Hollywood can be very hard on couples, as anyone who has seen “A Star is Born” — any version — can readily attest. However, tackling the challenges of husband and wife dual acting careers is all in a day’s work for Maria Canals and David Barrera, who have been married for 15 years and are the parents of two daughters, Bridget, 10, and Madeleine, 8.
Maria, best known for her 106-episode run on the Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place,” returns to the series game Friday, Oct. 10, playing the sister of breakout comedy star Cristela Alonzo in ABC’s new “Cristela.” She was up for the series with her husband. She got the job. He got a couple of callbacks, but ended up not being cast. Still, he’s very supportive, she says.
“He works all the time. He’s very fulfilled. It would have been fun to work together, but it’s OK,” says Maria, whose series spouse is being played by Carlos Ponce. She adds, “We’ve been up for husband and wife and boyfriend and girlfriend before, and sometimes we’ve gotten it.”
When it’s noted that some couples couldn’t handle such tricky ego territory, she is quick to shoot back, “I would question their priorities if they couldn’t handle it. I mean, we’re a team. We see things very much as a team. He works a lot. He just had a great big juicy guest star role on the first episode of this season of ‘Big Bang Theory.'”
In fact, David, whose credits range from big screen roles including Gunnery Sgt. Ray “Casey Kasem” Griego in “Generation Kill” to numerous TV gigs, was possibly better known to Cristela Alonzo at the outset of her sitcom’s casting than was Maria.
“The funny thing is she’s from the same small town in Texas that my husband is from,” notes the actress, referring to hamlet of San Juan in Hidalgo County. “They even attended the same high school, albeit 10 years apart. My husband was like the small town big star — everybody in that tiny town knows of David Barrera, the famous actor in Hollywood. Now it’s Cristela: ‘Oh, wow Cristela is our girl! She’s doing so great.’
“So, she knew who he was, she knew of him and knew I was his wife and about ‘Wizards’ and all of that.
She told me that she told the casting lady to make sure to bring us in because we’re a husband and wife team.”
Maria recalls that she and her new on-camera sister clicked immediately. “I did not know her personally before, but it was something that instantly felt great. It was so much fun — she’s so much fun to play off of, she’s easy to love like a sister. We both have sisters in real life, so we get the sister thing, how the sisters interact, how they keep bringing up things from the past.”
“Cristela” could have been even more of a Barrera family affair. Her elder daughter is in the “Cristela” pilot. “It was so much fun. The part of the kid was a recurring character. And then when the show got picked up, it became a regular. My daughter said, ‘Mom, I love doing the show, but I don’t want to miss middle school.’
“I said, ‘You know what? You’ll only have sixth grade once in your life. You can always do a show’ — because she’s really talented. So she chose school! Let me tell you, we were very blown away,” notes Maria with pride.
She keeps in touch with her former series daughter, Selena Gomez. She keeps in touch with all of her former “Wizards” family, in fact.
“We don’t see each other that often because we’re all doing so many different things, but we do talk, we do connect. I just connected with Jennifer (Stone). I saw David DeLuise recently. I see David Henrie. I was at the premiere of his film — he had a short film he wrote and directed that was terrific. I see Jake (T. Austin). And I do see Selena a little bit, but it’s been several months because she’s been so busy. We all stay connected, we support each other, we text,” she says. “It was a very special thing we had there. We’re grateful for it and we’re grateful for each other.”
Maria reports that she’s reunited with former occasional “Wizards of Waverly Place” director Victor Gonzalez, who’s been directing “Cristela.” And Peter Murrieta, a former writer-producer on “Wizards,” works on her new series, too. “It’s a small, small world,” she says.
So far she is having a blast on “Cristela.” “I love doing sitcoms with a live audience. There’s nothing like it. I love interacting with the people out there. It’s exciting to laugh with the audience. And it’s a family show, which is unusual and wonderful,” she adds. “You can watch with your kids and not flinch because of something highly inappropriate.”
Perhaps David Barrera will come in for a guesting some time?
Maria laughs. “Of course!”