Mishel Prada | There’s Not One Character Representing Everybody
One of the things I noticed about Mishel Prada when I first met her was her magnificent way of speaking, with a voice that’s stern, passionate and gets you paying attention, then you see the bold stare and high cheekbones and are further enthralled by the actress. With her commanding strength and poise it is not surprising that she has captivated audiences to fandom levels with her performance in the Starz series Vida.
Now on its second season, the familiar yet subversive storyline presents siblings Emma and Lyn, respectively played by Prada and Melissa Barrera, getting back together to figure out the family business after their mother passes. The ceiling shattering aspect which sets this quintessential family drama apart is Emma’s narrative as a queer Latinx woman and the way which she navigates finding catharsis after discovering that their disapproving mother had been a closeted lesbian. To complicate matters the family business was willed not only to the sisters but their mother’s wife Eddy, played by Ser Anzoategui.
The show is completely addictive in its charm, relatability, and jammed packed with the familial drama we secretly all live for. As we gear up to watch season 2 it is a revelation to think of the way which the show has deconstructed gender norms as well as confront the extremities of self-prejudice and the beauty of rebuilding a family. See below for our conversation with Mishel as we speak about families, self-love, and our Ancestry.com accounts.
Hi! how are you?
I’m great, how are you doing?
Good, I’m in a diner in New Orleans right now… it’s awesome. Yeah, I spend part of my time here, so I just finished the press junket and all that stuff so I thought I would pop over here for a few days to decompress.
That’s amazing, how did you discover New Orleans?
I was driving across country with my sister from Miami to L.A. and it was the first stop. It was love at first sight, I guess. It’s a very Caribbean city, so there’s something quite special about it.
I love that! Let’s jump in, I wanted to know what we can expect from this upcoming season. Your character’s development in the first season goes from very--sheltered isn’t the right word--held off and then opens up to her past. Is that something that will continue on?
We end the first season with the stepmother character, Eddy, being completely battered and bruised and beaten, and with Emma, my character, feeling completely responsible for it. In a lot of ways, she is. It’s like a physical manifestation of what happens when you refuse to take responsibility and accept some things. We start the first season with her burning all of her shit and she sells everything that she has in Chicago, her life and her life that she built. And then she goes into business with her sister. As we know, going into business is a difficult thing, but then with family it's a whole other thing and we really start seeing old habits die hard.
She’s trying really hard to be the capable island that she’s always been, but the truth of it is that she and her sister as well... you know making plans is great, but it never goes as planned and that is not the world Emma has lived in. I have a lot of admiration for her stepping outside her comfort zone and going back to fix what was left behind by her mother. I think a lot of us would shy away from doing that, we would run from our past and what is left of our childhood and move forward and--
She realizes that it’s important for her not to fix things but to heal things. That’s always a bit more confronting that you’d like.
What about Emma’s relationship with her sister? How do you feel the dynamic has changed or is built upon in this new season?
Well, we start the new season with a bang, literally--an orgy. That’s where we find Lyn. She wants to go forward and break her old habits but then she goes right back to her past. It’s the saddest orgy anyone's ever seen. She can’t go back, and we see that with both of the sisters. They set up that they can only go forward. It’s a difficult thing for both of them, because Lyn has always been looking for approval, but the only approval she needs is from herself and that turns into her strength. Emma wants to do everything herself, her way, and wants to bring her sister in. They want to be a family, and they don’t know each other. They knew each other as kids but not adults, so they’re trying to get to know each other. And they need each other. That’s the difficult journey that they arrive to.
That difficulty is open and spoken about because of the complexity and circumstances that your characters are portraying. It’s really amazing that this show is existing to represent queer Latinx people, and in general a pocket of life that is not seen but is widely in existence.
At the heart of it, it’s a very universal story. We all have different experiences with love in our life: the lack of love, the need of love, the looking of love. It’s a universal story, but now it gets to be told through the lense of brown, queer women. Latina women. It becomes a revolutionary act because we haven’t seen it before, but it’s so similar to a lot of our desires and wants that it’s easier it is to be empathetic to each other. What’s exciting is that we to play these characters that let us see what happens in the private moments with these young women.
For you, how do you feel about the way the show has been received. Do you think it’s opening up the dialogue? Do you think the activism aspect of it has put you in the forefront of a conversation.
Oh yeah… You book a job, you get offered a role, and as an actor that’s really exciting because a lot of people move out here and work really hard to hope that it happens. And when you get the opportunity to be part of a movement and a message. It’s so dreamy and so amazing because you realize how important it is. You get to experience you telling your story and hear people telling theirs. I’ve had so many incredible conversations, personally, with people who get really excited about the universal feelings but also specifically with the latinx culture. Things we aren’t really privy to, like women carrying the weight of the family a lot of the times and what it’s like to exist in two worlds. You exist in this borderland--you’re Latin-American.
We show what that looks like, and how quickly children of immigrants assimilate. Our parents and grandparents came here to America to survive, and we get the luxury of self actualization. Like, who am I really? They did that for us. It’s a powerful place to be and truly and honor. All I can speak from is my personal experience and my personal stories and I think in the writer’s room, that’s what they do. It’s been exciting to see how people related to it.
Yeah, it’s actually so funny you should bring that up. I had a complete anxiety attack recently because my dentist who’s also Asian had mentioned something about that. I feel like it’s completely through every type of immigrant story there’s always the conversation about living for the future and not so much for the now. And it’s so fascinating because it’s the type of, you know, “working hard” experience our parents might have gone through. And our identities, in order to be able to live, just to live, to be, is so much more introspective.
I really wanted to talk: the visuals of the sex scene, and how important is it that we do see these outside of the norm of the usual sex scene. Having sex scenes with people who are gender non-conforming and things like that. Like what is that type of impact, you feel, on the audience?
It’s a really potent impact because it normalizes it. We are all doing it and just not talking about it. Out of sight out of mind. All other types of sexualization is fine. You know, this heteronormative idea of sex being this one specific way and yet somehow we’re meant, especially as women to carry this shame of what that sexuality looks like. I just feel like the more we can be open and the more we can kinda get over it because everybody’s having sex. People are doing it. And to just see different depictions of it, so that you go- You understand that that’s just normal. And falling in love with somebody is a beautiful thing, and it shouldn’t be something that you’re shamed for. And then getting to enjoy somebody sexually is a beautiful thing. It’s not something that should carry the sense of, you know, conditioning and the “oh this is not really that good”… because It also just hinders your ability to just enjoy it. And yea that just fun. All types of people are attractive and I think It’s a lot less boring when you open up your mind and allow yourself to just fall in love with whoever you feel emotionally connected with. People that have this idea of “oh well this is the package that they come. This is the skin that they’re wearing. This is what they look like. This is similar…” That’s not what I do. No, like this is great.
I love that, where are you from originally?
I was born in Hialeah (Florida) and well, I actually just got my ancestry.com back, and I’m really Caribbean. But yeah, Dominican, Mexican, French. 20% African. 13% Native American. And then there’s a little- Just all over. Where I was born is Miami, and my grandparents are Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and French.
I love that. I just did mine, and I was shocked that there was a lot of like, South East Samoan type of island thing going on. It’s crazy. It’s amazing how they do it.
Yeah! And you’re like “where did that come from?” You know, it’s like 3% Eastern Jewish, 1% Middle Eastern, you know, 20% Portuguese, I had no idea. I asked my mom. She has no idea. We’re from everywhere!
Have you tried the 23andMe. I feel like that’s would be a bit more crazier… precise.
Yeah I’m going to try… I’m gonna try them both and see what happens. But yeah, and that’s what’s also so cool because we have this idea of like “oh, you look this way” so therefore that’s your identity and that’s who you are. But it’s also part of the world experience. If you have dark skin, or different hair. The world experiences you in a specific way. And you kind of start breaking down your gene pool, and you’re like “oh man”. Especially in the Caribbean. There’s everything going on there.
I have a lot of friends who are from Brazil and everything is so mixed in beautifully and complicated like that.Is there anything else you would like to focus on? Anything else we should know about this upcoming season. What would you like to focus on for the next?
I think that this upcoming season. I think a lot of things are about faith in between finishing the season and waiting to see what it actually looks like because at that point you’ve done your work. It’s not in your hands. It’s over to the next round. To our incredible post team. And music and what that looks like. I just feel so excited for people to see it because we premiered Tribeca, it was the first time we had seen the first three episodes. It’s just, I feel so lucky to be a part of this story and, you know, working with actors like Melissa Harrera who plays my sister and then Tanya Saracho, the showrunner. You can see that there’s every ounce of love.
People are laughing, cheering. It was a really special time for all of us to be together. And Tribeca was a special, fun festival and we get to give that...that sneak peek at. So, um, I’m just excited for people to see it, and for people to get to know our culture better. And get to know these neighborhoods better. These working class, immigrant neighborhoods. And also to get to know our characters better because the first season was like a little appetizer, a snack. And then, the second season is a meal. So You get to really delve in. And we also get to flesh out the world more. We get more characters. We have Raúl Castillo and Roberta Colindrez come in and just kinda start seeing that there’s not just one way to be a Latina. There’s not just one way to be a woman. There’s not just one way to be queer. There’s not one character representing everybody. We get to sort of delve in to what that is. And also, like, managing expectations for these characters. You have all these expectations, and they’re never really who you think they are. So I’m so excited for people to see this.
Vida airs on Starz Sundays beginning May 26, 2019
Photographed by: AveThirtyFour.
Flaunt Film Directed by: Jessie Hill.
Styled by: Monty Jackson at Starworks Group.
Hair: Tiago Goya using Oribe
Makeup: Nicole Wittman using La Prairie.
Edited by: Marissa Charlwood
Music by: Julia Stone
Camera Assistant: Noah Deats
Color: Houmam Abdallah
Fashion Asistant: Toni Guerra