A certain word tends to come up when you talk to the cast of Freeform’s Party of Five, a ‘20s reboot of the classic 1990s sitcom of the same name. That word is “bawling.” Many moments in the family dramedy, about a group of siblings who are essentially orphaned following their parents' deportation, will have you reaching for the tissues. By the five-minute mark of the series premiere, the Acosta parents (Fernanda Urrejola and Bruno Bichir) have already been taken by ICE and separated from their five children.
But that’s not why everyone keeps talking about sobbing while describing their on-set experience. The Party of Five cast couldn’t stop crying because of the pilot’s heart-shattering deportation scene towards the end of the episode, which debuted on January 8. It’s a moment that is so much more emotional than anyone at home realizes.
Because many of those people weeping in the background of the deportation shots were really crying about their own personal brushes with immigration crises.
“When we were shooting that in Montreal, there were a lot of extras in the scene. A lot of them were actually crying and bawling their eyes out,” Emily Tosta, who plays Party of Five daughter Lucia, tells Refinery29. The tears, Tosta and her TV twin Niko Guardado recall, were more intense than the kind you see from traditional background actors. “We were like, Okay, wait. They’re like really into the story,” Tosta says. Finally, some of the performers clarified what was going on.
“They would come up to some of us like, ‘By the way, we went through this. My family went through this,’” Tosta continues. "Or, ‘I just got separated from my family a couple of days ago.’ Stories that would blow your mind.’”
“That hit home even more. [That feeling] was in the room on that day,” Guardado says, explaining how the revelation affected filming. Surprisingly, no one on set was expecting the extras to have such a personal connection to the material, Tosta says. “Nobody knew,” she says of production. “They just pick you [for extra work]. The producers had no idea. It was wild.”
Both cast members say they left set still feeling the emotions of the day (Tosta admits she and TV mom Fernanda Urrejola were “nonstop crying” throughout the shoot, even when cameras were off). “Filming it was just… I don’t know,” Guardado says, becoming speechless while thinking back on the experience. “It humbled you. It really did. I remember leaving set and driving back to the hotel with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and thankfulness for the life that I have.”
Dominican-Venezuelan Tosta, who came to America on a travel visa from the D.R. and is still using a work visa, recognizes the feedback loop between real-life feelings and the ones necessary for acting. “It’s a lot, especially when you’re dealing with such strong scenes and such strong emotions,” she reveals. “You have to navigate them in your brain and in your heart and sometimes you have to find things from your own personal life to bring in that emotion. Then that brings you back to that emotion in your life.”
Tosta says her daily routine of prayer, affirmations, journaling, and exercise kept her centered. Guardado credits a post-filming meal with his Party family with raising his spirits after the deportation scene. Both actors point out the real-life implications of the day — and the families broken by the immigration crisis — is what affected them so much in the first place.
“It wasn’t that we were in a funk because we were crying all day. It was that it was really happening [to someone else] while we were having dinner,” Guardado says. “It’s happening today. Right now, as we’re talking, too. It’s in the spotlight right now definitely, but I don’t think there’s enough light on the whole subject. It was just very raw. It was a raw portrayal that I had never seen.”
That explains why Guardado, who is Mexican-American (“My dad’s side of the family is from Durango, Mexico and my mom’s side is from San Luis Potosí”), says the “one of the big goals” of the series is to help viewers understand the Latinx experience a little bit more. “We’re trying to change perspectives. I hope people sympathize, not only with the deportation angle, but with the family dynamics. It’s about a family at the end of the day who’s just trying to get through life,” Guardado says.
“We can all relate to that.”