Years before Francia Raisa and Hilary Duff would star together on How I Met Your Father–the millennial-friendly spinoff of How I Met Your Mother premiering Tuesday on Hulu–they had quite the TMI-filled first meeting.
“I had just learned what a mucus plug was, and I asked her if she still had hers,” Raisa recalled of their very first conversation a decade ago, when Duff was pregnant with her first child. “So yeah, the first thing I asked Hilary Duff was if she had her mucus plug… I’m not as cool as I come across sometimes.”
“But you know what? I left an impression, and now here we are–look at us!”
The two actresses now play roommates and best friends–the kind who would definitely not shy away from discussing mucus plugs–on How I Met Your Father, which, like the original, revolves around a group of thirtysomethings navigating the dating scene in New York. For Duff, it’s a natural stepping stone from Younger, the much-beloved TV Land/Paramount+ series that wrapped up its seven-season run last year. But for Raisa, it’s more of a leap coming from Grown-ish, the Freeform series she’s starred on since 2018. On that show, she plays Ana Torres, a devout Catholic and staunch Republican who’s nothing like Raisa, both because of her political beliefs and her age–Ana is still in college, and Raisa is 33. Needless to say, she’s relieved to finally be acting her age on TV.
“It was a mindfuck in my personal and professional life,” Raisa admits about playing someone 10 years younger than her. “Because professionally, I hadn’t aged. I was playing the same age. But personally, I was getting older. And so when quarantine happened, honestly it was the first time I really got to live my life as a 30-year-old. I really got to learn myself. And even when I stepped foot on How I Met and I met everyone else… you know, Chris [Lowell] and Hilary are married with kids, and meeting people that are in different stages of their lives and similar to where I’m going, it was like, oh, I was immature for a very long time.”
“It was a quick realization and a way for me to just grow up. It was very refreshing. And I would say that it definitely helped a lot with my depression, to be able to just be my own person and finally live my life in my 30s.”
Raisa’s character on How I Met Your Father, Valentina, is pretty much the polar opposite of Ana–an outspoken, spontaneous, fun-loving stylist who’s constantly trying to push Duff’s Sophie out of her comfort zone by encouraging her to “crush dick” like Jane Fonda. She’s also wildly confident, a quality Raisa has consciously tried to soak up for herself.
“I’ve noticed a lot in my comments on Instagram that a lot of my fans are saying, ‘I love your confidence, I love your confidence.’ And it’s something new to me. I still have my insecurities, don’t get me wrong, but I was probably the most insecure person you might’ve met. I guess playing Valentina helped me get over it–I just started owning it. Playing her and applying that into my life has been really, really fun. Some of the stuff that Valentina says, I’m like, I wish I was this brave too. I think I am now.”
Prior to joining the show, Raisa was an O.G. How I Met Your Mother fan, and the comparisons between Valentina and the original series’ Barney Stinson–the brash, charismatic womanizer played by Neil Patrick Harris–aren’t lost on her.
“When I first got cast, I remember Chris saying, ‘They were really going crazy trying to find Valentina–they were trying to find you before me. I think you’re the Barney of this series.’ And I was like, ‘Don’t say that, that’s a lot of pressure!’ Suraj [Sharma] said the same thing, like, ‘I think you’re Barney.’ Those are big shoes to fill,” Raisa says. “And I did feel that way at first, but then I was like, [Valentina] is in a relationship, which is different. But maybe this is Barney in a relationship before Robin–I don’t know! So I’ll take it and I’ll own it.”
Of course, HIMYM fans are bound to be split on Hulu’s new iteration. They’ll either love the return of the original’s clever format, which finds Sophie–played in the year 2050 by Kim Cattrall–telling her son the story of how she met his father, complete with some red herrings that’ll keep viewers guessing about the man in question. Or, they’ll say it’s a watered-down imitation of the original that pales in comparison. Either way, rest assured HIMYF is not a carbon copy–for one thing, just look at the new show’s cast, which, unlike its predecessor, is mercifully not an all-white affair.
“When I saw that they were looking for Latinas for my character, I was like, ‘OK, cool, am I going to be the only one?’ You know, not knocking anything, but I was the only one on Secret Life. And in a lot of roles that I’ve played, I was the token Latina,” Raisa says. “And so to come on this cast and meet Suraj and Tien [Tran] and Ashley [Reyes] was really awesome. There were a couple times where we looked at each other and we’re like, ‘Wow, we did this. We are doing something different, and it works and it’s fun.’ I’m so happy that so many people get to see themselves in this cast.”
Valentina’s identity as a Mexican-American woman is established early on in episode one, when she tells Sophie how she and Charlie–her British, upper-class new boyfriend–were “Meghan Markled” by his disapproving parents, who she says made an Ugly Betty jab at her. But besides that, Val’s background isn’t the focal point, and Raisa says that’s kind of the point.
“What I love about the show is that everything is just sort of normalized. Even though I make that comment in the beginning that Charlie’s parents didn’t like me because I’m this Mexican assistant stylist, that’s really the only time it’s referenced,” she says. “Other than that, I’m not known as the Mexican friend–it’s like, I’m a human being just like everyone else going through these phases of life.”
Raisa did, however, make one important distinction for Valentina, deciding the character would be a second-generation Mexican-American–a first for the actress, who herself is a first-generation Mexican-Honduran.
“I just feel like I’ve played first [generation] most of my career. And I feel like there is a difference between being a second-generationer and a first, where you’re navigating two cultures, and there’s the language barriers and learning the American way,” she explains.
“With second-generation… let’s say if I had a kid, they’ll be learning English and Spanish at the same time when they’re little, but also I would teach them what pizza is early on, when I didn’t learn that until elementary school. So it’ll definitely be different, and I feel like it hasn’t really been done too much on television. I think it was important to make that decision, as a Hispanic woman, to understand that there is a difference between the two and to show love to the second-generationers that do grow up out here.”
How I Met Your Father also manages to show a little love to millennials in general–the show is peppered with references to ‘90s and early-aughts pop culture staples like TRL and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Episode four even revolves around a Christina Aguilera “Dirrty”-themed birthday party–and if Raisa has her say, Xtina herself will be among those who tune into the new series.
“I happened to meet her shortly after we shot that episode,” Raisa says. “When her Latin album came out, I went to the party, and don’t ask me how, but I somehow sat next to her. This was after I took a shot with her–and I don’t really like tequila shots like that. And I was like, ‘I have to tell you, I’m on a new show, I don’t know if you ever watched How I Met Your Mother, but it’s called How I Met Your Father with Hilary Duff’–because you gotta drop that name, to get people’s attention, come on. And I told her about the episode and she goes, ‘Oh my God, really? OK, I’ll check it out.’ I was like, I don’t know if you’re going to remember this, but that’s cool, I told you!”
A long shot, maybe, but it was a confident move. Valentina would certainly approve.