The actress talked to People CHICA about her leading role on Netflix's new series, co-created by Mario Lopez and also starring Jencarlos Canela.

By Lena Hansen
January 23, 2020

In the new Netflix series The Expanding Universe of Ashley Garcia, Mexican American actress Paulina Chávez plays the world’s first and only 15-year-old robotics engineer and rocket scientist, who lands her dream job working for NASA. Ashley moves to California to live with her fun uncle Victor (played by Jencarlos Canela), a football player turned coach who becomes her new parental figure.

“Aside from her work, she really wants to be a teenager, she wants to have fun, meet boys and have her first kiss,” Chávez, 17, says of her character. “Both Ashley and I have overprotective moms,” she admits with a laugh. “We both focused on our career paths and now we have the chance to live our teenage experience. I was home-schooled, so I focused on my craft of being an actor. Same with Ashley — she studied really hard and now that she has her dream job, she can finally be a teenager.”

The Latinx-centered comedy — co-created by Mario Lopez and Speechless producer Seth Kurland — has Eva Longoria directing several episodes. “She is super smart. She is a Latina lead and you don’t often see that on television,” Chávez adds about her role. “Young viewers can relate to her. I love the way this show is representing Latino families and I’m super excited for everyone to watch.”

Working with Longoria, who like Chávez is from Texas, was a dream come true. “She is incredible, she does it all: producing, directing and acting. I was privileged to work with her and learn from her,” Chávez says. Another Texan star she looks up to is Selena Gomez. “She has come so far. Her music is really good. I love her new album,” she says about Gomez’s Rare. “I’m really inspired by her.”

Like Gomez, Chávez hopes to shine as both an actress and singer. She is currently working on new music with Cuban American actor and singer Jencarlos Canela … yep, her Uncle Victor on the show! “Jen and I are like siblings, we connected right away. He’s a great role model and he is so sweet to everyone around. As soon as he enters the set, he hugs everyone,” she says. “He is someone to look up to.”

Canela is working with her on her EP, which will include five or six songs. “It’s going to be alternative meets rock meets Latino pop with a hint of mariachi,” she says of her musical debut. “I found my love for music through mariachi songs because we would have mariachi parties when I was growing up and everyone would just sing. Ever since then I always wanted to do music. I was a part of a mariachi group in San Antonio, I played the violin and did vocals.”

She discovered her passion for acting in second grade. “I was seven years old and started with the theater program at my school. I decided I wanted to do film acting and my parents supported me all the way,” she says. Working with Mario Lopez on her first big role as Ashley Garcia has also been a treat. “He is a sweetheart,” she says. “I’m very fortunate and grateful that he and the team believed in me.” Her path to success has had its challenges. “I’m dyslexic, so reading in front of people kind of scared me,” she admits. “I have a system and I have to work harder than most kids and prepare a lot more.”

So what else is on the horizon for Chávez? “I definitely want to do films,” she says. “I want to focus on Latino roles for now, telling our stories.

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