Returning for the third season of ABC Family’s hit show “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” actress Francia Raisa, 21, stars as Adrian Lee, a sexually-active high school majorette who finds out she is pregnant in the second episode of the new season, which started June 7.
During an interview with me, Raisa, who is half Mexican and half Honduran talked about in what ways she identifies with her character, what the “sex talk” was like with her parents, and why she considers Bristol Palin, former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin’s oldest daughter and upcoming guest star on “Secret Life,” a hero.
“Secret Life” airs every Monday at 7 p.m. CT.
How do you relate to your character? Are you anything like Adrian?
I’m flirty by nature, so I think I relate to her in that sense from how she was in the beginning of the show. Back when I was in high school if anyone did anything to me, I was like, “Well, I’m going to get them back.” So I guess in that sense I can relate to her. I feel a deep connection with Adrian just because a lot of her personality traits reminded me of myself when I was growing up, and then a lot of what her decisions reminded me of a lot of decisions that my friends made, my close friends made. So it was almost like it was a part of me just because I heard about so much and I was so involved in it. So I do have a personal connection with her.
Being on “Secret Life,” do you ever feel like you’re taking on the role of spokesperson about teen sex?
Oh, yes, definitely. I feel like people are paying close attention to what we’re doing, because I remember when I was younger and anytime anyone did something on TV, I wanted to do that too. I was a big Mary Kate Olsen fan growing up, so anytime they did anything on TV, I was like, “Mommy, I want to do that, I want to dress like that. I want to be like that.” Yes, I do feel a big responsibility, like they’re paying close attention to every decision we make. I feel like they’re relating their lives a bit to ours and saying, “Oh, I’m just like that,” so whatever we decide on the show, whatever the consequences come about, they’ve related to themselves and their own lives.
We know young teenagers are watching the show, but what role do their parents play? Would you like parents to be sitting down with their kids watching this show? Do you hope the show triggers conversations with mom and dad?
Actually, I know that a lot of parents do watch the show with their kids. I have parents coming up to me constantly and actually thanking me and appreciating the fact that this show does exist because sex is a very touchy subject to talk about with parents and children. You never really know how to bring this up. This show it kind of opens the door for that conversation. Seeing a pregnancy and heartbreak and just everything that sex brings into young teenage lives is a way for a parent to have examples. It just opens a better relationship for a lot of parents and their children. They’ve told me before that they watch it and they really appreciate it and they really enjoy it and it’s really easy for them to talk about it now. My mom could never talk to me about it. My dad still turns pale when I even bring up the subject [of sex].
So, was there ever a birds and bees conversation with your parents?
I never had it with my dad. He still doesn’t like to talk about it. He thinks I don’t know it exists and I still believe that babies come from the storks. When I was much younger, my mother told me that when a woman wanted to get pregnant, she would pray to God that she would have a baby and then it would just appear in her belly. So it wasn’t until…I watching “Clueless” and I kept hearing the word “virgin,” and I’m like, “Mommy, what’s a virgin?” And people kept talking about it at school. So, she almost had to talk to me about it, but she was really nervous, and she kept saying, “Wait until you’re in fifth grade, wait until you’re in fifth grade, and you’ll learn,” because I guess that’s when you have the sex talk. After fifth grade, she realized that the conversation just kept coming up in school. I think when I was in sixth grade…we found a condom during recess and I didn’t know what it was. My friends did and I didn’t want to feel stupid, so I told my mom, “Oh, my gosh, yes, we totally found a condom!” But I had no idea. I thought it was balloon. I asked my mom about it. She couldn’t steer away from it, so she finally talked to me about it. I was like, “Oh, well, I already knew that. People told me at school.”
Bristol Palin is going to be a guest star on this season and I wanted to know what the experience was like having her on set and if you see her as a role model for young women who find themselves in these situations?
I actually didn’t get to work with her. Shailene [Woodley] got to work with her. But she’s definitely a big role model. This show is about teen sex and teen pregnancy, so she definitely has a voice about her experience being a teen mother, and the positivity and negativity about it. She is a big example for a lot of teenagers, especially having her mom being such a big figure in political culture. But yes, I was really glad to have her on the show and I know a lot of people are going to be looking forward to watching her and listening to what she has to say.
I’m going to throw some stats at you: of the 765,000 teenagers who become pregnant in the U.S. each year, there are at least 50-55 percent of them choose to parent, 30-35 percent choose to have an abortion, and less than 1 percent will choose adoption. Why don’t we see people talking more about adoption?
We talked about adoption a bit in the show with Amy’s storyline. I think adoption is probably one of the hardest things a person will ever have to do. For me, having a baby growing inside you for nine months, knowing it’s your blood, and knowing that you created it, and you took care of it, and nourished it and [then] to give it up…is probably one of the toughest decisions you ever have to make. I don’t know why it’s not spoken about a lot, though. I think it’s beautiful that even though a parent can’t take care of a baby they’re willing to give it to another family who unfortunately can’t have a baby and they’re yearning for one. We touched on it – like I said before – and we might again with my pregnancy on the show. We’ll be exploring all options.