The Baker and the Beauty star Belissa Escobedo may be a newcomer to Hollywood, but growing up miles down the road in Boyle Heights, she always had her sights on acting. “It was about in third grade when I kind of figured I wanted to be an actor,” the 21-year-old tells HOLA! USA. “I kept coming to school with full episodes of Hannah Montana memorized, and I would hand out the parts to all my friends, of course giving myself the lead. They would get bored, and I just never got sick of it.”
After sharing her passion with her family, they were supportive but very realistic with how hard it is to make it in Los Angeles. “They gave me the truth of it, which was we’re not a family that has connections,” she says. “I did my research, found classes and found a performing arts high school LACHSA, which is a public school. They were really, really amazing in that, and I’m very lucky.”
Belissa is also very fortunate that they were very supportive when at 15 she revealed to them she is pansexual. In Monday’s episode of the ABC show, her character Natalie, who is also 15, has a big story arc of coming out to her parents, played by Lisa Vidal and Carlos Gomez.
Keep reading to see which fellow Latinas she admires, her thoughts on Gentefied and why this episode four means so much to her.
HOLA! USA: Who are some of your idols in Hollywood?
“You’d think I would be way more prepared for this question. America Ferrera is a big one for me. She’s always been someone I look up to, especially since there’s not a lot of Latinas, or there weren’t a lot of Latinas, growing up. And Barbie Ferreira. I just watched Euphoria, and she’s amazing, showing that kind of confidence. I love that.”
You mention your family being rooted in Boyle Heights. Did you watch Gentefied?
“Yes, I love that show. My mom and I watched it together. The whole time we were pointing out like, ‘Oh my god, there’s that restaurant,’ or ‘There’s that supermarket.’ It felt so beautiful to be seen like that and to have the story of what’s happening with gentrification in Boyle Heights being told because it’s happening right now. And that little section of Mariachi Plaza, which is where the restaurant is in the show, there is so much vibrancy there, always. And I did community theater there. I felt like it taught me so much more about my culture and my people here in Los Angeles.”
And now you are on another show that has a predominantly Latinx cast. How was filming in Puerto Rico?
“The best time of my life. I wish I could relive it. I miss it so much right now, but truly, the people of Puerto Rico are just something I’ve never experienced before. Their love and resilience is insane. It was this amazing feeling of being, of creating this Latinx show with wholly Latinx people surrounding you.”
Up until now, Natalie has not had a main story line. In episode four, the plot focuses on her coming out to her family. Tell us how important it was to put this story out there, especially for Latinx teens who feel they can’t open up to their families.
“Definitely, myself and other friends that I grew up with, we all would share not feeling like we could talk to our family about this specific thing, about our sexuality because of how it is growing up in a Latino household; it just seems so taboo. It’s not something that’s talked about at the dinner table in a positive way. There was always some kind of joke attached to the end of it, so for me, being a Latino family, telling this story is so important to have on stage because I didn’t have that growing up. I didn’t think it was for us. I didn’t think it could happen to me. I’m so thankful that ABC is putting the show out right now, and we’re telling this story.”
What do you hope somebody, most likely a teen, will take away from the episode?
“That they never have to compromise who they are for anyone, including family.”
What was your childhood like?
“I’d say I went through a few different cultural shocks. I grew up in South Pasadena, which is a very, very wealthy area, but my family was the opposite of that. We shared a one-bedroom apartment with the four of us for the first 11 years of my life. And so, there was always that feeling of being an outsider. And that, I feel like, is exactly what Natalie is feeling right now. She’s at this new school, and she’s on a financial scholarship, which a lot of people don’t know because we don’t talk about it in the show.”
You’re the youngest in the cast. Did that brother/sister relationship happen off set as well?
“Entirely. They all reference me as little sister. They all just took it upon themselves to show me the ropes and make me feel safe among them. They’re amazing. Lisa really took on the mom role and was always texting me like, ‘Are you home safe? What are you doing this weekend? Do you want to go to dinner?’ Just making sure I was always on track.”
Before being cast in Baker and the Beauty, you won a poetry contest in 2016 and shared the stage with some other stars, John Legend and Queen Latifah...
“Yeah, we went on the Queen Latifah Show, and then we did the Hollywood Bowl with John. Sharing a stage with John Legend, I don‘t think it hit me until like a few months later. He was singing beautifully alongside me. He was so kind.”
During this time of corona, are you finding time to write?
“I’ve never stopped writing. I don’t perform as much the spoken word, but I think writing is so, so important. It’s not about writing this amazing piece that’s going to be shared. For me, I write for myself and just to listen to your own voice. It’s one of the ways I’ve been keeping creative during this time. Thankfully, right now because I moved back in with my mom, I have seven animals. Three dogs and four cats. I’m pretty busy and distracted all day. They keep me entertained.”