Queen of the South, USA Network's new drama about one women's unlikely rise to queenpin of the international drug trade, is nearly here. And this year's ATX Festival in Austin, a four-day fan fest celebrating all things television from June 9 to 12, just gave everyone a sample of why to be very amped up for this new summer show.
At Austin's historic Paramount Theatre Thursday, the first episode of Queen of the South ("Piloto") screened for the opening night event. Cinematic in nature and jam-packed with gripping, gritty, and downright gruesome moments, this narcos story about Teresa Mendoza (Alice Braga), a woman who's forced to flee Mexico after her drug-dealing husband (Jon Ecker) is murdered, steps back from glamourizing gansters and leans into the details that make Queen of the South an authentic portrayal of cartel life.
Following the screening, the cast and executive producer David Friendly fielded questions during a panel hosted by Buzzfeed editor Jarett Wieselman. Among the topics discussed by the international cast was how Queen of the South is staying true to the narcos world.
THE DETAILS OF TERESA MATTER
The set-up for Queen of the South in the first episode involves Braga playing Teresa at different stages of her evolution -- from blissfully ignorant mob wife to bona fide drug-empress. Based on a novel by Spanish author Arturo Pérez-Reverte which opens with the line "The telephone rang, and she knew she was going to die," the series is mindful of the fact that the early version of Teresa will eventually progress into a powerful woman. "We need to be really careful with every detail of her personality that drives her to that," Braga explained, pointing out that her character will develop over mutlple seasons, and how she gets there needs to hold up.
THE VILLAINS ARE MULTI-DIMENSIONAL
“There’s no doubt about it; she’s a criminal,” explained actress Veronica Falcon, who plays the fierce and formidable Camila Vargas, the head of a drug cartel out of Dallas married to a crooked politician in Mexico (Joaquim de Almeida) “But she’s a very complex villain,” the actress added. Similarly, all of the characters you will meet in Queen of the South -- even the baddest of the bad (Braga called out to Vargas, “You’re evil!” during the panel) -- have many shades to them. Throughout the season, various motivations of our main players will come into focus to make their stories more fleshed-out and compelling.
THE CASTING WAS CRITICAL
As the Queen of the South cast runs down the places they're from it's clear that hiring authentic actors was paramount. "I thought it was very important that we not do what our business has done in the past, which is just homogenize the filming and cast an American actors so we can get a bigger audience," said Friendly. By opening up the field, it allowed Friendly to find the perfect actors for the parts. Each member of the ensemble speaks Spanish, but it wasn't as though Friendly and team said, 'Let's go to Mexico and find all our actors.' Instead, they chose a cast from Texas, Chicago, Mexico City, Domincan Republic, Brazil, Portugal, and England!
THE PILOT WAS SHOT IN MEXICO CITY
When you see the first scene of Queen of the South, you might think to yourself, 'Wow, the post-production team did an amazing job!' but you're not seeing a fake backdrop. The production shot on the streets of Mexico City, where the team stayed for three months to shoot the pilot. “We shot all night and there were dogs running around and chickens for sale, hanging upside-down,” remembered Friendly. "It was very important to us to make the show feel real."
THE USE OF SPANISH IS JUST RIGHT
Spanish is used spariginly in Queen of the South (with English subtitles), and always in the name of authenticity. "There were just certain scenes where you’d be watching it and you’d think, that scene favors speaking in Spanish," Friendly explained. "But if you go too far with that, the network might [not go for it], so it’s a balancing act and eventually, I think we found it." The Spanish itself and the Mexican accents are carefully reviewed to make sure everything sounds real. "It's amazing how much detail is discussed and how much thinking goes into everything to make 13 hours of television," he admitted.
THE CONSEQUENCES ARE GRAVE
When done right, narcos stories should be both entertaining and horrifying, and Queen of the South never shies away from the real consequences of living in the drug world. "They destroy lives and they destroy families," Friendly said. "There is a definite attention to detail about that." For Vargas, who comes from Mexico, the characters' stories in the show feel real. "These stories are very attractive because they have every element -- there’s revenge, money, love, hatred, survival," Vargas explained. "And at the end of the day, these are true stories. I come frmo Mexico and the drug world is very rough on everyone."
Queen of the South also stars Justina Machado as Brenda, Peter Gadiot as James, Hemky Madera as Pote, and Gerardo Teracena as "Batman." Be sure to tune in for the premiere of Queen of the South on Thursday, June 23 at 10/9c on USA Network.