The season-three premiere of Vida did not go as planned. No glitzy red carpet with cameras and shouting fans. No group hugs between cast members celebrating what is to be the show’s final season. But by no means was it any less memorable or special. Series star Mishel Prada recounts the “odd but beautiful” evening to me from the confines of her Los Angeles home, where she is currently in quarantine, and it may or may not have involved Zoom, wild “queerceañera” outfits, and lots of shots. The party must go on, after all, and boy is there much to celebrate.
Vida is a show about Latinos by Latinos, a rarity in Hollywood, and across its successful three-year run, it has broken down barriers and brought queer Latinx narratives to the forefront, earning the series both critical praise and a GLAAD Media Award. It also happens to be Prada’s first-ever TV show and, as she describes it, her “first love,” one that allowed her to be part of the storytelling and that gave her agency to explore herself as a Latina woman and taught her to speak up about what she is and isn’t willing to do on camera. And then there were the great fashion moments that came along with it, like a Lunya washable silk pajama set, which she admits she took home from the wardrobe department, and the power of Réalisation’s infamous leopard skirt, a long-in-the-works moment that finally took place this season. And if I’ve learned anything watching the actress on screen and chatting with her on the phone, it’s that Vida may be nearing its end, but Prada, who has her sights set on producing and writing next, isn’t going anywhere.
Ahead, I talk to Prada about what she is taking away (literally and figuratively) from the show that kick-started her acting career, the brilliant “nap dress” find that is getting her through quarantine, and what’s on the docket next. Keep reading for our exclusive interview.
How have you been?
I think it’s really been a reminder of the fantasy that we live in thinking that every day goes as planned, but the reality is nothing is certain, nothing is set in stone, and the best thing that we can do is go with what we are presented with and learn and grow from it. The last few years of my life since Vida have been so much about work and travel and interviews and whatnot, and then suddenly getting a chance to just sit with myself and check in and realize where my anxiety is coming from or where my joy is coming from and that you can find all of that within yourself has been a really wild time. I’m sure [it has been] for everybody just to have that. I’m blessed that I get to stay home, and I have a house, and I can take care of my family. In the grander scheme of things, all the people who are still working and who are sitting on the frontlines of making sure that our society stays healthy and sane is wild when you think about it.
What has life in quarantine been like for you?
I was really keeping count there for a while, but now it’s like, is it Tuesday? I used to cook a lot. I actually love to cook. I used to run a pop-up restaurant with a friend of mine in Downtown L.A. It was something that I always did because I enjoyed it, and then I booked Vida and Riverdale, and my life became very much about acting. So it’s been a nice moment, especially in that first month, for me, being able to be back in my space and cook again. I live with my sister, and that’s been really nice too. We are normally running around, I’m traveling, she’s going to work and to school, and now we are really getting the opportunity to just be sisters in the same state together and to get to know each other as adults, which has been really good. I’m also taking the opportunity to write.
The third and final season of Vida premiered last month. This must be a bittersweet moment for you.
It’s kind of beautiful how strange it is because we had planned on having a really fun premiere and giving this last season a really beautiful send-off together, being able to hold each other and hug and celebrate three seasons of a show like this, and that didn’t happen. So cut to us at the premiere all on a Zoom call dressed in our queerceañera outfits and taking shots together. I will say this is the most memorable premiere I will ever have in my career because of something like that. Even though it didn’t feel like the most ideal situation, it ended up having this odd beauty to it because we are all experiencing something very strange together and celebrating in a way that we wouldn’t have normally expected to, yet we were still finding a way to be together. It was odd, but like I said, very beautiful.
Vida put a queer female Latinx narrative at the forefront, which is so rare to see in Hollywood and earned the series a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comedy last year. What have been some of the most rewarding moments for you working on this show?
Truly getting to talk to fans and constantly being overwhelmed with this love and this kinship with the communities that have felt seen and have been given a voice and then also people who aren’t from the community who are getting this invitation to experience this love letter to Los Angeles and to America. It’s something that I really feel connects us in our humanity. You may not get an invitation to someone’s living room in Boyle Heights or someone’s inter-family drama in Boyle Heights, but with this show, you are able to get even just a glimpse of what this version of that looks like. I love even that the Spanish, which is really Spanglish, isn’t translated [in the show] because that’s how it would be if you were in someone’s house. It really brings you into it, and it’s been so rewarding to be a part of that.
You and Melissa Barrera were both Hollywood newcomers when you were cast in Vida. How has your friendship grown outside of the series?
You know, I’ve said before that I came in with a job and I left with a family. I love seeing the seeds that have sprouted on this show because I know that even though it’s the end of the series, it is going to continue as a family. We are going to probably keep hanging out. We all got tattoos at the end of the first season on Chelsea [Rendon’s] bed in her house, and it’s just stuff like that. We have a group chat where we are texting each other all the time and sending each other things.
I think with my relationship with Melissa, I know that I could not have done what I did without the support of her and feeling really safe in those spaces. Because the reality is there was a lot that felt really scary. I mean, you are opening yourself up emotionally. I’m learning everything that I’ve learned about being on a TV show on that show and really feeling that support. I am just so excited to see where both of us are going to grow next in our careers and knowing that I’ll always have her support and she will always have mine.
What are you going to miss most about playing Emma Hernandez?
It’s almost like I don’t know yet. You always remember your first love, and Vida has been my first love. This character has allowed me to explore myself, not only as a woman but as a Latina woman, and to really understand to have agency over yourself in that way. And I know that when it comes down to it, that is something that I’m really going to carry with me and hopefully take even further throughout my career and, most importantly, throughout my life. Sometimes those breakups don’t really come around until a year later, and it’s like, I really miss that thing.
The show is filmed all over East Los Angeles. Can you give us an insider’s guide to the best local spots?
Yeah! I mean El Mercadito is one of the best shops in Boyle Heights. Truly, there is a lot that I really love about that neighborhood, but Chelsea Rendon, who plays Mari, grew up going to El Mercadito and getting elotes from this one stand and one lady, so at the end of one of the first days of shooting, that’s where we went, El Mercadito, and we got the elotes, and we just sat in the parking lot eating them, and it’s just so vibrant and colorful and so very true to what it is. That to me is quintessential Boyle Heights.
When I first moved to L.A., I had a hard time adjusting to just being here. I had a friend that was like, Go eat. You will like it. So I got in the car crying and pretty much drove until it made sense to stop, and when I stopped, it was this taco stand, and I remember looking around and saying, wow, this actually feels really good. I feel really good here, and this reminds me of home, in a way. Little did I know that however many years later I would be on a show that takes place in that one place that really gave me that sense of comfort, which is this beautiful serendipitous moment.
I want to talk about the fashion on the show. Emma’s style tends to be a bit more polished and buttoned-up. Would you say Emma’s style or Lyn’s style resonates more with you?
I definitely had a Lyn moment because I used to tour with my ex-boyfriend’s band, and they were like this hippie indie rock band. But you know what, I did take home quite a bit of Emma’s clothes after last season. If it’s one or the other, definitely Emma. What I like about her personal style is it evolves. When I talk about it with Hannah [Jacobs], who is our wardrobe person on Vida, Emma grew up watching a lot of TV and film because a lot of kids of single parents get raised in that way, and we have that in her backstory, so we would ask, what would she get her style inspiration from? Emma is also very practical, so you notice she wears the same cut of dress, and yet it will be in like three different colors, and she will wear it throughout all three seasons. It’s like oh, I found this dress that works, so she is obviously going to buy every color of that silhouette and just throw it on. And then you get to see the moments where you can tell she probably shopped for that, like when she goes to the warehouse party in season two. She didn’t own that look; she definitely went and bought that to look cute for Nico. Little moments like that were really fun where we got to play with a little bit of a departure of what she might have brought with her compared to what she might have actually bought in those moments.
Do you have a favorite look of Emma’s from the series?
We actually, Hannah and I, were really keen to get leopard on Emma at some point. We were like, this is a classic print but still has a bit of a fashion edge to it, and we finally in season three, episode four, we got leopard on Emma, and it’s during a scene where they are doing this big queerceañera and everybody’s all costumed up, so this is her version of it. So we got that leopard Réalisation skirt that everybody was obsessed with maybe a few months or a year ago. We got that on Emma. It felt like a victory where it was like okay fine. We finally found the moment to warrant putting leopard on Emma.
If you could take one item from the Vida wardrobe department home, what would it be?
I took a few, but you know what, she has this washable silk pajama set. I think it’s Lunya, but that pajama silk set literally makes me feel like I’m an adult. I’m here for it, and I took that home last week.
Well, it’s perfect for these days when we are in the house a lot more!
Yes! I have been served these ads on Instagram by Hill House Home that have these napping dresses. And I was like oh yeah, that sounds exactly what my lifestyle in quarantine needs, a napping dress. It’s great because I can walk around my house in a cute dress that is essentially made of sheet fabric so I can feel like I’ve never left my bed.
Vida was your first TV show. After three seasons, how do you feel you have grown as an actress?
You know, one of the things that I really appreciate about my time on Vida is the fact that I have really been able to explore my boundaries. Vida is obviously a very sexy show, and nudity isn’t something for myself that I really just want to do for everything. If it’s for a project that I’m excited about, and it makes sense, then I don’t have a problem with it at all. But realizing as the time went by and things got sexier, sometimes feeling like I don’t want to do this one and that's okay. I think sometimes, as women, we feel like well, I already said yes, so I need to continue saying yes. That for me, as an actress, was such a valuable place for me to be thinking, actually, you know what, I don’t feel comfortable even though I said yes these other times, and having a supportive situation on set. It is really wonderful to feel that that is okay and know that going forward, that is something I’m going to carry with me.
What kind of project would you like to tackle next?
My dream next thing is to produce something. I want to be part of extending what Vida has instilled in all of us as actors, which is the possibility of what can be. It’s such a beautiful agency that that gives you when you start to think, oh, it is actually possible to make things in a way that is done right, allowing us to tell our stories, allowing us to be a part of that, and also being able to give other people the opportunity to tell their stories and be a part of that as well. You know, a lot of people got their first big break on this show, so that was just a wonderful thing to be a part of, and then behind the scenes, a lot of directors got their first TV episodes on the show, writers got their first writing credits. I want to be part of continuing and having a hand in the narrative of what we’re doing because I really think that as a society, we all benefit from that type of storytelling.
You are a founding member of the female art collective Damarosa. Can you tell me a bit more about what that is?
One of my closest friends is an artist, and this is something I was invited to be part of because as actors, it’s a funny craft, right? Because as a painter, you can paint; as a writer, you can write; as a musician, you can play and write songs and make art; but as an actor, a lot of times it’s not you performing a monologue. It’s not really a singular craft. I’ve always felt it’s important for us to have whole lives and be filled with so many different types of creative outlets. So this is something my friend really wanted to do, and we all came together, a group of us, and would pick a literary work by a woman. The first issue, because we publish as a zine, was Little Birds, and the second was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and each person, each female artist would get a chapter, and we would have to interpret it with whatever our medium was, and it was really wonderful. We had our first showing on the Lower East Side [in New York] and the second one in Venice [California], and going in, you pretty much experience the book through each woman’s artistic medium. It was just a really wonderful way to not feel alone and feel like you are creating a creative collective not only with us in the modern world but connecting to women of the past who have inspired us.
Do you have a third one in the works?
You know, I would love to. It’s been a little quiet now, and we’ve been talking about doing something, but with the show and everything, things have been a little crazy. It’s always been in the back of my mind to get the band back together.
What is the first thing you want to do post-quarantine?
I don’t know, gosh. The reality of it is I get a little freaked out where I’ve become a super hermit, and I’m like is it really okay? Who says it’s okay? Honestly, hopefully, the first thing we’ll be able to do is get out and vote. I miss restaurants, and I miss bars, but I don’t know if I will feel comfortable to go. I would love to be able to just have people over for dinner.
Check out new episodes of Vida Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.
Photographer: Shane McCauley
Stylist: Monty Jackson
Hairstylist: Tiago Goya
Makeup Artist: Holly Silius