Editor's note: Dallas-shot drama Queen of the South returns Thursday, June 21, at 8 p.m. on USA Network. There's no better time to bring back this story about how the actors and the production feels right at home when they're shooting in and around Dallas.
The title Queen of the South may conjure images of a steel magnolia withstanding summer heat. That wouldn't be wrong.
But this Dallas-shot television drama, adapted from Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novel La Reina del Sur, is well into its second season on USA Network (Thursdays at 9 p.m.; the first season is on Netflix). The novel had already been adapted into a highly successful series for Telemundo.
Queen of the South tells the story of Teresa Mendoza (Alice Braga), who flees Mexico after her drug-dealing boyfriend is murdered. She goes on to become the titular antihero. In the book, she ends up in Spain. In this version, she ends up in Dallas -- as did the production. Most of the filming is done at South Side Studios on Lamar Street, with some of it done on a street near you.
Here are some stories from the show's time here.
Veronica Falcón prepares for her drug lord role by ... dancing?
"This is the character who lives at the edge of the sword," says Veronica Falcon, aka drug queenpin Camila Vargas on USA's Queen of the South.
Her character's husband continually double-crosses her, her daughter disobeys her and her henchmen constantly question her. Plus, she's got to be on some covert government agency's most-wanted list (lists?) by now.
But the actress has what some may see as a softer way to get into character for her take-all-prisoners role. She takes ballet.
"I really do a lot of groundwork beforehand," she says. "I prepare physically for the role because it's a role that requires a woman to [show] not only strength in terms of intellectual capacity, but also physically."
The "independent, smart" Camila is always standing in a dark, precarious place and sometimes literally: under an overpass, in a shady parking lot, in a dark alley.
"High heels have been a challenge. Just walking with some sort of grace in a desert full of stones is not easy. Especially when the dresses are a little too tight and I can barely breathe," she said. "That requires some ability of balance, which is why I'm taking ballet."
She stops laughing.
Look closer and it's evident in her posture even while sitting and talking to a small group of reporters during a visit to the set of Queen of the South in May. She was elegant, steely, stately even. She's graceful, while projecting that strength she talks about.
She inhabits Camila. It leaves us with one question: Does that make her a dancing queenpin?
Will the real Mexico stand up?
The look and the feel of Queen of the South had to be authentic, according to executive producer David Friendly. And that extended to scenes that had to be shot in Mexico.
Time, travel and expense made show runners more than happy to find Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff.
"We expected it to be very difficult to recreate Mexico in Downtown Dallas, but this particular street served us so well," Friendly says. "The stores, the color, the overall feel of just a couple of blocks there sold Mexico perfectly. It clearly is a neighborhood that serves the Mexican community, so we did not even need to change signage. In one case we needed a botanica -- and the one we found had all of the products we wanted to showcase already in stock. There were special potions for organic medicinal relief and replicas of Malverde, the patron saint of the narcos.
"We did not need to change a thing."
Home is where the start is
After Snow Tha Product binge-watched Queen of the South on Netflix, she approached her new role in awe.
"I was, like, 'Wow, I'm in this'," the rapper born as Claudia Alexandra Feliciano said. "I didn't know it was as dope as it is."
She plays Lil' Traviesa, who runs a prison drug ring from the outside -- a princess-pen? -- and ends up with a role in the show's larger operation. The transition from rapper to actor was as natural as her character's progression, she said, as they share similar traits and they both get to freestyle.
"I think any other character might have been more difficult," she says, and laughs. "I kind of did cheat by being a character that is so similar to kind of what I grew up with, you know. So they needed tattoos ... I'm like it's already there. We're already kind of there. The eyeliner and the chola eyebrows, we're already here."
Besides, after a day on the Dallas set, she gets to go to her mother's house in Fort Worth to "eat and chill."
"I lived out here forever. I love it," she says and then talks more about her mom. "Rap wasn't necessarily her favorite lane for me so when she's like, 'You're acting now? There you go, that's what you need to do.' That and mariachi and banda. Now, she's definitely bragging. And I'm like, "Oh, the role is kinda like what you didn't want me to be, but hey, I think it's dope.'
"But I'm glad to be in the D-FW because I got so many people that I grew up in the rap scene with being like 'yo, you're coming out of here. And how dope that you come back here to take the next step in your career,' so I think it's all crazy how that happened. I moved to LA and I come back here to take another step in my career."