Melissa Barrera on ‘Vida’, Saying Goodbye With Season 3, and Making ‘In the Heights’

     May 31, 2020

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From show creator Tanya Saracho, the third and final season of Vida sees sisters Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera) proud of their success, as their bar and their love lives seem to be on track and going well. But leave it to the drama that runs through their family to cause disruption and lead them to discover a long buried family secret that could either ruin everything or bring them closer together than ever.

During a virtual press day for Vida Season 3, Barrera spoke to Collider in a 1-on-1 interview about everything from saying goodbye to her character and mourning the end of the series to how much she’s changed since the beginning of Vida to working on the movie musical In the Heights, and much, much more.

COLLIDER: This is one of those shows that’s hard to say goodbye to, and it will definitely leave an ache in the heart, once the final episode has aired. Was it hard for you to say goodbye to this character and this world? Did you go through a mourning period, at all?

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Image via Starz

MELISSA BARRERA: Actually now that I think about it, I did go through a mourning period. At first, when (show creator) Tanya [Saracho] told us that it was gonna be the last season, of course, I was sad, but then I was like, “You know what? I don’t wanna get sad just yet ‘cause you still have to shoot it, and I wanna savor every moment that we get, shooting this last season.” We all talked about it and were like, “We’re gonna make the most of this and have so much fun.” Every weekend, we would plan things to be with each other. It was beautiful. And then, after it was over, we just kept partying. It was all of us being in denial. We didn’t want it to end. We just wanted to keep celebrating instead. I think that was the mourning period for us. But you still have to do ADR, you still have to do press, and it still has to come out. It doesn’t feel like it’s really, really over, just yet. I’m still holding on to every last thread that I can. I think it’ll probably hit me when the last episode airs.

How do you feel that this show most changed you, as a person and as an actress? Do you feel like it really had an effect on you?

BARRERA: Yeah, it definitely did. I feel like I’m another human being now. Three years later, after three seasons shooting this show and being Lyn, I am changed. I’m completely changed, in a lot of ways. Personally, I learned a lot. I learned a lot about who I am, and I learned a lot about the things that I’m capable of doing and the risks that I’m capable of taking, as an actress, and also, the kind of projects that I want to keep doing, moving forward. I feel like I came into my own, during these three years. This show taught me a lot about the industry and about our community in the industry, and the needs that we still have. I’m excited because we have three amazing seasons that I’m super proud of, and it was like a launch pad for all of us. Now, we’re gonna move on and we’re going to continue the legacy that Tanya started, we’re gonna keep telling stories that elevate and celebrate our people, and keep giving opportunities to our community.

You’ve really owned these characters, and it’s been nice to see the progression between the writers pushing the actors with the material, and the actors really pushing themselves.

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Image via Starz

BARRERA: We were very fortunate. It was like all of the stars aligned for us. With a great writer and a great writers’ room, it makes the job of the actors way easier and much more enjoyable, too. As an actor, you always dream of having these really nuanced and complicated characters, and feeding more life into them and adding layers to them. When you have good writing, it just makes the job easier, so we’re very lucky. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve spent three years with the same character. It’s a little painful to say goodbye because it feels like Lyn became a little bit of me, and I became a little bit of Lyn. It’s like breaking up with someone. It hurts, but I learned a lot, and I keep what I learned, along with the people that I met and who are now my family that I love.

Did this season, in particular, feel like their own love story, and an exploration of whether or not they will truly be able to come together, as a family, and decide what’s important to them, or whether they’re better off parting ways and going it alone?

BARRERA: Yes. It’s a love story of sisters. That’s what it this show is. I love that, even though they each have their personal relationships, in reality, the conflict is always between them and that’s who’s moving forward to stay together.

It certainly seems like they had to really grow on their own, in order for them to recognize that with each other, especially considering how different they are.

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Image via Starz

BARRERA: Yeah, and I think it’s a beautiful thing. When you’re an adult and you’re having relationships, and you’re focusing your energy on your partner, that can either be very great, or it can drain you and be awful and people get heartbroken. But with family, you don’t really think about it too much. You’re like, “Oh, they’re there, and I love them. And yes, we talk and it’s cool. We get along, and that’s awesome.” But you don’t really think about the depth of our relationship with a sibling. That happens with Lyn and Emma. They don’t really think about their relationship. They’re like, “We don’t get along. We’ve never gotten along. We’re so different.” They don’t really stop and think, “What would I do, if I didn’t have this human being in my life?” That’s a realization that they come to, in this third season. They need each other and they’re the most important thing in each other’s lives. They give themselves to that space, finally.

What’s it been like for you to have Mishel Prada as your co-star, throughout this journey? The two of you are the heart of this show, so what was it like to know that the other one would always be there, when you came back for each season?

BARRERA: It’s been amazing. Mishel and I are really became sisters. We are sisters now, for life. It’s been a beautiful thing to go through, these three years with her, because we really were there for each other, off set, too. Whenever she was having a hard time with something, we would talk about it, and whenever was having a hard time with something, we would talk about it. She was my go to person, and I was hers. That kind of support is rare. That’s why the relationship between the sisters is so compelling and so believable. We actually love each other, in real life, and we know that we have each other’s back, no matter what.

Do you feel like, by the end of this season, Lyn just might end up being okay? Now that she’s been able to become a little more self-reflective, do you feel like she has enough of a sense of herself that she’s actually found a sense of purpose, as well?

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Image via Starz

BARRERA: Yeah, I think she does. For the first time in her life, she’s fighting for something. At the end of this third season, she’s fighting for her life, and she knows that her life is her sister. That’s it. Even though we see her relationship with Johnny come to a closure, that’s not the end for her. The end is with her sister. I feel like she’s finally coming into a place where she knows what her priorities are. She knows what’s important in her life, and she’s gonna fight for it. And so, I would imagine that, if we were to continue on in Season 4, it would be very nice to see the sisters try to have more of a loving and supportive relationship with each other.

The last time I spoke to you, last season, you were rehearsing for the In the Heights film. You’ve since shot and finished the film, and the trailer is absolutely gorgeous. Had you gotten to see the finished film, before the release date got pushed due to COVID-19?

BARRERA: Yes, I saw it. It wasn’t the finished cut. It wasn’t the last final cut, but it was close to being done. I saw it, and it was overwhelming. It was so beautiful and shocking, to see it all come together, and how beautiful it turned out, how emotional it is, how moving and celebratory of our culture it is. It’s everything that I could have dreamed of. It’s beautiful, and I’m so excited to share it with the world, whenever that time comes.

What were the biggest challenges in pulling off a movie musical, especially on such a large scale?

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Image via Starz

BARRERA: It’s crazy. I’ve done theater before, and you rehearse for a month, and then you do a run. You have so many shows that, as you move on in the run, you learn and you get better and you come into your character more. With movie, you don’t have that run. You rehearse and rehearse, and you have a few tries to get it right, but then it’s gonna be there forever, and that was nerve-wracking for me. That was the thing that I was nervous about because it’s a movie that the world is gonna see, and I get one chance to get it. I didn’t think about the difficulty of the process because I was unfamiliar with making a movie musical. This was my first movie musical, so I was new to it. And then, I realized that it’s just like shooting a movie, except that you’re singing and dancing. It’s the exact same process. It’s just way more fun ‘cause there’s always music playing on set. It’s like a party, every day, and that’s amazing. And you get much more rehearsal time. At least we got 10 weeks of rehearsal, which I appreciated greatly because there are so many dance numbers and the choreography was so hard that we really needed that time. I needed that time, at least.

Since Vida, your career has really been taking off, in a big way. How does that feel, on a personal level? Is that something that motivates you, even more?

BARRERA: Yes. I’m so motivated right now, more than ever. I’m excited about the future and the endless possibilities. I’m excited for the world to see In the Heights. I’m excited to go on and shoot Carmen. I decided to start producing because I realized that I need to not just wait for things to come to me, but I need to be pro-active and I need to create material, too. I’ve been doing that, and I feel like this is the beginning. If this were a book of my life, this is Chapter 3, and I have 20 chapters to go.

Carmen is a re-imagining of a classic story. What is it that most excites you about that, and what makes you nervous about it?

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Image via Starz

BARRERA: Carmen is a project that’s very close to my heart because I’ve been involved in the process, since the beginning. I was the first one on, and I’ve seen the script and story change a lot. Working with (director) Benjamin [Millepied], as a choreographer, he’s brilliant. People don’t know how much of a visionary he is, with photographer and his films that he’s done. He’s done a bunch of short films, and he’s so brilliant that I’m excited because I feel like the language of the film is gonna be so unique and something that has never been seen before. People think it’s gonna be just another musical, and a lot of people were telling me, “You shouldn’t go and do another musical after In the Heights. You don’t wanna put yourself in a box.” I’m like, “First of all, no one told Judy Garland to not do another movie musical, so shut up. And this is a completely different world.” This is more of a tragedy with music. There’s a lot of dancing in it and a lot of movement, but not in the traditional Broadway musical way. It’s feels more organic. And Carmen is an actual dancer. She doesn’t break out into song and dance. She’s an actual performer. It’s a different vibe. I’m very excited because it’s the story of an immigrant. It’s the story of a woman that crosses the border, fleeing her hometown because she’s in danger, and the man that goes after her, the border patrol agent, ends up falling in love with her. We’ve seen the crossing of the border story so much, especially in the last few years, because everyone wants to talk about it, with what’s going on and in real life, but no one’s seen it in a musical way and in a romantic way. Sometimes you just need to find a new way into the story to get through to people. So, I’m excited because this is a character that’s gonna challenge me, and I’m also excited about the message behind it, and shedding light on why the people that cross the border do it and what they’re running from.

Vida series finale airs tonight, Sunday, May 31, on Starz.

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