Starz’s comedy and drama series, Vida, about two Mexican-American siblings living in Los Angeles premiered the last episode of its final season back in May. Having run for three seasons, Vida centers around two estranged sisters brought together in their old hometown after a death in their family where they learn that they’ve inherited a bar. Playing the older sister, Emma Hernandez, is Mishel Prada, an American actress. Beginning to pursue professional acting in her early 20s, Prada landed her first leading role on The Walking Dead spinoff web series, Fear the Walking Dead: Passage.
“I hadn’t had a ton of credits, but I was still auditioning a bunch,” Prada says, looking back on what drew her to the show and the character of Emma. “I hadn’t seen a show like this, so I was so excited to even get to watch it. Getting to play someone that’s not just Latinx and queer, but a businesswoman, a daughter, and a sister…all of those things that make you a full person. Like, yes you can be queer, yes you can be Latinx, but those are not the most interesting things about you. So getting to be able to bring a character like that to life was exciting because we’re so many things as human beings and a lot of times we get pigeonholed into one thing. You’re either the queer character or the Latina character, but getting to kind of explore all of that through one person the way that we are in life. What is there not to get drawn into playing something like that?”
Prada recognises that a show like this with many representations of minority groups is part of a much larger picture. “We’re being looked at as whole people, you know, with hopes and dreams just like everybody else,” she adds. “It feels great to be part of something that is much bigger.”
At the brink of the premiere of the last episode, the murder of George Floyd shook the world to its core and started a movement for racial justice that spread like wildfire. “On a very personal level, I am a child of Caribbean immigrants and a descendant of Colonisers,” Prada says. “I have African and Indigenous ancestors, so I’m also peeling into the beautiful and painful layers that exist within my own body and my experiences.”
Mishel Prada continues, “I am doing my best to support and amplify the voices of people that have been doing the hard work of movement for years before this specific moment. People like Ashlee Marie Preston, Nelini Stamp, Maurice Moe Mitchel just to name a few. I truly believe that it is long overdue to look at white supremacy squarely in the face and dare to see yourself reflected back. Though white privilege does not erase the ways many of us in the non-Black Latinx community have been marginalised, it’s important for us to acknowledge that yes, one can hold white privilege and not be white. Whether we choose to accept it or not, we live in a system that specifically extends benefit to individuals based on their proximity and usefulness to white dominant culture. This is a fundamental truth of living in America. Addressing this truth is the first step to create meaningful change. We have to start within ourselves. I have.”
Set in East L.A., Vida has covered a lot of important topics such as immigration, LGBTQIA+, gentrification, feminism, and more. Formed by Tanya Saracho, who brought together a Latinx writer’s room, included women of colour and queer women of colour to be a part of the show and behind the scenes. Prada as well as the rest of the cast have not only gained acting experience, but also life lessons that are invaluable. She says, “The show created a really fertile ground to nurture talent and I’m excited to see some of the writers go on to become showrunners. It feels like a really powerful time for us to be able to kind of go on and transition into other things.”
In season three, the show focused on a bar that the two sisters inherit as well as their childhood and family. Prada reflects, “Emma has gone through so much of her life surviving and finding a way to stand on her own two feet, and that has been what has gotten her up to the ranks of the business world and also get another chance to come back to her hometown that didn’t accept her. She was told that she doesn’t belong there anymore because she left and isn’t like everyone else anymore. They’re telling her that she’s not queer enough, that she’s not Latin enough. So I’m excited for people to see what happens when Emma lets that go. There’s an opportunity for her to transition into something greater and find strength and vulnerability and in turn, letting go. I’m excited for them to get to see a woman progressing that way.”
The last episode ends on an ambiguous note, at one point Emma says “I’ve never not had a plan,” and that stuck with Prada. She explains, “[My character is] someone who has gotten to very powerful places personally and professionally in the world by having a plan. What does it look like to feel strong enough to not have a plan? So I don’t know where she’ll go. And as we finish that last episode, you see the two sisters alone on the street walking. They’ve had this kind of epic moment. I feel like they were trying to find themselves in other things and somehow they found each other. It took three seasons for them to get there, but it’s a beautiful moment.”
As she looks back on the show now, she feels “hopeful and proud.” “Three seasons of a show is a victory”, Prada tells us, “And it’s something that we’re really proud of. Of course, we’re going to mourn the end of it, but to create a beginning you have to create an end.”
It was during quarantine that Prada purchased her first TV; prior to this, she’s only ever watched on her computer or in hotel rooms when she had the chance. One of the first shows she watched was the first season of Riverdale, a show she’s currently a part of. Prada plays Hermosa Lodge, long lost half-sister of Veronica Lodge from Hiram Lodge’s side. Hermosa is a private investigator who grew up in Miami in secret before coming to Riverdale in season 4.
A huge fan of the Archie comics and as a child, Prada tells us how she once collected them. “When Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and the writer’s room created this character, it was just so dreamy because my 12-year-old self was jumping out of my skin to get to be part of this comic book world that I connected with so much as a child,” she says. “I love what they’re doing. It’s so much darker and stylised, and so much fun. I love how that shows takes risks in a way that some people would shy away from and it just makes it a lot more fun to be a part of.”
Comparing it to Vida and playing Emma, Prada finds that Emma is someone who is challenging to play, but one that Prada understands. Playing Hermosa has been a lot different than that. She adds, “Getting to come on a show that is so stylised with these noir vibes, and getting to kind of explore playing your character in this hyper-reality, it was just really fun. I love working with Camilla Mendes, and Mark Consuelos and Marisol Nichols, that’s my family on the show and they’ve just been so welcoming. It’s just such a fun, fun group of actors to get to play with.”