Meet the woman behind the villain in 'Jane the Virgin'
French-Israeli actress Yael Grobglas plays Petra in the award-winning CW series.
On the CW’s hit comedy "Jane the Virgin," Golden Globe winner Gina Rodriguez has been getting most of the attention for her charming performance in the title role of an accidentally pregnant young woman. But the series’ ensemble cast is equally stellar, playing a lighthearted take on a Venezuelan telenovela with just the right mix of melodrama, humor and heart.
Every telenovela needs antagonists to complicate the heroine’s life, and in "Jane the Virgin," Yael Grobglas fills the role as Petra (aka Natalia), the scheming wife of Jane’s baby daddy, hotel owner Rafael.
At first, Petra was painted as a gold-digger who only cared about her husband’s money, but as the series has unfolded, she’s become more sympathetic, with revelations of abusive past relationships and a liaison that’s put her in danger.
"Things are going to get worse for Petra before they get better. It’s going to be quite a crazy journey," Grobglas, who was born in France and moved to Tel Aviv, Israel, when she was 3, told From The Grapevine. "I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m usually cast as the nice girl character. This is my first opportunity to play a villain, a very complicated, interesting new kind of villain who has a softer side. She’s a vulnerable, real person."
Grobglas speaks with a barely perceptible hint of an accent, but in truth, she has only been in the U.S. for six months. "We spoke English at home. I grew up speaking English and Hebrew," she said. "Once I got here, I started working on my American accent with a coach."
She left a thriving television, film and stage career in Israel, with credits including a long run on the sci-fi series "Ha’Yi," the horror film "Yehefim," and a production of Woody Allen’s "Play it Again, Sam" at the Beersheba Theater.
Yael Grobglas (second from right) with the cast of Jane the Virgin. (Photo: Helga Esteb/Shutterstock)
Landing on the CW’s radar, she was cast as noblewoman Olivia D’Amencourt in the first season of the period drama “Reign” before winning the part of Petra.
Grobglas, who danced and modeled early on, remembers taking a bow at a runway fashion show and enjoying the performance aspect – and the audience’s enthusiastic response. "You’re an actress," her father, who was at the show, told her.
“I’d never considered it, but a light bulb went on," Grobglas said. "I took an acting class, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. That was about eight years ago. I’ve been very lucky with roles. I’ve gotten to do a wide variety."
"Jane the Virgin” hasn’t aired in Israel yet, but she’s feeling "nothing but love" from fans and friends there. She believes that her supportive family and Israeli upbringing gave her the tools and confidence to pursue her dreams. "From the time you’re a baby, you’re raised with this feeling that anything is possible," she explained. "It’s at the very core, and anybody who goes there feels that. You can do anything."
Off screen, Grobglas spends her spare time with her boyfriend Artem, an Israel businessman, and indulging her passion for food. "I’m a giant foodie," said the self-described pescetarian. "I make a mean salmon."
On the set, she puts her downtime to use by crocheting gifts – she recently made hats and mittens for her manager’s newborn twins. Are there offspring in her own future? "Not right now, but someday for sure," Grobglas said. "At this point, I just want to experience and learn as much as I can."
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