Before she was cast on On My Block, Sierra Capri was a biology student at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Georgia, thinking of a career in forensics. Having grown up in an entertainment family — her mother was a dancer and singer; her father a musician — she had always known she wanted to perform, but chose to focus on her education first. But then an ad for a role in a new Netflix series caught her eye, just before her senior year began. The show was looking for an actor to play the only girl in a tight-knit group of four friends who are about to begin high school in inner-city Los Angeles.
Capri got the part, and soon after the first season dropped last year, Monse and Cesar (Diego Tinoco), or “Monsar,” had become TV’s best new teen couple. And in the second season, Monse went from being the glue that holds her group together to a self-possessed young woman who looks out for herself in a male-dominated environment.
Capri spoke to Vulture about vibing with Tinoco on their first audition, her favorite scenes from the second season, and where Monse — and Monsar — goes from here.
What do you remember about your audition for On My Block?
Everyone just picked someone random to go in the room with ’cause they were auditioning other people for the roles of Monse and Cesar. I met Diego there. He was like, “Do you want to just go in there with me?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s just go, let’s just see what happens.” ’Cause we vibed. So we went into the room and it was a scene where we ended up having to kiss, and no one stopped us. Later down the line they told us, “Yeah we were just gonna see how long you guys kept kissing. We weren’t gonna stop the audition until you guys did.”
What made you think that you should go for the role of Monse?
I knew that she was in a group of four and she would have three male best friends, and I had three brothers growing up, so I could use my relationships with them to help steer the direction that I wanted Monse’s relationship with the other three core members to go. And the fact that she was Afro-Latina. I could definitely identify with the struggles that come with being of a certain race or skin tone and things you have to deal with. I’m multi-ethnic, anyone who is also multi-ethnic can identify with the struggle of being too one thing to fit into another group, or being too African-American to fit in with the other side of you.
In season two, Monse really grows and becomes more herself. A big part of that comes from the experience of getting to know her mother. In episode six, we see her go live with her mom in Brentwood for a while, and all seems to be going well until she discovers who her mother really is. When you think about that episode, which were the key moments?
Definitely the ending scene with my mom. That entire episode was honestly one of my favorites because it touched on a lot of things in small ways. Monse was thrown into her mother’s new life, and just having to deal with all of these things at one time kind of took her for a spin. I don’t think she knew how to handle it. So her first reaction was, of course, I want my mother to love me, to like me, and I just want this to work. ’Cause she’s never had a strong female influence in her life. She’s always been surrounded by males. Her first reaction was just to try to do everything and anything she can to please her mom. And she thought that would be fixing her hair, changing her clothes, maybe changing her personality a little bit.
I appreciate Lisa Marcos, who plays my mother, for helping me with that scene, because I’ve always been so close to my mom in real life. However, I wasn’t as close to my father. So I basically flipped those two roles in my head, and I pretended that I was talking to my dad at that time. My dad has always been in my life, but there were many similarities that I could relate to.
It’s really heartbreaking when Monse discovers the truth. Were there a lot of takes?
I think we did the whole scene maybe three or four times and then we moved on. But [director Erica Watson] knew what she wanted to see at the end, and she knew what she wanted the audience to feel, so she wasn’t going to stop until she got that. But luckily I think I gave her what she wanted in that moment. It breaks a lot of stereotypes that a father, especially an African-American father, wouldn’t be primarily raising a child, or wouldn’t be as important in a girl’s life as her mom, and can’t do the job. So I’m glad that we were able to show that, yes, there are men out there that do take care of their children and are sometimes the mother and the father. People just don’t know about it.
Is it challenging for you to play a character this age? I don’t know that I’d want to be reliving my adolescence.
It is sometimes hard, and I think that’s what a lot of people don’t see. None of us actually are that age. You can go based on how you were at that age, during your adolescence, but at the same time, that’s not how kids are today. The way that kids handle certain situations and sometimes even the way that they talk to their parents is different than how I did. So it’s interesting to try to put myself in a situation that I’ve never experienced before. There are so many things that go on in her life that I’m just like, wow. I can’t even believe she’s experiencing this so early. But, unfortunately, that’s the harsh reality of today.
In episode nine, Monse and Cesar have the big breakup. You mentioned that you and Diego get along very well. How does it feel to fight with him in that way?
In all honesty, it’s not that easy because my demeanor compared to his are two different extremes. He’s very calm. Cesar is very calm to a certain extent, and Monse is a fuse ready to blow at any time. I’m not like that! But at the same time, it’s also a release sometimes. It’s like therapy, because I get to be much louder and much angrier than I actually am in real life [Laughs.] So that part is fun. Diego and I are like brother and sister in real life. We do things to get on each other’s nerves for sure. So it’s not too hard to push him in a scene.
What did you think of that turn in that story? He didn’t have to tell her he was with the other girl since they were broken up.
Everyone was like, Oh my God, why is he telling her what happened? In my head, I’m like, Where is this girl going, on a bus, at 14 with just a backpack?
There’s that too!
Like, no! What is happening right now? I was very shocked at her decision to even follow him onto the bus, but at the same time, I understand that she loves him, and they both love each other, and they have a lot of chemistry and they have a lot of history together, so they’re always going to have a bond.
In the finale, she confronts him again but not in anger. She asks a tough question and has a very mature, empowering reaction. Did that make you feel better?
Absolutely. That was one of my favorite scenes as well because I did think it was very mature of her, and very empowering for other women, because, like we said, in season two she really focuses on herself more. And moving forward, I think that’s what’s going to help her discover who she is, and whom she really wants in her life. Cesar should probably do the same. I think that’s what’s going to help them come back together and be an even stronger couple than they were before. They handled things thinking only of themselves and it was a lot of impulse decision-making in their relationship, so hopefully a little bit of time apart will help them come back together and be the best couple on TV again.
The final scene of the season is so good. There’s Monse having a very empowering moment, taking ownership of her life, and telling the guys she’s going to boarding school. And all they do is crack jokes and tell her they know she’ll be back. It’s very funny.
Oh my gosh, that scene was so funny! And everything had to be timed so perfectly. From me talking to them, to pulling off to being thrown in the bus, everything had to work so perfectly. That was another favorite scene of mine in the show, and that was really fun, I think, for all of us to film.
I heard there were two different endings filmed.
That is correct. There was the scene where I just walked away after they get pulled off in the van, and I don’t know what happened to them.
And then there was the scene where I actually get taken away as well. Lauren [Iungerich, On My Block’s showrunner] said that she was going to decide which scene she wanted to use later.
Did you have a preference?
I was good with either way. However, I love stunts. I love anything that deals with stunt work, so I was kind of jealous that the three of them got to get kidnapped, and I didn’t at first. So when they finally threw me in a van, I was like, “Yay!”
Have you been surprised by the reaction to the show? What do fans say about Monse?
Definitely! I think we all hoped and prayed that it would do what it has done so far, but none of us knew for sure what was going to happen. We were just prepared for anything. I’m definitely blessed and grateful that the response has been positive, for the most part. I always get a lot of girls that say that they love how strong and independent she is, and she’s not afraid to speak her mind, because we live in a society where females aren’t always encouraged to do that. And I do get a lot of emails that also say, “I wish that she’d focus on herself a little more.”
I agree with that 100 percent.