In Vampire Academy, Daniela Nieves Delivers a New Kind of Latina Princess as Lissa Dragomir

Photo: Courtesy of Peacock.
Ever since she was very young, Daniela Nieves has had a penchant for chit-chat. 
“Once you know me, just as a person, I love to talk,” Nieves, the Venezuela-born actor starring as Lissa Dragomir in Peacock’s newly released Vampire Academy. “I will tell you a million stories, and I love hearing your stories and how you put it together for me.” 
Being naturally talkative turned out to be a strength for the now 25-year-old, particularly when she began her acting career around age 8. Her parents, having observed her natural charisma and flair for storytelling, were encouraging. Her mom enrolled her in acting and dancing classes. And as luck would have it, the owner of the studio worked with Univision. One day, they were casting for a young girl to play someone’s daughter in a telenovela
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“And for some reason, I was so confident when I was younger,” Nieves says, laughing. “I don't know where I got it from, but I was like, ‘I can do it.’ I booked that telenovela and then that’s really where I started.”

“I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t know if anything was gonna work. But I was like, ‘If I don’t do it now, I’m never gonna do it.’” 

Daniela Nieves
She would do one telenovela every year or so, remaining in school the entire time. Her parents let her choose which roles she wanted to play. The minute it became too much, she would take a pause from acting. 
“Telenovelas, I mean they were like 100 episodes,” Nieves says. “It was a lot longer than a typical show. The first one was in third grade or something, and then there would be a year where I didn’t do anything.”
At 19, she left her hometown of Miami and headed west, compelled by the distinct sense of urgency to Start Your Life that’s common in early adulthood. “I just moved out of my house and went to LA,” she recalls. “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t know if anything was gonna work. But I was like, ‘If I don’t do it now, I’m never gonna do it.’” 
Photo: Courtesy of Peacock.
The risk paid off. Nieves is now starring in Peacock’s Vampire Academy, the highly anticipated show adapted from the book series of the same name, as Lissa Dragomir, a royal vampire princess. Without getting into any spoilers, Lissa undergoes a significant tragedy in the series premiere, setting her off on a journey of seeking answers to lingering family mysteries.
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“Our fifth episode is one of my favorite episodes and one of the full cast’s favorites,” she shares. “It’s a huge turning point in the season. It feels good to finally have it out and have people start watching, but it’ll really set in once the whole season is out.”
Nieves describes playing Lissa as “a huge challenge” because of the emotional turmoil she experiences very early on in the series. What’s more, there’s a specific kind of physicality she had to embrace in order to channel royalty. She considered what a princess walks like, how they are perceived by people, how they treat others, and how privilege plays into that.
“I also thought about the fact that I am Latina,” she says. “And we never see a Latina princess. The Latina is always the spunky sidekick that fights along, you know what I mean?”

"We never see a Latina princess. The Latina is always the spunky sidekick that fights along, you know what I mean?”

DANIELA NIEVES
Growing up in Venezuela, and later in South Florida, Nieves observed that the princess was usually blonde with blue eyes. That was the extent of royal representation in movies and television.
“[That] was what was shown in the media always,” she shares. “No — me being able to play this princess and tell the story from a truthful place has nothing to do with the color of my skin or the color of my hair. It’s so crazy that it’s even a conversation.” 
Nieves reveals that she’s gone to auditions that made her feel less-than simply because she didn’t fit a one-dimensional definition of what a Latina “should” look like. “You go through that all the time — going for an audition, like, I look too Latina for this or I don’t look Latina enough for that because they put you in a box,” she says. 
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Vampire Academy was the opposite experience. Executive producers Julie Plec and Marguerite MacIntyre set a positive, inclusive tone from the beginning, Nieves shares, making the cast feel comfortable and free to tell the story that they wanted to tell. 
To be able to bring a classic princess tale to life and have kids see themselves in the character of Lissa is, perhaps, the ultimate payoff for Nieves. “Having little girls be like, ‘Oh my god, she looks like me,’ and they can just watch and feel included, that feels so great.”
Photo: Courtesy of Peacock.
It’s a full-circle moment for the actor who first got her start in telenovelas based in her backyard of Miami. When Nieves reflects on her journey up to this point, she acknowledges just how much her Miami upbringing influenced her understanding of what it means to be a Latina.
Because she grew up in Florida, she explains, she can tell the difference in cultures among Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans, Colombians, Mexicans, and Chileans, just to name a few. “We see it as completely different countries,” she says.
Being in Los Angeles and auditioning for Latina parts, people would assume things about Nieves or her culture because she’s Latina. It made her realize that ignorance toward Latine communities remains pervasive in Hollywood. 

“People’s perception of being a part of the Latine community surprised me. It made me realize, ‘oh, you guys don’t really get it.’”

DANIELA NIEVES
“I’m like, ‘no, that’s a different culture — I’m Venezuelan, that’s not what [we do],’” Nieves says. “People’s perception of being a part of the Latine community surprised me. It made me realize, ‘oh, you guys don’t really get it.’”
With Vampire Academy, she values playing a princess who happens to be Latina, as opposed to a princess whose entire character is built around her cultural identity.
“How good it feels to just be the freakin’ princess and not have a story that’s like, she’s Latina and she’s an immigrant,” Nieves says. “I am an immigrant, and those stories are very important to tell and very valid, and I do love them. But there’s more to being Latina than just that. That doesn’t define who we are. That doesn’t define our story of what we bring to the table.”

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