Interview: Mishel Prada Talks ‘Vida’, Creating a Backstory and Moving to LA
“In a matter of two days, I found out that I was going to be playing Emma and that in a week and a half we would start shooting” – Mishel Prada on Getting Cast in ‘Vida’
Mishel Prada is relishing her role as Emma in Vida, the new series on Starz about two Mexican-American siblings from East Los Angeles. “Emma really is a very complex, three-dimensional character, which has just been such a joy, as a Latina actress, to get to play her,” she said.
Prada, who you may have seen in the webseries, Fear the Walking Dead: Passage, talks about her role in the series, the audition that got her the part, creating a backstory, nudity and a lot more.
This seems kind of like a big, daunting role, and what you describe, there’s a lot going on with her. What did you think when you first read the script?
Mishel Prada: When I first read the script, I was just completely beside myself that a show like this was even getting made. It excited me to no end, and I felt completely honored and privileged to even be on a shortlist of people being considered to play one of these roles. So, that was amazing; and then, that I was being offered the role, it was a little bit scary because I felt just the importance of these characters. And it was a character that I had never really even gotten a chance to audition for. Someone so rich and three-dimensional, and just so wound up and fly, but human. So, it was a bit scary at first to think, “Am I going to be able to bring justice to this character, to this person, and to these stories?” You know, as you do, you just kind of go through the fire, and then come out better on the other end.
Did you create any sort of backstory for her to fill out things for you?
Mishel Prada: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I started within my own life, and I had to do a lot of searching of, “Okay, well, what do I think I’ve moved past and need to readdress?” And that was kind of just a nugget of where that started. And then, kind of going from there and meshing Emma’s life, growing up in Boyle Heights, and putting herself through college, putting herself through grad school, and just kind of moving on and what that feels like. And then, Tanya and the writers’ room also already had a very rich and detailed backstory for their character. Tanya originally started as an actor, then she was a playwright. So, it was really great, because when you add these characters who have so much subtlety, and so much nuance that were just kind of already there, and then, just blended them into this tapestry of art and the characters.
How did you initially get the part?
Mishel Prada: So, I initially came in and read for Cruz, and I tested for Cruz, and Carmen Cuba, who is an incredible casting director, and loves actors, and is just a champion of really discovering actors, which is such a dream, and fearless in that way…
She does Stranger Things.
Mishel Prada: Yep, yep. She does Stranger Things, and she actually won an Emmy for casting Stranger Things, and she did Narcos. She’s done just a bunch of stuff. I mean, honestly, anything that that woman brings onto her roster is going to be really cool, and amazing, and even just what she did with that cast, really discovering a lot of people. She really believes in people, and is willing to risk championing actors that may or may not have had a lot of resume.
So, she’s amazing; and so, she sent out a call for a bunch of self-tapes, and we all put ourselves on tape, and it was kind of like, “Cool, I’m excited to even be auditioning for this.” And I got called in for a producer’s session and I met Tanya Saracho in the room, who I was already a fan of her as a playwright, and just as I was leaving… Normally, we’re told, “Okay, you do the audition, and then you just say, ‘thank you,’ and you walk out,” but I couldn’t really help myself. I was like, “You ladies are just an inspiration. Whether I go further on this role or not, I just want to thank you for what you women are doing for Latina women, and just for TV, in general.” I just could not be in a room with women that were doing something like that without just letting them know just how much that meant to me, and how important that was.
And I told my manager afterwards. He was like, “How did it go?” I’m like, “Oh, it went really great. It was really fun. Tanya and Carmen were really supportive, and it was just really fun,” and then I was like, “But I did say this one thing,” and he was like, “Oh, no!” And he was like, “Well, hopefully, that’s not a bad thing,” and it wasn’t. I mean, I got called back in to cast for the role, and then, acted in front of the network, went to a director session and then a chemistry read and then I didn’t get it. And I was like, “But I was so certain that I wasn’t going to be a part of this!”
And just kind of really brushed myself off, and I was like, “You know what? It’s great. I did my first test, and I’m going to honor that. I’m going to be excited that I got even that far to be a part of getting to be one of the last few chosen for something that I thought was so important and so special;” and then, a few days later, I got a call, and was told that I was going to be meeting with them again for a part as another series regular. It all happened really quickly over a weekend and then, in a matter of two days, I found out that I was going to be playing Emma and that in a week and a half we would start shooting!
And I was like, “Oh, wow! Okay!” So, it was just one of those things that you just don’t really know how the twist and the turns are going to take you there, but you just kind of have to trust that you can honor every step of the way. Even getting auditions is a big deal, and then, getting brought back in a callback is a big deal, and testing all of that is just … I kind of really feel like it’s honoring every step, because we don’t really know where it’s going to end up.
There’s a lot of nudity in the show. Was there any hesitation to take the part because of that?
Mishel Prada: Uh, yeah! I think, as women, with nudity, we’ve been really taught, just with the way the status quo has been, we have to defend ourselves against being exploited. And then, there’s also the part where I think we’ve also been told so often by doing nudity, it almost cheapens you a little bit as an actor, and nobody really takes you seriously. And iIt dings your worth in the eyes of other people. There was something really incredible about this show, specifically, because it was a female showrunner. The heads of all the creative departments were women. There were so many women on set and it felt like we were telling a story that was really important for these characters, specifically. It was a story that has a very strong, brown, queer perspective. And then, also, for us, as actresses, not being scared, and just shedding this idea that, somehow nudity means that you’re not a great actor, or that it means that people aren’t going to respect you as much, or it’s something to be ashamed of.
And that was a big revelation for each of us. And then, Tanya really gave us the reigns when it came to any of the scenes with nudity. If there was anything that we weren’t comfortable with, we had every opportunity and every voice to say, “I’m not down with this. I’m not feeling good about this.” There was always a conversation. There was always a rehearsal before, so we knew exactly what we were getting into before we had to shoot; and also, we have just so many women around that it never really felt like we were being exploited. I mean, there were times that I even … Things that I didn’t consider nudity … Butts. I didn’t think that that was nudity, and people were coming in, and they were like, “Hey, we want to make sure that you’re okay with that, because that’s ending up on camera,” and the producers really looking out for us more than we were even realizing.
So, it felt very safe, and very comfortable. And, you know, the first scenes are always … You’re a bit bashful, and then, by the end of it, you’re like, “Ah, I don’t need a robe between sets. We’re fine.”
I also think, for Emma’s storyline, specifically, it was really important to show queer sex in this way, because we don’t really get to show female nudity and female sexuality through a female gaze, and what that looks like. So, it really felt like we were part of something that was changing the game, and changing the way that those things are shot. So, it ended up being bigger than us. Like, at some point, you have to bend, and use specifically your insecurities, and give yourself into something that is greater than what you are.
You grew up in Miami. What made you take that jump to move to L.A.? Because that’s a brave thing to do.
Mishel Prada: Yeah, I was a chicken. I didn’t really make the jump. I came here on vacation for about a month, and then just kept extending it. And then, went back home for a few weeks, and then it was like, “Yeah, I think I’m going to go back to L.A.” And I just kind of kept bouncing back and forth, and wasn’t really completely set on “this is what I’m going to do, and this is how I’m going to do it! Yeah!” There was a lot of insecurity and a lot of uncertainty involved. A lot of fear to just commit to this idea of moving to L.A., and it was just one of those things where I just found myself continually coming back and not leaving.
And I had a friend who had a commercial agent, and I got a commercial agent, and started working commercially, and so, there was that, where I was making money off of commercials and print jobs. But then, having a friend call me out who was an actor that I would always help him with his auditions, and, when he’d book things, help him read lines, and all that stuff, and he was pretty straightforward with me, being like, “Uh, you need to just commit to doing this, because this is something that you really want, but you just keep kind of skirting in and out of it, because you’re scared.”
And so, I was a little annoyed at first, and then I thought about it. I’m like, “Damn, you’re right,” and I did it. And it was really that fear of being, “Oh, another actress in L.A. Oh, yeah.” Because everybody feels that way until you book things that people recognize and then, all of a sudden, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, you are an actor!” And it’s like, “No, you know what? I’m an actor, whether I’m working or not. It’s something that I love, and it’s something that I’m working on.”
That, “Oh, what are you doing? Have you done anything lately?” And you’re just like, “Ugh, leave me alone!” Yeah.
Mishel Prada: Yeah, and then feeling like your self-worth is attached to the jobs that you’re booking, and that’s discouraging. Especially now, in this day and age, you can make your own YouTube channel. You can write your own stuff. You can create your own content. More than ever, as actors, we have the power. We can create our own audience. We can reach a fan base directly, and there’s so much power in that, and I think that that’s really where I found a lot of solace and strength in that. And looking at what was going on for our generation, and where we are now, I didn’t need someone to hire me to be an actor. I could create my own stuff, and that was really, really powerful.
That’s such a good thing to say. What has been your worst audition?
Mishel Prada: Oh, my god. I will tell you what my worst audition was. So, I did a video game audition that I had no idea what I was going in for. I had to scream, and then get on the floor and cry and it was all this stuff going on. I was like, “I don’t fully understand why I’m doing any of this,” but all I know is that I just went for it, and I was just throwing myself on the floor, and I was army-crawling, and crying. At some point, I was like, “This is going really bad, so I’m going to let it go really bad.” And I finished, and it was just dead silence, and I was just kind of mortified, and I looked at them and I said, “And I will see myself out. Thank you very much.” And I just walked out of there and I went back into the car and just cried, but I would not let them see me cry. I was like, “What was that? Why did I do that?”
But it was just going so bad that I was like, “You know what? It’s going bad, I’m going to take control of and this is going to be the worst audition these people have ever seen.”
Well, at least you were number one!
Mishel Prada: Yeah, no, totally! I’m like, “I’m going to give them a story!”