Earlier this week I had a chance to participate in an intimate conference call (only 4 others) with Veronica Falcon of USA Network’s latest series Queen of the South. In the series Veronica plays Camila Vargas, a ruthless Mexican cartel lord. Veronica is a well known Mexican actress, but this is her first big American role. QOS debuted on USA Network last week and airs Thursday nights. Check your local time.
How did you go about constructing this character and what was the hardest thing about playing this role?
The process of construction of every character is absolutely different, at least for me, depending on the role and the medium I’m working with. It’s very different in theater, the process you have on stage than the one you have on film and on television.
In the particular case of Camila, the process for me started in the audition process because it was a very exhausting audition process. It was very precise. So I had to do around ten auditions and do many, many scenes. So I started understanding the character even then, even though I didn’t have the directors or the full script. I start to fall in love with the character, and to understand it, and to construct something because I had to, you know. I had to construct in order to audition.
So one of the first thing, I don’t do it the same way all the time. I had one advantage with Camila. I’ve played different roles that had to do with these narco stories in the past. So a lot of the research about the world that the characters live in, I have done before. I’ve read the novel twice and aside from that, in the study you do for different characters, I studied already a lot of the world. And I lived in Mexico for many years, so unfortunately, it was very first hand whatever happens with the drug situation in our countries.
That part of the research or the history of the reality of the show, of the character, I already had. Then the second part of the character had to do with, you know, with the language. It was not only the speaking English, but of the containment of the character. Because I right away understood — one of the things I never do or at least I try not to do is to judge a character. That’s not my job. My job, I believe, is to try to understand a character, try to understand where it comes from, what does the character need to do in order for me to tell a story as the character. So in order for me to do that, I have to be very objective about the character.
I usually do a list of objectives that are positive or negative towards the character. And then I try to balance it, you know, because as I said, everybody has light and darkness, especially in the cases of the villains, it’s important to do that. So I got inspired by many, many actors. You know, every actor I believe we get inspired by other actors before us that have done better work or amazing work, and they set a very high standard.
I don’t believe in copying anyone, but I believe in getting inspired. And of course, I got inspired from the most amazing actors like Brando and, you know, all the classic mob stories and the classic gangsters. Because at the end of the day, what I always say is that these narco stories are very similar to the Mexicans and the Colombians to what the mob stories were to the Sicilians, to the Italians. You know, it’s the same kind of, well, these crime families, they have a certain honor code within them. They have certain loyalties. They can be ruthless and at the same time, they have this kind of family honor code that is quite interesting and they operate like that. So of course, I was inspired by all that.
Then the script, I always went back — the thing with Camila is that in the original novel and in the Mexican version, Camila is a character that is mentioned that appears but is really not a very important character in the story. With the creators of Queen of the South, Camila is a character that became a different character from the original one. So we have to construct it from that, you know. So I had to go back always to what the writers would tell me, to what the script was calling for, and then from there just try to make it my own. And I used, of course, the advantage of being Mexican, and knowing my country, and knowing my language and my traditions, and the authenticity of it all.
Do you have any concerns that this may glorify violence, the drug trade, or that your character may become a hero?
Well, I hope she doesn’t become a hero because, I don’t believe we glorify violence or the drug trade. I mean we show every part of it. We show, of course, the luxury and the power, and all this part of things. But at the same time, we will show and we are always showing the consequence. And of everything these characters do. You know, you cannot — at least me, I think the audience is smart enough to understand that even though the character may have some traits that are interesting or that are valuable, like being powerful and independent, and hardworking, and all these things, she’s also made a lot of choices that are destroying life, starting with her own. You know, and they will see that.
I think the show is pretty clear on that. I mean if you see the opening scene, it starts by a consequence. So I hope the audience is smart enough to understand that and I think they are. And unfortunately, we do live in a violent world. We do live in a world where drugs are destroying a lot of families, and I think we show that. So I hope we’re not — I believe we’re not glorifying the drug trade at all. I hope it doesn’t seem glamorous because the prices are really high.