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NUNN ON ONE: TELEVISION Mishel Prada of 'Vida' on boundary-pushing show
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Starz series Vida is breaking down borders with its depiction of the LGBT community.

Based on the book Pour Vida by Richard Villegas Jr., this is a half-hour original story about two Mexican-American sisters, Emma and Lyn, who return to their old neighborhood in East Los Angeles.

The show was created by HBO's Girls writer Tanya Saracho, who along with the cast, recently screened several episodes at the South by Southwest festival in an event that local performer Fawzia Mirza moderated.

Mishel Prada stars as Emma in Vida, a sexually fluid person who discovers shocking things about her mother's identity that affects her life in unexpected ways.

Prada brings experience from Fear the Walking Dead: Passage and Tell Me How I Die to the diverse cast in Vida.

Windy City Times: Hi, Mishel. Are you originally from LA?

Mishel Prada: I grew up in Miami. My family is Dominican, Mexican and Puerto Rican.

WCT: Did you always want to act?

MP: It was something that I always loved, but wasn't sure if I could make a career off of it. I started doing church plays when I was 3 years old. I then was performing at shopping malls at Christmas during high school, in musicals.

WCT: Do you have a favorite musical?

MP: I was a dork; my mom wouldn't let me spend the night in New York, so I would fly there, watch a musical, then come back. I was really into Phantom of the Opera—I saw it at least five times!

WCT: How did you land the role on Vida?

MP: I found out it was in production about a year and a half before I booked it. I was really excited and a fan of Tanya Saracho's plays. This show had the representation that I wanted to see on television. Now I get to play one of the lead characters on it. It was more than I expected.

WCT: Had you read the book Pour Vida beforehand?

MP: No. I just got a little breakdown for the audition and read the pilot. I went in to audition for Tanya and Carmen Cuba, who is an incredible casting director. I fell in love with them. I had such a good time and was not nervous.

WCT: Talk about your character, Emma.

MP: Emma is very strong and driven. She comes from a neighborhood that she is trying to escape from in a way. A big part of that is being realized throughout the season. It comes from a place of hurt where she was sent away by her mother after being found kissing another girl.

She becomes estranged from her mom and puts herself through grad school. She has to come back for her mother's funeral, and finds out her mother has been married to a woman.

As you can imagine there are a lot of feelings inside of her, which she doesn't want to feel. She believes she can exist as an island.

WCT: She is sexually fluid?

MP: Yes. She will be with men, women, trans, non-gender conforming. She is attracted to it all.

WCT: Was it freeing to play a part like this?

MP: I think the challenging part is baring yourself. As a female actor in LA you are taught to guard yourself with nudity, to be very careful. History has shown us it is easy to be exploited.

The great thing about working with Tanya and female producers was there was a safe space to explore and feel empowered over our bodies. There was no feeling of shame going there sexually, because it was not about the sexuality of it. It was about the character's journey.

The amazing and liberating thing was that the nudity was there when we were just getting dressed in the morning, not just the sexy scenes!

WCT: So you were okay with the vibrator scene?

MP: Yes—that is a perfect example of it not being about the sexuality in that scene. It is about Emma and doing things on her own. She doesn't need another person to feel something and create a release. She doesn't orgasm the way she thinks before getting the release. It comes to her in tears, in the cries that she keeps refusing herself to have in mourning her mother who is essentially a part of her.

WCT: I noticed a lot of Spanglish throughout the season.

MP: That is how I grew up. My mom spoke English and Spanish, but only yelled at us in Spanish. Most of the time we would switch back and forth without even thinking.

Something else we see is one generation only speaking English with another generation only speaking Spanish. Both may understand it but not speak it. This is very common as well.

WCT: Do you think people will understand the slang in Vida?

MP: Well, that was something Tanya really stood by, was to not have Spanish subtitles. I think if you like at the Spanglish as a whole you can understand what is happening. You might understand that word but can figure it out by context. That is a part of being invited into our homes.

WCT: The Spanish street food made me hungry!

MP: I was hungry until I had to eat 20 tacos like a madwoman every single time. The first four tacos were really good. It was the same thing with the flan and the drinks. I had a really gross drink that the character Lyn made and it had milk in it. It was not fun!

WCT: How was the reception at South by Southwest?

MP: It was the first time seeing some of those episodes and we watched them with the audience. People really resonated with it and we won the audience award. We had a good time being together and celebrating the show while presenting it like a quinceanera.

WCT: What do you want people to get out of the show Vida?

MP: I want our Latinx community to be really seen, heard, and represented. I hope other networks will be inspired to make other shows like this and more will be written in the future.

I want people to see the show and realize we are more the same than we are different. Our cast is all LatinX and based in a Latin community. There is a family aspect to it. That resonates beyond skin color, culture, and gender.

WCT: Did you have a special moment from being on Fear the Walking Dead?

MP: That was my first opportunity to work with a network like AMC. It was awesome. Andrew Bernstein was a wonderful director to work with. My costar Kelsey Scott I am very close with and is very supportive.

It was a cool universe to exist in and a feminist story that I was totally down with.

Look for Vida on Starz starting Sunday, May 6.

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