How Mishel Prada's 'Vida' Character Has Helped Her Reconnect With Her Culture & Sexuality (Exclusive)
By Liz Calvario
Courtesy of Starz
WARNING: Spoilers Ahead! Do not proceed if you haven't watched the season two premiere of Vida.
"You become an adult and there is this really amazing moment where you look back at your parents and you realize, 'Wow, you weren't really perfect,'" Vida lead Mishel Prada tells ET as she reflects on how her character on the Starz series has helped her reconnect with her past and rediscover herself.
The 29-year-old actress stars as Emma Hernandez, a strong, independent and queer woman who returns to her East Los Angeles home, along with her sister, Lyn (Melissa Barrera), after their mother unexpectedly dies. Emma and her late mother, Vidalia, had a tumultuous relationship, which only intensified after she had to take up the family business and discovered that her mother -- who sent her away after learning of her sexual preferences -- was also queer and married another woman.
"For me, it was an opportunity to reflect on my life, my parents, and really understand forgiveness," Prada explains. "Because god forbid our parents aren't perfect [laughs]. We hold them responsible for everything that goes wrong in our lives...My mom had four kids, we were all one after the other. Now as an adult, I look back and I'm happy she didn't just kill us [laughs], so I've forgiven her for so much."
Vida, now in its second season, has been lauded by critics and viewers for its Latinx cast, diverse and refreshing storylines, as well as having an all-Latinx writers' room, half of whom are queer.
"We’re starting to see how normal it should be to tell our own stories and not have them told to us," Prada says of Vida's writers' room. "Moving forward, I think that should be a logical way to staff a writers' room. If the story is about a certain type of neighborhood, or cultural thing, or whatever it is, it makes sense for it to be staffed by the people that have that experience and are able to bring that to the screen. It doesn't take away from any other shows that have been created or out there, it just adds to the conversation."
And season two does just that, amplifying a variety of Latinx stories and digging deeper into what many U.S.-born Latinxs face in their everyday lives. Like Emma -- who is so sure of herself and confident -- yet still faces judgment from fellow Latinxs telling her she's not "Mexican enough." Adding another layer to that storyline, she then faces criticism from her LGBTQ community, who tease her about being a "baby queer" and not fully embracing herself -- all of which is nonsense if you know Prada's character.
And while Emma, as Prada explains, "doesn’t cater to what anyone needs her to be and she makes decisions on her own," she is forced to deal with outside forces that make her question herself.
"I think there is something really important in being who you are," Prada stresses. "With a character like Emma, she could definitely have a little more tact but I think it's one of the more admirable things. She’s created this space for herself, independent of what anyone else wants her to be. [But], you also start to see how that can really [hinder her]."
"Emma has crafted a very specific life for herself but it's not enough. She has to grow up emotionally," Prada acknowledges. "She's grown up with all the indicators outside that show, 'I've got my sh*t together.' She has the nice apartment and the money, but emotionally she's just not dealing with her demons and [in season two] she makes the choice to [tackle them]."
One other aspect of her life that Emma deals with is exploring her sexuality and opening up to a partner. Vida does a great job of showcasing females embracing their sexuality and exploring what they like and don't. While Latinx culture may be more conservative when it comes to queer sexuality, Prada says it is "important to normalize" it and be more open about the ways people are intimate with one another outside of what is traditionally seen on screen.
"I really find that it is important to normalize, especially the queer sexuality, and those [nude] scenes because that is normal," she says, adding that Vida has also opened her eyes to different ways of embracing her sexuality and sharing intimate moments with partners. "There are so many other ways to have sex that anything outside of [what people typically see on TV] is [considered] kink and kinky. But maybe it isn’t, maybe it is just you exploring what you like with another person and finding somebody that likes similar things like you. And if you have different ways that traditionally you don't see on TV, that’s not kinky. It's sex."
"I will have to say, I didn't really realize I was such a pretty prude until I started getting the scripts and I’m reading and having to Google, 'What is that? Oh, my,'" she adds with a laugh.
And that's the beauty of Vida. While it is telling a story about a Latinx family and community, it also brings human elements and experiences that anyone can relate to. Grief is universal, as is family drama, sexual experiences, and someone putting up walls and being scared of opening up to others. And with Emma's character, you get a slew of situations that you can identify with. The season one finale peeled back one of Emma's layers, showing how she deals with her childhood traumas that moved the narrative forward.
"Emma was pushed away by her mother and that is a really powerful thing to happen to someone at such a young age," she explains. "We see at the end of season one, everyone thinks that she doesn't love [the bar and her hometown], but she loves that place. She’s scared to love it. In a way, there is this very violent love that she has. It’s complex and multi-layered."
"We think of the way that it is with our family members," Prada explains. "You love them and yet somehow there are times when you hate them being around you. Love is not just one shade, it’s a lot more than that. Emma's [way of showing love to her family is unique], it’s why she’s made an effort to still speak Spanish even if she rarely speaks it."
There's also the concept of who is family and what you would do for them. In the first episode of season two, Emma and Lyn discover that their mom and Eddy (Ser Anzoategui) were not legally married, meaning they are not legally responsible for their "stepmother," who was badly beaten by a group of men.
"Emma sees Eddy laying in that hospital bed and she feels responsible, and it's also a very physical incarnation of what Emma's been doing to Eddy with her words, emotionally beating her down," Prada explains. "We start season two with a choice: There is a family that you have and sometimes you have to put up with it or not deal with it."
Confronted by that choice, Emma decides to go into business with her sister, Lyn, who has decided to "buckle down," and save the bar.
"If we have learned anything about Emma, she really is ambitious and goes full on with anything that she does," Prada says. "She burns her ships. She sells everything that she has, except for her condo, her little lifeboat. She liquidated $300,000 of her assets to put into the bar. For a young woman from these communities, that is a lot. She has really pushed herself into that place and sunken it into the bar."
Yet, on the other hand, she has to decide what she will do with Eddy, who needs constant care as she recuperates.
"With Eddy, we see the reveal in episode one that she legally doesn't have to support Eddy, but she does feel responsible," Prada explains. "That is what we start navigating, the revelation of what is family and what does that mean? Is it blood? Eddy was definitely family to her mother, but does that mean she's going to be family to her? And is she going to accept that, because legally she has no responsibility."
Emma's journey is a compelling one to watch. And as the season progresses, reluctant at first, she starts to reach out and ask for help. "Emma exists in the world of black-and-white, and numbers, and documents, and she’s going to have to make an emotional decision, which is something that she’s not good at," Prada says of her character. "We start seeing that she and Lyn both need each other and they both realize it... There's a lot to unpack there."
Season two of Vida is now streaming on the Starz app and Starz On-Demand. Starz will also air weekly episodes every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
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