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Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, Francia Raisa has always had a glimpse into the ever-elusive, ever-exclusive celebrity life. As a kid, she watched her dad deal with fame as So. Cal's mega Latin radio personality, El Cucuy. By the time she was a teenager, she too became intrigued by the life of a performer, and took it upon herself to start auditioning for acting gigs. In no time, Raisa would make her own name for herself.
For five seasons, the 24-year-old actress has been an integral part of the ABC Family phenomenon, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, a risque coming-of-age series that's essentially a classy Teen Mom meets 7th Heaven. As the show's resident bad-girl-with-a-big-heart, Adrian Lee, Raisa bosses through the murky waters of high school peer pressure and sexuality, and sifts through a nonstop conveyor belt of would-be suitors. In other other words, she's the HBIC. But all that is coming to an end, however, with the second half of the show's final season premiering tonight at 8 p.m.
We got a chance to speak with the starlet about what life was like growing up with a famous dad, maintaining friendships in the entertainment industry, and what's next for her after The Secret Life airs its last episode.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
What was it like growing up in the Valley with your dad being a huge radio personality?
I thought I had a normal life. I didn’t understand that my dad was in the industry that I am in now. I just thought he worked at a radio station and I didn’t get the whole part of him being famous and people looking up to him. I used to get mad that people used to ask for autographs. I'd tell him, “You’re not allowed to do this today. It takes up time!” [Laughs.]
It was hard at school because growing up some people wanted to be friends with me just because they wanted to get to my dad and say that they had met him and had gone to our house. I didn’t understand it at the time, but the older I got and the more aware of it I became, it started becoming hard. People stereotyped me just because I was a celebrity's kid and they called me “rich bitch." I'd be like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
But all in all, I had a normal childhood, and I can’t complain. I’m glad I went through all the normal teenage dramas that a lot of people go through. I can really relate to Secret Life because I witnessed those similar struggles.
When did you decide to get into the entertainment industry?
I was a cheerleader during my freshman and sophomore year [of high school]. But I got really sick during competition time and I left school for [some time] so I could get better to come back for competition. But I was so sick and my mom didn't let me go to practice. I called my captain and someone else answered the phone and said it was fine, but then the captain called me later and said, “You’re kicked off the squad." I was devastated, but I took it as a sign.
Although I was upset, I gave some serious thought to where my life was heading. When I happened to catch the movie Thirteen on TV, I thought, "This is why I want to be in the industry." I told myself, "If I want to do it, I have to do it now." So, I didn’t try out for the cheer squad junior year and decided to focus on that.
I was a dancer when I got discovered, and I started working immediately. I started being in commercials and doing guest star roles. My first big thing, which happened maybe six months after being discovered, was Bring It On: All or Nothing.
How did you get started with Secret Life?
I had done a movie for ABC Family called The Cutting Edge, which kept me in the loop. The script [for Secret Life] got sent to me in February of 2008, and I fell in love with it. I fell in love with Adrian.
Before my audition, I researched the creator, who turned out to be the creator of 7th Heaven. I was a huge fan of the show, so the minute I met her I was like, “I love you, I know this is unprofessional, but I am a huge fan!” I guess she found me funny because I got a call back. A week after I met with the network, I found out I got the part.
One thing that surprised me about the Secret Life of the American Teenager is how explicit it is. The dialogue does not hold bac, which is shocking because it’s ABC Family.
I was surprised, too. [Laughs.] I grew up watching FOX Family, and then when they transferred over to ABC and I saw the shows that they had, I was like, "This is really risky. They are really trying to change it up." I didn’t mind it, but sex started becoming a part of my vocabulary.
I grew up in Catholic school, and back in high school we'd be like, “Oh my gosh, she just said sex. We’re not allowed to talk about that!” But now it’s true to life, I guess. I remember my younger sister said to me, "A lot of what happens on your show is going on right now." It’s just crazy to me because in our day it was like, “Don’t talk about sex. No one has sex.”
The way that the show handles sexuality is so nonchalant.
So nonchalant, but true to life. What I like about the show is that it deals with realistic issues in realistic ways. It is not verbatim, but it is realistic to what a lot of people go through.
How did life change when you became a celebrity? Were there any changes in relationships you had?
It definitely did change. A lot of people that talked about me back in the day in a negative way started suddenly popping up. I am one of those people who keeps the past in the past, but, considering where I am at in life, I started to second guess their intentions.
I still have a lot of my friends from high school. You just know who is there for you for real, and who is trying to get something out of you. It is harder to keep friendships in this industry, but I honestly believe that you only need a handful of good people in your life. I'd rather have that handful than a crap full of negative energy around me.
You've made a couple viral dance videos with Selena Gomez. How do friendships work in the industry?
I think because we are in the industry, we were able to really connect. The way Selena and I met was through Disney, actually. My first season doing Secret Life, I guess, was the same time Wizards of Waverly Place must have taken off. I had never seen it and I didn’t even know who she was when I met her, but Disney had all their stars from ABC Family and Disney Channel go to the Children’s Hospital and they paired us up in groups. Selena was in my group, so she and I started talking. I had a boyfriend at the time and she had a boyfriend at the time, and she didn’t tell me who her boyfriend was and I didn’t tell her who my boyfriend was. So, we just were like, “Oh my gosh, we have boyfriends! We’re so cool, we’re so in love!” [Laughs.] We bonded over that and we didn’t even exchange numbers.
Then, I just kept running into her in the most random places. I'd run into her at a party or I'd run into her on the red carpet. But from the minute we met we would just vomit our lives to each other. I remember one time she did that and then she looked at me and was like, “I don’t know why I just told you all of that, can you please not say anything?” And I was like, “Yeah girl it’s fine!” We just have that trust for each other.
It is harder to keep friendships in this industry, but I honestly believe that you only need a handful of good people in your life. I'd rather have that handful than a crap full of negative energy around me.
As actors, we study people and we get to know their body language and their intentions, so when you meet a certain person, you know if they have a pure heart or not. And she has a pure heart, and I think she saw that in me, so that is why we connected. We were inseparable. People make fun of us now because they say that we are a married couple. She is a good person and I know she surrounds herself with good people, so that is how I connect with her friends and vice versa. She trusts my judgement of character. I just think that's how friendships develop.
Since Secret Life was such a huge part of your life, what was it like wrapping up filming?
Oh my gosh, it was so sad. I love everyone, we grew up together. I met everyone when I was nineteen years old, I was in a three-year relationship when I first started, and I went through the break-up with them and they were just so supportive of me. We all went through break-ups and traumas in our lives together, so we literally just became family.
We never really hung out outside of set—I mean, we did, but not as much because we knew we were going to see each other. But now that we are not on set, we really have to make the effort. I love them; we were at ground zero when we started and now we made names for ourselves. I am really excited to see where everyone’s career takes off, and I feel proud to know that I was a part of their journey from the very beginning.
What else are you working on this year?
Honestly, I am really excited about the new adventures that I am about to go on in my career. I am getting older and I am transitioning into more adult leading female types of roles, so I am excited to see what comes from it. I actually tested myself by doing my first leading lady role in a movie that I shot over the summer with Ryan Guzman [titled Beyond Paradise]. I was nervous, but after shooting that movie I was like, "OK now I am ready."