Melissa Barrera Goes from Mexican Telenovelas to ‘Vida’ Star


Melissa Barrera

Age: 29

Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico

Now Lives: Ms. Barrera divides her time among a one-bedroom apartment in Midtown Manhattan, a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles and a “newlywed house” in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico.

Claim to Fame: After making her mark on Mexican telenovelas including “Siempre Tuya Acapulco” and “Tanto Amor,” Ms. Barrera stars in “Vida,” a Latinx drama series on Starz about two Mexican-American sisters who run a bar in Los Angeles.

After getting the part, Ms. Barrera made such an impression on the “Vida” showrunners that they postponed the shooting schedule for her working papers to clear.

Big Break: Ms. Barrera was 23 and fresh out of college when she auditioned and got cast in “Siempre Tuya Acapulco.” “It was a big deal because I’d only done small parts in telenovelas prior to that and I was young compared to leading ladies in other telenovelas,” she said. “I was shocked and nervous. I had never led a telenovela, which meant shooting 20 or more scenes a day, six days a week and basically carrying the story.”

In a way, Ms. Barrera has come full circle: When she was studying musical theater at the Tisch school at New York University, she would audition for Broadway roles regularly. “The roles were not very diverse,” she said. “I basically could only audition for ‘West Side Story’ and ‘In the Heights.’”

Next Thing: Move over, Dakota Johnson. Ms. Barrera plays Jamie Dornan’s love interest and the titular role in the upcoming film adaptation of “Carmen,” directed by Benjamin Millepied. The film musical has become “the biggest deal in Mexico,” she said. “It’s because they love Jamie from ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Just my picture next to him has gotten me a lot more attention than anything else.”

More Roles: Ms. Barrera is learning to enjoy an unexpected part of her job: the media junket. “I’ve come to see it as playing dress up for another role — the red carpet one — where I take on different characters,” she said. “I let my glam team make the decisions, and same with clothes. It’s really fun when you see it that way, like a game.”



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