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'Griselda' star Julieth Restrepo on Sofía Vergara's 'impressive' transformation and the allure of drug cartel stories

"My character represents the adoration, in some way, because in that time you didn't have any female figures to look up to," Restrepo said.

'Griselda' star Julieth Restrepo on Sofía Vergara's 'impressive' transformation and the allure of drug cartel stories
"Griselda" actor Julieth Restrepo (Ben Cope)

Colombian actor Julieth Restrepo, who previously starred alongside Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz in the film Loving Pablo, has now stepped into 1970s and 1980s Miami with Sofía Vergara in the Netflix series Griselda.

The series is a dramatization of the life of Griselda Blanco, one of the most powerful cartel leaders in history, who is also known as the "Cocaine Godmother" and "The Black Widow."

Griselda Netflix release date: Jan. 25
Creators: Eric Newman, Carlo Bernard, Ingrid Escajeda, Doug Miro
Director: Andrés Baiz
Cast: Sofía Vergara, Alberto Guerra, Vanessa Ferlito, Martín Rodríguez, Alberto Ammann, Christian Tappan, Fredy Yate, Camilo Jimenez Varon, Christian Tappan, Julieth Restrepo, Orlando Pineda, Juliana Aidén Martinez, Karol G
Number of episodes: 6

Watch Griselda

Restrepo had previously worked with Griselda director Andrés Baiz on a Colombian remake of Breaking Bad, titled Metástasis. So when the actor found out that Baiz was working on Griselda, and that Vergara was involved, Restrepo knew she wanted to audition.

Sofía Vergara as Griselda in episode 101 of Griselda (Netflix)
Sofía Vergara as Griselda in episode 101 of Griselda (Netflix)

'Impressive' performance by Sofía Vergara

For Restrepo, it was a "dream come true" to be able to work with Vergara.

"Sofía is just incredible, I always wanted to work with her. I always wanted to meet her," Restrepo told Yahoo Canada last month.

The moment the first images of Vergara in Griselda were released, there were extensive discussions about her transformation, and Restrepo stressed it was as impressive in-person as it is in photos and on-screen.

"I have so many selfies with her, ... I showed one of those to my husband and he was like, 'Who is she?'" Restrepo said. "With the teeth and prosthetics and the hair, the wig, ... that was very impressive."

"Also, the way she was walking was different too. ... She put a lot [into] that character and I was very impressed [by] every single choice she made in every scene we had. ... She was working on this dramatic series in a way that I had never seen her before. So that was very impressive."

'They went big on this one'

In an early scene featuring Restrepo's character, Marta Ochoa, we see Marta call out that Griselda, a woman, is running circles around the men in the cartel world, which really sums up the essence of the Griselda story.

"My character represents the adoration, in some way, because in that time you didn't have any female figures to look up to," Restrepo said.

The actor also enjoyed stepping into a world that's so different from her own, including the time-specific set, costumes, hairstyles and makeup looks.

"I remember going to my first fitting and they had all these incredible bathing suits, like original bathing suits, vintage stuff, they weren't even making stuff from scratch," Restrepo said.

"I'm not a big fan of Halloween, costumes and all of that, but when I'm working I'm like, 'Bring it.' I loved that about this show. They went big on this one and I loved everything they did, because not only [does it look] amazing, but it makes you feel like you're in it. It adds another amazing layer of what you're doing."

Watch Griselda

To add to the interesting experience of creating Griselda, Restrepo was actually pregnant while she was filming the series, but no one in the cast and crew knew at the time.

"By the end of the show, when I had my most challenging scenes, I was pregnant and nobody knew," Restrepo revealed. "I didn't want to tell anybody, I didn't want to create any pressure on set."

"Of course they took care of me all the time, even though they didn't know I was pregnant, but I was very comfortable on that set, because I didn't feel in danger. I didn't feel that I was going through any weird stuff. And everything was very planned, they had a plan for everything. ... Of course, they were very supportive once they found out."

'You want to watch stories that make you feel alive'

Already achieving an impressive career to date, looking back at her time on the 2017 film Loving Pablo, a story about journalist Virginia Vallejo's (Cruz) relationship with Pablo Escobar (Bardem), Restrepo said that was another project created with great specificity. Restrepo played Maria Victoria Henao in that film, Escobar's wife.

"These types of stories, because I'm Colombian, it makes you feel like you're going back to that time in history and you're like, 'OK we need to show this to the world so we learn and we don't repeat it,'" Restrepo said.

She added that for Loving Pablo there was a significant emphasis on making the film "real" and "honest."

"One thing I remember was working with Javier for the first time, rehearsing, going through our lines, and seeing how much he wanted to make this real, in general," Restrepo said. "And how much he wanted to make everybody comfortable, because it was a hard story to tell."

Having worked on multiple projects that tackle stories about drug lords and infamous cartels, Restrepo believes the allure of these stories stems from fascination with a world where, "you can't believe what they lived in."

"I remember going through my research for Loving Pablo, for example, and reading all these books about the details of the story and I was fascinated by the books, I didn't want the books to end," she said. "You want to watch stories that make you feel alive and make you think about the choices that people have made."

"For me, as an actor, I live through my characters because I experience things that I've never experienced in my life."

Julieth Restrepo (Ben Cope)
Julieth Restrepo (Ben Cope)

'I can show her what I can do as a female in this industry'

Coming up next, Restrepo has entered the world of Shondaland, working on the series The Residence, starring Uzo Aduba, executive produced by Shonda Rhimes. From what we know so far, the series is a comedic whodunit, set during a state dinner, with Kate Andersen Brower’s novel The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House used as a starting point. However, the show did lose one of its stars, André Braugher, who died at the age of 61 in December.

"I was nursing when I auditioned for that show, I didn't expect to get it," Restrepo said. "I just love the material. I can tell you that the scripts are amazing. It's so well written, it's just one of those shows that you want to have a copy and give it to everybody, because the scripts are so amazing and so rich, and it's great."

"I can tell you that people are going to see something completely different from Marta in Griselda, and I can't wait for the world to watch that show and see what we can do with that story. Because it's fun. It's a dark comedy. It has so many great elements and such a great cast."

Moving forward in her career, Restrepo just really wants to keep playing "different women."

"I just want to keep giving my voice to strong women, not only Latin women, or immigrants, those roles that are always part of our industry and the stories that we tell, but just strong women in general," Restrepo said. "I want to keep ... giving my voice to women who have something to say."

"Now I have a baby ... a girl, too, so it's amazing that I can show her what I can do as a female in this industry."