It’s different when a woman is in charge. That’s one of the many lessons viewers of USA Network’s Queen of the South learned through the show’s first season. Based on Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s book by the same—which had already spawned the wildly successful Kate del Castillo vehicle La reina del sur—this American adaptation celebrates strong-willed women. Yes, even those that end up becoming the biggest drug traffickers in Texas after fleeing Mexico when their boyfriend dies. Teresa Mendoza (played by Alice Braga) is, in fact, based on a real person, which makes her rags to narco riches all the more fascinating.
But as the show enters its second season, it’s welcomed another woman in charge. Los Angeles native Natalie Chaidez, who’s of Mexican and Irish descent, has joined the USA show as its newest showrunner. Remezcla got a chance to visit the Queen of the South set in sunny, scorching Dallas where we got to talk to some of the cast and crew of the hit show, many of whom had nothing but great things to say about Chaidez’s strong leadership.
As the show’s executive producer David Friendly put it, while any show’s first season is bound to be hard, last year Queen of the South struggled to find its footing. And while Friendly is proud of what they accomplished, he’s very excited about what Chaidez has brought to bear on the project.
“It’s a Latina showrunner on a show about female empowerment, so that felt organic and consistent,” he said. “She’s a creative force of nature and really took control of the show.” Friendly is particularly proud of the writers room they’ve assembled for this season, which includes Tina Mabry (who also works on Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar), Cuban-American Dailyn Rodriguez, and San Diego native Benjamin Daniel Lobato. “As the executive producer from New York, I’m the token Caucasian,” he joked. “And very proud of it! I think they really helped us find our voice.”
Braga echoed this sentiment, noting how much she loved seeing that kind of diversity being championed not just in front but behind the camera.
“She’s someone who understands what it means to be a woman in a man’s world. That makes a huge difference in a project like this.”
Asked about having a female showrunner on board, she was unequivocal. “It changed a little bit the tone of the show, because season one was more action-y, more boyish in a way. And season two, because there’s a woman in charge, there’s more an attention to drama, to character development in different ways.”
Veronica Falcón, who plays the iron-willed Camila Vargas, felt the same. “We have very few female directors. Very few female showrunners. As an actress it’s always complicated—you’re always expected to play a certain kind of role at a certain age. So you’re always breaking molds and always trying to fight for what’s fair.” It’s what attracted her to Camila, a character she freely admits is much smarter than she is, and whose conviction and decision to fight in a male-dominated world is admirable, even if it all happens against a drug trafficking background. To have Natalie at the helm of this season, well that’s just a testament to the best person for the job running the show. “I think she’s astounding. She’s a very smart woman. She’s very talented. And she’s someone who understands what it means to be a woman in a man’s world. That makes a huge difference in a project like this.”
As for what’s in store for their characters in this new season, both actresses were giddy at the thought of what they got to do now that Teresa and Camila are unlikely allies. And while Teresa is slowly learning the tricks of the (drug) trade from Camila, Braga made sure to note that it’s not quite a mentorship situation. It’s just a mutually beneficial alliance that could, at any moment, come crumbling down.
If there’s one thing that characterizes this second season it’s its more global scope. Camila continues her passionate feud with her husband Epifanio (Joaquim de Almeida), who shocks her with divorce papers this season, amping up the cross-border war on drugs now that he’s become governor of Sinaloa. Oh, and that’s before they begin to see the drug problem hit home once their daughter becomes a part of what Friendly dubs the “narco brats” this season. But the show is also moving further south this season, with a few episodes taking place in Bolivia – (though they shot in Colombia) – where Teresa will meet a new character called El Santo who’s sure to get everyone talking with his mix of religious iconography and crazed personality. Played by Steven Bauer, of Scarface fame, he’s but one of the many guest stars that will be cropping up this season.
One guest star fans won’t have to wait long for is the return of Rafael Amaya (who also starred in Telemundo’s La reina del sur) as Aurelio Casillas. Bringing the Mexican actor back into the fold in the season two premiere was a no-brainer. Friendly didn’t want to cite specific numbers but remembers that they had a spike of roughly 200,000 viewers when Amaya reprised his El Señor de los Cielos role on the show last season.
It’s a testament to his starpower and to the potential bilingual and bicultural crossover market that remains mostly untapped in US TV, and which remains central to what drives projects like Queen of the South. In fact, when Friendly first pitched the show he did so by pointing at the giant sleeping audience of English-speaking Latinos in the U.S. “This is going to be a show for them,” he remembers telling network execs. And, in case you were wondering, yes the show has considered asking Kate del Castillo, the OG Reina, to guest star on the show, though that may have to wait until season 3, or beyond. Teresa’s story, after all, is only just beginning. It’ll be some time, hopefully, before we see her sporting those sleek white ensembles and those killer sunglasses.
Season two of Queen of the South premieres June 8, 2017 on USA Network