All Grown Up& Keepingit Real: Grown-ish’s Francia Raísa on Making it in Hollywood
Francia Raísa always knew she would pursue acting. “I used to watch telenovelas with my grandmother. I would turn to her and say, ‘I’m going to do that when I grow up,’ I just didn’t know how,” says Francia.
It didn’t take long for Francia to land her first role on a big network like Freeform (formerly known as ABC Family). At 16 years old, she pursued dancing, and was quite good at it. So good, that it led to her first big TV role. “In my backup-dancing journey, I met a manager. At the time, she was looking for a bilingual Latina —and I am! So she signed me, and about six months later I booked Bring It On. It’s been a rollercoaster ever since.”
That first role as Leti in Bring It On: All or Nothing was just the beginning of a long, successful journey with Freeform. In 2008, Francia landed the role of Alex Delgado in Freeform’s TV movie, The Cutting Edge 3: Chasing the Dream. Francia shares that MGM didn’t really want to hire her for The Cutting Edge. “They thought there was someone else who was a stronger actor, but I was the only one who knew how to ice skate,” she explains. In the end, it was her ice skating background that got her the part, but this wasn’t a victory yet. “They kept saying I was very green —that comment really bothered me. I actually had a hard time with the first Cutting Edge movie, because I had that feedback in the back of my head, which made me really work hard.”
At the time, Francia didn’t have a strong acting background. “I was going with the flow. I learned on set how to be on set and how to act,” she says. After The Cutting Edge, Francia decided to take acting lessons. “I can’t just fake it. There was natural talent, but there is more to the craft and I didn’t want to BS my way through.” Francia loved being in front of the camera as a teenager, but there was more to it for her. “When I was 16, the movie Thirteen came out. That one really struck me hard, because I was a little rebelde when I was a teenager. And I’m an older sister, so watching that movie really opened my eyes to what kind of influence I was putting in my younger sisters —it woke me up.” This is when the power of the entertainment industry became very clear to her. Francia realized she too could tell stories that moved kids, the way Thirteen moved her.
Booking roles as a Latina is not an easy task. But Francia separated herself from the rest by being really good at other things, in addition to acting. “My dad was really big on putting me in everything when I was little, like karate, dance lessons, ice skating when I was 11; I was a competitive ice skater,” she explains. So, when it was time to audition, she was ready. “For Bring It On, the dance portion was part of the audition. And I was like, I got this. No problem! I know that helped me book the part.”
The same year (2008) Francia landed The Cutting Edge, she was given a more permanent home on Freeform —playing Adrian Lee in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, which aired until 2013. Fourteen years later, the now 31-year-old actress continues to work with the network (her second home) where it all started. Francia currently portrays Ana Torres on Grownish, which was renewed for a third season. “I’m so different from Ana, it’s not even funny,” Francia laughs. “It’s hilarious when I go try on costumes for Ana, because our stylist always asks me if I like it, and I say, ‘Francia doesn’t, but I’m sure Ana does.’”
Though Francia is so different from her character, she still has a lot of fun with Ana and has enjoyed creating her as the show evolves. But there are some similarities between the two. “We both grew up Catholic, so I understand that background a lot. I understand her mentality and naiveté sometimes. But my 19-year-old self definitely cannot relate to her. I was in such a different place in my life. I was two years into a relationship with someone who was 17 years older than me. So I probably would have looked at her like, Girl…you better chill. But me now, I have more grace for her and I would put her under my wing and tell her she is doing great.”
Grown-ish’s second season is coming to an end and Francia is enjoying how the writers are developing her character. “My older self sees her as a little sister and I just love her,” she says. Francia is excited to see Ana grow and not only experience adult things, but handle them in an adult way. In Season Two, episode 15, Ana had her heart broken, and the way she handled it was a key indicator that she is, in fact, growing as a person. “If it was the first season, she would have acted a lot more dramatic and emotional. On that episode, she had a very mature approach to her heartbreak. The way she responded to him, freshman-year Ana would have said, ‘Yeah’ —because she doesn’t want to lose him, but sophomore-year Ana was like, ‘No, I deserve better than this.’ She is seeing her worth more, getting stronger and more confident.”
Francia has done some growing up herself. Her accomplishments, from Bring It On to Grown-ish and everything in between, are a true testament to her talent and an inspiration for all Latinas trying to make it in Hollywood. “I’m one of the few Latinas that’s still working and has been consistently, thankfully, in the last 14 years,” she says. While Francia portrays Latina characters on television, her roles are written in a way that keep her from falling into Latina tropes. “I don’t know how I didn’t fall into it, honestly,” she says. Francia explains that she’d audition for those stereotypical Latina roles, but in the end, she didn’t book them. Instead, she found herself landing roles like Adrian Lee in The Secret Life of the American Teenager. “It was crazy. I didn’t realize how blessed I’ve been in my career until recently.”
Francia has found much success in television and is very happy with the roles she has booked, but it was a challenge for her managers to appropriately represent her, and send her on auditions where she would be booked. “It felt like I was trying to fit in. There were plenty of times when I was frustrated because I would get an audition for something, and I would read the breakdown, and I’m like, They are looking for a white girl,” she explains. It was evident to her that her representatives didn’t know what to do with her. Francia recalls sitting in audition rooms and being the only Latina. “They are not going to want me. I’m going to an audition where it’s all white girls, and then me. Great! This is a waste of my time,” she remembers. “It was tough because I was not just competing with other Latin women, but literally, white girls.”
While Francia has found her place in Hollywood today, she remembers the day she visited a dialect coach to learn how to talk like Rosie Perez, because that’s what was requested during her auditions. “It’s impossible, she is a character of her own,” she would tell herself. “The problem is one Latin actress makes it and Hollywood wants everyone else to do it.” Francia recalls when Sofia Vergara became famous for portraying Gloria in Modern Family and how that influenced her auditions. “So I’m out there trying to be sassy and be big and have an accent and I just don’t.” Audition after audition, Francia has stayed true to herself, which has paid off and landed her roles on television shows she is proud to be a part of.
Francia is lucky to have found a network that aligns with what she believes. Over the years, Freeform has reached out to Francia with content that moves her and inspires her. “I love the message that Freeform is putting out there—a new kind of forward, diversity, inclusion, everything. They are really trying to overcome boundaries and I respect them for that,” she says. “With Secret Life, that was the first time the ABC Family ever talked about sex and teen pregnancy. None of the other shows were like that, it was the first of its kind, and I got to be a part of it.” When Grown-ish came, Francia felt that she had a purpose on this network. “Now, I’ve been trying to go beyond telling and bring more to the table.” She has spoken with the President of Freeform to make that move forward. “I’ve been with the family for a long time, I want to briqng content and direct, and do more.”
“I’m so different from Ana, it’s not even funny,” Francia laughs. “It’s hilarious when I go try on costumes for Ana, because our stylist always asks me if I like it, and I say, ‘Francia doesn’t, but I’m sure Ana does.’”