‘Griselda’ Star Sofia Vergara On The Reality Of Playing Playing Colombia’s Real-Life Cocaine Godmother: “She Hurt Many, Many Lives”

It took nearly 15 years for Sofía Vergara to land Griselda at Netflix, but when it was finally time to step into the notorious Colombian drug lord’s heels, the Modern Family star was filled with doubt. “There were a million things that I was nervous about, mainly my performance,” she says. “This was my first time acting in Spanish, my first time doing drama, and I was nervous if I was going to be able to convince people that it wasn’t just Gloria Pritchett with a plastic nose.” To Vergara’s delight, the reception has been nothing but effusive. “It’s a risk to do something like this, because you never know,” she says. “To realize people actually love it, it’s a gift.”

DEADLINE: Reading some of the reviews, one in particular said you had ‘out-of-left-field gravitas.’ I would assume that you wouldn’t enter a project like this if on some level you didn’t think you could do it. Is there a sense of being underestimated as an actor?

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SOFIA VERGARA: No, you’d be surprised. My whole life I’ve done things that I’m totally sure I’m not qualified to do, but I don’t like losing opportunities. When I see an opportunity, I’m like, “You know what? I’m going to try it.” I don’t think my job is like a brain surgeon’s, where you’re risking somebody else’s life. The worst that could happen is that you don’t make the money you thought you were going to make, or people are not going to like it. I knew that I knew that character so well, because of the way I lived in Colombia during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, when narcotraffic was booming. That’s the thing that really made me feel like, “I think I got it.”

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DEADLINE: When you set out to make this series, what was it you wanted to say about Griselda Blanco?

VERGARA: As a woman, she fascinated me, because I knew these characters from Colombia. They were household names: Pablo Escobar, the Rodríguez Orejuela [brothers], who are the biggest narco guys in the world. But I never thought that there would be a woman who would be able to rise to the level of these guys. There were women that were laundering money for them or being mules, but never a big, big boss like her. It was very tricky [playing her], though, because I would find myself sometimes rooting for her, thinking, “Wow, it’s amazing that a woman was able to do that,” and I had to check myself out of it, like, “Listen, at the end of the day, this woman was a f*cking serial killer, a sociopath, and she hurt many, many lives.”

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DEADLINE: What have you made of the public’s reaction to your Griselda?

VERGARA: I’ll tell you this, I was so surprised, because we did a press tour all over the world and when we got to the premiere in Miami — there were like 400 people — I was f*cking in shock when every time that she would do something horrific, people would go crazy. They’d clap and cheer. They wanted her to get away with sh*t. It was super crazy. So, to me, that was a big, big reassurance that I was able to do what I always thought I wanted with the character. I always thought of her like Tony Soprano. I wanted people, even though it’s a bad guy, to relate to her, like her and root for her.

Sofia Vergara interview
Alberto Guerra and Sofia Vergara in Griselda.

DEADLINE: In terms of her physicality, I assume the aim was not for you to look exactly like her. What was the goal of your transformation?

VERGARA: We didn’t have time [for me] to look like her, because we only had three hours [a day] for my transformation, so we needed to think about that. If I was going to look like her completely, that would’ve taken a significant amount of the day. It was complicated to figure out how she needed to look. I wanted to look like a woman you would believe was able to marry three times. There was some kind of sensuality and sex appeal to this woman. And I wanted to disappear. I didn’t want people to think, “Oh, that’s Sofía,” and that was my major concern.

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DEADLINE: I heard the prosthetics were difficult to act in, but as an actor, is there a freedom in not seeing yourself in the mirror when you’re doing something like this?

VERGARA: Yeah, it’s a lot easier. Even if I had not slept well or had eaten Chinese food, the next day I could be swollen, because you’re going to get into this weird-looking character. That was a little bit liberating. But it was also brutal, because I decided to do this weird walk. I didn’t want to walk like me with my boobs in the air and my jiggly ass, like a Latin woman. So, I would have a lot of pads on, and I figured out this walk that I thought was not very feminine. But when we were three months into it, one day I couldn’t get out of bed. My doctor got crazy. He’s like, “You can’t walk in a different posture like that for three months at 50 years old.”

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DEADLINE: What did you do?

VERGARA: I had three more months to go, so they kind of injected me — I herniated a disc, actually, and now I have to deal with it forever — but I kept going.

DEADLINE: That is such a commitment, to know that you are actively hurting yourself, but you have three more months to go. What makes it worth it?

VERGARA: I don’t think I had an option [laughs]. “Oh, sh*t. What have I done?” I had to do different stretches. I couldn’t just do what I was doing those three months. But I think it worked out, because that was one of the things that made her look different than me.

DEADLINE: What was your biggest challenge in inhabiting her?

VERGARA: At the beginning, it was brutal for me because I’ve never done anything like that. Doing Modern Family, you’re on set, you’re happy, your thoughts are happy, you’re with your friends. Griselda was a monster. I would go home and I didn’t know what the hell was happening to me. Your body doesn’t know that you’re not really screaming and crying and doing crack and smoking 90% of the day. It was hard at the beginning. When I said I’m going to do all this, I wasn’t thinking, because I had never done it before. So, that took me a little while to get used to. I started to take a little bit of something to sleep at night, so that I could relax, because you have to get up super early the next day to go to work. I couldn’t just sit there in bed going crazy. I figured that out and then I started getting better.

DEADLINE: Working with just one director on this series, Andrés Baiz, how did that inform you?

VERGARA: It was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I wanted Andy from the beginning, because I have seen his work. He’s Colombian, he could speak Spanish to me. I thought he was a genius and brilliant with all this stuff, and he helped me so much with the acting. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to cry on set or do any of the things I wanted to do. He guided me, and I would be like, “Andy, tell me, is it OK? Are you saying more or less?” And he would be completely honest with me. I love having someone to direct me, because I’ve never been to acting classes or anything like that. On Modern Family, I had Ed O’Neill helping me for 11 years, so I got spoiled.

Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Emmy Drama magazine <a href="https://issuu.com/deadlinehollywood/docs/deadline_-_emmy_preview_-_drama?fr=xKAE9_zU1NQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">here</a>.
Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Emmy Drama magazine here.

DEADLINE: What was the impact of being able to act in Spanish?

VERGARA: It’s so liberating. It’s so hard for me to act in English, because I have to translate everything all the time. It’s really, really difficult, and I realized that when I was doing Griselda. I don’t have to think. I just have to feel. And when I’m doing it in English, there’s no way I can disconnect my head from, “What’s the word that is coming?” or “Oh, no, that sound is not like that.” It’s crazy. Also to be on the set with actors that were speaking in Spanish and the director is speaking in Spanish, it was amazing.

DEADLINE: Did playing Griselda open her up to you as a person?

VERGARA: The whole time I was just thinking of her like a woman that had good intentions, that it was all about her and her family. She didn’t have the tools to do anything else but what she knew, which was that. But then I realized that at the end of the day, she wasn’t really a good person. It was all about her. That’s what those kinds of people are. Even though it looks like they’re doing a lot of things for other people, it’s just about them and power. If someone like Griselda Blanco had taken the right road, she could have been the president of Colombia, instead she was the biggest narcotrafficker.

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