Mishel Prada on How ‘Vida’ Has Helped Bring a Unique Voice to the Vibrant World of East L.A.
Mishel Prada is getting ready to say goodbye to life as part of “Vida.” The groundbreaking Starz drama series set within the Latinx community of East Los Angeles is coming to an end in its third season. Showrunner and playwright Tanya Saracho was given only six episodes to conclude her saga about two sisters dealing with their deceased mother’s legacy, creeping gentrification and the class divisions within the Latinx community itself.
The network’s decision to put a finale to the show came as a surprise to Saracho and cast, but the result is a tight season that never compromises. The seemingly uptight Emma (Prada) and vivacious sibling Lyn (Melissa Barrera) are still facing scrutiny from anti-gentrification activists protesting their bar Vida, named after their mother, which is seen as a sellout to “hipster” white culture. But in addition to this life throws new challenges ranging from clueless politician boyfriends with judgmental, upper class mothers to the sudden reappearance of Emma and Lyn’s father, now a local Pentecostal preacher. Like a backbeat to the sisters’ lives is the theme of a community also experiencing the wider cultural debates surrounding gender norms and identity. Old machista attitudes clash with non-binary attitudes, particularly with Emma who is now openly gay.
Mishel Prada sat down with Entertainment Voice to discuss the significance of “Vida,” the experience of making the show and what the future holds in a quarantined world.
Thank you for speaking with us today. This show was something else, very different from anything else on television. How does it feel to now deliver this final season?
We were really just in a position of gratitude, really. We obviously would’ve loved to have continued on, but we have three great seasons. I haven’t seen this third season, just two episodes. But from just reading the scripts I think they were wonderful. We’re looking at this as a transition. “Vida” is what it is, but what is it going to open the doors for? That’s what feels really cool about it. The world now, then it was even two years ago when the show premiered, is so different. The way content is being created, the conversations that are being had, the acceptance of certain types of people and voices and all of that stuff. So I like to think we had just a small part in bringing in where we are now.
How would you say your character has changed this season? In the first season you captured that personality so well, she was so recognizable to anyone who has lived in East L.A.
Well, she’s almost a different person. She’s still operating with the same fabric and texture but there’s been growth and acceptance. That first season she was trying to get in and get out, she’s trying to leave that neighborhood, she’s just like “no, not today, this is not who I am. I need to get back to the life that I’ve created for myself,” which she was never really happy in, but it gave her this stability and idea of who she was and then in deciding to stay, then not being accepted by the neighborhood. They’re like, “who do you think you are? You’re white, you’re not part of us.” And the truth is the neighborhood has changed, so even though she’s like “this is my neighborhood, my hood,” it’s like it’s changed, and it’s still changing. So there’s that second version and now this third version of her is her accepting her past, accepting her sister, and trusting a little bit more in the process of life instead of feeling like she has to fight it. At least I know how I grew up I grew up having to fight all the time. Maybe not physically, well maybe one time, but like you know, having to be like ‘I belong here, I’m coming here. I’m not leaving.’ And that served her for so long… but now it’s about what it looks like when she doesn’t feel the need to fight but just exist. We see that with her latinidad and her queerness and place in the family. It’s been a fun ride.
What do you hope non-Latinx audiences get when they see the show? Because one value of “Vida” is that it provides a window in television that you rarely ever see.
I really see “Vida” as an invitation. As an invitation into the living rooms, the bedrooms, bars and restaurants in a way you might not get normally invited to if this isn’t your neighborhood, if this isn’t your life. It feels that way. That’s why the Spanglish, it doesn’t translate. Because if you’re invited to someone’s house and they’re eating a flan and they start arguing, maybe they’re not really arguing, but it’s like half Spanish half English and you’re like I kinda get what’s happening, should I leave? Is it fine? “Vida” gives you that feeling, like “oh well, that just took a quick turn!” I hope they feel invited into our living rooms, into our houses as if they were invited to dinner, to hang out. I think also something that’s really beautiful, falling in line with this idea of representation — I think it is important to see ourselves represented, to be seen, to see ourselves represented in positions of power, but also positions of growing. Making a mistake doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person. It’s important for the non-Latinx person to see us that way. Because it becomes something that feels normal, it’s not something that feels strange or something that we’re fighting for… I want them to see themselves in us, the way we’ve had to for so long.
The talent all over “Vida” has been spectacular. What has it been like to work with this cast and team?
I feel like we have an unhealthy attachment to each other (laughs). I came into this show through a job and I’m leaving with a really big family. We are on group texts, group chats literally every single day. We’re writing to each other on one platform or another. That’s the best thing. It’s familia. It doesn’t matter if you’re the guy who only had two episodes, we all hang out. Like at everybody’s birthday we all show up. We go to each other’s premieres. Even if I wanted it to stop, it won’t, these people are a part of my life forever.
As an artist what has been the most challenging part of bringing this character to life?
As an actor there’s always a lot of challenges. Emma has had a lot of pain in her life. She operates with a lot of that. For myself I know it’s not always easy to revisit those parts of you that you think are so soft, or that maybe you’re ashamed of or hurt… sometimes she has panic attacks and I used to have panic attacks. And I fully had panic attacks while we were shooting. A lot of those scenes where I’m having that, like that scene in season two where she finds the credit card receipts, there was no resting in between takes. I was experiencing that in a way I didn’t know I still could. But the great thing about that happening is you still feel supported. I remember Roberta [Colindriz] reaching out and holding my hand, I can still feel it.
Let’s discuss how the dynamic has evolved between you and co-star Melissa Barrera on and off screen since you began playing siblings.
We really hit it off pretty quickly. I felt pretty supported by her as an actor and scene partner. I love the scenes that I get to do with her. We made a commitment to be there for each other. We really fell in love with each other in a way that was really funny. Meli didn’t really have any friends here, I knew people but this world was still pretty different. I had never had any acting jobs in this way. So we were experiencing doing a show like this together for the first time. The chemistry on screen isn’t just something that you see, but that you feel.
“Vida” was a unique example of Latinx showrunners and actors coming together. What are some challenges you still see facing Latinx artists and representation in the industry?
Some of the challenges I think are still tokenism, where they gather a group of artists and say, “oh already have one Latinx artist, now we need an Asian one.” Why can’t there be three? It’s still like “collect all five.” I still see some of that. But I think another challenge is us giving us permission, not waiting for someone to tell us this is ok and you belong here. Know you belong there. And if they don’t let you into the house build your own damn house. It’s hard if you’re consistently being told you don’t fit in, you’re not good enough, it chips into your subconscious. If we just give ourselves permission and know our stories are important no one can stop us. And supporting each other, we’re going to be way stronger than if we’re trying to teach each other apart.
The final season of “Vida” premieres April 26 and airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. ET on Starz.