There is no “I” in Wayfarer
A feng shuied, industrial room invites us in as we prepare for our interview with Justin Baldoni. Baldoni plays Rafael Solano on the hit TV Show, Jane the Virgin. If you haven’t seen the show, picture an American telenovela, which takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride of emotions with dramatic twists on artificial insemination, crime lords, and murder, oh my! Rafael is a wealthy hotel owner, cancer survivor, surprise father of three (hence the drama), former playboy, and an over-all charismatic individual. Every week, as the chapters of the show unfold, fans are drawn more and more into the man behind the coiffed hair, sharp suits, and muscles.
Justin’s work off screen is what also caught our attention. He is an advocate for mental health awareness, and a trailblazer for celebrating and recognizing all human potential. His production company, Wayfarer Entertainment, focuses on letting people be the storytellers of their lives in any form that speaks to their heART.
With a heavy fan base on social media, it’s no surprise that Justin’s posts, videos, and series topics often make his fans feel like they are part of his family, and inspires them to honor their true selves. The adorable videos that Justin shares of his daughter Maiya, is enough to get fans to click on that follow button. ABILITY sat with Justin to talk about his role as Rafael, the birth of The Carnival of Love, and much more.
Sylvia Frat: Congratulations on the immense success of Jane the Virgin. I’m a big fan.
Justin Baldoni: Oh! You’ve been hiding it well.
Frat: Um, I prepped for it! (laughs)
What was your first reaction when you first got the role of Rafael?
Baldoni: When I first got the role of Rafael, I hadn’t been acting. I had stopped acting to start this. So Wayfarer had just been in business a little over a year, and I was telling the stories, making these documentaries, and it kind of happened on a fluke. I didn’t really take it seriously at first.
That’s what happens with natural light. A massive cloud just—but I didn’t take it seriously at first when I got the audition. I just thought it would be fun to go into an audition, and interestingly enough, my wife had auditioned for the role of Petra, because she’s an actress. I was reading with her at one point, helping her with her audition, and I was like, “Who’s this Rafael guy?” The way they described him, I was kind of already getting jealous in case she got the role.
Baldoni: And then of course they had called me in. They had been looking for Rafael for quite a while,
Frat: The show has done numerous flashback, or time travel, sequences, which one was your favorite one so far?
Baldoni: I love the fantasy sequences in Jane the Virgin. There was an episode in season 1 where Rafael walked through a crowd and then Jane and Rafael danced together in this kind of like choreographed salsa dance. That was a lot of fun. That was one of my favorite scenes.
Frat: You were recently one of the guest speakers at the UCLA Mental Wealth conference. What sparked your interest in that?
Baldoni: I’ve always been interested in mental health and wellness, without necessarily putting a label on what it was that I was interested in. Growing up I was bullied and picked on and went through a lot of very lonely phases when I didn’t have any friends and nobody liked me and I would come home and I would cry. My experience as a young adult, a boy and then a teenager and then a man, has always been hard. Looking back now, I’m sure that there were times when I suffered from what could have been diagnosed as depression, not extreme, but definitely moments of it.
And then as I got older and I got into my twenties, I remember experiencing extreme heartbreak and definitely going through bouts of depression and never really feeling like I was prepared for it. That’s one of the reasons I launched my company and why I tell the stories I tell, because I believe that we all have the ability—some of us do, but for some of us, to diagnose depression might be a little too intense, but I think we all have the ability to for the most part get ourselves out of the situation that we’re in. It’s a mix of mindset, of support, friendships, activity, getting into your body, and also really perspective. As an example, I tell the stories of people who are dying who are living amazing lives so we can kind of have a mirror in front of us and remember that there’s somebody who always has it a little bit worse, but if I can see somebody who has it a little bit worse who’s doing amazing and having an amazing attitude, maybe that can pull me out of whatever I’m going through. So I’ve always been very, very interested.
Frat: You’ve partially answered the next question, but is this also what sparked your involvement in Wayfarer and its initiative, The Carnival of Love?
Baldoni: I started Wayfarer Entertainment to create real impact on people’s lives through storytelling. I think we’re so focused on ourselves right now, we’re living in a generation that’s very me-me-me and I-I-I, and when you’re living in that kind of myopic, focused world, it’s very easy to become depressed, to become sad, to become unhappy, because everything’s focused on you. It’s even been proven scientifically that if you take the focus on yourself, you can find happiness a lot quicker. I wanted to create a company that told stories that helped people get out of their own way, get out of their head and start living for “we” instead of for “me.”
That looks like a lot of different things. It looks like super-happy content, it looks like super-intense and sometimes what could be perceived as sad content, it’s inspirational content. Jane the Virgin would be considered that. It gets you out of whatever you’re in and gives you happiness. The Skid Row Carnival [of Love], I started going down to Skid Row probably eight or nine years ago on my birthday, just to kind of guilt my friends into having a birthday party on Skid Row and we would make food for other people. The goal was to go and connect, because every day there’s a birthday on Skid Row, but nobody gets to celebrate.
It was like a—I hadn’t planned out this whole genius journey of, “Oh, I’m gonna start it this way and then grow it.” It was, I just wasn’t a birthday person. I didn’t have a ton of friends, and I didn’t really like the feeling of inviting people out to celebrate me. So instead I was like, “Let’s do something for others.” I grew up in the Baha’i faith, and in the Baha’i faith, we’re told that faith is an abundance of deeds and a fewness of words. It’s all about action. It’s also about service. The idea that our lives are supposed to be of service to others and day by day strive for your actions to become beautiful prayers.
These were all things I grew up thinking about, and I just wanted to put them into action. That’s kind of how it all started, and then when Jane the Virgin happened and I started to develop a little bit of celebrity, when you have that, it’s a lot easier to get people to come and do something. So I had the idea one day to start a carnival. So I said, “We’re going to throw a carnival,” because the whole purpose is to make people happy and to help them find relief from what they’re doing within their life. And no one’s ever thrown a carnival on Skid Row.
Frat: Yeah, it was really, really cool. It turned out really well. And now it’s growing super-fast and we have a nonprofit here at the company that supports the carnival and our work. The documentary series My Last Days, can you tell us a little bit about that and how it started and where it is now?
Baldoni: My Last Days is a documentary series about people who are terminally ill but they are living amazing lives. The idea is to inspire all of our viewers that you don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living. It started on YouTube, and it became one of the most successful documentary series on YouTube ever. A young guy named Zach Sobiech, there’s a picture of him over there, wrote a song called “Clouds.” He was one of our documentaries and it was seen by 20 million people all over the world. Now we’re making a movie about it at Warner Brothers. Jane the Virgin, after Jane the Virgin blew up, I took the project to CW and asked them if they’d be willing to put it on TV, and they said yes. We ended up building a whole thing around that called CW Good, which is a way for the CW stars to do something good with their time.
Frat: You showcase a lot of your workouts on Instagram with—what is it called? “The Garage”?
Baldoni: Oh, my footage at the “Human Garage”, yeah.
Frat: And you’re very committed to your early morning routine and you even have your daughter come and work out with you. What do you do when life gets hectic? How do you make sure you balance your workouts?
Baldoni: I wish I was as balanced and committed to my workouts as you think I am. Unfortunately, I don’t work out every day. But I want to. That’s one of the reasons why I film my workouts, to kind of make myself work out more, but also because people get inspired by all kinds of things. For me, fitness and staying in shape is kind of meditation. It helps me stay grounded when things get hard. That’s where I find relief, in working out, pushing myself. We all have our different things we do to bring us back. For me, I’m very kinesthetic, so when my body feels off, then my life feels off. I try to do everything I can to keep my body sharp, and unfortunately I’ve got a lot of injuries and pain and all kinds of things everywhere. I’m always trying to heal myself from some injury or something.
Frat: You recently went on what you called a “mantrip” with a few close guys friends and said that we all need to take a minute of as you called it self-care, to reflect and relax. What are some of the tools you’ve found useful for when you can’t get away? What are some of the relaxations tools and techniques that kind of help you out?
Baldoni: I think it’s important to have self-care, to have built-in moments in your day or week or month where you’re able to decompress and just kind of shut off the world and you can do that either by watching Netflix or by working out, by taking a walk, calling up a good friend and saying, “Hey, you wanna just do nothing for an hour?” We’re living in an age where we’re just constantly bombarded with technology and information all the time and I don’t think our brains are set up to process that, so we all become very ADD. It’s important to just kind of disconnect every now and then. That’s something I’m working on and I have not perfected, by any means. That for me was huge, because I needed to disconnect, even though I was connected most of the time. In theory it works.
Frat: We met you at a Shane’s Inspiration park event. How did you get involved with that?
Baldoni: I got involved with Shane’s Inspiration through CBS, originally. Shane’s Inspiration had donated a playground to a children’s hospital, I think the one in Hollywood. That’s where I first met them, and they reached out and asked me if I would come and be a part of Rockets, the launch of the rocket at the children’s playground in the Valley. I think it’s a really cool organization, so I said yes.
Frat: That was it.
Baldoni: Yeah, nice work.