We have always admired Francia Raisa and her dedication to her craft. When the opportunity came up to speak to the talented and versatile performer exclusively, we lunged at the opportunity. What surprised us the most about Raisa was how we fell into such an easy rapport with her over the phone when she opened up about her experience on Freeform and ABC Spark’s Grown-ish as Ana Torres, as well as Life-Size 2, hosting the red carpet at the Golden Globes, and her work on the Mendez v. Westminster desegregation story (a feature film she is producing). Also, she taught me the meaning of a “finsta”.
The following a condensed and edited version of our informative and exclusive chat with Francia Raisa of Grown-ish.
Brief Take: I thought you were such a delight hosting the red carpet at the recent Golden Globes! What did you learn from that experience?
Francia Raisa: Being able to say “uhh, go back, I forgot my lines, what’s the line?”, you can’t do that, it’s on the fly! I was very nervous, but it was a lot of fun. I have to give props to my co-host Rasha Goel, who took the ropes for me because I was very nervous and she was trying to have me introduce, say goodbye, I was like “Rasha, I’ve never done this before, please please please please you do it”. [laughs] It was nice. It was cool to reunite with some of my friends, like Gina Rodriguez, it was a nice surprise because I didn’t tell her I was going to be there. I actually got to hold a Golden Globe trophy, which I just held and manifested, and it was really a great way to start the year.
BT: What was it like when Rami Malek didn’t remember that you’d worked together on Over There? I thought you handled it very gracefully.
FR: I knew he wouldn’t recognize me, because I was 16 at the time and mind you, I was wearing a hijab over my head. So he just knew my 16-year-old no makeup face. So I didn’t expect him to recognize me—at all. I told the producer that I had worked with him when I was 16, it was my very first acting job. I thought it would be a fun little moment because I remember thinking back then ‘I know he’s going to make it so far’. I remember him preparing for his role and he was so sweet to me. Because not only did I have a hijab, but at the time I had a burlap sack over my face because I was getting kidnapped. And he constantly checked on me. I was getting stuff in my eyes and he was so sweet in between takes. So I thought it would be a fun moment, like “hey, look how far we’ve gone and how long has it been, 12, 13 years?” So yeah [laughs] I think he was over it after a while, like “you planned this”, but it was a fun little reunion. I had a really good time, and it was planned! So sorry, Rami!
BT: You’ve got an incredible memory to remember how he was sweet to you 13 years ago.
FR: You know, what’s funny about that is when I saw Mr. Robot, I was watching it and was like “Gosh, this guy looks really familiar!”. I didn’t remember him, actually. I did a deep dive myself on IMDb and I was like “Oh my gosh, he was my brother, that’s why I know him”. So I’ve just kind of been following his career, but thank you for the compliment!
BT: Who are some collaborators that have inspired you?
FR: Every time I set foot on a set, I always meet someone great. I’ve been very, very lucky. I hear horror stories about some sets and honestly, I’ve never experienced that—everyone with whom I’ve worked has been open and helpful, and we all have the same goal – which is to make a good project and have the best time. I know that there are a lot of directors on Grown-ish that I’ve worked with that I hope to do so again. You know what? I did a couple of episodes of Dear White People and the director, Steven Tsuchida, he came on to do an episode of Grown-ish, and coincidentally came on to do Life-Size 2. He is such an awesome mentor and a great director. The directing bug didn’t bite me until I did Life-Size 2. He pulled me aside and said “You know what? This is something that you should really think about doing”. Each producer as well as actor has been so incredible to have as a mentor on set or help guide me as I have grown in my career.
BT: Wasn’t it great to hear Life-Size 2 received a nom for a GLAAD Award?!
FR: I did not expect that at all! That was so awesome. I thought it was done last year, like okay the movie happened, everyone loved it, yay! So it was a really nice surprise, I feel very honoured. I hope I can go!
BT: It was refreshing to see the integrated but subtle queer content in the film like when Grace assumes that her and Tyra Banks’ Eve hooked up.
FR: That was Tyra’s idea and I really appreciated it. Growing up in this generation, it was so normal to me like “yeah, a one night stand, what’s the problem?” It didn’t even register. I’m glad that it was received so well because that is life today.
BT: I happen to like pineapple on pizza. But like your character Ana, you hate it and had a spit bucket nearby during the filming of that episode of Grown-ish?
FR: I hate pineapple so much. When they wrote that, I was like “guys, I’m not going to be acting. I really don’t like this”. Not only that, but I don’t eat pork any more and there was ham on it, and I did not chew. There were a couple of times when they didn’t call “cut” right away, and of course Trevor being Aaron Jackson was like “C’mon Ana, chew it! Hold it in there!”
BT: A bit of a new surprise couple alert for Ana and Aaron as well.
FR: Yeah, I was very shocked because of course I said: “Wait, what about Zoey (Yara Shahidi)? This is breaking ‘girl code’!” So I understand when audiences say that, but as we see in upcoming episodes, there is a breakdown of ‘what is girl code?’. We obviously all have our opinions on it, but we definitely talk about it in an episode.
BT: What was it like for you to go back to school as someone who understands the experience?
FR: It’s really cool that I understand it because I am a lot older than everyone else and, what, 12 years older than my character? So it’s nice being on the other side and reliving the moment. But as an older person being on the show, I’m just really shocked at some of the terms, like I didn’t know what a finsta was.
BT: A finsta?
FR: It’s a private Instagram page. A lot of people have it apparently, I don’t know, I don’t have one, but I learned about that. And we have an episode in which Zoey is reading her diary, and she talks about being 12 and having a crush on a guy and how he had the best Vine she’s ever seen, and I had a moment in which I was like “wow, that’s real. That’s the generation now in which you are younger and you think about Vine videos”. I didn’t grow up with social media, so I think it was a shock to me to see kids are dating and having crushes, because back in my day, we were passing notes. And that’s not what happens any more. [laughs] Phones were not allowed in school, and I learned a lot of lingo with everyone.
BT: What do you feel comfortable sharing and what do you prefer to stay private?
FR: You know what? I tend to be very private. I’ve had a few people have conversations with me regarding that, because they’re like: “you have a platform to share things”. Here’s the thing: I understand that I have a platform and there are a lot of things about which I’m willing to talk, because I’m ready to talk about them and things that I’m not looking to talk about because it’s still something that I’m dealing with. I want to respect that about myself. I think that back in the day, especially when social media first started becoming very popular, I felt like I was forced to do it. And so I tried in every way, shape and form in which I felt comfortable, but ultimately I was raised in a generation in which you keep your stuff private, and now it’s almost celebrated to be more open. And the more open you are, the more popular you get, the more job opportunities you get, and so I don’t want to feed into that pressure—I really value privacy. A lot. So when I am willing to talk about things, if it means something to my fans, or I’m really trying to spread a message, I will, but other than that, I like to keep it to myself. We do have to be really open with our jobs but we’re still human. We still have to deal with a lot of trauma for which we personally encounter. And if we’re not ready to share, that’s okay!
BT: What do you feel comfortable sharing about your Mendez v. Westminster project?
FR: So this is the thing: producing was something which I was always interested in, but I wanted the right project. And I found this—my boyfriend actually sent me the link to an article about Sylvia Mendez, who’s currently travelling the world and going from college to college telling her parents’ story. She was a child when this happened, and I was five years old when my mom tried to enroll me into school and I was rejected—because I couldn’t speak English. And you can tell when it has to do with your skin colour— like you can just tell. It was discrimination for sure—my mom said they didn’t even give her the time of day, they just asked if I could speak English, and then they said “goodbye”. We didn’t know that that was illegal back then. And so years later, my mom is telling me the story, I drive by that school sometimes because it was in the Valley, and that story came across and I was like “huh”. I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m very spiritual and God is not wasteful. The opportunity came to me and so I reached out to Sylvia Mendez, multiple times, so she finally took a meeting with me. And I just poured my heart out to her and said “this story needs to be told”, because in a sense, history’s starting to repeat itself. I was five years old, so this happened in the ’90s. This case happened in the 1940’s, just after World War II, I was like “people need to know this!”. It was a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education. I feel like it is very important, especially right now, that the Latino community knows that we are a part of American history—a huge part of American history. So we’re working very closely with the family. I am very very specific with who I bring on board to work on this project because you really want it to be authentic, and respect and honour the legacy that their parents put onto us.
BT: How do you balance your personal beliefs against playing Ana on Grown-ish?
FR: Very very interesting to me. I grew up Catholic, so that side of her I understood. I’m glad I grew up that way because it was easier for me to take on the role. We have not yet dove into Ana’s beliefs, except that she is very much conservative, Republican, I think the one issue was gun control that we really touched upon against which Ana was very adamant. And honestly, I did a lot more research about it, so I’ve come to a place in which—you might not agree with someone, there are so many people that I love that are so far right and I don’t agree with it, but I can respect it. I’m learning that with all relationships—you can disagree with it, but at least respect their views. I just have to come to terms with that. While maybe I don’t agree with what Ana is saying, I have to respect where she is coming from. Because that’s the way she was raised, everything her family went through, fleeing Cuba and heading to Miami, I have to come to that kind of peace. Which has helped me a lot actually.
BT: What is the most important thing to be done in this moment in history?
FR: Honestly, [sighs] it’s crazy to me because I guess a lot of what’s out there right now tapped in with so many people unfortunately, and we have someone that’s bringing that out. It’s really uniting a lot of the Latino community right now. To be honest, it’s not like we were separated, but there was so many different kinds of Latinos in our world—there’s Mexicans, there’s a Morenos, there’s a Salvadorans, there’s Puerto Ricans, and this, right now, is really uniting us and making us stand our ground, and speaking up for those that can’t speak up for themselves. So I think that the more that we do that—the more that we speak out, the more that we really hold hands, it will definitely help move to the direction in which we are all hoping to move. This definitely woke us up. Me personally? I didn’t pay attention that much until our current president. I did not. And this really puts a fire under my ass to be honest, as it does with a lot of people. I try to see the positive in everything—obviously I’m very frustrated, obviously I’m very angry. Just a couple of days ago, he was saying a lot of things about my family that are not true. And I’m very offended, but again it just unites us more, so for that I am thankful because we are all standing together and holding hands.
Grown-ish airs on Wednesdays at 8pm E/P on Freeform