La reina ha muerto, long live the queen — USA just announced that it has given a 13-episode order to Queen of the South, its adaptation of Telemundo’s telenovela, La Reina Del Sur, which was itself an adaptation of the eponymous novel by Spanish author Arturo Perez-Reverte. The hour-long show will air in 2016 as part of USA’s reworked lineup that’s heavy on the drama, established and otherwise.
Queen of the South will re-tell the story of Teresa Mendoza, a woman who really turned grief into a career opportunity. When her drug-dealer boyfriend is killed by his competitors, she flees the country in fear for her life. She regroups (and then some) and eventually becomes Spain’s most powerful drug dealer.
Things have really come together in the casting department: last fall the show announced that it had found its queen, selecting Alice Braga (City of God, Elysium) to play Teresa Mendoza. Though Braga hasn’t much TV work on her résumé, she’s proven herself a versatile performer, moving from award-winning dramas to the popcorn fare of Predators. And the Brazilian-born actress speaks Spanish fluently, in case you were worried about how any bilingual swears might sound.
Several other key players were added as recently as January, including Portuguese actor Joaquim de Almeida (Desperado, 24) as Don Epifanio Vargas, a Mexican politician and father figure with ulterior motives. Jon-Michael Ecker, who starred as Marlon Brando in the recent Cantinflas movie, has been cast as Teresa’s ill-fated novio, El Güero. And Breaking Bad alum James Martinez has signed on as Gato Fierros, the “right-hand man of drug lord Cesar Guemes.” Rounding out the ensemble are Oscar-nominated actress (for Babel) Adriana Barraza as Camilla, the ex-wife of a drug lord who is both a mentor and a rival for Teresa, and Justina Machado (The Purge: Anarchy), who will play Teresa’s best friend.
When USA first teased news of the adaptation, we mused about whether American audiences would have another Breaking Bad on their hands, as both stories follow people who are thrust into the drug underworld but who soon thrive in their criminal dealings. But such comparisons were hardly necessary; when it aired in 2011, La Reina regularly destroyed its competitors in the ratings, giving even some American programs a run for their money. And its latest incarnation seems to have already won over the management at USA; the network president, Chris McCumber, effused that “[f]rom script to inception, Queen of the South had us hooked.”