Mishel Prada (‘Vida’) on what Emma would say to her mother if she could [Complete Interview Transcript]

Mishel Prada just finished her third and final season as Emma on the Starz drama series “Vida.” This was her first long-form series as a lead.

Prada recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Tony Ruiz about how Emma has changed through three seasons of “Vida,” the biggest challenges she faced on the series and why she plans on getting involved in producing. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Mishel, the character of Emma when we meet her in Season 1, she’s very much this type and she has grown and changed so much throughout the three seasons of the show. What do you think is the biggest change in Emma without giving anything away into what we’re about to see in Season 3?

Mishel Prada: Acceptance. I think that is part of the biggest change that you see for this person. She lives in a world of very black and white, A to Z, this is the way that things go, and then holding people accountable. Even something as simple as somebody not loving her or not doing the things that they’re supposed to do, at some point she’s learned with Lyn that life doesn’t work that way and with Cruz and with Nico and all of the relationships. The only thing we can control is ourselves and we have to just accept what’s around us. I think that we see a version of her, and as an actor, it was really great to get to put on this other color palette for her and still have her be her but more just looking around and not trying to control the people around her.

GD: Yeah, and that element of control certainly extends into her relationship with her sister, Lyn. The dynamic there between you and Melissa Barrera is such a lived-in, authentic relationship. How has your personal and working relationship evolved over these last three years?

MP: It’s authentic because Melissa, for me, is a sister. I really, really feel like working with her has created such a beautiful bedrock of what I hope to continue in other projects that I’m moving onto, because I feel like it’s something that you’re not just seeing. You feel it when you watch us onscreen together. It’s not easy as an actor. Sometimes you have good days and days where the muses just show up and sing around you and you’re like, “Yay,” and then days where you’re just like, “Hello? Am I alone in this? What is happening?” It’s nice to have another actor that you feel supported by and realize that you’re not alone, because some of the stuff that we both do on the show is very emotionally revealing and it’s scary to expose yourself emotionally, so raw. I’m glad to hear that it does transfer to the viewer, because it’s one of the most supportive acting partners I’ve ever had. Her and Roberta Colindrez, who plays Nico, my love interest, I’m so lucky to have gotten to work with two people … I mean, we text each other almost every day. It’s gonna get weird when we’re not working together and we’re unhealthily obsessed with each other. I think it really shows in the safety of being on-set and getting to work together because you think it’s scary to do stunts and everything but emotional stunts and ripping yourself open to essentially bleed and suffer in front of each other is really scary in life and getting to feel like there’s a safe space and someone that’s holding you in the space is beautiful.

GD: And the show makes so many different demands on you. Is there a type of scenario in playing this role that has been the biggest challenge for you?

MP: It’s not so much a challenge but an opportunity for growth, because when I first met Gold Derby, this was my first TV show, it still is, but it was just a lot that I didn’t know and that I was learning on the job and growing. You can prepare for stuff. You can go to acting classes and you can do small roles here and there but nothing really prepares you for leading a TV show and really showing up emotionally. I think what I learned throughout this time is really trusting myself and speaking up for myself and understanding where my boundaries are. Obviously, there’s a lot of sex on the show and there’s a lot of places that we go emotionally that are really difficult, like in Season 2. Emma has to have a panic attack and I used to get panic attacks, so I was like, “I understand where this comes from,” but as we were shooting, I started actually having a real panic attack and realizing, “Oh gosh, I wanna keep going ‘cause I feel like this is good for the work and for the show,” but then understanding where my boundaries are after that, being like, “Okay, I need to take care of myself as me in that place.” Sexually, with this season, all the seasons we have to be very fearless and we push the boundaries and move towards a place of agency and women having much more confidence in their sexuality, but even this season, there was a scene as written I didn’t feel completely comfortable with and being able to go to the producers and to Tanya Saracho, who is the showrunner, and them being supportive and rewriting the scene so that it wasn’t something that I had to feel like I was being pushed to do something that I didn’t really feel comfortable with.

GD: That’s exactly the next place I was gonna go because having talked to Tanya Saracho, she does have such a clear voice in this show and her stamp is all over it. What has your relationship with her been like and has it changed over the course of the series?

MP: When I came on I was a fan of her as a playwright. She wrote a play called “Fade” that I really, really loved so I was getting excited to get to work with somebody that I think had written something that I had never even seen before, and then as we continued on, she was the showrunner but she became a family member. As with anything, she works fully with who she is and I’m learning a lot, so you have family moments where you’re just like, “I don’t agree with this, I don’t agree with this,” but you still come back together and essentially all things serve the show. That was always the most implant thing. I have so much respect for her because she is a force and what she was able to do and how she made the show what it is is so beautiful because it’s not just what you see, it’s also behind the camera. It’s like someone can be a trailblazer just by being who she is, a Latina showrunner, but really choosing to give people opportunities, myself included, that hadn’t been seen before I think shows. And honestly, even from the producers, Robin Schwartz is one of the producers of Big Beach and she brought me on to shadow one of their other shows, “Sorry for Your Loss,” because I wanted to move into producing and having all of those pieces being built in the way that the show is being made is something that I think is… obviously the storytelling and the acting is great but there’s something so incredible about feeing the support that comes even when it’s not just the cameras rolling.

GD: What’s so fascinating about this show is the show does so much, it tells so many different types of stories, not just Latinx stories but also queer stories, but it never seems like it’s trying to shine a spotlight. It just is. It never stops to try to explain to the audience, “Oh, this is what we’re talking about.” It just trusts the audience to come in with it. Is that something that you wanna carry forward in the other types of projects you take on, particularly if you go into producing?

MP: Yeah, totally. I think there’s something really important about this time that we’re living in to really encourage each other to tell our stories. So, absolutely moving forward, I think that’s what’s really beautiful about “Vida.” If you are invited into someone’s house, no one’s gonna be overly explaining to you what things are. You just exist and you are. So with this show being based in Boyle Heights and it being obviously a Mexican-American story but it’s an American story, if you were to come over to someone’s house, they’re not gonna translate everything for you every moment. They may give you a little bit of a heads-up but you get invited. It’s an invitation. It’s not preaching to you or anything. It’s an invitation to get to know a part of L.A. and a part of humanity that is very normal but you may not have been exposed to. I think finding yourself reflected in faces that might not look like yours or people that may not have grown up in the same way that you have… I know growing up, I would watch “Sex and the City” or something. My life was nothing like any of those women but I would see myself reflected in one way or another. I’m excited for the idea that especially for this third season, we get to talk about different things that have to deal with the queer and Latinx communities, for people to see themselves reflected even if they aren’t from these communities, because it’s an invitation to get to know a part of an American story that might not be something that you grew up with.

GD: It’s always interesting to talk to somebody on a final season of a show where you’ve gotten to know the character. Is there a moment in any of the seasons, and it could even be from this coming season, is there a moment where you look back and go, “I nailed that?” Does that ever come into your head? I’ve asked that question and actors have different responses to it.

MP: Wow, that’s a really great question. I have a hard time watching myself. I don’t know. I haven’t watched all of it. I will say this. I feel like when I’m not watching myself try to nail it is usually when things are great, because when I watch the story and I get lost in the story and get lost in the other characters and all of that stuff, that’s when I feel like, “Wow, there’s something really wonderful there because it’s not about, “Oh, did I blink twice or why did I look to the left? I should have looked to the right,” or whatever, because I don’t always succeed but I like to try to feel an uninhibitedness when you’re in the moment and in the scene and maybe your face does something weird, “Oh, I don’t like that angle,” but that’s also part of life. As women and as women in Hollywood, there’s this pressure or this idea that you have to look a certain way or be a certain thing but there’s also something amazing about being awkward and messy and not looking perfect all the time and that’s usually when I go for it, or when something’s weird and I’m like, “I love that I caught that weird thing,” because it’s just something different and it’s maybe moving the way that we look at scenes and performances from a way that is, “Oh, I wanna make sure I look perfect all the time.” Going back to the question, I don’t know. There are times where I’ve finished an episode and I’ve been like, “Wow, I’m really proud of it,” or I know I saw the second episode of this season and I was just bawling at the end of it. I get really proud of seeing other people’s performances. Maybe one day I’ll be able to be like, “Yeah, I nailed that!” But I’m always like, “Oh, interesting, I wish I had done that,” but even watching the first season of “Vida,” I can’t get through that first episode without crying at the end of it. I feel like if it’s bringing an emotional response to me and I was there and I know that it’s pretend, then maybe that’s a good thing.

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GD: I was thinking as I was watching the finale episode that this whole series started with the character of Vida, your character’s mother, passing away, and without spoiling anything, what do you think Emma would want to say to Vida at the end of the show?

MP: “I understand.” I feel like the storyline still feels strong in my body because I feel that this season, everybody’s carrying a struggle that we know nothing about and even our parents, we feel like we know them so well but we meet them after what, 20, 30 years of life at the point that we come in and then it takes sometimes 20 years for you to have enough life experience to understand where they’re coming from. As much as we want to know, they’re still a mystery to us because they’ve lived so much life and I think with this season, we see that Vida is a human being and Emma’s painted this idea of her, an idea of what she experienced and even Lyn and Emma, they were raised by the same woman but both had completely different experiences and that’s something that’s so powerful for us as people because you can be a son, you can be a husband, you can be a teacher, a writer, and all of them are you, but everybody maybe experiences this different version of you and with this season we really see the generational struggle that each of them had and that Vida also was suffering through so much pain and had been hurt so strongly and was literally just doing the best that she could with the hand that she was given, the same way that Emma was. So I think that in the end, it may not be “I forgive you,” but “I get it.” I think if we can even do that for each other as we go through life and if anybody can take away that, I think it’d be really beautiful.

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