The first thing that intrigues me about Melissa Barrera is that she plays a vegan on TV. Or at least, she's about to. For as much television as there is to choose from these days, you never hear about shows that center on self-possessed female figures who care about their health and the environment enough to make something like veganism a character in its own right. But this is indeed the case for Barrera's new role as Lyn, a Mexican American (vegan) lead on the upcoming drama series Vida, set to premiere on Starz May 6. The show follows two sisters with opposite personalities who are forced to return to the neighborhood where they grew up in East Los Angeles and confront some unsettling truths about their past and their mother.
Barrera has a few things in common with her character: She lives in L.A., though she grew up in Monterrey, Mexico—a tomboy with a bottomless wealth of energy who loved basketball and never wore makeup. Her mother is also a key figure in her life but more as a steadfast supporter who indulged her every athletic instinct to want to try all the sports in the world, from softball to martial arts. And though Barrera may not be vegan—she calls herself an "animal lover" and a "carnivore" in the same breath—her role on Vida has influenced her personal beauty routine in a big way, inspiring her to replace all her products with cruelty-free alternatives.
It's all of these qualities that make Barrera such an interesting beauty interview—her perspectives on skincare, makeup, and fitness are so much more motivated by her passions (those being acting, athletics, and animal rights) than a desire to look a certain way. Keep reading for our interview with the up-and-coming actress: her favorite cruelty-free skincare, the most kick-ass workout in Los Angeles, and why being a "quitter" isn't always such a bad thing.
On how sedentariness is the enemy of youth:
"I think that you look the way you feel. So if you feel like you're able to move because you've made it a point to be active all your life, to keep your body healthy and strong, then you're going to stay strong and healthy, and that's going to make you look, feel, and act younger automatically. I think it's important just to maintain a positive mindset. … Like the actress Rita Moreno—she is a goddess. She is way older than she looks. Have you seen One Day at a Time? It's this fantastic sitcom on Netflix that she's on. She is just so youthful. She moves, and she dances, and she looks beautiful, but it's her energy—it's so much younger. She's maintained that. She hasn't let herself get jaded by the industry. She's just active and happy.
"I have always been a fitness person and loved exercise ever since I was little. I played basketball all my life, since I was four years old. I danced most of my life, too. And I love being active and trying new things. Extreme things. I love to rock climb. I love to water ski. If someone has a random idea, I'm always the first to be like, I'll do that. Even if it's jumping out of a plane or hot air ballooning. I just like to get out of my routine. Like today my routine is going to the gym and taking a boxing class or cardio core class or a Bang Ball class, which is a really cool class that I've been taking."
On her favorite workout in Los Angeles:
"I need to feel like there's a purpose to my workouts. I'm not the kind of person who can just go to the gym and do a weights routine by myself. I need to feel motivated by people around me, so I love taking classes and getting out of my comfort zone.
"I love this one called Bang Ball: It sounds awful, but it's amazing. It's this class that this guy at my gym invented. It's basically with a weighted American football. Not a round ball. The one with that long shape—you can do so much with it, and it's comfortable to have in your hand. It doesn't fall. We do arms, we do abs. It's a class exclusive to the gym I go to in L.A.—it's called Built—but I think he's going to do a workout video and start selling it for people to do at home. It's cool. I really like it."
On not being afraid to quit something you hate (in fitness or in life) in pursuit of finding what you love instead:
"All my life, I tried different sports. My mom was really supportive of that. If one day I came home and I was like, I want to do karate, the next day she already had a karate class planned for me to try. And it didn't have to go anywhere. Some classes I only took for a week and was like, no, that wasn't what I thought it was going to be. But at least I tried everything. And I'm really thankful that my mom was so supportive of anything and everything that I wanted to do.
"A lot of the things we do as kids are to please our parents. We're so fragile as children, and all we want is the approval of the older figures we love and admire. So I feel very lucky that I always had the complete support of my mom, who would let me try anything that I wanted, and there was absolutely no shame in quitting. Quitting is just a step in life that you have to go through to find what your path really is. There's no shame at all in trying something and then realizing that it's not for you. It's a growing experience and part of maturing—knowing what is for you and what isn't. And if you don't do that, then you will never know what really makes you happy.
"You have to find the thing that makes you feel like you want to wake up every day. You know that saying, if you find something you really love you won't feel like you work a day in your life? That's how I feel. And I didn't find acting until I was 15. I know that sounds young, but I felt like I was old when I found it because some people start acting when they're really young. I didn't even start doing school plays until I was 15. I was tree number in The Wizard of Oz—that was my first acting gig. So you have to try and experiment and be okay with something not being for you. How many cases do you read of people who are now successful entrepreneurs or bloggers who were stuck in an office for 15 and one day decided to quit and do what they love, and now look at them? They're happy; they've found success. And not just financial success. Personal success. When you feel fulfilled and happy doing what you love doing, it's never too late to realize you're not in the place you always wanted to be and to shift paths."
On overhauling her beauty routine to be cruelty-free:
"I'm in the process of making over [my beauty routine], especially recently since I finished shooting Vida. My character was vegan, and that made me shift my mindset about beauty and skincare completely because I'd never thought about the fact that makeup and skincare can be vegan—it'd never crossed my mind. So for this character, I had to do a lot of research about being vegan because I'm not (I'm a carnivore), and I was shocked to find that a lot of the products that I'd been using for many years were testing on animals. And I love animals. I've worked in Mexico for campaigns protecting animal rights and with organizations that are moving toward having consequences for people who mistreat and torture animals. So that made me want to change all my products.
"But I'd always been wary of changing the products I'd been using basically since I was 16 because they worked really well for me. If it's not broke, don't fix it, you know? I'd tried changing up some of the products and would get breakouts or dry skin, and I was like, hell no, I'm going back. So finding out that most of the products I was using were evil was… oh no. So I changed. The makeup artist who worked on Vida was really good at finding really good cruelty-free and vegan makeup and skincare for the show. And I fell in love with these products because they worked for me and looked good.
"In the morning I wake up and use this wonderful brand from California called Osea, which is actually an expression in Spanish, so it's perfect for me. This brand is made from seaweed, and they have this amazing Ocean Cleanser ($44) that I've been using to wash my face morning and night. And then I use this beautiful thing that I'd never heard of before called Atmosphere Protection Cream ($48)—it makes your face feel like silk. Then I let it sit for a little bit, I make my green tea, and then I put on my sunscreen—I really love Sun Bum ($13) because it's light and goes well under makeup.
"On a regular day, I really don't like to wear a lot of makeup. I'll sometimes just curl my eyelashes—if I do nothing else, I'll do that. And I discovered this nail polish while doing the show called Dazzle Dry. It's 100% vegan, and it doesn't yellow your nails, but it dries like gel. Really fast, like a minute or two. And then it lasts so long. It's so strong. It comes in all shades. It's vegan. And you can remove it with regular nail polish remover. It's amazing.
"I also love the Tarte Concealer ($27), which is vegan and cruelty-free. We used that on the show, too, because my character didn't use foundation, just concealer under the eyes and over any red spots. It can feel a little thick, but it doesn't get patchy or crack. It just looks fresh and natural."