'Saved By the Bell's Alycia Pascual-Peña on Bringing Her Afro-Latina Background to the Series (Exclusive)
By Jennifer Drysdale
Chris Haston/ Peacock
Few young actresses are able to play characters specifically tailored to them, but Alycia Pascual-Peña is getting that opportunity. The actress stars in Peacock's Saved By the Bell revival as Aisha, a character who was originally supposed to be Black, but was later changed to fit Pascual-Peña's Afro-Latina background.
"It's huge," the actress tells ET of producers' decision to tweak her character. "Growing up as an actress, obviously I got so many breakdowns and I never saw anything written specifically for someone of my intersectionality in my community."
"So the fact that I get to be on a show and be this young girl coming of age who happens to be Afro-Latina is huge to me, because I didn't see that myself growing up," she shares.
Pascual-Peña, who is Black and Dominican, has been in the industry since age three and acting professionally since she was nine. Saved By the Bell is her first big role.
"I always wanted to be a performer," she says, reflecting on a "long journey" that she hasn't always shared with others. "I wanted my work to speak for itself one day."
"This is somewhere that I've always wanted to be," she adds. "So I'm super grateful. It's definitely a long time coming."
The new Saved By the Bell, developed by Tracey Wigfield, catches up with characters from the original series, like Elizabeth Berkley's Jessie Spano, Mark-Paul Gosselaar's Zack Morris and Tiffani Thiessen's Kelly Kapowski.
Zack -- who is now California Gov. Morris -- introduces a new group of Bayside High students, as his administration's decision to close many low-income high schools forces students from working-class families to join the "overprivileged" class at Bayside.
Pascual-Peña's character, Aisha, is described as a fun-loving, but ultra-competitive teen who grew up playing on boys sports teams. She causes a stir when she tries to play football at Bayside.
"Not only am I on my first television show where I'm a series regular, but I get to be part of a show that already has so many fans," she gushes to ET about the opportunity to join Saved By the Bell. "I'm just truly honored, and it's really cool to see how the show has really become a continuation of the original."
The New York native says the Saved By the Bell OGs have been "so giving as fellow actors" -- but she's really connected with the the show's fellow newbies. She and Josie Totah (Lexi) are now best friends and roommates, while she's also gotten close to Haskiri Velazquez (Daisy), Dexter Darden (Devante) and Mitchell Hoog (Mac Morris).
"It's been so fun. I truly love them all and we've become a crazy family," she admits, noting how the cast spent three hours just talking and getting to know each other after the first table read.
"I'm lucky in so many ways," Pascual-Peña shares. "The fact that all of us come from pretty different upbringings and experiences within the industry and get along so well [is amazing]."
As the actress gears up for the show's premiere, she knows she's already won over a few viewers -- her family.
"One of the most beautiful things is watching people like my tias and my tios -- who immigrated here, whose first language is Spanish and who really overcame so many obstacles to make it in this country -- see me come into my own," she says. "I'm first generation on my dad's side. It's something really special for him to see his daughter be able to change things here. That means the world to me and I'm always striving to make my family proud."
"It’s something I’ve always dreamed of, playing roles and continuing narratives and creating stories, which is why I fell in love with the craft," Pascual-Peña says. "But specifically celebrating and uplifting my community as an Afro-Latina, that's huge."