Sofia Vergara on playing real-life drug lord in ‘Griselda’

Sofia Vergara on playing real-life drug lord in ‘Griselda’

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:15 AM January 26, 2024

Sofia Vergara as Griselda Blanco —PHOTOS COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Sofia Vergara as Griselda Blanco —PHOTOS COURTESY OF NETFLIX

She may have been the brains behind her husband’s drug trafficking operations in Medellin and New York for 10 years. But it was her abusive spouse’s wife-beating brawn that pushed Griselda Blanco to flee Colombia in 1978 and forge her own path as the so-called “Godmother of Cocaine” in ’80s Miami.

In fact, Pablo Escobar, the narco-terrorist leader of the Medellin Cartel, was once quoted that the only man he was ever afraid of was a woman—and that was hooker-turned-drug trafficker Griselda, portrayed with ruthless conviction and palpable vulnerability in the six-part Netflix drama by Colombian-American actress Sofia Vergara (“Modern Family,” “America’s Got Talent”).


Long after she had finished shooting “Griselda” and shaken off the title character’s toxic persona out of her system, Sofia was still not done making a case for her decision to get cast against type in the fictionalized dramatization of Griselda’s scandalous and convoluted life story.


Upon learning that we had spoken in 2019 to the show’s cocreator Eric Newman (“Narcos,” “Narcos: Mexico”)—who was seated beside her for our two-on-one interview last Tuesday—the lovely 51-year-old actress/producer worked her irresistible charm on us, pointed to us and quipped, “This show is better—‘Griselda’ is better (laughs)!’” To which we could only answer, “Oh, then I do not think I have other options but to agree …”

Eric, laughing heartily at the playful exchange, also had no choice but to acquiesce, saying, “You guys said it, so I’m good!”

To be fair, Sofia’s balls-to-the-wall portrayal is something the actress can crow about—a thespic “vanishing act” that allows the actress to move the throttle levers all the way forward.


Tumultuous life

Griselda’s “rags-to-ruthless” tale, on the other hand, seems like it’s been culled straight out of a Mexican telenovela. She fled Medellin with her three sons after her husband forced her to sleep with a drug lord to pay off a huge debt.

She stayed with her friend Carmen (Vanessa Ferlito) in Miami and began building her own drug empire with the kilogram of high-grade cocaine hidden in her bag. She then quickly immersed herself in the murderous politics of the Miami drug trade, led by kingpin Amilcar (José Zúñiga).


Bucking misogyny, discrimination and hitmen raring to settle a score, Griselda rises from the ranks with the help of assassin-turned-lover Dario Sepulveda (Alberto Guerra, who imbues his screentime with his scorching presence) and rival-turned-wingman Rivi Ayala (Martin Rodriguez). It doesn’t take long before Griselda outwits and outpaces all the men who once betrayed and berated her.

But that hasn’t made Griselda’s life easier or happier, especially when intelligence analyst June Hawkins (Juliana Aidén Martinez)—who has her own struggles in the Miami Police Department’s all-male squad—begins digging into the enigmatic lady boss’ criminality.

Griselda led a tumultuous life since her early teens until she was gunned down by an assassin in Colombia at the age of 69, so we asked Sofia which part of her character’s very colorful history resonated with her the most.

“The period in her life that we picked for the series was the part that I thought was the most interesting,” she disclosed. “But I was able to play her a little easier because, at this point, we see Griselda already in her 50s—and I’m now in the [same] age range. It was also the period where many crazy things happened to her.

“This woman went through a lot. It’s very different from the life of a regular woman. But she was also a mother. She had a very strong character … she had intelligence and wit. Sadly, she went with all of that in the wrong direction.”

We also saw this interview with Sofia and Eric as an opportunity to revisit the United States’—and the Philippines’—deadly and endless war on drugs. Five years ago, we asked Eric and “Narcos: Mexico” star Michael Peña if they thought there was a way for any government to win the war on drugs.

Back then, Eric said, “I’ve heard about your country’s own war on drugs … The United States is the world’s largest market for drugs, like cocaine. What ‘Narcos: Mexico’ says, which is very much our point of view, is that there’s no such thing as an ‘effect’ of the so-called ‘war on drugs.’

“The problem can be traced to the law of supply and demand. It’s the kind of war that needs to focus on the demand, not the supply of drugs—because as long as there’s demand for it, somebody will supply it. If you fight supply, you don’t stand a chance!

“If you use the terminology ‘war on drugs,’ you’ve already lost. But, I believe you can win this if you treat it like a health-care crisis, which is what it really is. You combat addiction not by imprisoning drug addicts, but by actually getting them the help they need. That’s how you greatly reduce the demand for drugs.”


Sofia Vergara (center) with director Andres Baiz and cocreator Eric Newman attend the US premiere of “Griselda”

New insights

But what new insights has Eric taken away from the story of “Griselda”?

“That’s a great question,” he said. “I still believe that. But our new show is a different animal in a lot of ways. It’s a more intimate, more character-driven depiction set in the drug world. But whereas ‘Narcos’ has a broader geopolitical theme to it—and you’ve touched on the major ones for me—‘Griselda’ is very much about this woman who is driven by something to become what she becomes.

“And the thing that’s really interesting about Sofia’s portrayal and the way we chose to tell her story is in the way that we ‘suggest’ the trauma that shapes Griselda. Horrible things happened to her. She was a prostitute … she was forced into it. She was abused and neglected. She was chronically underestimated. She was a victim!

“In Griselda’s pursuit of safety and comfort … to break this cycle [of victimization] and enable her to protect her children from the same abuses, she ends up losing her way. What Griselda proved to me was, when you’re dealing with an audience’s sympathy, and they understand why someone is doing something, you can really get to the root of any monster’s humanity. And there’s power and importance in that.

“It’s dangerous when you say, ‘Oh, that person’s just a monster and we don’t need to understand why.’ The show has a more evolved way of thinking than when you and I met in Singapore way back when. But it follows the same evolution of idea.”

In a separate Q&A, Sofia revealed the reason why she decided to stubbornly develop this project for almost 10 years.

“I wanted to challenge myself, because Griselda is such a complex character. She’s not a hero, and many of the things she did were terrible. But there were so many nuances to explore in terms of who she really was—as a cartel leader, a fearless businesswoman, a woman and a mother. That’s not a very usual mix.

“She was someone who did whatever it took to protect her family—at least that’s what she supposedly said was driving her. I wanted to explore that from the point of view of her being one of very few women in history to have gone as far as she did.


Sofia Vergara (right) with Martin Fajardo

Uncover the story

“Most people know of Griselda as the ruthless, violent drug lord that she was. So we were very careful not to glorify her in the series. But we also wanted to take time to uncover the deeper story of Griselda, how, against all odds, a poor and uneducated woman from Colombia managed to create a massive, multibillion dollar empire in a male-dominated industry in a country that was not her own.

“The truth is that, as much as Griselda broke down barriers, she’s definitely not a hero and she should not be idolized. In comparison, when you also look at someone like June Hawkins, a mother who’s also trying to coexist in a male-dominated culture, you see why Griselda’s self-justification is very wrong. Griselda and June are different sides of the same coin—they show two different paths that a person can take in order to take care of her family.”

Acknowledging that there have been other stories about infamous drug traffickers, Sofia added, “Griselda was not really talked about often. She was not as famous, but even Pablo Escobar was scared of her! We’ve never seen a drug lord organize a shipment of cocaine from Colombia, then go home to take care of her three kids. Can you imagine someone like Tony Montana packing a lunch box?”

And no, “Griselda” does not glamorize crime or notoriety, Sofia stressed: “The series is about the horrible lengths that this particular person took to provide for her family. Even for society at large, we were honest about the terrible things that happened as a result of her actions, because omitting them would have done a disservice to the story of the victims.”

What message does Sofia want the series directed by Andres Baiz to impart to viewers?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

“I want to remind the audience how easy it is for power to corrupt people,” the actress pointed out. “Beyond sex, politics and gender norms, the reality is that ‘Griselda’ is about someone who was so blinded by power that it overcame any of her other motives. Yes, she stood up to a lot of scary and powerful men. But none of that matters because she also ended up becoming one of them!”

TAGS: Sofia Vergara

© Copyright 1997-2024 | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.