in ,

Interview: Selenis Leyva Brings Her Whole Self To The Party In ‘Lopez vs Lopez’

This is my third time speaking with Selenis Leyva, an actress whose talent spans genres and different mediums in film, stage, and TV. In conversation, Leyva possesses a certain quality not everyone has; an aura that makes you feel like you’re just catching up with a long lost family member or a girlfriend you haven’t spoken to in a few years. Simply put, the actress makes you feel at home. It’s an effortless nurturing quality infused in every role she plays, whether it’s Gloria Mendoza, the hard on the outside, soft on the inside, nurturing mother on Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, the mother of boxer Felix Chavez in this year’s hit film, Creed III, or a single mother of the future president in Disney+’s Diary of a Future President

No matter the role, the actress brings a sense of truth to every character she plays, and it shines bright in NBC’s multi-camera comedy Lopez vs Lopez. Selenis plays Rosie, mother to Mayan and ex-wife to George, but this isn’t your mother’s Multicam sitcom (she’s a mother but not doing any of the nagging). In Lopez vs Lopez, Leyva gets to bring all of her womanhood to the party and stand on her own. For Selenis, this moment in her career feels full circle from those days of watching telenovelas behind her parents’ couch in her living room and daydreaming of being on screen. 

“All the things that I hoped and envisioned to do as a Latina, I’m doing it on the show. I get to be funny, smart, sexy, and powerful on primetime television. That’s a big deal, especially for Latinas. We’re only seen very specifically, sometimes in certain ways and scenarios, and here we’re just showing that we could do it. We could play, too.”

Although we have a long way to go regarding what stories of the Latinx experience are on screen, Leyva recognizes the shift— she’s been around before the DEI initiatives in the industry. Her longevity and tenacity give her a significant perspective: “I’ve had to fight really hard; whenever you get that opportunity, you better show up and make your entrance memorable. I’m having the time of my life playing Rosie.” And it certainly shows. 

On the heels of its season 2 renewal, Selenis Leyva spoke to Awards Radar about Lopez vs Lopez, the shift in representation, and so much more.

Niki Cruz: The last time we spoke was years ago for your off-broadway show Tell Hector. So it’s been a while.

Selenis Leyva: It’s been a while! I’m like, wow, you took it way back.

NC: It’s nice to see you killing it and bringing the story of every type of Latina, whether it’s a mom, a titi, you name it.

SL: Thank you. That means a lot to me. I always love hearing from the community when someone says, “Thank you for the representation, or you remind me of this. You remind me of that.” That brings me such joy because growing up, I didn’t see a lot of that. So, to be part of this wave of representation is wonderful. It excites me for the future.

NC: And for me, you’re the MVP of Lopez vs Lopez, as far as I’m concerned.

SL: Thank you. One of the things that I have to say is that this cast is, without a shadow of a doubt, the nicest group of talented people I’ve worked with in a long, long time. Everyone is just rooting for each other, uplifting, and it’s just a really great place to go to work, and it’s funny.

NC: It’s so funny, but for the same reasons that you just mentioned, Rosie has shades of people from my life, strong Latina women, and it’s not often we see characters like Rosie on a half hour comedy on a major network for primetime television. That must be a delight.

SL: It is a delight. You know, and I’m really grateful for Debby Wolfe, our writers in the writer’s room, who continue to give me such juicy material that I can play with. From the very beginning, having that phone call and [Debby] saying, “How do you see Rosie? Where do you want to see her? Where do you want to take her?” [It] excited me because then I knew I have a lot of control here as to what voice I’m going to give this character.

It was important for me to show a Latina in all her glory, in her power. From being a businesswoman, an ex-wife, a mother, a grandmother, and owning every aspect of her Latinidad. She doesn’t hide from it. She puts it out there in a powerful way, and she’s funny. It’s been a joy for me to hear from so many people about how they connect with Rosie, and everybody loves her outfits. Can we talk about that?

NC: I was going to bring up her style! It’s so refreshing to see you outside of the Litchfield scrubs.

SL: Yes! When Orange is the New Black was done, I remember saying to my team; I don’t care if I speak to a puppet for two years. I want something lighter. I want to show myself in a different light. It’s important in this industry to make the right moves because if not, you will get typecast, especially being a person of color, especially being a Latina, and especially being an afro Latina. It’s exactly what I’ve wanted. For years, I’ve been saying I want network TV. I want multicam, and here it is.

NC: In the last couple of years, we’ve seen shows with Latinx leads and ensembles; most of them get canceled, but they exist, and it’s a small step.

SL: We’re seeing the progress, right? Obviously, we want more, we want the industry to catch up to what’s happening within our community, but we are seeing it and kudos to the writers that are creating and to the studios that are greenlighting. There is an audience. We make up a huge part of this entertainment industry, and we certainly make it a point to show up to the movies and turn on the television. So the power is there. And I think that the representation is sloooowly making its way to the table.

NC: Lopez vs Lopez is very relatable. I thought back to the Lopez vs Español episode and the shame of not speaking Spanish. There are reflective moments, and there’s also the levity; it’s not just one thing.

SL: That’s one of the things George and I spoke about. Even in the pilot, when there’s that moment where Rosie and George have a scene, and Rosie tells him, you have to do better or else you’re not going to have a relationship with your daughter. That scene, although funny, had that serious tone to it. I was like; this is exciting because this is the setup for what the show will be. The show is a lot of heart, it’s funny, and then it has these really grounded moments that I feel I needed. In order to tell real stories, you have to have those moments.

NC: Even within the format of a multicam itself. It’s rare to see a Latinx family talk about therapy!

SL: We’re evolving! We have evolved. We’re showing people that the Latinx culture is the same as every other culture, right? We have trauma, we go to therapy, and then, of course, you have characters like Rosie who snicker at the thought of therapy, but at the same time, we’re having those discussions. Kudos to Mayan Lopez, who said, I went to therapy, it helped me, this has to be part of the storyline. It’s refreshing that our people get to see that that’s okay. We don’t have to be shamed about that.

NC: I love that episode of Lopez vs Gaslighting because you can see a version where Rosie is just simply blaming George, and it’s played for laughs, but that episode has such vulnerability, and there’s some reflection about her own parenting there. How was it to really dig deep for some of those scenes?

SL: Because we’ve all experienced what we are playing on screen. it’s easy to go there. I can relate to Rosie. I am a mother of a 20-year-old. I have an ex-husband, and I know what that dynamic can be.

I’m an Afro Latina, but I’m an actor. I just want to tell stories. I just want to show people real stories told by me. Why not? So often with the Latinx community, it has to be specific to Latinx, but here we are telling a story about any family. Anyone could tune in and say, “Oh, I relate to this.”

NC: It is, at the end of the day, about showing the multitude of experiences, but it’s also about not getting pigeonholed in that box of, “You can only play Latinx roles because you’re Latina.”

SL: Yes! And that’s for me, the biggest thing about this show is it’s relatable. It’s just a family. People in the Midwest can enjoy us and the Caribbean and Puerto Rico, and in Mexico.

When I think about multicams that I grew up watching, if they were stories you could connect with, it didn’t matter that they weren’t being told by Latinos. If I was connected, I was involved, and I think that’s where we are with Lopez vs Lopez. We are showing the industry that, yes, if you cast Latinos, it doesn’t necessarily mean that only Latinos will tune in. It means they will show up, but others will as well.

NC: People are tuning in. It’s indicative of the ratings.

SL: Absolutely. I’m so proud of our community for showing up and everyone, really for showing up. We have felt the love, and it’s joyous, and the news of a renewal is just like, wow! I’m on cloud nine because we know how hard it can be.

NC: Now that you have that second season coming up, what’s one thing that Lopez vs Lopez hasn’t tackled that you would love to explore about Rosie?

SL: I want to see the woman Rosie. We’ve seen the boss, the mother, the nana, the ex-wife — she’s hot! Let’s get her a little action! Let’s get her out there!

Lopez vs Lopez is currently available to watch on NBC

[This interview was edited for length and clarity.]


Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments



Written by Niki Cruz

Interview: Colton Ryan and His Eerie Role of Jed in Rian Johnson’s ‘Poker Face’

Awards Radar Podcast #137: Myles Has a Game for Joey to Play, Plus More of Your Questions!