Kate del Castillo Takes Flight Again With ‘La Reina del Sur,’ Tolstoy and Tequila

Playing the anti-hero Teresa Mendoza in Telemundo’s hit drama “La Reina del Sur” (Queen of the South) has become second nature to its star, Kate del Castillo. In a way, her hectic career as a producer, actor and entrepreneur, mirrors her character’s upstream struggle against patriarchy — sans the guns and contraband.

Speaking via Zoom from the U.K. where she’s working on the indie film “A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea & Tomorrow” with director Katherine Fairfax Wright, del Castillo reflected on the parallels between managing the challenges of her multi-faceted career with those faced by Mendoza in the show’s long-awaited third season, which premieres Oct. 18 on Telemundo. “La Reina” is a co-production of Telemundo and Netflix, which has international rights to the series.

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The new season sees the titular La Reina taking on the brutal male-dominated cartels of South America once again, picking up four years after U.S. authorities convicted her for the murders of three drug enforcement agents. The season opens with Mendoza raging inside a cell where she’s been in solitary confinement for 1,493 days.

Revisiting her on-screen alter-ago required some adjustments, given the storyline for Mendoza.

Based on Spanish journalist Arturo Perez-Reverte’s eponymous novel, the series has been Telemundo’s most ambitious series production to date, which culminated in an International Emmy award for Season 2.

“La Reina” emerged as a massive hit for Telemundo in 2011 as the network began experimenting with shorter drama series designed to run for multiple seasons rather than the traditional telenovela format that has been the staple of Spanish-language TV. Season 2 of “La Reina” arrived seven years later in 2019. Season 3 spans 60 episodes.

This time around, in contrast to earlier iterations that saw Teresa Mendoza moving through Europe and other parts of the world, Season 3 showcases only Latin America. Lensing took place at such iconic locales as Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt Flat, Machu Picchu in Peru, Argentina’s glaciers and Santa Marta in Colombia.

As she has before, del Castillo worked nearly eight months on the series, with this season shooting at some 300 locations across Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Mexico. Aside from keeping up with the hectic itinerary, the production had to follow strict COVID protocols.

“We were so afraid the production would have to shut down at some point but we were lucky,” del Castillo recalled. Ironically, she caught the virus once she was back home in Los Angeles.

Revisiting her on-screen alter-ago required some adjustments, given the storyline for Mendoza.

“The hardest part was losing weight. No one asked me to but I thought that someone in solitary confinement for years would surely lose weight,” she pointed out, adding: “That was challenging, I wasn’t eating at all!”

The third season of “La Reina del Sur” was penned by Lina Uribe and Darío Vanegas. Directors included Carlos Bolado, Carlos Villegas and Claudia Pedraza.Marcos Santana, who stepped down from his previous role as Telemundo Global Studios president in January, serves as executive producer and showrunner of the series, along with fellow executive producers Ximena Cantuarias of Telemundo and AG Studios’ Rodrigo Guerrero.

In the nearly dozen years since “La Reina” made del Castillo a star in the U.S., the actor who first made her mark as a telenovela star in her native Mexico has also starred in the Netflix drama series “Ingobernable.” She produced the Netflix documentary “The Day I Met El Chapo,” about her fateful journey in 2016 with actor Sean Penn to meet the now-incarcerated drug cartel leader Joaquin Guzman in his hideout. She also launched her own production company, Cholawood Productions, and starred in multiple films.

In 2019, Cholawood signed a first-look pact with Mexico City-based Endemol Shine Boomdog, a division of Banijay Americas.

She holds meetings “every single day” with her Cholawood partners, Carmen Cervantes and Jessica Maldonado who run the company. “We’re Latinas, we’re women, so we have to stay on top of things,” she remarked.

Cholawood is now in post-production on “A Beautiful Lie,” a contemporary Spanish-language take on Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” which it produced with Endemol Shine Boomdog. The six-episode series shot in Mexico City early this year with del Castillo playing the lead.

“We’re re-telling a story with strong female characters where infidelity is a major element. We will also address various mental health issues, including postpartum depression, and the sometimes-disastrous impact social media can have on people’s lives, especially public figures,” del Castillo explained when the project was announced. “It’s a modern twist from a female perspective.”

The action-thriller movie “Hunting Ava Bravo,” which Cholawood co-produced with Spain’s The Mediapro Studio, dropped August 19 on Amazon Prime Video in Mexico and Latin America and on Roku in the U.S.

Among Cholawood’s various projects in development is a late-night talk show, with del Castillo hosting. “It’s time we had more female talk show hosts,” she said.

In her spare time, del Castillo also oversees an award-winning tequila business, Honor. Her success in the world of spirits has not been easy, nor simply a matter of lending her name to a liquor brand.

“To be honest, it’s a very macho business. I’m the only Mexican (female) celebrity who owns a tequila business. It’s been really hard but am so proud of it,” she said.

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