This post contains spoilers from the season-4 finale of Jane the Virgin.
Even the most dedicated #TeamMichael fan can admit that things were going pretty great for Jane and Rafael before the season-4 finale went and ruined everything. Jane and Raf were communicating, they were chasing their dreams, they were having great sex. Then Michael returned from the dead. Why? (Great TV, but why?) Cosmopolitan.com spoke to Justin Baldoni about the shocking twist, the Jane/Michael/Rafael love triangle, and the latest work he’s doing around parenting and masculinity, two topics you may have seen him talk about on Instagram.
The cast found out at the table read that Michael was coming back, when Brett Dier [who plays him] showed up. What was your genuine reaction?
Excitement. Brett’s one of my closest friends. And I think it makes for a great story. When everything was going amazing with Michael and Jane, something bad had to happen. And [now], everything was going amazing for Rafael and Jane, so something had to happen. It’s a television show. I’m interested in making great television. I love the pain that I got to go through as Justin playing Rafael to make that episode what it was. Here is the love of his life, he’s about to propose, and then her dead husband shows up? How do you come to terms with that? How do you look at her realizing, If I really love her I have to go bring him to her and let her see him, and I may be saying goodbye forever? So I thought it was brilliant when Michael came back, because yeah, it’s fun getting the chance to be happy as a character, but shows are inherently about conflict, so him coming back presents such a cool acting opportunity for me. I don’t know where it’s gonna go.
In hindsight, the writing was on the wall. Rafael had all those Michael insecurities cropping up.
Exactly. So we saw all these little things coming, and I was like, “Ahh, I know something’s happening.”
Did you actually guess it?
I had a feeling.
There was a moment where I really did believe Jane and Rafael were siblings.
That would never work! Because people would be grossed out. But it’d be funny.
Michael is not necessarily Michael, right? Like maybe he’s wearing one of those Sin Rostro masks? I’m guessing you don’t know anything, but what’s your hunch?
I have to be really, really quiet about it.
So you do know something?
Well, my feeling is, if it’s a mask, that takes away a from the love triangle a little bit.
I don’t know if it’s a mask, I don’t know what it is. I hope not, because I think it would be far more interesting if it’s not. But I don’t know.
How do you want this to play out?
I mean, look, my hope is that [Jane and Rafael] can end up together. But I hope that it’s not without some serious struggle, because selfishly, as an actor, that’s what makes it interesting. And I think that’s also reflective of life. On Jane the Virgin, the two star-crossed lovers are met with insurmountable, crazy challenges that are also funny and out of left field and weird, but in life I think married couples are met with crazy, insurmountable challenges that come out of left field — and they’re maybe just not as weird or as grand. They’re not [involving] evil twins and husbands coming back from the dead. But there are real, big struggles, and what I love about the show is you see how they’re handling it. Marriage is hard. It’s not easy to be with someone and make it work, because there’s two people with different backgrounds that have their own shit.
You’re here to talk about your decision to feed your 6-month-old son, Maxwell, peanuts early on, as a way to reduce his chances of developing a peanut allergy. [Last year the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued new guidelines that recommended “giving babies puréed food or finger food containing peanut powder or extract before they are 6 months old.“] Why that cause in particular?
When we first heard about the research, as parents, it’s the first thing we think about: Hey, let me make sure I’m doing something that can proactively benefit my child in the long run. Could I prevent him from having a peanut allergy? Is this a real thing? So when I heard about the [guidelines], I called our pediatrician, the pediatrician validated it. So [my wife] Emily and I decided that, yeah, this was something that we wanted to do ourselves and also something that we felt could be great to talk about publicly.
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I woke up this morning feeling so much raw gratitude. I think “raw” is the best word to describe it. Sometimes it just hits me. This life and this works are just so beautiful it can be overwhelming. And that beauty isn’t because of any of the “good” things that are happening in my personal life or career. The beauty I’m talking about is deeper. It’s the beauty I feel when I think of God’s bounty and grace and the love I see all over the world. I mean, do you ever just stop to think about the insane miracle that is life. That somehow we get to wake up every day (God willing), feel joy and pain, and have an opportunity to serve each other and create a life that would make whoever or whatever creates us proud. Maybe I‘m still processing all the rich emotions I experienced this weekend- but none the less, thank you all for the birthday love, the kind and heart warming messages, and for supporting the @skidrowcarnivaloflove. I don’t deserve all this love but I’m working on accepting it. #dearmaiya #dearmaxwell #love
You’ve also done a TED Talk on toxic masculinity; you created a show called Man Enough where you gather with other men together to talk about insecurities; you’re a feminist. I have a tendency to be skeptical when I first hear a man, especially a celebrity, talking about things like this, because I don’t know how much of it is performative. Do you get that cynicism from many people?
I’m very sensitive, so I’ve tried to shut myself off from the negative things because it can cripple me. I grew up as an unpopular kid that had a hard time making friends, and would be deeply hurt and affected when people would talk bad about me. My TED Talk, as an example — it only took me seeing a few comments to give me that anxious, break-my-heart, take-me-back-to-being-14-years-old-again [feeling].
You have a daughter [Maiya, who will be 3 in June] and a son. How does the thinking you do about masculinity and femininity impact how you’re raising them?
I’m trying to be intentional with breaking the gender norms. It’s very easy to comment to my daughter on how beautiful or pretty she is. And so one of the things that I’m actively working on with Emily is just making sure that we’re reinforcing the intelligence and the bravery and the toughness just as much as we are the sweetness and the kindness and all of those things. And as Maxwell gets older, making sure that we’re reinforcing all of the things that we don’t always reinforce in our boys— his sweetness and his kindness and his gentleness. So it’s almost like an inverse.
It’s also something we need to give ourselves a break about. It’s okay to tell your kids they’re pretty, because they also need to feel that. I tell Maiya she’s beautiful. And yesterday I heard her say back, “I’m beautiful.” And it made me tear up. And she is, and she needs to also know that. What I don’t want her to think is that that’s what defines her.
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Our last family photo on the front porch of the house we’ve been renting for the last three years. So much has happened here. So many memories. So much love. So much growth. I was honestly a bit attached to the house – not because I actually loved it… but because of all that happened in it. I saw my wife go through both her pregnancies here. This is where she gave birth to Maiya. Where Maiya grew up. Where she met her brother for the first time. Where she took her first steps, where she fell off the bed and nearly gave us heart attack’s, where she said her first prayer and where she showed us how huge her heart is by singing her little brother to sleep for the first time. Its where we found out we were pregnant with Maxwell, and where Emily was in labor for three days and like a super hero let go of her attachment to home birth to deliver him at the hospital. This was the home he had his first nights sleep in, and the home he first smiled in. It’s weird to have attachments to material things you don’t own… but that’s life! It happens. But as I think about… none of us really own anything in this life. Even our own lives, as much as we’d like to think they are ours – I don’t believe they really are. It’s been given to us to experience and spread love – just like our children have been given to us to love, teach and set free. So goodbye little small house! We will see you and wave to you as we drive to our new house that’s “almost” finished! Here we go! A new adventure awaits! So here’s to Love and letting go and being grateful for the experiences and memories that have lead to us being exactly where we are today – and to also remembering that home isn’t a physical place, it’s a state of mind …and it really is where your heart is. #dearmaiya #dearmaxwell #home
You mentioned in your TED Talk that you have body dysmorphia. How do you deal with that?
I think the actual thing, if I were to be clinically diagnosed, would be muscle dysmorphia. No matter what I do, I never feel like I’m strong enough, or muscular enough or big enough, and that comes down to being the super skinny kid that was picked on and bullied. It’s basically a misperception of the way that I look at myself compared to the way the world sees me. I think so many of us have that. I would argue that most men who spend hours at the gym have it. So I just decided to use my social media as a form of therapy and to be super, super honest, because there’s so many things that men don’t talk about, women don’t talk about, parents don’t talk about. We just constantly compare ourselves to each other, and it’s so destructive.
Does it bother you to be shirtless so much on Jane the Virgin, or to be objectified for your body in general?
It’s like a blessing and a curse. When I was in my early twenties, I was in really, really good shape. Because I had the time. I was 22, it was the peak of my testosterone, and I could work out for an hour-and-a-half a day. But the problem was, it became a part of my identity, because that’s how television and the TV business saw me — I could take off my shirt. If you look at my career, it’s part of every job I ever had. It’s also been a struggle for me because I’d always felt like I had so much more to offer, but that was how I was seen, and that was also how I was making my money.
But where it got challenging for me was, I’m now 34, so my body doesn’t naturally stay in that, “Oh, I’m just walking around with an 8-pack all the time” [shape]. And because I have my insecurities with my physique, because of my history, I’d put a lot of pressure on myself before I had to do these scenes. So I would get anxiety around it. This last season I really didn’t get to work out that much. Because I have a life, I have two kids now, I have multiple businesses. I had to give up this intense workout schedule. So what I decided to do was, I’d work out like three weeks, two weeks before [my shirtless scenes] and do my best and didn’t go crazy, and I was also a lot happier this year. I don’t think I personally looked as good as I did in previous seasons, but I think emotionally and mentally, I was a lot happier. And I think I was a bit more normal looking. Hopefully! I don’t know.
Rafael has changed so much over the course of the show. How much of that was the natural arc of his story, and how much of it was the writers getting to know you?
I don’t know. It might be 50-50, it might be 80-20. I think there are definitely aspects of Rafael that some of Justin informed, but I also think that if I put myself in the writers’ shoes, I don’t think you can have Jane — a strong, feminist, powerful, intelligent woman — end up with somebody that isn’t at least an equal. So I think that Rafael had to go on a journey to become much more of a heart-centered man and father and partner to possibly be endgame, because otherwise the fans wouldn’t buy it. And we would be perpetuating all those tropes of the bad-boy and the girl — and that’s not what this show’s about.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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