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'Party Of Five' reboot aims to humanize immigrant families with a Latinx cast

Actor Emily Tosta said she wishes this show had been on TV when she moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at age 12.
"Party of Five" stars Brandon Larracuente as Emilio Acosta, Elle Paris Legaspi as Valentina Acosta, Niko Guardado as Beto Acosta and Emily Tosta as Lucia Acosta.
"Party of Five" stars Brandon Larracuente as Emilio Acosta, Elle Paris Legaspi as Valentina Acosta, Niko Guardado as Beto Acosta and Emily Tosta as Lucia Acosta.Freeform

The creators of the original 1990 drama "Party Of Five" found a new opportunity to bring back the iconic show in a timely, reinvented manner with a star-studded Latinx cast.

In the original show, written by Amy Lippman and Christopher Keyser, centered on a white family of five siblings who raise each other after their parents are killed by a drunk driver. The reboot centers on the emotional roller coaster the Acosta siblings face after their parents are suddenly deported to Mexico.

The new show, premiering Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Freeform, starts off with a dramatic turn of events as Javier Acosta (Brunco Bichir) and Gloria Acosta (Fernanda Urrejola) end up in a detention center after being arrested by immigration authorities while working at the family restaurant.

Emilio (Brandon Larracuente), the oldest Acosta sibling, has to suddenly put his dreams of becoming a successful musician on hold to navigate the stressful and complex immigration system to help his parents.

Even after Emilio does everything in his power to release his parents from detention, they both end up being deported, leaving him and his siblings Lucia (Emily Tosta), Beto (Niko Guardado), Valentina (Elle Paris Legaspi) and baby Rafa behind as they grapple with the realities of raising each other.

Elle Paris  Legaspi, Brandon Larracuente,Niko Guardado and Emily Tosta in a scene from  "Party of Five."
Elle Paris Legaspi, Brandon Larracuente, Niko Guardado and Emily Tosta in a scene from "Party of Five."Gilles Mingasson / Freeform

Larracuente, whose character is a 24-year-old DACA recipient, told NBC News he spent a lot of time reading articles and researching the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of people in the Obama-era immigration program. It temporarily shields some young immigrants brought to the U.S. without proper documentation from being deported and makes them eligible for work permits or attending college.

"I learned something about the DACA status, I did not know that just because you are a DACA student that does not guarantee you citizenship," Larracuente said. "That's something that I learned through educating myself."

During the New York premiere of the show Tuesday night, Larracuente spoke about a time he met a girl in Los Angeles who, like his character Emilio, "lost her parents to an unfortunate deportation and she is now the full caretaker or her family."

"Just to pick her brain and to see the pain and her hurt in her eyes, is hopefully something I could take with me, to continue building on if we are fortunate to get season two," Larracuente said.

During the Tribeca Film Festival, Lippman said they plan on developing Larracuente's character based on the Supreme Court's decision to either end or keep DACA.

For Elle Paris Legaspi, empathy was key to act one of the most memorable scenes of the show, when her character, Valentina, goes to her parents' immigration court hearing to testify on their behalf and stop their deportation.

"I just put myself into the character's shoes, see if that would have happened to me, and how I would feel and react, so I kind of put myself in her shoes, and really think about how things could have been," said Legaspi, who is 12.

The Acostas mirror some of the experiences that more than 16 million people living in mixed immigration status families grapple with nationwide.

Emily Tosta — who plays Lucía, a straight-A student with lofty college ambitions who rebels after her parents' deportation — said the characters in the show are so complex that they actually reflect "how the real world looks like."

"These are the families that are on the streets," said Tosta, who moved to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was 12. "I wished that I saw more people that looked like us on TV, that were representing our culture."

To portray such nuances as authentically as Tosta describes, Lippman and Keyser brought Michal Zebede, a writer and producer of Costa Rican and Panamanian roots, onto the show to help develop the reboot.

"This show is different from the original, obviously, especially with the factor that the parents here are alive," said Guardado, whose character is Lucía's twin brother with paternal instincts. "But you have this wide demographic, starting with baby Rafa to Elle, who is 12, you have us, with our characters growing up in high school and in our 20s. You also have the parent's perspective, so it really is relatable to anybody watching."

Elle Paris Legaspi and Niko Guardado in the pilot of "Party of Five" airing Jan. 8, 2020.
Elle Paris Legaspi and Niko Guardado in the pilot of "Party of Five" airing Jan. 8, 2020.Jonathan Wenk / Freeform

Tosta told NBC News she gets "goosebumps" when she thinks of "Party Of Five" as the show she wished to have had on TV when she was seeking legal immigration status in the U.S.

"I really wished I did have something like this to watch. I obviously came here as an immigrant and I was trying to find status," Tosta said. "When I got home from school, what was I doing? Watching TV. And that's what 99 percent of the kids are doing."

"And if there is a show that you can feel related to or that you can watch it and go, 'Oh my God! I'm being represented. I'm being understood' ... it's just such a heartwarming feeling," she added.

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