Blair Underwood and Lisa Vidal on Latinos in The White House

In The Event, a political thriller which premiered last night on NBC, actor Blair Underwood and Boricua actress Lisa Vidal, play the President of the United States and the First Lady, respectively. caught up with the funny actors— who are longtime BFF's—to talk about the significance of portraying TV's first Latino family in the White House.

Who do you play in The Event?
Blair Underwood
:  I play a guy named Elias Martinez who’s the first elected Afro-Cuban President. He’s an idealistic, passionate, principled man who wants to do the right thing. In last night’s pilot, we learned that there is a group of people who have been detained for years. As soon as Elias learns about them, he feels as though their being detained is illegal, inhumane and un-American so he sets upon a path to release them.

Lisa Vidal
: I play TV’s first Latina First Lady! Her name is Christina Martinez and she’s Cuban. She’s an attorney who’s very intelligent and very dedicated to her husband and son.

Blair: I think it’s great that Lisa is playing the first Latina First Lady. Jimmy Smits played the President on The West Wing, but I know that his wife wasn’t Latina. The fact that she's playing a First Lady with Latin roots is historical in and of itself.

Why did the show decide to make the President Latino and not African American?
Blair: Nick Waters
, who created the show, wrote the script about 4 years ago and he always envisioned the character as Latino and the First family as a Latin family. But more specifically – why not, when they cast me, make him African American? I think because it gives us a different flavor from what our reality is in the White House right now.

Lisa: The First family started out as a Latino family and Nick [Waters] and the producers wanted it to stay that way. I think that’s really wonderful. I feel so proud to be playing this role, on this show, on a major network and representing Latina women. I hope my culture, and my people will support and embrace that!

I just want to add that I am aware that there are those that are not necessarily happy that a non-Latino is playing a Latino. I respect that. My job as an actor is to be very respectful of, and highly sensitive to, that. The fact that I’m playing a President who has Cuban heritage—it’s important to me to be accurate and respectful to Latinos.

Did Lisa give you any advice on how to play a Cuban?
[Laughs] Yes! Actually, we decided amongst ourselves that it would make sense for our characters to speak Spanish—but just a few lines here and there and only to each other and to our 8-year-old son. And, of course, whenever I have to speak Spanish, Lisa is a stickler. I asked her to be—I said, ‘Don’t have me going out there embarrassing myself!’

Lisa: When he’s practicing, he’ll say something and I’ll be like, ‘What was that? Back to the drawing board!’ Blair and I are good friends, so it’s easy—there are no walls up. I love his dedication to try to be authentic and bring whatever he can to play Cuban.