In the 10th season episode of “The Big Bang Theory” called “The Big Bowl Incubation,” Raj (Kunal Nayyar) became attracted to a custodian named Issabella Maria Concepcion, whom he met when she came to clean the telescope room. Their romance seemed unlikely, considering they had so little in common — and indeed, this romance apparently only lasted one episode.
After their first meeting, Raj is seen helping Issabella clean the toilets. When he surprises her with dinner, he told her he tried to cook her a meal from her homeland, except he thought she was from Mexico when she is actually Cuban.
The end of the episode had Issabella agreeing to go out to dinner with Raj — and purposely mistaking his country of origin as a way of showing him what that felt like. However, fans never got to see exactly what happened on that date. The actress to played Issabella, Maria Canals-Barrera, never appeared on the show again.
However, while she may not have entered the orbit of the scientists portrayed on “The Big Bang Theory,” Canals-Barrera has been easy to spot in any number of other movies and television shows. She’s been acting since the early ’90s in films, TV shows, and animated series like “Justice League Unlimited,” and “The Dark Knight Returns.” However, you may know her best from her work on the Disney Channel.
She played Selena Gomez’s mom on ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’
From 2007-2012, Maria Canals-Barrera played Theresa Russo, the only non-magical member of the Russo family portrayed in “Wizards of Waverly Place.” Of course, as with all Disney Channel series, the focus was on the kids, played by Selena Gomez, David Henrie, and Jake T. Austin. But Theresa, although a supporting cast member of “Wizards,” is a fun yet grounded Latina mom with her own quirks. She helps her husband (David DeLuise) — who gave up his wizard status to be with her — run the Waverly Sub Station.
Disney Channel has a reputation for not renewing its shows after their third season, but it has made exceptions for extremely popular ones, and “Wizards” was one of them. It lasted more than 100 episodes and even returned in 2013 with its second TV movie, “Wizards of Waverly Place: Alex vs. Alex.” Canals-Barrera has said she had the time of her life on the show. “It’s a great job because it’s well written, it’s great people, the hours are wonderful, you know,” she told ClevverTV in 2011, ahead of the final season. “I think I’m gonna miss all of it.” She also expressed sadness at the idea of not working with her “kids” anymore.
She seems willing to do a “Wizards” reunion or reboot. In a 2022 Instagram post, she wrote, “I am still receiving the love and appreciation from our fans EVERY day. You tell me things like, ‘You were like my 2nd mom!’ and ‘You were my childhood.’ I’m so blessed to have been part of such an enduring and beloved show.”
She also played Demi Lovato’s mom on ‘Camp Rock’
Maria Canals-Barrera played a mother in two Disney Channel Original Movies, “Camp Rock” in 2008 and “Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam” in 2010. In both films, she was Connie Torres, the mother of Mitchie (Demi Lovato), owner of Connie’s Catering, and a new cook at Camp Rock. Mitchie’s status as the daughter of the camp’s cook is a source of some shame for Mitchie, who ends up lying about her mother’s job to impress the other girls she meets there — including Tess Tyler (Meaghan Martin, from “Mean Girls 2”) and her friends.
Canals-Barrera told Radio Disney, “Being a part of a wonderful story where the character was first and foremost a loving devoted mother, fun mother, that also happened to be of Hispanic heritage, it was really terrific because that’s so common. You see it everywhere in life, at school and PTA meetings, and working at the store, in the doctor’s office, and the lawyer, but you don’t see enough of it on TV, so I just really love that Disney has been aware of incorporating the Hispanic character as just part of the American family.”
Interestingly, Bridget Barrera, Canal-Barrera’s real-life daughter, sang a Spanish version of Mitchie’s song “This Is Me” for Radio Disney during Hispanic Heritage Month in 2020. The younger Barrera said “This Is Me” was the first song she sang in public — in her kindergarten variety show.
She played the sister of comedian ‘Cristela’ in an ABC sitcom
On the one-season ABC sitcom that focused on comedian Cristela Alonzo, Maria Canals-Barrera played the main character’s sister, Daniela Gonzalez. And while it didn’t last long, it broke ground. As NBC noted, with the show Alonzo became the first Latina to create, write, produce, and star in her own primetime comedy.
The series drew upon Alonzo’s real-life experiences in San Juan, Texas. She plays a woman who wants to become a lawyer, a goal her working-class family doesn’t understand. Canals-Barrera’s character was based on Alonzo’s real-life sister, who — just like her on-screen alter ego — was laid off from the call center where she worked (via a blog Alonzo wrote, quoted by Deadline).
Although Alonzo said the series was meaningful to her personally and an essential milestone for Hispanic representation in the media, it also meant something to Canals-Barrera. “There haven’t been enough depictions of people that happen to be of Latin heritage from different countries of origin,” she told OK TV. “We’re not all foreigners — a lot of us are American and very proud and very happy to be American, but at the same time, still have our roots and our culture close to us, and I love that about ‘Cristela.'”
Her career includes guest stints in shows like ‘Kenan’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’
Maria Canals-Barrera’s career has included guest spots in shows starting with “21 Jump Street” back in 1990 and “Murder, She Wrote” in 1994. More recently, that list has included shows like “Young and Hungry,” “Fuller House,” and several animated series, including “The Proud Family.” On “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” she was seen twice as Dalilah, the flirty dental hygienist in “The Weatherman” and “The 5 Wood,” who asks Larry David out and then does not accept his excuse for canceling at the last minute.
One of her more high-profile guest stints has taken place on “Kenan,” the short-lived NBC series. She played Loretta Lopez, the retired neighbor who is unhappy about Rick Noble’s (Don Johnson) sax playing. It turns out retirement is boring for them both, and they like fighting (i.e., flirting) with one another. Canals-Barrera returned for the end of the second season, which was also the show’s last episode (per Deadline). In an interview with LRM Online, she said she liked the character’s introduction during those two episodes, which implies Loretta would have had more airtime had the show continued.
She told LRM Online that she loves all kinds of types of storytelling, including the intimacy of film, the excitement of three-camera sitcoms, the nuance of single-camera comedy, and the challenge of making things come alive in voiceover work. “I have always loved the different kinds of genres,” she said. “When people try to do different kinds of storytelling, I think that it’s magical when it does come together in an entertaining (way).”