Just one week into Queen of the South, the show has established that its main character Teresa Mendoza is one tough cookie. Tonight's episode will only further prove her resilience when Teresa is confronted with her first assignment in her new, hostile surroundings.
To get a better sense of our Queen, USA Network chatted with star Alice Braga about what she hopes to bring to her version of Teresa, who has already existed in both the novel by Arturo Perez-Reverte and in the Telemundo series La Reina del Sur. Playing a badass with heart is her sweet spot -- and doing it in $8,000 dresses is pretty sweet too!
USA Network: What is it specifically that you like about being in the world of Queen of the South?
Alice Braga: I love the character. I read the book eight years ago and I fell in love with Teresa Mendoza, so it was interesting to get the chance to portray someone who is so strong and powerful and very passionate, and that never victimizes herself. She had the strength to go through very poor circumstances in her life -- a resourceful girl -- and then, through her journey, she just becomes stronger and stronger. It was interesting to jump into this world because I'm a very lucky girl from Latin America who had different life chances. I was able to study, I had a family, and Teresa doesn't have any of it.
Also, I always say heroes are not victims, and she's the hero for her life, she's the hero for her own journey. That thing of not having family, not having anyone to protect her, makes us even stronger to protect ourselves. I think that it's never an aim to get money -- that's never been her desire -- and that's why she becomes a different type of drug lord. She's violent only when necessary. If it's a threat to me, then I'll fight you. If it's not a threat to me, I will never hurt you.
USA Network: To what extent does being a woman matter to Teresa's story?
Braga: It matters every time you play a character in a male-driven world. It's like playing a Wall Street businesswoman -- now, we have a lot of women on Wall Street, but if you think about it, it's still a very male driven world. It's a totally different perspective.
It's interesting to have a women be in this role because she reacts differently to a bunch of things. And that doesn't mean being softer or more emotional, not at all. I think we can be even stronger than men in some situations. Having a soul, having a heart in this world -- it makes it different.
USA Network: How is this character a badass?
Braga: It's interesting because in season one, we’re still developing how I get there in creating how she becomes who she becomes.
USA Network: Then it's almost like you're playing two characters, right?
Braga : Yes, I'm playing the vision of Teresa and what she will become. That's something the writers decided to do different from the book -- they created a new journey for her. In the book, there's this vision that she would always mention -- this woman who was always observing her and talking to her. It's very interesting how the relationship is.
Now we're developing how she gets there -- how she learns how to protect herself and how to survive in this world. That's why I think she climbs in the business because, step by step, she gets trapped, and, if she's trapped, she needs to do better. And it's a world, that -- once you're in, it's really hard for you to go out.
USA Network: This show is heavy on the action. Is it very physical to shoot?
Braga: It was very intense especially because we were shooting for six months. We had a hiatus just for rewrites and then we went back, so it was a very intense shoot. For me, everything was new because I've never done TV, so doing the series is literally like doing six films in six months. Especially with the writers doing a lot of action scenes, and with a lot of emotions though the series, including her fight to survive -- it became more physical to me.
USA Network: Queen Teresa gets to wear some amazing clothes on the show.
Braga: In the opening sequence, I was wearing an Alexander McQueen and that was a dream. I'm like, 'This is the most badass thing I've ever worn. It's awesome.' And we had two of them, so I was like, "Can I have one?" and they're like, "Uh-huh... it's an $8,000 dress." I gasped!
It's fun. Some days I'm all clean with earrings and high heels and then the next day, Teresa is disheveled, with blood and scratches all over. But I love it!
USA Network: What is it about the grittier side of the story that you like?
Braga: I love drama and I love shows that grab your attention through not only darkness, but with suspense. House of Cards, for example, takes you to the limits for a Frank Underwood. What are the limits for a Carrie Underwood? Or in Breaking Bad, what are limits for a Walter White? That's what hooks me.
I think with Queen of the South, the writers are trying to do the same thing. I'm really trying to make a character who has soul and is not mean and that's why I say she's not mean for the sake of being mean. I want to play a character who has a heart so people can understand and follow her journey. I think if we achieve that? Then we're on a good journey.
Making choices when you're an actor is very important because characters are what characters do. If you do something on camera, you're committed to that and you're going to send a message to the audience. That's why I'm really [careful about] my relationship with Camila. If I bond with her right away, or if I applaud the abuse that she's doing to everyone around me, then that says something about me.
See what happens next between Camila and Teresa when Queen of the South returns tonight with a new episode on USA Network at 10/9c!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.