I asked an acquaintance of mine, Tien Tran, what I should know about my interview subject. The two have worked with each other a ton over the past couple years, as co-stars on the Hulu series, How I Met Your Father. Perhaps I’d learn about their ensemble’s rehearsal process, or of Francia Raisa’s comedic sensibilities. Instead, just three urgent words of Tien’s stay stuck in my head:
“BAD ASS SALSA.”
Tien wasn’t kidding. In fact, Francia says she’s no longer welcome at HIMYF costar Hilary Duff’s house without said salsa in tow. I haven’t tasted the salsa myself, but the Mayor of Flavortown has. Francia brought Guy Fieri a batch of her (soon-to-be) famous home-made salsa when she appeared on his show, Guy’s Ultimate Game Night. The verdict? “I’m gonna give it to you 100%. If you don’t jar it, you’re crazy.” From Guy’s lips to God’s ears.
You don’t know Francia as a condiment queen quite yet—though you might soon as she has teamed up with La Victoria’s. You might recognize her as Valentina, the bestie and roomie of Duff’s Sophie on How I Met Your Father. Or perhaps you saw her on Freeform’s Grown-ish, where she played Zoey’s roommate Ana. But even if you haven’t seen Francia’s acting work, you’re probably vaguely familiar with a certain internal organ of hers. Francia made headlines in 2017 when she donated a kidney to her friend, pop star Selena Gomez. Of course, most humans can go on living with just one kidney. And that’s just what Francia’s doing.
A true Millennial, Francia embodies a certain generational trope: the resistance to growing up. At least you’d think so by looking at her IMDb page. The actress played a teenager on television into her early 30s. Back when she actually was one, she was a dancer and a cheerleader in the San Fernando Valley. That background led her to book her first acting gig: Bring It On: All or Nothing (2007), a straight-to-DVD sequel to the iconic Kirsten Dunst film. She jumped from that high school flick to a high school series, ABC Family’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager. When she was 29 years old, Francia finally graduated from high school and went onto college: as Ana on Freeform’s Grown-ish.
By the time season four rolled around, it was time. “You know, I was just ready to grow up,” says Francia. She was in her early 30s, in the middle of a pandemic. She was freezing her eggs yet playing a teenager on TV. The cognitive dissonance was too much. “I was like, ‘I’m so past this.’ It was depressing me.”
And then, as if by fate: How I Met Your Father came knocking. Francia had two reactions.
First: “They should just leave some classics alone!”
Second, when she heard who was attached to star in it: “Hold up. Lizzie McGuire?”
How I Met Your Father is a gender-swapped reboot of the beloved aughts sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Hilary Duff stars as Sophie, who navigates the foibles of Millennial dating in Manhattan with her group of friends—including her bestie-slash-roomie, Valentina, played by Francia. Valentina and Francia share some surface-level similarities (“We’re both very swaggy,” Francia laughs, though she’s not wrong). But Francia says Valentina is the perfect challenge at this moment in her life. While previous roles called for Francia to mine her more adolescent emotions, Valentina has taught Francia to mature, chill out, and trust the universe.
For example: At the end of season one, Valentina and her boyfriend Charlie break up but still stay in the same friend group. “I could never break up with someone and then watch him date other women,” Francia says. “How dare you. Do you see me? You don’t want to have kids with me?” But that’s where Francia and Valentina differ. And Francia admires Valentina’s logic, her ability to see that not everything is a huge deal.
Playing a grown-ass adult is what drew Francia to HIMYF. But diving into straight-up comedy actually intimidated Francia. Like the original series, the Hulu reboot is a multi-camera sitcom with a laugh track. It calls for a certain comedic pacing and performance unlike any of the work Francia had done in the past. While Francia is clearly a natural entertainer—she’s prone to joking off-the-cuff, an easy conversationalist—she doesn’t have any formal comedy training. And yet Francia didn’t call up her acting coach once throughout the HIMYF audition process.
Why not? Francia apologizes to her publicist, then tells me: a magic mushroom trip.
Over quarantine, Francia took shrooms by herself. (Oh, come on. We all did weird stuff during early Covid.) It was around that time when Francia was feeling too old for Grown-ish, at a sort of crux point for her both personally and professionally. And suddenly, during the psilocybin trip, everything about her acting process just clicked. She tells me she looked into the mirror, and everything her acting coaches had been trying to drill into her head since she was 18 just made sense. Folks around her had told her she had a “natural talent” throughout her life; now she could see that for herself. “I’m not encouraging people to do shrooms!” Francia laughs. “But sometimes getting out of your head helps.”
The jury is still out on psilocybin’s exact role here. What is clear, though, is that Francia grew up around comedy. Her father, Renán Almendárez Coello—better known as El Cucuy de la Mañana—was a hugely popular DJ in Los Angeles in the 2000s. Francia calls him the “Spanish version of Howard Stern.” Renán wrote and performed (raunchy) on-air skits, doing every single voice. He was certain his three daughters would be stars and gave them names he saw fit for entertainers, or at least for the Eurozone: Francia, Italia, and Irlanda. Despite his urgings, Francia detested getting dragged into the studio with her dad, in classic teen form. She was drawn to dance, not comedy; though, ironically, dance helped her crack into Hollywood, and now she’s on a sitcom.
“I’ve been having a moment with myself where I’m finally comfortable with who I am and comfortable in my skin.”
She can see, in retrospect, that being raised comedy writer and performer worked its way into her bloodstream. She credits her dad, as well as her healthy intake of classic sitcoms on Nick at Nite—Francia says she often borrows from Lucille Ball’s comedy—instilled in her an intrinsic sense of comedic timing. What, like it’s hard?
But comedy isn’t the be-all-end-all for Francia. She’s a hustler, so she’s got projects brewing: a memoir proposal about being first-generation in Hollywood and, of course, getting her famous salsa on the market. In terms of acting Francia’s hungry to act in Spanish. And she’s always wanted to be in an action comedy feature—she’s even a black belt in kenpo karate. (Francia believes in willing change into her life. Dance and cheer led her to booking Bring It On: All Or Nothing; she happened to book The Cutting Edge right after she got back into figure skating. So staying in ass-kicking shape is important for Francia’s creative pursuits.) But, in the broad sense, Francia wants more control, more choices, more autonomy.
Imagine this: You’re at Disneyland. You’re probably exhausted, exhilarated, and extremely over the recommended daily glucose intake. When out of the blue your friend gives you a proposition: Want to go to Carnival in Trinidad with me?
That’s the situation Francia found herself in last fall. The friend in question was Lilly Singh, YouTuber and former host of NBC’s A Little Late with Lilly Singh. The two struck up a friendship when Francia guested on Lilly’s show back in 2019. Well, actually, they’d met before then. Francia introduced herself at a mutual friend’s gathering and told Lilly how thrilled she was to make her late night debut on A Little Late. But when show day finally arrived, Lilly stopped by Francia’s dressing room and said the four most devastating an acquaintance possibly can:
“Nice to meet you!”
But Francia didn’t take that lying down. No way. That’s not her style. “You think I just left it backstage?” she says, “Absolutely not.” Instead she roasted Lilly on national television for it.
A friendship developed from there. Lilly invited Francia to an Angel City Football Club game in LA. Eventually they wound up at Disneyland together, with Lilly inviting Francia to Carnival. She gives it to Francia straight: It’s not going to be bougie, you’re going to be partying and eating poorly, and you won’t be able to work out like you do here in LA. Lilly goes to Carnival every year so she knows how it’s done. Francia, by her telling, doesn’t travel a lot, for a whole host of reasons: She works all the time, she’s a mother figure to her two sisters in LA, and she suffers from crippling FOMO when she leaves the city. She spent so much of her teenage and 20-something years working that she simply didn’t prioritize traveling.
But Francia feels different of late. The new How I Met Your Father Francia feels different. Maybe it’s that she’s finally playing an adult on TV. “I’ve been having a moment with myself where I’m finally comfortable with who I am and comfortable in my skin,” she says. Maybe it’s that she’s tapping into her comedic roots. Or maybe it was the shrooms. But in this part of her career and personal life Francia feels she’s tapped into an authentic part of herself. “So I was like: ‘Screw it!’”
Cut to February 2023, Trinidad and Tobago. Francia, Lilly, and friends spend a week straight in the heart of Caribbean Carnival, partying and dancing. The nagging anxieties about skipping town while HIMYF is airing have melted away. Despite her seasons on Grown-ish, Francia finally enjoys her very first roadie, a water bottle full of vodka. They leave the house at midnight and celebrate in the street, music blasting from every angle. Strangers hose the dancing masses down with water as the sun rises, just as the daily heat cranks back up.
“I’m exhausted,” Francia tells me, back in LA. “But I’m good.”
Styling by Lilit Shahinyan
Makeup by Bria València
Hair by Ashley Ruiz