Lisa Vidal understood the struggle her character Kara faced last season on "Being Mary Jane" when boyfriend Gael (Julian Acosta) pushed the TV news producer to not forget her Latino roots. It's an issue she and many Latino-Americans face every day in real life.
"When you're living two different cultures and you have to decide which one to be when, sometimes that can be very conflicting and I live in that world, so to speak, because I'm very connected to my Puerto Rican culture and never want to lose it," Vidal told Headlines & Global News in an exclusive interview.
"But yet I am a proud American and that's part of my culture too. I am a Latino, but being an American, I want to be identified as American in the sense I belong here. I was born and raised here. This is my culture. I went to school here. I speak English. So I thought it was a really good point to make," she said.
Kara and Gael are still together as season three kicks off on BET, but the couple has a lot of work ahead of them.
"As usual, relationships are complicated and we get to explore a little bit of that complication and see that play between Kara and Gael," Vidal teased.
"Being Mary Jane" creator Mara Brock Akil encourages her actors to pitch ideas they think speak to their characters. Some work. Others don't. But her support gave Vidal the chance to explore other issues close to her heart through Kara, like being a working mom.
"Kara is a working mom and we talked about those issues — being a minority woman especially, but just being a woman in general and trying to balance it all, and trying to have everything, trying to be everything to everyone, and trying to be at your best at all times. It's sort of this impossible bar that we set for ourselves," Vidal said.
"It's almost like women make it worse for themselves in a lot of ways because then everyone else expects us to be what we expect of ourselves and our expectations are set too high," she continued. "So I wanted to show a woman that is sort of scrambling with all of this and what that looks like."
Vidal plays another strong mother in the new film "Victor," which is based on a true story about a migrant teen from Puerto Rico living in the slums of Brooklyn in the early 1960s. She plays Victor's mother Lila who works alongside a passionate minister (Josh Pence) to save her son from gangs and drugs through faith.
Director Brandon Dickerson received a copy of Victor Torres' memoir from Greg Wilkerson, the son of real-life pastor David Wilkerson, who risked his life to go into poor neighborhoods and help young people like Victor find a better direction in their lives.
"This man was an amazing man of God," Vidal said about the pastor, whose story was also told in the 1970 film "The Cross and the Switchblade." "Back in the '50s and '60s, this man dropped himself in the middle of death, basically... and he was very integral in saving Victor Torres' life and so it was sort of teamwork — [Victor's] mother and Pastor Wilkerson."
As a mother in her own home, Vidal credits her children for keeping her in such good shape. She doesn't subscribe to a strict diet, instead believing in balanced meals, but she does make it a point to exercise regularly.
"I'm a big believer in exercise. I've been exercising since I was a kid. Always active. I'm active with my kids. We go biking. We go skiing. We go swimming," she said. "I think it's really important that you incorporate the balance of good eating and consistent exercise. I'm not saying you have to be ridiculous about it, but at least three days a week of what you're capable of. Everyone should do something."
Vidal puts hard work in her personal health and her personal relationships, especially with her husband of 25 years, Jay Cohen. She says "work" is the key word when it comes to maintaining her marriage.
"Everyone wants the Snow White and Cinderella and all that stuff. [But] it's work. It's not always good times and fabulous. Everybody asks us that because we've been together so long and we met so young, and we've had our challenging times and our issues, but we've really pushed through it for the sake of the love that we have for each other and our family," she said.
"We love our family and we're not willing to throw that away... I think that both my husband and I have a lot of integrity. We have a goal and our goal is to be together and see our children grow and see them get married and be grandparents and enjoy all that life has to offer. That's important to us — our family."
In addition to "Being Mary Jane," Vidal will also appear this fall on the new Fox drama "Rosewood," playing the mother of Det. Annalise Villa (Jaina Lee Ortiz).
"It's a very different kind of role than the one I play on 'Being Mary Jane,'" she said. "Just all these wonderful opportunities to play different characters, I love it. I'm really grateful and happy that I get to do what I love."
"Being Mary Jane" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on BET. "Victor" is currently on the festival circuit.