Emily Rios has stolen scenes in series like Friday Night Lights, Men of a Certain Age and Breaking Bad, but it’s as reporter Adriana Mendez on The Bridge that she is able to truly shine. The FX series is now in its second season, and Emily has an even bigger role this time around. On Season 1, she was recurring with storylines more focused on leads Diane Kruger and Demián Bichir, but she’s been upped to a series regular for Season 2, which means we’ll get to see more of her personal and professional lives, both of which are a little strained when she tries to be successful at finding a balance.
“You’ll see where she’s trying to make sacrifices because she wants a career,” Emily said during an interview at TCA’s FX day. “It’s almost heroic in a sense at the end of the season when you see what she’s able to do. You’re tapping into topics that are very dangerous and obviously with Franka [Potente]”s character — our characters intersect and are going to have a lot of issues, so I have to decide whether I want to go down this love path or really protect her and completely separate myself from any connections, relationships in general because I’m putting myself in the line of fire, basically. So you get to see whether she chooses that path or whether she chooses her passion.”
Adriana’s girlfriend, Lucy, is a nurse who was introduced briefly in the season premiere, but will return throughout the season.
“You’re going to get more of that and her personal life, but it’s very simple,” Emily said. “It’s because I don’t want to be this big deal. you’ll catch them in their home, you’ll catch them possibly in the same bed, maybe kiss a little but it’s nothing major.”
Emily said that before she signed onto Season 2, she wanted to make sure Adriana’s coming out plot from Season 1 was finished.
“The first season I felt was too much of a coming out story, like the mom slapping her,” Emily said. “Yeah, we get it — but the show’s not about that. It doesn’t need to be that. I want it to be an incidental thing, which is what happens in our everyday life. Diane [Kruger] happens to have Aspberger on the show. It’s incidental; you don’t ever have to talk about it. So I wanted to make sure the whole lesbian aspect wasn’t this whole coming out story and the character wasn’t going to be made more flamboyant in any sort of way. If they ever did introduce a girlfriend, I didn’t want it to be, ‘Oh my god! Here she is!’”
Emily said she’s lucky because creator and Executive Producer Elwood Reid shared her enthusiasm for Adriana’s sexuality to be just one aspect of who she is.
“I try to tell [the writers], ‘Listen, this is not how it happens. We are not this way,’” Emily said. “They have an idea, or they want to have an idea of what really happens behind the scenes. And I’m like ‘No!’ So he loved that. Elwood, I came out to him and I was like, ‘Look, feel free if you have any questions, I don’t ever want it to be this” and he’s like “Neither do I! It doesn’t matter.’ ‘OK great!’ It worked out wonderful.”
Emily identifies as a gay woman and says she has a lot in common with Adriana, which is one reason she loves playing her.
“I’m gay, personally, so being Mexican and a lesbian — this is why I love the character because I deal with the same type of things with my own family,” Emily said. “Mexican-Americans especially — because this generation, we come into America and your family wants to be proud. You want to come to this country and say ‘This is what I have to show for it. I brought my family and we’re living our better life.’ For my family, my mom didn’t want me to live a difficult life. She brought me here for a better one so she’s like ‘Your coming out…I don’t want this to be this. I want you to be comfortable.’”
Emily grew up Jehovah’s Witness and said her family is “extremely religious,” but that she has more support than her character does.
“Adrianna’s story on The Bridge is a little different because her mom is ashamed and embarrassed, but I dealt with that as well,” she said. “But it just took a year for ‘Hey it’s not a phase, this is really happening.’ And then they get comfortable with it. So it was a little bit more extreme, but the Mexicans are very family-oriented. It’s all about the love so they’re very supportive. Mostly what I find in the community I grew up in, which is highly populated with Hispanics, my family and a lot of my friends who are gay and lesbian, they have a backlash but it’s an initial backlash. An initial ‘Oh no, this is not happening.’ But for any parent, I’m sure, it’s a big slap in the face, especially for our heritage. But more than ever I want to say 90 percent of them have big support systems.”
For press events Emily dons gorgeous dresses and stilettos, but she says off-screen, she’s mistaken for a guy all the time.
“I don’t consider myself very feminine at all. I gotta be honest with you: I get mistaken for a dude on a daily basis. ‘Excuse me sir? How can I help you sir?’ I know I got this androgynous look and everything,” she said. “In my everyday I don’t wear makeup, I put on hats and I put on sneakers and jeans.”
Emily, who is only 25, has been acting since she was 16 and discovered at a shopping mall. This is her second lesbian role on television, as her Men of a Certain age character was also gay. Emily said the role of Adriana wasn’t gay until after she tried out for the role.
“It was right after the first audition they told me, ‘look, this is the direction we want to go.’ And then I obviously get a call from my manager’s like ‘Is this something that you might want to do?’ And of course! For any actor it’s like it’s a dream,” Emily said.
And now as a series regular who gets to have a say in what her character would or wouldn’t do, as well as what kind of girls she might date, Emily is one lucky actress.
“This was my biggest, biggest fear about working on a TV show where I had to play a lesbian because, again, I was telling Elwood, ‘Look, I don’t know where you’re going to go with her. You can go anywhere you want but here I am, just this puppet’ and I didn’t want to do that,” Emily said. “Which is why we had this conversation. He’s like ‘Look you can always come and talk to me. You can tell me this is not what I want to do. This is not the character,’ which is, for any actor, that’s a dream because usually it’s ‘Hit your mark, say the lines verbatim exactly, boom, you’re done. Go home and get your paycheck.’ And this is not like that at all.”
Emily gave a list of actors she had in mind to play Adriana’s love interest and the one the producers chose for Lucy, Alyssa Diaz, was on the list.
“I’ve actually known her since I was 17. We usually audition for all the same roles,” Emily said. “It’s actually really great we get to work together. So I’ve known her forever, she’s a sweetheart, and it was between her and one other girl and the other girl I didn’t know, so maybe that might have affected it. I vouched for Alyssa because I know she’s a sweetheart, she’s very easy to work with. She’s not that diva Hollywood girl. She’s so mellow, she’s so chill.”
They didn’t do any chemistry reads, though, because Emily is, of course, a scene stealer.
“Elwood says that every time I go into read, all he does is look at me and he can’t deal with having the chemistry because he said he’d never cast anybody,” Emily said. “It’s a compliment to me and don’t get me wrong, he’s sending [me the girls] and I’m like ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ And he’s making a joke like, ‘Emily, so many beautiful women came to audition — if you want to go through a few throughout the season…’” She laughed. “I mean, don’t make me look like an asshole! Don’t make me look like that girl. Let’s not do that!”
The Bridge airs Wednesday nights on FX. Follow Emily on Twitter @emily1loverios