By Julian De La Paz
You know Sandy Valles as Isabela Vargas in Queen of the South, the daughter of a cartel leader caught in the cross-fire of Sinaloan politics and the U.S./Mexico drug trade. When she isn’t trying to mediate the growing conflict between her parents, she spends her time navigating the complex and often unforgiving world of adolescence. We spoke with Sandy about season two, the most recent jaw-dropping episode, and the fate of her character.
USA Network: The relationship between Isabella and her parents is, like any teenager, quite conflicted -- especially given that both of her parents are, at different points, rival cartel leaders. Why, though, has she aligned herself with Epifanio? What does she see in him that’s so different from her mother, with whom she has a love/hate relationship?
Sandy Valles: Well, I think throughout the years, even though it has been her dad's business, as well as her mom's business, he's been pretty smart about keeping that all to himself. As you saw in season one, Camila did abandon her for a while.
Isabella doesn't feel rejected by her dad, and think at the end of the day, it’s a like-mother-like-daughter type of thing. Since she relates so much to her mom, she takes everything more personally because Camila's just like her, and it hurts seeing that she always picks the business before her daughter.
USA Network: Throughout this season, Isabella has tried to dissociate herself from the cartel, and thus, constantly refers to herself as the 'Governor’s daughter.' What does that term mean to her?
Valles: It means prestige and security. It means clean power, because living in Mexico doesn’t necessarily give everyone power. But, being a governor's daughter means she is above all of that and that she has all the judges in her hand.
Her dad basically owns everything, and he's clean. So, I think that's why she has so much love for that -- just because growing up, she was always involved in the cartel. Knowing that, 'Oh, this is a new page for me, this is going to be a new life, and he's the governor now,' she can finally say, 'I have that power.'
USA Network: Do you think other people view Isabella as the Governor's daughter, or do they still view her as the daughter of a cartel leader?
Valles: Yes, I think in other people's eyes, she's definitely the daughter of a cartel leader. That’s not something you can wash away with another title. It’s something that’s always going to stay with you, no matter what.
USA Network: Has Isabella started internalizing this notion -- the fact that she will always be the daughter of a cartel leader?
Valles: Yeah. She has always tried to make such a clean image for herself that she eventually kind of says, 'F--- it. If this is what my parents are doing then why not get my hands dirty, too?' This is finally a time where she says, 'You know what? I’m going to be messy. I’m going to have my rebellious time. I’m not going to be the chess piece in your relationship. I’m just going to go for it.'
USA Network: Isabella once told her mother, “Dad has turned his back on the cartel, and you turned your back on us.” Was there ever a fall from grace for Epifanio in Isabella's eyes? I am immediately reminded of the Narco Corrido that tells the story of “El León de Culiacán” (The Lion of Culiacan), who grew up poor, avenged the death of his parents, and became governor along the way.
Valles: Oh, yeah. That's what made her snap, and I think that was the turning point in her life –- realizing that her dad is not who she thought he was. The past two years, while Isabella's mom has been away, her dad has been her keeper, her protector, and the good guy. Her whole world crumbled knowing that it was all a lie and that he was just like her mom, but worse because he was lying to Isabella.
USA Network: Is that why Isabella started hanging out with Quique Jimenez? Did she do it to spite her father, or was it the fact that he provided more of a stable presence than her own parents?
Valles: I think no matter what she loves Quique. He made a big impression on her the minute she set her eyes on him, and it’s the first time she has actually liked a guy. She sees herself stable with him, and because she sees how her parents are, she realizes that she and Quique will never be like that; that’s what makes her like him more.
USA Network: In the most recent episode , Isabella returned to her father’s childhood home, and we glimpse a very different side of Epifanio. What was the significance of that scene for you?
Valles: I think it assured Isabella that what he was doing wasn't just for greed. What he was doing was trying to survive. It brought out his human side, and Isabella realized that it kind of validates what he’s doing. She understands now why he’s in a cartel, and she's not mad anymore.
USA Network: What is your relationship like with Joaquim de Almeida and Veronica Falcon off-screen?
Valles: I remember the first day being on set. I was just trying to be careful and considerate because he (Joaquim de Almeida) is a very big actor. I definitely didn’t want to waste his time, but I immediately felt an actual fatherly relationship towards him. He was very nice, and opened up about personal things with me, which really helped me through.
Veronica is my acting fairy godmother. Since season one, she has taken me under her wing, and has given me the best tips. I feel like just being around Veronica and Joaquim has been a better acting class than ten years of acting class. She is very giving and has been checking up on me throughout the weeks and days. They’re just really awesome people to be around.
USA Network: Finally, what can you tease about the rest of the season?
Valles: Hmm, let’s just say that Isabela does get a bit darker. Things will get messier.
USA Network: On a more personal note, are you Team Guero or Team James?
Valles: 100% Team James!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.