Chasing the Dream
by Jay S. Jacobs
Only a few years into a career which has quickly gone from simmering to muy caliente, Francia Raisa is blowing open doors that normally don’t spread for Latin actresses.
The young daughter of a Mexican mother and a Honduran father, she was introduced to life in the spotlight early in life. Her dad, Maximo Renan Almandárez Coello, is better known to LA and syndicated radio listeners as the legendary disk jockey “El Cucuy.”
Though Francia Raisa comes from Latin radio royalty, she never really thought of getting into show business that way.
“Radio never really interested me,” Raisa admits. “I never really paid attention to what he did growing up. It was actually Spanish soap operas that got me into acting. When I was very little I was addicted to them and I still am.” She chuckles. “When I turned on the TV, I was, yeah, that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
As an actress she is known as Francia Raisa (Raisa is her middle name), however in some early roles she did get credited with her more famous last name.
“It was actually a miscommunication when I first started in the business,” Raisa says. “When I was getting my headshots, they mixed up my names. They put Almandárez. I was really upset about it. I guess I never made it clear in production with my first couple of projects to change it to Raisa. The reason is that my dad said when I was born he gave me the name Francia Raisa because he knew that one day I was going to be a star. So I really wanted to keep that. I love my last name, but I just adore Francia Raisa and I want to keep my father’s wishes.”
However, despite the fact her father has being extremely supportive of his daughter’s aspirations, she stresses that her early success has been due to her own effort and dedication.
“A lot of people think I am doing so well because of help from my father and who he is,” Raisa says. “That is not the case at all. He gives me nothing but love and respect and support. He’s been great and I love him, but what I am doing is all because of my own hard work.”
This hard work has been paying big dividends as Raisa has started turning heads in Hollywood circles.
“It’s crazy,” Raisa says enthusiastically. “I’ve only been in this three years. How am I already doing TV shows and leading roles? It’s ridiculous for me… especially being Latin. I feel very, very fortunate. I mean, there was a time, especially during the [writer’s] strike where I was getting really frustrated, just because I was so used to working. But I had to sit myself down and meditate and be like: okay, you’ve only been doing this three years. What do you expect? People have been doing this their whole lives. They wait twenty years before they get their big break.”
In those three years, she has become a staple in made-for-cable movies. Raisa co-starred in the cheerleading sequel Bring it On: All or Nothing with Hayden Panettiere of Heroes and Solange Knowles – better known as Beyonce’s little sister. She also was in the popular Nickelodeon movie Shredderman Rules.
“I was a huge fan of the first Bring It On,” Raisa says. “The second one was cool, but it wasn’t my favorite. So when I got the opportunity to do the third one, I was like, I really have to live up to everyone’s expectations. Especially being a former cheerleader myself, I wanted to live up to my own expectations. So I was reading the script, talking to producers, talking to everyone. Especially me and Gio [Giovannie Samuels], the girl that played Kirresha, we were thinking of ways to make our characters funnier or come more to life or just do little things with the scenes that we had to make the movie good. It worked, so I was really happy.”
Now, much like Bring It On, she is starring in the third episode of a beloved film franchise, this time the ice skating love story The Cutting Edge: Chasing the Dream. In the film, Raisa plays Alex, an amateur female hockey player who is approached to be an ice dancing partner by a famous figure skater, played by Matt Lanter – also from Heroes.
So, tell us the truth. Between Hayden on Bring it On and Matt in the new movie; does she have a secret plan to work with every actor who has worked on Heroes?
Raisa just laughs. “What’s funny about that is there’s a new movie called Fired Up coming out. I have such a small role in it. It was just a small principal role. And the lead actor [Nicholas D’Agosto] was also in Heroes. I’m like, what is wrong with the world? Everywhere I work someone is in Heroes. Everyone is great. Everyone has their different personalities. Hayden is adorable. I love that she speaks her mind. She’s not afraid to say anything. Matt is just very professional. And the other character, Nick; he was hysterical…. Having great energy and great passion for what you do is what builds chemistry within people and helps make everyone’s job easier.”
Also making her job easier is the fact that Raisa has experience in skating and dancing, learning both as she grew up. Not that she can claim to be a pro – and Raisa admits she also had another handicap for the role.
“I hate hockey skates, I can honestly say,” Raisa laughs. “I’m so used to toe picks. Any sport that involves something other than my hands and feet I can not do for some reason. I’m just a klutz.”
However, she had enough skills that she could do some of the basics. The serious skating stunts were done by doubles, but she and Matt put in some good time on ice, as well.
“You have to remember so much choreography and I remember my partner Matt, he is a man and he’s never danced,” Raisa. “He was always focused on sports, so he never really had to memorize anything. It was so hard for him to pick up choreography. I was very fortunate that I’d been learning my whole life, so that I could pick up things very quickly and they didn’t have to work on me as much. It helped me get the role.”
She chuckles. “Most of the stunts that they did, like the lifts that they did and the jumps were mostly them. I’m really proud to say that Matt and I did actually do one stunt of our own. In the first routine – it’s called the Jesus Christ because of the way he’s lifting me from the arms and my arms are out. That one we did do ourselves. Other than that, we let the pros handle everything else. But when we were gliding and doing crossovers and stuff like that, that was us, because we had a month of training so we could pull it off.”
Raisa was a fan of the previous Cutting Edge movies, which made it even more important for her to live up to the previous films.
“Especially with Cutting Edge, it was a huge movie – especially for ice skaters.” Raisa says. “I really wanted to live up to everyone’s expectations. My best friend’s boyfriend is a huge fan and when he found out he was really excited, but at the same time he was like, ‘Ugh. You know I love the first one, so we’ll see.’ So the fact that he loved it and everyone loved it was great for me.”
Just as important was pleasing another fan of the series – herself.
“I fell in love with the original one, of course. The second one – I was a huge fan of Christy Carlson Romano growing up, so I had to see the second one and I equally enjoyed it. Then I got to work her.
“I was really nervous at first,” she laughs. “I was so nervous. I was like, this is Christy Carlson Romano. I grew up watching her on Disney. Our first scene together was after he had cut me… after our routine in the competition… and she comes up to me and she’s checking to see if I’m okay or whatever. I was so nervous that I couldn’t even remember my lines. I was so intimidated. Eventually, Christy and I became really good friends. She’s actually one of my best friends today. I just learned so much from her on set. I was watching her because she’s been doing this so long. I was watching her to see how she prepared. She cried a lot – which is really challenging for me, to cry on the spot. I just learned so much from her and I’m grateful for her friendship now.”
She is also grateful for the opportunity to do a serious love story – much like the Spanish serials she loved so much as a girl.
“The romantic scenes,” she says, excitedly, “like I said earlier, I’m in love with soap operas. I love romance. I love the drama. I was so happy when I had to finally do my little romance scene – especially the kissing scene. I’m like: Yes! I get to have my soap opera moment! It was actually my first onscreen kiss, so I was really nervous, but I was really excited. I wanted to make this look real and then I kind of took over the director’s job a little bit, trying to tell everyone how I wanted it so it could be perfect.”
Another thing that was nice for Raisa to pull off was a complex, fully-rounded character. So many Latinas get typecast as gangsta girls or mouthy girlfriends, so it was nice to get to play a complex family-oriented driven athlete.
“I’ve noticed that too,” Raisa admits. “When I did Bring It On I realized that I had to act like a ghetto Latin girl. Which was no problem for me, I thought that was really fun. I got to impersonate my cousins and stuff like that. It was really fun, but I felt very successful within myself to be able to play a leading role [in The Cutting Edge 3] and not be a stereotyped Latin girl. You know; be a Latina that lives a normal life and has a normal family just like everyone else. Isn’t ghetto. Isn’t chola. Isn’t just the jealous girlfriend, pregnant with the baby daddy, looking for it. It’s a huge success within myself and I feel very proud of it.”
It doesn’t surprise Raisa that she has made such a splash in cable, which has become a huge untapped market for actors and filmmakers.
“Cable is getting huge,” she says. “I hardly hear anyone that doesn’t have it. It’s getting so big and it’s scratching out so fast networks are trying to do things to make their network more noticeable and more popular. That’s why they’re making more movies and making more shows to bring in more audiences – which is great for us. It means more job opportunities. It’s great, because before if we ever got a show, we’d be so focused on not getting a cable show. No, your best is ABC or FOX or NBC. Now we don’t have to worry about that. We can’t be picky in this business, especially when you first start out. Booking a TV show is the most challenging thing you can do in this business. It’s so hard because there are so many people that have to agree with your character and with you. So the fact that you even get a show is just a huge accomplishment. And then to be picky about it? So I’m glad we don’t have to be picky and we’ll know no matter what network you’ll know you’ll be successful.”
In the meantime, Raisa has lots of good things coming around the corner. For example, she is currently filming a horror movie in Spain called Underground.
“It’s basically about these graffiti artists and their passion is drawing and doing graffiti,” Raisa explains. “There’s this new subway line that’s opening up. We want to go in there and do our artwork before they open it. So when it premieres and new stations are there, they see our stuff. That night when we sneak in there and do it, we get caught by security guards and we run away and find a tunnel. We go in that tunnel and that tunnel leads to our worst nightmare.”
She has also snagged the lead in a still-untitled upcoming ABC Family Channel series made by the creators of Seventh Heaven.
“My name is Adrienne in it,” Raisa says. “It’s about the relationships between teenagers and dealing with teen pregnancy – how it affects the relationships with your family and your friends. The girl that got pregnant in the series actually gets pregnant by my boyfriend. So there is a lot of drama involved with it and a lot of real situations that do happen in high school. I think it’ll be interesting.”
However, no matter how far the acting takes, her she wants to stay the same person she always was. While she has mostly heard all positive things from fans she has occasionally been the victim of information that was just wrong.
“I’m not married,” Raisa says. “[People have misunderstood that] because I’ve changed my last name. I’m all natural. I think I’ve heard a few times I’ve gotten my breasts done. I’m all natural. I haven’t gotten my boobs done or my lips done. I’m a normal person. I’m very humble.”
She also is lucky enough to have a very good metabolism.
“I am really tiny,” Raisa admits. “Very skinny. I only weigh 110 pounds or something. I love food. And I don’t exercise at all. I eat In ’N’ Out [Burger – a West Coast fast food chain] almost every night with my animal size fries. And I don’t exercise. I don’t know what it is that I’m so tiny, I’m glad.”
However, despite the fact that she never wants to change, she does hope to make a difference in the world.
“I got into the business because I wanted to make an impact within other people,” she says, “especially young teenagers, because growing up I wish that someone had done that for me. I want people, especially my young fans, to see it as inspirational. Whatever projects I do, I hope they learn something from it. I hope I get the respect that I feel that I deserve for my career, because I’m working so hard and also being a Latina and making it so quickly in this industry. I want that respect.”
|#1 © 2008 Mike Rozman. Courtesy of MLC PR. All rights reserved.|
|#2 © 2008 Dimitry Loiseau. Courtesy of MLC PR. All rights reserved. Hair and Makeup: Valerie Noble|
|#3 © 2008 Mike Rozman. Courtesy of MLC PR. All rights reserved.|
|#4 © 2008 Mike Rozman. Courtesy of MLC PR. All rights reserved.|
|#5 © 2008 Dimitry Loiseau. Courtesy of MLC PR. All rights reserved. Hair and Makeup: Valerie Noble|
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 12, 2008.