of the beautiful things about the time jump, we didn’t have to change the tone of the show. You didn’t have to sit with Jane as she was grappling with becoming a widow, because it would be very hard to have laughs and comedy in there. If there’s any concern about what the show is going to become or why this happened, just don’t worry and come along for the ride because I promise you it’s just as good, if not, better than it ever has been. Except, we miss Brett Dier.”

Following Monday’s episode, Baldoni spoke to ET about playing a new version of Rafael, the surprising episode-ending cliffhanger and if there’s still hope for Rafael and Jane romantically.

ET: In tonight’s episode, Rafael has a new look, he has a new outlook on life and it seems like he’s a new person in the three-year time jump. What is your take on this new iteration of Rafael?

Justin Baldoni:
It’s been so much fun. It’s rare to be on the show where, in the middle of the series, you get to create a little bit of a new character. They really gave me a chance to add some depth and change some behaviors of Rafael. The joke is that he’s Zen Rafael now because he’s been through so many things over the last three years -- prison being one of them. He’s got a different outlook on life. He’s really dedicated to being a father and supportive to his baby mamas. The behavior’s different, the reactions are different and we’ll see how long that lasts because after all, it is Jane the Virgin.

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Rafael seems to be trying to be a good father and to be a really good friend. At one point, Jane refers to Rafael as her “best friend.” How refreshing is it to see that they’re in a genuinely good place?

They’ve been through crazy, crazy things but they’ve been able to come out the other side and remain friends. What’s great about that, for all the Jane and Rafael ‘shippers, is that if there were anything to happen in the future, is that there’s a foundation for that, whereas before, there wasn’t. As we know from the past, the friendship between Jane and Michael was what made their relationship so beautiful. Now, it’s really nice to have a friendship with Rafael and Jane, where he can be honest with her or he doesn’t have to be careful because he’s pining after her all the time. He can be a co-parent and say, “I don’t agree with that, I’m sorry but I respect your opinion.” That’s what’s beautiful about deep friendships is the ability to be honest with each other without being worried what the other person thinks. That’s interesting for both of his baby mamas -- for Jane, and now, also for Petra. He’s built a deep, strong friendship with both of them. That’s a really cool testament to who he is in his character and it’s so much fun for me to play as a man because that’s something I am exploring always in my life: creating strong, emotional relationships.

The visual of Rafael with Petra and Jane, along with his twin girls and son -- was such a soap opera moment. How is he balancing those two sides of it?

It’s super funny! You don’t need the slapstick comedy to go with it because the situation itself is hysterical. Just the visual of the twins and their behavior versus Mateo and his behavior, and Rafael in the middle trying to be the balance of the situation -- of course, he’s gotta become Zen Rafael at some point because how else could he handle the situation? How else could he deal with it? It’s great because it’s all rooted in reality. What would happen? Act as if. What if this really happened? That’s where they take the story because there are so many interesting things to mine from in parenting and in marriage and in relationships. As a new dad myself, I can tell you that life gets more interesting as your kids age. There are so many places to go now, especially with the Brady Bunch family dynamic that we’re having.

We got a small glimpse into the weeks after Michael’s death and how Jane was coping. Will we get a sense of how Rafael dealt with the loss as well?

There’s a reason the show’s called Jane the Virgin. What’s really important to our audience is how Jane is doing and how she is coping. Rafael’s role is more of how he’s supporting and how he reacted and who he is for her. But I don’t think it’s about his perspective and how he’s coping because he didn’t lose his wife -- she lost her husband. It’s really more about how he’s there for her and how that grew and strengthened the relationship, and built the foundation so that we can jump through three years.

One big surprise is Rafael’s girlfriend, Abby Whitman. What can you tease about his new romance?

First of all, it’s such a joy to have Minka on the show. She’s such an incredible human being and she’s blended in and become family to us and we’ve had a lot of fun together. The Abby character is hilarious and you’ll see where it’s going in a few episodes. It’s a very fun story and it’s interesting to see what happens between her and Rafael, and the dynamic between the two baby mamas.

RELATED: 'Jane the Virgin' Boss Says Michael's Fate 'Was Always Going to Happen'

Is Abby completely different from Petra and Jane?

She’s very different. She’s a greeting card designer, so she’s very sweet and she’s very unassuming, but yeah, I can’t really say where it’s going but it’s going to be very fun.

With the three-year time jump, there leaves a lot of room for us to see what Rafael’s life was like during that time. What’s the likelihood we’ll see flashbacks to his stint behind bars or how he and Abby met?

I don’t know about behind bars, but what’s nice about when you’re doing a time jump, the writers can go wherever they want to go, so we definitely go back in time and see the origins of certain things. But, I can’t be specific about where or what. We allow the audience back in by going back and showing them why, so there will be certain things that happen where we get to jump time and kind of go back and see why this happened or who that was. Specifically about prison, I’m not sure yet.

The episode also ended on quite a cliffhanger, with Scott’s body buried on the beach in front of the Marbella. Did that twist surprise you when you got to that moment in the script?

We’re all trained, as we go through the table read, to expect something really fun or really crazy at the end. It’s just brilliant how they have the vest on him. It’s a classic Jane the Virgin reveal and cliffhanger: Who did that? How did that happen? Whodunit?

Is it the main mystery for the second half of the season?

It’s definitely going to be one of them. I don’t know about it being the big anything because there is a lot of big on Jane the Virgin.

Lastly, how long will Rafael rock the scruff and linen pants?

Do you like it? Do you not like it? (Laughs.) The scruff’s going to stay for a little while. The long hair and the linen pants -- that stays. It’s a new Rafael. It’s great because I can actually bend over and pick something up. I get to breathe a little bit. I get to relax a little bit. He’s a little more comfortable than he was three years before.

Jane the Virgin
airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.