OK, guys, time to get real. I had the chance to speak with Justin Baldoni from "Jane The Virgin" last week, and this guy is as majestic as his hair.
In case you haven't seen "Jane The Virgin" (literally, what is wrong with you?), this is Justin Baldoni, aka Rafael Solano.
Baldoni plays Rafael Solano on The CW's hit show, but outside his work on the show, he's committed to inspiring people on a global scale by reminding them of their shared humanity and how important it is to uplift others.
And don't let his physical fitness fool you — he's determined to change the definition of masculinity into one that's not solely about physical strength and never shedding a single tear.
He knows part of being a man means allowing men to feel their emotions fully, being vulnerable and, yes, being a feminist.
When we spoke, Justin was an open book. He didn't shy away from questions lots of men I know are apprehensive to answer. He spoke transparently and from the heart; it was hard not to nod my head with a resounding "YASSS" every time he talked about uplifting women and men so they can reach their highest potential.
Before he was ever on "Jane The Virgin," Justin was running his company, Wayfarer Entertainment, that created a documentary series called "My Last Days."
Referring to "My Last Days," he said,
We create what we call 'disruptive inspiration.' Basically, what we do is we believe time is our most valuable asset, and every human being on this planet has this finite amount of time and we want to take that into consideration with great content. And we want to make sure we create content that helps us remember. We create content that reminds us of our shared humanity. We create content that, for a moment, can disrupt our day and also fill that moment with inspiration to want to be better people or to learn something or to realize something that we haven't thought of, and we take the time that we have — the time that our audience gives us — very, very seriously.
"My Last Days" is one of the most-watched digital documentary series ever, and you can find all of the videos on YouTube.
This kind of passion for telling brutally honest, passion-filled stories seems to be Baldoni's bread and butter. It's reflected in every project he takes on.
Take his Instagram, for example. Each post is carefully crafted and tells the story of a personal moment in Baldoni's life. Just like his work through Wayfarer, he wants people to know they're not alone and that the human experience is a spiritual journey that is more similar than it is different.
Speaking with him sounds exactly like one of his Instagram captions read aloud — this guy is just plain honest about his life and emotions.
And he's not afraid to uplift women, either. In fact, it's one of the main tenets of his religion.
Baldoni grew up in the Bahá'i faith — a religion that emphasizes the importance of the equality of women and men. (Notably, he says "women and men" instead of "men and women" each time without fail, which is a small but poignant thing to hear. I wonder if he does this intentionally or just out of habit. Either way, I picked up on it.)
He credits his religious upbringing as the main reason he's a feminist (that's a sentence I never thought I would write).
One of the most important tenets of our faith is the true equality of women and men, understanding that until women and men are equal then the world will not have equilibrium. And in the Bahá'i faith, in the writings specifically, there's a quote that I love where Abdu'l-Bahá, who is the son of the founder of the Bahá'i faith, he talks about how humanity can be likened to a bird. And on one wing is male, and on the other wing is female. And it's not until those wings are equivalent in strength that the bird can fly. Growing up hearing these quotes and growing up hearing that the age of masculine leadership is coming to an end and that we're going to be entering a phase of the world where the qualities that women are so strong in — empathy, compassion, love, kindness — that's going to be the way we have to move forward as a world and as a civilization, it's impossible to not kind of have those things on your brain growing up.
Even though he was raised in a very feminist home, Baldoni says he had the same reaction to having a daughter that lots of men have, meaning he knows his feminist upbringing — and as a result, his daughter's — won't always protect his toddler, Maiya, from the struggles all women eventually face.
He said, "While I was already this way [a feminist] well before my daughter was here, of course then, similar to any kind of marriage, the second I have a daughter, it kind of also becomes more of a slap in the face." He added,
I was always working toward this, the way I talk about women, the way I talk about my life openly, the way that I believe that men should be able to be more vulnerable and open and that masculinity needs to be completely redefined... but it became much more urgent when I held my daughter in my hands and I thought, 'OK, we have to do something now.'
Redefining masculinity is his latest passion project. As you can tell from just about everything he posts, Baldoni is committed to being openly vulnerable with his fans. Vulnerability, according to him, is one of the defining traits in his personal definition of masculinity.
And how does he define masculinity? Well,
I think masculinity is being open to also the feminine parts of yourself and femininity. And understanding that going too far in any one direction isn't a good thing. I think that balance and moderation is important in all things, especially in masculinity. I think masculinity is being open, I think it's searching, I think it's something to do with purpose, but I think it's, more than anything, being open to new ideas and new ways and being vulnerable and being willing to submit.
The way we look at masculinity right now is very forceful, hard, intense, directional energy, and I think that, yeah, there are parts of masculinity that can be that way, but there's more to masculinity than just that. I think there are parts of the feminine that are also very masculine, and that's OK as well. And I think that we've just put too many labels on things and we've put all of these things in a box. So suddenly you have a man who's masculine that isn't able to be feminine, and I think that's just completely wrong and backwards. And you have a woman who's feminine that has masculine qualities as a leader, but suddenly she's a bitch. And I think that's backwards.
His definition of masculinity also applies to the kind of father he is. Check out the hashtag "#dearmaiya" to see all of his posts about fatherhood.
I asked Baldoni what he would say to both young boys and grown men who believe that feminism doesn't have room for them (it does) and feel the movement is aiming to push men out of the conversation (it's not). He said,
To those men, I would say, what part of feminism scares you? What part of making sure that women are truly equal in all areas, that there's no pay gap, that there's true gender equality, what part of all that is a threat to you? And I would say when men really start to explore that, they'll realize that there is no threat. It only helps them. And then I would also just say, what part of your masculinity is challenged by women? I just don't think it is because then I think we have the wrong idea of what masculinity really is. I think the strongest men that I know are the ones that are OK looking at themselves and knowing there are areas of them that are weak, and that's OK. You don't have to be strong at everything you do, you don't have to know everything. It's OK to not know the answer, and it's OK to lift somebody else up. Masculinity can also be empowering other people, letting them shine.
And let others shine, he does.
Baldoni uplifts women on social media — and on "Jane The Virgin" — all the time. Whether it be a post dedicated to co-star Gina Rodriguez who he says is "such a fantastic and present actor" and "a wonderful teacher," or a post dedicated to how much he admires his wife, Emily, it's clear just how deeply his admiration for these women runs.
In the show, Rafael is the first person to find Jane after she finds out Michael died. (He literally walks into her apartment while she's being told on the phone.)
In that moment, Baldoni said he wasn't acting, he was just worried about his friend. He said,
She really embodied and became that pain, and so just being on the other side of it, none of that was, I didn't know how I was gonna... I just reacted. I texted her the next day and said 'I'm still shaking from what happened yesterday and what you did.' Because the body doesn't know how to differentiate between a scene and life. For those 20, 30 seconds that we were rolling, there was no acting, it was straight-up just genuine concern for my friend who was on the ground going through that pain. And that really shook me. And that's just how good she is. It was very, very, very real.
As for what the future has in store for Rafael, Jane and Petra (his ex-wife whom he also has kids with), Baldoni says anything is possible.
After Michael's death, there's a three-year time jump. During that jump, Jane copes and starts to heal with the trauma of Michael's death and Rafael spends nine months in prison for covering up his late father's past crimes.
Baldoni says Rafael used his time in prison as a chance to "recalibrate his life," saying, "I think, in many ways, he needed prison."
So now, Rafael is the most mentally healthy we've ever seen him. He says the show's creator keeps them in the dark until she can't any longer, so he has no clue what's in store for Rafael and Jane down the road. But he'd be open to them getting back together (!!!). He said,
I don't know if [Jane and Rafael] are endgame. I know a lot of the fans want that and that's a possibility because, of course, it's 'Jane The Virgin,' anything's possible. But what I do think is, you know, if they did ever enter it again, it's a very different situation when you're parents of a child. It's got to be smart, and it's got to be thought-out and it's not just a whimsical, passion-filled thing, so if it ever does happen — I don't know if it will — it has to be really, really delicate, and I'm sure it's the same way for Petra and Rafael. Which I can tell you, you know, little seeds of that are explored in this season.
"Jane The Virgin" season three is almost up and has been renewed for a fourth season, but while the show isn't filming, Justin reveals he's working on his aforementioned passion project that aims to redefine masculinity.
He said, "We're doing something with Wayfarer Entertainment that's specifically focused on redefining masculinity right now, and I'm really excited about it."
Since the project is still in its early phases, that's all he could tell me about it. But if it's anything like everything else Justin Baldoni has taken on in his career, it will be emotionally raw, honest and soul-baring.