Freeform/Gilles Mingasson

'Nothing Is About The Shock Factor,' But Party Of Five Will Still Make You Cry

The stars of the Freeform reboot on how they bonded and bringing the Acostas' trauma to the screen

The Acostas are, in many ways, typical siblings: There’s Lucia, the straight-A student who doesn’t quite get why her athletic twin brother, Beto, is struggling at school. Valentina, the second-youngest, is getting used to no longer being the baby, now that infant Rafa is around. And then there’s Emilio, the cool, oldest brother. He’s already left home and has a tough time sticking to family dinners — he’d rather follow his dream of being a rock star. Despite their differences, they are still family, bonded by their responsibilities and mutual memories.

But in the rebooted Party Of Five, the Acostas are also tethered by trauma. Their parents, Javier and Gloria, face deportation to Mexico after an ICE raid targets their Los Angeles restaurant, and suddenly the Acosta children are tasked with parenting each other and themselves. It’s a timely update to the beloved ‘’90s tearjerker but, as the stars stressed to MTV News, they’re not trying to remake the old show scene for scene. The Acostas are their own family, with a story that mirrors real experiences of plenty of American families — and now, more than ever, is the perfect time to tell it.

From Valentina’s struggle with anxiety after watching her parents be apprehended to reluctant patriarch Emilio’s fight to retain a bit of the life he made for himself, each of the Acostas have their own way of dealing with their new reality. MTV News spoke with Brandon Larracuente (Emilio), Emily Tosta (Lucia), Niko Guardado (Beto), and Elle Paris Legaspi (Valentina) about bonding as a family, the power of hiring Latinx crew behind the camera, and why telling a bicultural American story matters.

Freeform/Nino Munoz

MTV  News: What drew you to the story and to your character?

Brandon Larracuente: For me, it was the script. Amy [Lippman, the show’s co-creator] wrote the pilot, and it was just phenomenal. From the moment I started reading to the end, I was hooked. I think I might've read the script about three or four times before the first initial audition. It felt conversational, it just felt real. I could see this actually unfolding in front of my eyes.

Emily Tosta: This story is so meaningful and so timely. As actors, and especially as Latinx actors, we're always striving to be a part of projects that actually are meaningful and that have representation, and inclusion, and diversity. And I think this is something that the project achieved in such a wonderful way.

Niko Guardado: Obviously, the timeliness of it all, with the deportation angle and all that — that’s important. But underneath that is a family dynamic, and where these kids are in life before and after their parents are deported. Beto Acosta doesn't really know what he wants in life. Or where he is in life, to be honest.

Elle Paris Legaspi: I really wanted to give it a try because it's such an important story. And Valentina, she's such a fun, bold character to play. I can relate to her in some ways because she's very smart, and wise beyond her years. And I'm very sensitive, and I find that she is also very sensitive.

Emily: Lucia is such a force. She is not afraid to speak her mind. The way that she dealt with what her family was going through — at first she had so much rage. But what I really loved about her was that she becomes this justice warrior and she starts fighting for her rights, and her family's rights, and other immigrant rights.

Brandon: I feel like in a way Emilio is following in his father's footsteps. He is slowly becoming the man of the household. His father and mother had to make sacrifices to bring him to this country, for the betterment of their family.

Brandon: What drew me to Emilio the most is that he had these big dreams and aspirations of being this huge musician and playing for the world. As a kid, I always had really, really big dreams. I wanted to be a doctor, an astronaut, a baseball player, and finally an actor. I think that's where I really relate to Emilio the most, that he's a dreamer, and so am I.


MTV News: Emilio is also a Dreamer in the legal sense — he has DACA protection status, whereas his siblings are citizens. How did you prepare yourselves in portraying that?

Brandon:  I did tons of research. Emily, Niko, Elle and myself would send each other stories about families who were going through the deportation process.

Niko: We have a group chat. We would send articles whenever we saw them. We'd just be like, "Hey, saw this, thought this was a good read." But we also looked into personal stories.

Emily: When my mom and I moved to the States, we had no legal status to work. And I come from a Dominican family where nobody has papers. My grandma and my mom haven't seen each other in like, 10 years because my mom is scared to leave the country, and my grandma is not allowed to come into the country. So I think it was really easy for me to relate to the project and bring things from my real life to make it more authentic.

Niko: I talked to my grandma and with my dad about what it was like living with parents who were going through the residency and citizenship process when he was growing up. I talked to other family members who have earned their citizenship about what it was like, and their fears — and then talked to their kids, who are born here and are citizens, about their fears.

Elle: The writers actually incorporated a few things that they saw online into our show, and I think it's amazing. It's just making our show more authentic.

Brandon: Recently I was able to meet this young lady who, word for word, had gone through the same thing that Emilio had gone through. She was the oldest of four siblings, their parents were deported, and she had to basically become a caretaker. It's so different when you're reading an article online compared to speaking face-to-face with somebody who actually lived through it.

MTV News: Did knowing that you were telling stories that mirrored people’s lived experiences add any sense of duty to how you approached your work?

Niko: The number one thing we try to do as a collective — the creators, the writers, us as actors — is to bring a very authentic story to the screen. There is that pressure as an actor, but also as a human being, to pay respect to people that are going through this every day.

Brandon: Nothing in the show is really about the shock factor. Everything is just done to be as true and authentic as possible. I tried to just do as much research and homework as I can, and then you go to set and you just let it all go. When you're filming it, you try and portray it as raw and as honest as possible. And that's all I tried to be.

MTV News: In the original Party of Five, the Salinger parents die in a car crash. How did you feel about updating that premise to deportation, given the current crisis in communities across the U.S., and at the border?

Niko: Right now there's a lot of reboots. But while our show has the same name as the original, it's very different. This is a similar grief, but different circumstances.

Brandon: The show had plenty of opportunities to be remade throughout the years and it never felt like the right time. But now is the perfect time to tell this story. I appreciate knowing that Amy and Chris [Keyser, co-creator] could have brought it back years ago. They could have made tons of money, but they decided to wait until it was right. I think that shows what kind of hearts our creators have.

Emily: Families are being separated, and kids are being taken from their parents. As long as we can start a conversation about it, and as long as we can give people a perspective and point of view on what it's like to go through something like this, and people can be kind and understanding towards it, I think we will have done our parts as actors.

Niko: The billboards all say: “A story of an American family.” This is an American family. It's happening every day. It's happening as we speak. And I think it's important to see that on screen.

MTV News: So much of the driving force within the show is simply the family dynamic — how these five siblings interact with, support, or antagonize each other. Do you remember your first impressions of your castmates? 

Brandon: We met at a chemistry read. I remember actually leaving the room after Emily and Niko and I had a scene together — I think it was the scene in the pilot where they're all berating Emilio, telling him that he hasn't been around lately. And after I left the room, something clicked. It just felt right.

Emily: We had this instant connection almost. I've never felt that before.

Elle: As soon as we met each other, I felt like I knew them for years. And we grew really close in such a little amount of time.

MTV News: How did you work on bonding as siblings?

Brandon: We didn't know anybody else in Montreal [where the pilot was shot]. So it forced us to get really close, really quickly. Every night after we'd after set, we would all meet up for dinner and talk.

Niko: We watched Christmas movies — How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman. I finished my first ever game of Monopoly with them, which I've never done. It takes like four hours. That was an accomplishment in itself. I don't work out as much as Brandon does, but Brandon got me in the gym somehow, and we bonded over that.

Emily: There's a lot of TV and film that I missed out on growing up in the Dominican Republic. So we would watch Party of Five in our hotel rooms together. It was a fun bonding thing.

Elle: We’re always texting each other, and we're trying to talk to each other as much as we can because we just miss each other that much. It's really nice because we give each other life lessons — that we have to stay grounded and humble because this is such a big thing, and it's going to change our lives forever.

MTV News: There are also specific family dynamics at play. Beto and Lucia are twins, but they're also polar opposites. Emilio and Beto have a brotherly rivalry. Valentina is and isn’t the baby. How did you work with each other on these things?

Niko: I think it just happened. Emily and I would find little circumstances that made us feel like we were twins. Like we drive the same car, we would say the same thing and jinx each other. Just funny stuff like that that it was little signs that it was meant to be.

Emily: Niko's my best friend. Literally when something good or bad happens in my life, he's the first person that I call.

Niko: We've gone to each other for personal stuff where you need a friend, or you need a sister you can call up and be like, "Hey, can I just vent to you?" I think we've found that trust in each other.

Emily: We'll finish each other’s sentences, and we'll know what the other person is thinking. It's just easy to vibe off of each other.

Elle: I’m the oldest in my family, and it was really nice having older siblings for the first time.

Brandon: I think we all have similarities to our characters, and I think we all have a lot of differences. It's kind of give and take. Emilio, he's the leader, he's the eldest. That's how I feel it when I'm around my co-stars. I feel like I'm the eldest, so therefore I have to be an example for them. But these are also fictional characters and not everything is similar to who we are as human beings.

Niko: Brandon's like the dad on set. He just got engaged! Emily is very proactive and she doesn't take any BS, like Lucia. And Elle doesn't let age define her, just because she's 12.

Brandon: I always tell everybody she's the smartest out of all of us. For being a 12 year old, she knows way, way too much.

Freeform/Philippe Bosse

MTV News: Several scenes in the show flip into Spanish-language dialogue in a way that emphasizes the Acostas’ status as a bilingual family, which is normal for many families. What was it like to see that in the script, and then play it out?

Brandon: I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household. I was raised mostly by my grandmother because my parents were working, and I learned through watching telenovelas and through her just speaking nothing but Spanish to me. I appreciate her for that.

Emily: This is one of the main things that differentiates us from the original Party of Five. We're really making it important to show the audience how a bicultural family works. We're very adamant about showing our roots. Being bilingual to some of us is normal, but we also have characters like Beto, who is struggling with Spanish. That happens in real life, too.

Brandon: Amy and Chris hired writers who actually spoke the language and understood the nuances of living in a Spanish-speaking household. There are things that I saw while reading the script that made me go, “Oh my God, that reminds me of my mom growing up.”

Niko: I don't speak Spanish. I understand it, but I've been learning. Emily and Brandon have been teaching me, and the cast and crew have been helping me. I'm still doing DuoLingo every day.

Elle: A lot of my family on my grandpa’s side are bilingual, but I don't speak Spanish myself. I would absolutely love to. I'm learning right now.

Niko: For Beto not to speak Spanish is huge, just because that relates to me and so many other Americans who have Latinx roots. It doesn't make me any less Hispanic than anybody else. Sometimes you'll get teased for it around friends or family that speak it. But I think it's very relatable.

MTV News: Was there also a Latinx presence behind the scenes, with the crew?

Niko: Yeah. Our second assistant director is from Puerto Rico, and she's like our mama on set. I would go up to her certain days and be like, “Just speak to me in Spanish today.” We’d try it, and if I needed help, I’d ask her certain questions.

Brandon: There were some times with the script where I felt like I wouldn't really say it like that. And the writers worked with us and gave us a lot of wiggle room, which we appreciate as actors. It helps us bring more authenticity and realness to a character.

Emily: It's really important to drive these narratives and bring inclusion and diversity onto the screen just as Latinx actors, but I think it's equally as important to hire Latinx crew behind the scenes as well. These are the people that are writing and directing the stories, and working off-screen to bring all of this together.

MTV News: There has been a major lack of Latinx representation in Hollywood for years. Did you ever feel represented by pop culture growing up? And which characters made you feel represented?

Brandon: Growing up as a child, I used to live for Saturday cartoons. There were never any cartoons that were centered around Latinos. As a kid, I didn't really acknowledge that, but when you grow up and reflect on the past, you realize that there really was never any representation of anyone who looked like you or spoke like you on screen.

Emily: I grew up watching Spanish-language TV, and Spanish was the norm for me. I was 12 when I first moved to the United States. Suddenly, all I saw were people that I couldn't really associate with my culture and my roots.

Emily: Ugly Betty was one of the first American shows that I watched. I saw America Ferrera and I was like, "Wait, hold on. She's Latina! So if she’s on TV, then I can be on TV, too.”

Brandon: I am grateful that times are changing. And I think that it's only going to continue to get better. Jane the Virgin and Grand Hotel and One Day at a Time, those shows have a majority-Latinx cast. I have no doubt that there will continue to be more. I'm just grateful for the opportunity, and that there's more and more representation for everyone on screen — for African-Americans, Latinos, the Asian community.

MTV News: The storylines you work with are heavy — I’ll be honest, I cried multiple times in the first three episodes, and immediately texted my dad, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. Have you ever needed to take a moment when you received a script? 

Emily: I literally cried at every single table read. It was ridiculous. And while we were filming the pilot — that scene at the detention center — we were all crying. We just couldn't hold it because the emotions were so real.

Niko: The pilot! Normally, I'll get emotional — but nowhere to the point where I'm like, I've got to take a moment. But that one was like, I stopped in the middle of it. I couldn't tell you why. There was this overwhelming sense of, “Even if I don't get this role, this project has the chance to change a lot of people's lives and get a lot of people talking.”

Brandon: We probably cried at least once and every table read, that's just the truth. I think that's why I loved reading the pilot so much — I felt moved. I think that's what separates this show from many others. It's these real-life scenarios that are happening on a daily basis, and we're able to portray to the audience.

MTV News: Whether the topic is deportation, or the immigrant experience, or living in a bicultural family — what do you hope people who can relate to these storylines take from the show?

Niko: I hope it gives them a sense of pride, and then a sense of hope. It’d be great if they can relate to it and find comfort in it. Especially the children who come home from school and their parents aren't there. It's devastating. I hope this show brings them comfort.

Brandon: I hope that people take that the Acostas are just like so many other families living in the U.S. They came to this country to have a better life for their children. They have a restaurant and they contribute to the economy, they pay taxes, and they're good, moral citizens. Although maybe our ancestors weren't born here, we're able to contribute just as equally as anybody else to the economy and to society in a positive way.

Emily: I think that if you put yourself in other people's shoes and you understand their situation, maybe your heart can grow warmer and stronger for them. But also, I want people to understand the strength and unity of family. That in good times and bad times, you'll turn to these people are gonna be there for you. And also, we definitely want people to understand that family can't be broken by a border.

Elle: Family is everything. Even though you may fight with your siblings, they'll always be there for you. So if you're going through a hard time, sometimes you’ve got to turn to them. They'll help you out with anything, because that's what family is.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.