Interview with Jacqueline Piñol, AKA Rio Morales in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
Last week, we had the pleasure of speaking with actress Jacqueline Piñol, voice and performer of Rio Morales in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. After playing the character in Marvel’s Spider-Man, her role become a lot more crucial with the sequel focusing on Miles. We took the opportunity to talk to her about some of her past video game roles and how her own experiences factor into her performance as Rio. Check it out below!
David Poole (DP): Getting started, you’re getting a lot of praise for your excellent voice performance as Rio Morales in Spider-Man. It looks like you actually got your start in video games with a PC game called Noir. How did that role come about, and what was it like performing for a game like that?
Jacqueline Piñol (JP): That was years ago. It’s so interesting that you brought that up, I’d forgotten. And you know, for that I did various voices, so I was more of a… I wasn’t a specific playable character, so that was like getting my feet wet a little bit. But because my agent has always put me out there for all kinds of stuff, in radio, in animation, and all that. I’m always game for whatever, you know? I look at it as each role is an individual, and I go “what do I have to give to this? What do I have?”
And I was cast for a reason, so I try to dig deep and bring it all, you know? But that was a bit of a different experience. That was just voice recording. You know, we had the script ahead of time and it was much easier. There wasn’t a big, big challenge to overcome, as with Miles Morales, which I’m sure I’ll tell you all about.
DP: Right, definitely! And I also saw that you… well, I mean yeah, I definitely played it. You had a role in Quantum Break as well, which sort of merged the mediums of live action and video games. Has that experience prepared you for future roles with things like motion capture and the current generation of gaming?
JP: Yes. I think that was the experience that prepared me to walk into my audition for the Miles Morales game and just kind of knock it out of the park kind of thing. I knew what I was getting into, I wasn’t intimidated, I didn’t have a lot of questions because I had already experienced this medium, you know? And so blending the live action with a video game was so fascinating, and I learned a lot about the stunt work with motion capture, which there’s a lot of, which we can do ourselves and then there’s a lot of professional stunt motion capture actors, which I didn’t even know about back then when I did that game.
So I think it’s all… I felt very lucky that I sort of got introduced slowly, and now with this huge game, that I didn’t even know how huge it was going to be, I was really prepared. You know? I was seasoned.
DP: Exactly, yeah, it’s crazy to see all the different stuff in the background of the industry. All the performances, all the artwork, all the different gears turning just to get these products out the door.
JP: Oh yeah, it’s years of work and it’s like, teams of people, which I just praise the artists, the animation artists, the art directors. They really take all these pieces that we put together on the stage and that all of us work on. And what they turn it into, when I saw this game, you know I was telling we borrowed the Sony PlayStation  from a friend to get to see it, I was floored. I’m like I’m watching it like a movie, I’m not actually playing it and my son and my husband are like “if you’re not going to play, can we just play and you can watch” and I’m like “yeah, go, go, go”. I was just sort of taken about, you know?
DP: Yeah, it makes me wonder about the future of gaming is going to be like at this point, just because it’s like, it’s already so good.
JP: How do you top this? Yeah! The photo mode is great. I love the photo mode.
DP: I know, I’d had so much time spent in that photo mode, and it’s like the lighting, and all the different frames and filters and everything. It’s like I can spend hours in this.
JP: Seriously. I see the fans tweeting all the different pictures and I’m fascinated by them. I look at all of them and I just love them, because everybody has their own different take on stuff and how they want to capture it, you know. I thought that was really one of the most creative things they could do for gaming.
DP: Definitely, it’s excellent in that game especially. As far as your role as Rio, you starred in the original Spider-Man in 2018, and then now you have a bigger role in Miles Morales. How do you feel about being such a central character this time around?
JP: You know, to me it was, it’s almost like I didn’t know what a central character Rio would be. I knew how important each scene was, and I guess I took it in parts because we shoot over such a long period of time that it doesn’t feel like a boatload of work all at once. You know what I mean? You’re doing pieces over months. So I feel like I took it as “this is so important cause I’m his mom.” But each scene was so rich as it was written, and the rehearsals and every time we were shooting one scene, and then it would be weeks or months later shoot maybe something else.
I just saw it as pieces, right, of this puzzle. What I didn’t realize is when I saw the finished product and it came out, what an amazing… You know, cause you also don’t know when you’re filming if all the scenes are going to make the final cut. It’s like a movie. So I never assume, you know I’ve definitely ended up on cutting room floors in movies before, so I don’t get my hopes up anymore. I just kind of do the work because I think to myself “this is the part that I can control.” Which is doing my job and bringing this character to life, and just giving it my all each and every day that we’re on set. Because after that, it’s in the hands of others. You know?
So I was so happy, I had no idea that pretty much all the scenes we filmed are in the game. I actually don’t think there’s one that isn’t. And that it was received so well, even though I’m not a playable character.
DP: I mean hey, sometimes the support characters are just as important. That’s what builds the story. That’s what makes the relevancy for the player.
JP: Right. And Miles is so influenced by Rio, and I really love that that came into the story. I didn’t know that the fans would take to it as much, but when I saw it too, I was brought in by the story. It wasn’t just like a bunch of action. Like you’re just watching cops and robbers or whatever, you know what I mean? It was really about what makes a hero a hero, and why go after the bad guys. It’s not just to get them, it’s because we’re standing up for something we believe in.
There’s a reason behind Rio’s kind of hunger to stand up for those… It’s like the voice for the voiceless kind of thing. And that translates over to Miles in a way that he has to know how to use his powers and when. All of that just came into play and it was such a much bigger story than it looked on paper.
DP: Definitely. Just out of curiosity, if Rio were the one with superpowers instead of her son, how do you think she would do things differently?
JP: Oooh. You know what’s funny, is I don’t know if she would. (Laughs)
JP: The funny thing is because I’ve thought of it and I’m like… I mean, he’s not doing anything bad because we’re going after the bad guys and you gotta defend yourself and you gotta stick up for it. So I just think that some of the risks that he takes, if I was on board with him, if we both had the power, I would probably be like “Miles, no!” (Laughs).
JP: But I might not be as much of a risk taker, but I would still use them to end Roxxon, to end the bad guys, to save whomever I needed to save in order to get what we needed to save our city. And still keep our integrity as good people even though we’re doing violent things toward others.
DP: That’s a good way to look at it. Definitely. And then as a parent yourself, did you channel your own experience into your performance as Miles’ mom? Like working with Nadji Jeter, do you two have a close relationship to build the bonds between your characters?
JP: Yes, I definitely think since I, when I first auditioned for the first game is when I became a mom for the first time, my son is four and a half now, so I’ve literally been a mom the time that we’ve been doing both games. (Laughs).
JP: So that journey, I feel like it brought me closer to knowing what it’s really like. I don’t have to use my imagination. There’s an instinct that you have as a mom that you cannot help yourself. It’s like when you see mama bears, you get it, you get the term mama bear. You’ll do anything, that’s why I say if I had the superpower, I would for Miles defend him and protect him. I would do anything, I wouldn’t even think twice. But if he’s the one doing the things, then I’d be like “hmmm, watch it. Be careful. Don’t do that.” You know what I mean?
And [Nadji] Jeter and I, we had such a good relationship on set. Nadji was real easy to work with. We had a wonderful… I just felt like he was very son-like to me. And I know he’s a man, but I still saw him as a boy, and he would be just like “hey mom” and I was like “hey son” and that’s how we would talk to each other on set. And it helped. It helps build the bond. We had beautiful rehearsals.
You know, I really have to give kudos to our director Kris Salter. She is an amazing lady, she knows how to speak to actors so that when she gives direction, we know how to deliver. And that’s not easy. Not every director can tell you how to get what they want, and she did. She took us on a beautiful journey on how to get the beats of the scenes, and I think that’s why it was so easy for Nadji and I to work together too.
DP: Awesome! I could definitely see it in the performance, so it’s great that you had that relationship and it really influenced your performance.
JP: It did, it absolutely made a difference, and when I wasn’t in the scenes, you know I’m still on set some of those days and watching him lift through the other scenes and some of them you’re just like “woah, you guys did it great.” You know, they were doing great jobs with the other scenes and it’s nice to be invested in the other characters and in their storylines. Even if you’re not in them. That’s a big part of my preparation as an actor. I do like to know what everyone else is going through and what’s happening to them. Even if my character’s not consciously aware of that, it’s just good for me to know story-wise.
DP: Right. And then looking at Spider-Man: Miles Morales, one of the big parts of it that I really appreciated was the culture and representation. How do you feel about that game being a big step in the entertainment industry for representation?
JP: It’s been the best. It’s been one of my favorite parts of everything. And even while we were making it, there were a lot of changes made and I know that Insomniac really tried to bring the true essence of the culture. The accent, the language, the food, the music, everything it took to bring that reality to the game. I really appreciate that, you know, cause I’ve seen a lot of films or TV shows where they sort of touch upon it, but it’s not authentic. Insomniac did everything right. They brought the authenticity
Even though I myself may not be Puerto Rican, when as an actor, I have the privilege of channeling a woman who is Puerto Rican, and I am Latin American, so we had Puerto Rican accent coaches. I have plenty of friends from Puerto Rico who were only happy to help me make sure I nailed down the accent as well. And the food to me, I’ve been to Puerto Rico, I’ve spent several months living in Puerto Rico a few years ago filming a movie, so it was just… There’s something in you when you’re Latin, and I don’t care what country it is, it just feels like home.
And for me, the island of Puerto Rico is so special. The people are so warm and friendly, and fun and you know, being from New York as well, cause I was born there and my sister lives there, I just felt like it was this big melting pot of everyone is welcome, and we are all one. As cheesy as that sounds, especially the year we’ve been through, I just felt like it was nice to experience that through a work environment.
DP: Definitely, the year itself has been so crazy. There’s been so many restrictions and so many things that’s difficult for everybody in every industry really. Speaking of that, what’s next for you? Has that really been affecting your upcoming projects?
JP: You know, it had for a few months because things were put on hold, and I had a couple things opening, and then of course you could never talk about them, so you’re just like “alright, well that’s no fun.” You can’t say anything, even when you post photos, you’re like “secret project.” Like Nobody wants to see that, you know? Nobody wants to know you’re doing a secret project. But for now, what’s happened is that the industry is trying to catch up because they’ve safely come back to opening up productions. So I have more auditions. I’ve had more auditions in the last six weeks than I’ve had in maybe even two years.
DP: Oh wow.
JP: Even last year, because this time of year is usually not that busy. Everybody’s winding down, closing up shop. I’ve been so busy, and I do think it’s because, you know, all those months of downtime, falling behind, now there’s a lot more opportunity. There’s a lot of roles for Latina women and I’m really glad that they opened up those doors.
Even with Miles Morales, I didn’t realize until the game came out that one of the most special things about the game is that I notice how players can see themselves as part of a game. See what I mean? Like they’re represented by the fact that like “oh, that can be me,” Or “I live that experience,” or “I eat that food, I listen to that music.” And that’s really special to me. I really like the fact that that is one of the subtle points of the game.
DP: Mhm. Well I think that’s all my questions that I have for you. You have been so wonderful and I really appreciate it.
JP: Oh, thank you. Absolutely. I’m really impassioned. Sorry I talk a lot sometimes, but I’m just so grateful for the experience and to see the outcome of the response. You know? It’s really cool, it’s really cool.
DP: Yeah. It’s a great game. As someone, like I’m African American myself, so it’s great to see the different culture appreciation and with Miles being half Latino and half Black, being able to really personify myself in the game.
JP: I love that.
DP: And that’s also down to the character of Spider-Man, and that’s like [Spider-Man] Into the Spider-Verse, which I know you were involved with.
JP: Oh yeah, with voice over, yeah.
DP: Yeah, it’s kind of what that movie taught as a lesson. It’s like it doesn’t matter who you are, anybody could really be there best self.
JP: Exactly. Yes. And that’s why they came out with the hashtag too. Be yourself and be greater, and I’ll tell you just one quick little thing that moved me as a mom. My son, you know we were all excited because my husband’s like “look, it’s mommy.” My son’s like “yeah, yeah, whatever.” He’s like “Spider-Man!” Like all he cared about was Spider-Man, and it took me a second because I didn’t connect right away and I thought “oh my gosh, to him, Miles Morales is Spider-Man.” He’s four and a half and he’s never seen… He never played the first game, you know, he was a tiny baby. So to him, that’s his Spider-Man. And I just love that.
I just love that there is a possibility and that there is a generation that can grow up and now see the world the way it should be, which is we are all anything we want to be and can be.
DP: Exactly. Well, like I said, it has been wonderful talking to you. You’ve been absolutely amazing.
You can follow more of Jacqueline’s work on the Amazon Prime series Bosch, where she plays Detective Julie Espinosa, as well as her upcoming series The Canine Condition: A Dogumentary Series. We want to once again express our thanks to Jacqueline for taking the time to speak with us. Curious to know more about why Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is important for representation? Check out our article about it here. Stay tuned for more news about Marvel’s Spider-Man and the Miles Morales sequel.