Tanya Saracho (‘Vida’) on creating something ‘true to life’ through Starz drama [Complete Interview Transcript]

Tanya Saracho had to say goodbye to her first TV show “Vida” earlier this year. The drama series was on Starz for three seasons.

Saracho recently spoke with Gold Derby managing editor Chris Beachum about those final moments on set, working with stars Melissa Barrera and Mishel Prada and what she hopes people will remember when they vote in November. Watch the exclusive video interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Sadly, Tanya, a couple weeks ago we saw the very last episode. What was your last day at work like?

Tanya Saracho: Well, my very last day at work was when I delivered the mix. The final mix was March 12th and March 13th I went into the lockdown. So it was like we barely got it in, delivered it right before we all had to lock down. That was my last day. I usually bring tamales and champagne and I did, but I was like, “I’m not partaking,” nobody’s hugging, because it was the early days ‘cause I was wearing the whole thing, and they were like, “You’re being ridiculous.” I’m like, “No, I think this is gonna be a big thing.” And then just a week later, we were all doing the same thing. I remember not getting to physically thank everyone.

GD: As bad as this time has been, what if everything had shut down, say, two weeks before you finished? You wouldn’t have had a real finale.

TS: I think about it all the time, that I was just under the gun, yeah.

GD: What was your last day on set like and what was the last shot you ever filmed?

TS: It wasn’t the last shot of the episode, it was something in the bar and we did become a family. There’s a lot of theater makers that were part of the cast and the crew so we had that ensemble vibe that forms and I couldn’t even give a speech. I let the two sister actresses do it ‘cause I was wrecked. The way we make “Vida” is as important as the thing we’re making. All the people, all the queers, all the Brown artists that were involved, I had already started missing them. Lots of tears, lots of speeches from everyone, except me. I was just a mess.

GD: When you first developed the show, were thinking about it, putting ideas together with you and the creative team, from that moment to what turned out to be the finale, was the finale the direction you thought it would be at the very beginning or did it change?

TS: I had an image. I had an image of the two sisters walking not towards the sunset but towards their intersection and back into the bar. I always had that image. I just didn’t know how I was going to earn it when they reduced me from 10 to six episodes in the last season and you had so much story owed. “How am I gonna get there?” But I think we did and I also directed that episode and wrote it, so it was a very fulfilling experience doing that last episode, to be the thing that you had imagined and you get to shoot it.

GD: What is it like when you get to direct? Of course, you choose when you direct but when you’re also directing in addition to producing and writing and so forth, how does that feel different on that week?

TS: I’d done it in the theater, written and directed plays but I’d never, ’til “Vida,” done it. It’s fully immersive and there’s no middle women, a director that you have to translate what you want and it’s full. It’s faster and the bug has bit me. I really, really like it, ‘cause you’re in full control of the vision. I got to direct the “queerceañera” episode where we had this guy’s coming of age ritual in our culture, a quinceañera, and we queered it out, and he decolonized his name. It was so gorgeous to shoot, so fulfilling. Also, I got to direct drag kings. Brown drag kings on TV, I’ve never seen them. Drag queens, yes, and I worked with some theater-makers to write the song. It was a good way to go.

GD: When you first hired Mishel and Melissa as your first two leads on the show and everything about the show in terms of the public’s perception of it’s gonna ride on those two decisions, how did they develop and change from the first time you met them until the very end?

TS: We were all beginners. I was a baby showrunner. I’d only been in this town for three years and then I got this show. Mishel, who plays Emma, had never been in anything but a web series. Never in a TV episode or a film so we were all very green. Meli had just been here two weeks from Mexico. We had to get her a visa and she had only been in telenovelas so we all grew together. Not just as an ensemble. Look at them now. I’m so excited to see where they go after this. My writers, too. My cinematographer, an Afro-Latina who had never run a unit, now I can’t get her. She’s too fancy. She’s off and running. I love that. That was the start of so many of us, our careers.

GD: And now in addition to your crew and your other people, you get to release these two actresses into the world and see what they can accomplish.

TS: And Roberta Colindrez, too, who plays Nico. She used to be in my plays, too. I love that people are really discovering her. I’m in love with all of them.

GD: Your show’s never been shy in any of the three seasons about attacking political issues, all kinds of subject matter that maybe some other shows would not. Why was that important to you right from the very beginning?

TS: I wanted to create something that was true to life and when I was allowed to have an all-Latinx writers’ room, it was never going to be anything else but this. We were never going to be anything but authentic and truthful. We are capturing a moment in time in this neighborhood. Some of my writers were from this neighborhood. A lot us have skin in the game in the themes that we cover. I feel like it was always going to be like that, both in the politics, the themes, and the way we deal with sex in the show in this realistic manner. I feel like it was always going to be that way ‘cause we are handling the story.

GD: Was there ever a subject matter or a particular scene that you really wanted to do and decided no, that’s over the edge or even just physically you couldn’t figure out how to shoot it properly? Was there anything like that?

TS: No, but I get squeamish about Trump because I’m not a citizen. So I’m like, “Ay, Dios mio,” and then when I applied for my citizenship, what are they gonna say? But then we work it out in the writers’ room. They give me valor and they let me be brave. Stuff like that. A lot of us have skin in the game when it comes to immigration issues. Also, we’re living it. I’m not a citizen, so I did get squeamish but we still got all that stuff in.

GD: Like you said when you started, you were such a beginner to TV and to being a showrunner. Now that you’ve finished this project, are lots of doors opening for you because of this?

TS: Right now I’m under a ‘rona veil. Like, “Do I need to work for Starbucks?” Right now I can’t see past this moment. But yeah, I’m sketching out things, dreaming. But this quarantine was really scary for the first two months. I felt barren and blind and people were like, “Oh, you must be writing so much now that you’ve finished your show,” and I wasn’t. Nothing’s come out of me yet.

GD: Decisions coming soon.

TS: Yeah, it’s such a weird moment. Also it’s a weird moment to measure yourself in this industry in relation to the actual big socio-political moment that’s happening and being a Brown person, a person of color in this industry, I’m measuring a lot, my place in it.

GD: For the people that did watch your show, they’ll be voting in November, all kinds of races, not just presidential, but state races, county races, city races. What would you like them to be thinking about?

TS: I’m very myopic so I think about Latinx, but we’re 20% of the population in this country but we’re invisible. In so many ways, we don’t count. Not just in this industry when you look at the numbers, but to this country, even though we’re the majority minority. I hate the term minority. So just think of us. It would be great if we are considered, humanized in all legislation and just in that political thought process.

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