Starz’s new half hour drama Vida premieres this Sunday, May 6th. If you haven’t caught up with buzz yet, now is the time! We feel pretty confident that you’re going to love it.
￼Writer/Producer Tanya Saracho (Looking, How To Get Away with Murder) has crafted the kind of show that I’ve been waiting for years to come to us. She wanted an all-Latinx writers room — so, she made it happen. She wanted the writers to be heavily queer — so, she made it happen (50% of the writers identify as LGBTQ+). She wanted every director on the show to be either a woman of color or Latinx — so, she made it happen. From the bottom up, in every nook and cranny, this show was built with queer folks, Latinxs, and people of color in mind.
On top of all of that already amazing production news, Vida is just some really great television! It is moody, sultry, thoughtful, political, funny as hell, and addictive in all the best ways. It’s the exact kind of show you want going into your summer.
Vida explores the journey of two estranged Chicana sisters, Lyn and Emma, as they return home to their old neighborhood in East LA following their mother’s death. One of the sisters, Emma, is queer, but has a complicated relationship to her sexuality. Both sisters get a major surprise when they find out that for the last years of her life, their mother was married to a woman. Her widow is Eddy, the sensitive butch bar owner, a handyman stud with soft eyes and a big heart who is going to wrap you all around her pinkie finger.
Eddy’s portrayed by out non-binary actor Ser Anzoategui. They’re a theatre and screen actor with over a decade in the business, and an activist invested in Latinx and Chicanx communities, trans and queer folks, and fighting against the gentrification of East LA.
Starz is very invested in Autostraddle’s community finding this show, so they’ve given our team a lot of access to Vida ahead of its premiere. We’ll have an interview with Tanya Saracho later this week and a full review of Vida, but let’s get started with an awesome one-on-one interview with Ser!
Carmen Phillips: Let’s get to it!
Autostraddle’s readers are primarily feminist, queer women and non-binary folks. As a writing staff, we’ve been hyping up Vida for months! Now that we are so close to the show’s premiere: If you had a magic microphone that could reach out to all the queer people in the land, what would you want them to know about their new favorite TV show Vida?
Ser Anzoategui: It’s everything they ever wanted, plus new fantasies! It’s amazing, and addictive. You’re going to want more and more. It’s something that finally feels real.
It’s unapologetic in the way that it’s told. It’s told through a femme — I prefer femme to female — gaze. It’s also very queer-centric. You see them hanging out with friends and they’re all of different identities. And they talk like my real life friends. More than once I got lost in the background conversation, and found myself answering back. I would just go there for a second.
Also, the way it’s shot is so exciting! It’s great to see someone like Rose Troche (a lesbian Puerto Rican filmmaker) direct episodes four and six, and make such great creative choices on how to best tell a queer story.
And THE SEX! The way that they shot the sex! It’s very queer.
Carmen: YES! And I have to say, the sex in Vida is unlike anything that I’ve ever seen. I had the opportunity to watch the screeners and I was just… mind blown might be an understatement.
Ser: Hearing that coming from you means a lot. You know, we have different stories than The L Word. When you see those shows, you don’t see Latinas. I mean there’s Carmen —
Carmen: Yeah, there’s Carmen. And there’s Papi. And honestly, neither of them were even played by Latinas.
Ser: Oh, woooooow. They’re not… wow… I hadn’t even thought about that.
Carmen: That’s a whole other conversation. I’m so sorry to drop that on you —
Ser: Well, you know what? Now I’ll say it. They were both non-Latinas playing Latinas. And I love Janina Gavankar. I love her. Back then I was all like, “Whew! Papi!”
So back to Vida. It’s real, and raw. It’s sexy. It lets you behind the velvet rope in the room. It’s multilayered, especially if you watch it more than once. When you watch the series, you’re going to want to watch it again.
Carmen: Your depiction of Eddy stood out for me right away. It’s going to be one of the most memorable performances of the year. What was the process of crafting her character like for you?
Ser: Thank you for that. Tanya Saracho is also an actress, so she just laid Eddy all out for me.
When I was on set, I got a taste of what it would mean to sustain that level of performance for twelve hours at a time. I had to continue to be in the world of grief and love — at the drop of the dime, I had to be able to cry my eyes out. So, I needed to keep focus. I did that by using a lot of background improv.
For one scene, I asked Adelina Anthony, who’s also a wonderful Latinx, queer, two-spirit playwright and performer, “Yo, please! Help me out!” and together we just started improving around set — with the bartender, the extras. We just kept connecting for hours! After a while, you start to let go! You just start to transcend into your character. I didn’t even know we were filming at some points. I was in the zone. I was allowed to just go places. I was told, “Just keep going! Just be.”
I feel like I can take on anything, after doing Vida.
Carmen: I love that Eddy is really rooted in her neighborhood. Often when we’re told stories about queer Latinidad, it’s about of strife and isolation. Vida gets into those themes, but Eddy’s clearly at home in her building — and with her gente. She has a great relationship con las doñas (a Spanish term of respect for older Latina women). That’s so real to the Latinx community that I know and love.
You don’t often see a younger queer character embraced by community elders on screen. How was it for you to play out those relationship dynamics?
Ser: In my own life, I have so many relationships with older people. We just find an instant love with each other — we find a tender, loving relationship. It’s not something that gets clouded or judged or torn apart by gender identity.
It’s a beautiful thing to bring to life on screen! A character who has these relationships. Eddy brings people together. She’s trusted by people you wouldn’t think would trust her, you know? Like Doña Tita (a character on the show).
Doña Tita is the best! And did you know that Renee Victor also voiced the grandmother in Coco? I loved acting with her. She has such experience. I’ve known her work, and to actually get to do scenes with her? It was really huge. She kept cracking me up! Eddy needs Doña Tita. The doñas — they’re there to help, to heal you, to cook food.
Carmen: You’ve talked a bit about your relationship with others in the cast. Something that’s really excited us about Vida is that the production team behind it — the directors, producers, writers — were purposefully designed with queer Latinxs in mind. I wondered if, as an actor, that atmosphere made a difference for you?
Ser: You can feel it. When you walk on set you can feel the warmth, the electricity, the vibe. It’s almost in the air! I think when you get the freedom of, “Yeah you can do it! You can go for it!” — now you can see the possibilities. We don’t know the possibilities until they happen.
The space that Vida is cultivating allows for more understanding and conversations than you otherwise would have with producers. After years and years of Hollywood being run a certain way, now we are seeing things being made the way they should be. The network is saying, “Let’s trust our showrunner. Let’s trust the people who know our audience best.”
And [Tanya Saracho] is very detailed. She’s very particular. But, she’s also very loving as she decides, “Okay — who is going to be on our team? What is the right energy?”
Carmen: That leads into my next question! A lot of our readers are going to remember you as the gender non-confirming, queer character Daysi Cantu from East Los High. It’s been riveting to watch your growth as an actor. I feel like queer Latinx representation in Hollywood is still not seen or heard enough. As a television critic, I’m hopeful this is changing. I wondered how your experience in Hollywood has been in these last few years as an out, non binary, Latinx actor?
Ser: Well, I feel like it’s a progression. It’s working on many levels — on producing, on storytelling, the arts of cinema and camera work, the writing, the casting. [As it relates to Vida], Tanya is spearheading a lot.
That leadership made a difference when filming on location. And it’s something that we talked about! Because I know my community in Los Angeles. I wondered, how are we going to film this? But [Tanya] was open. She wanted to embrace community building; listening and tuning in without becoming invasive or intrusive to the neighborhood.
We listened to the activists. We avoided shooting on the Eastside whenever possible. We shot on set. It’s not only about the story. It’s about the respect of how you tell the story. It’s how you treat your neighbors. It’s understanding that if the activists or the community are saying, “we don’t want you there” — then you don’t go there.
I also think it’s important to show that queer and trans folks are the heads of these movements!
I think it’s really important that we’re brown, and that we’re different identities, multiple identities. It’s important to show that there’s undocuqueers, that there’s fat positivity, there’s Chingona Power. That we’re reclaiming Chingona back from being a being a bad word. It’s a powerful word. And we’re going to own it.
Carmen: Absolutely! Yaaaas! Absolutely. I love it. You’re giving me real strong Sandra Cisneros vibes.
Carmen: Ok, so I know our time is limited. I’m going to end with something fun. When doing research for this interview, I came across a recent Instagram post you made honoring the anniversary of the Selena’s passing (the Tejana Latinx icon passed away on March 31st, 1995 — a date often honored by her fans online).
Ser: Oooh! She’s in it, too! She’s in Vida.
View this post on Instagram
Era pura #luz #Selena #reina #tejana I remember the day she passed away so clearly. I stayed locked inside the bathroom and I talked to her and I swore she responded to me in my head… #amorprohibido was my #teenlife I was #indaclosetqueer and all them lyrics spoke to what I was going through… grateful for all your life, love, and continued light, you reign forever.
Carmen: Yes! Selena’s in Vida. I was thinking about how it’s crazy we lost her so long ago. In your post, the way you described connecting to Selena as a young person really caught my attention. When I was a kid, I would play Selena’s “Dreaming of You” in my room for hours. And I definitely felt her spirit in the room with me.
I was curious, what is your favorite Selena song? And why?
Ser: [A thoughtful breath before breaking out in impromptu song] — ?? “Si una vez dije que te amaba, hoy me arrepiento/ Si una vez dije que te amaba/ No sé lo que pensé, estaba loca…”? ?
Carmen: Oh my god! Okay… Wow. That was PERFECT!! I only wish I could include the live recording of you singing for our readers.
Thank you so much for taking this space with us. We really appreciate it. I cannot tell you how excited I am to keep banging the drums about Vida. You guys are doing great!
Ser: Yes! Let’s keep it going! I’m excited that you’re excited. Thank you to Autostraddle. I really appreciate all the support, and the love. I’ll never forget it!
Vida debuts this Sunday, May 6th, on Starz. We also spoke with its queer showrunner Tanya Saracho ahead of the show’s premiere. Check out the trailer below for Vida and follow Ser on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with them through season one.