Swingtown's Lana Parrilla opens up on free love & finding the perfect guy.
"It's different from any part I've ever played before," Lana Parrilla observes about her role as the sexy Trina Decker in CBS' summer series Swingtown. No doubt about that. After all, the show, set in Chicago in 1976, is about a couple of swingers—in the wildest sense of the word—who initiate their new neighbors into their sexually permissive lifestyle.
The titillating pilot, capped by a wife-swapping party, was designed to hook viewers and get them talking—if not protesting. "It will obviously raise some eyebrows, but at the same time I don't think we're exploiting any more than Desperate Housewives or Lipstick Jungle," Parrilla points out. "The sex is there, but there's a deeper element to the show. There are the relationships and familial aspects. You see how the children are affected by their parents' lifestyle. And there's a lot of heart to our show."
Parrilla, who originally auditioned for the role of new neighbor Susan but was asked to return and read for Trina, sees her as more than a seductive vixen. "I'm constantly surprised by her. "She's very maternal and very intuitive, very sensitive and very sensual. And there's a loneliness that we explore."
The role casts her opposite Grant Show (Melrose Place) who she'd previously met via mutual friends. Is the on-set intimacy awkward for her? "Sometimes," she admits, "but he's a pretty handsome man so it's not that difficult," she laughs, noting they've become good friends over the course of shooting the series.
Born the year after the Swingtown era, Parrilla, 30, did research "about the sexual revolution and how people dealt with it. This was before AIDS so there wasn't that fear. It was free love." She also attended a real-life swinger party. "I felt like I was on a porno set or at an orgy. It was very uncomfortable," she confides, stressing that she "didn't partake." But her observations gave her valuable insight into the swinger psyche. "I got how touchy-feely everyone is, and how everyone devours you with their eyes. I took a lot of the physical behavior with me."
Parrilla, a native of Brooklyn, New York who is Italian on her mother's side and Puerto Rican on her father's, grew up closer to her dad's large (including 20+ cousins) clan. "I'm still trying to perfect my arroz con gandules," she says—and her Spanish, but she's made more headway with the latter. She explains that she knew the language when she was young but lost it once her parents split and she spent more time with her mother. Two years ago she decided she was going to be fluent, and when her 2006 series Windfall ended she moved to Granada, Spain, having visited two months before on vacation and fallen in love with it. "I was in Spanish class five days a week, four hours a day for about four months."
She returned to L.A. in January 2007 with the intention of landing a pilot to make enough money to fly back. "But Swingtown came my way and when I read the script it derailed me from living a life in Spain. I'm so grateful for it," she says of her favorite job to date. "But my heart cries for Spain every day. I want to go back. And I feel like my Spanish has suffered some because I don't get to practice here," she says. She enrolled in a UCLA Extension Spanish class but had to drop out due to work, and finds that practicing with the set caterers and friends like Esai Morales isn't enough.
Language lessons aside, her time in Spain gave Parrilla the chance "to explore the free side of me that I don't touch upon often because my life is so structured. It served me well, and opened me up so much so that I could play Trina. She's this free bird." Her ethnicity was never specified at the outset, but Trina will eventually be revealed as Latina, which pleases Parrilla. Her mixed heritage has allowed her to play many ethnicities, but she's proudly aware of improved opportunities for Latin actors in Hollywood.
What else is on her wish list? Acting opposite Robert DeNiro, and lots of travel, with Africa and Asia on the top of her agenda. "But it's hard to find someone who wants to go to Africa." Single, Parrilla lives with her cat Lenny, "who's been very patient with me and my hectic schedule." Boyfriends are perhaps less so. ''One guy works weekends and I work weekdays. I guess I'll see him in June," she says, confiding that she'd "love to find someone. I feel like I'm at the age where I'd love to meet that person."
She doesn't rule out dating an actor if he's the right guy, and looks don't particularly matter to her. "All the men I've dated in the past are so different. I honestly do go for personality. But I've never been one to go on a date blindly. I've always met people through friends and work relationships," she notes, though it is important to her that a man share her interests. "I love to travel, I love languages, I love outdoor activities and music. I have to find a man who is well rounded and not intimidated by me, someone who's diverse and socially outgoing and successful. It's hard to find because I'm 30 years old and such a career-focused woman."
Asked to supply three words that best describe her, Parrilla responds with a question of her own. "Can it be 'Good in bed?'" she laughs, before offering three alternatives: giving, moody, and open. "I'm very direct." Indeed she is, and it's made for a candid conversation. What is she proudest of so far in a life of dramatic accomplishments, globetrotting travels and other enrichments? "Listening to my inner voice," she responds thoughtfully. "I don't think people do that enough."