"Isabela will make the biggest decision of her life": 'Queen of the South' star Idalia Valles dishes on season 3

From evolving in the role of Isabela to getting comfortable in her own skin as Idalia, the 'Queen of the South' actress shares a sneak-peek into the season 3 finale.

                            "Isabela will make the biggest decision of her life": 'Queen of the South' star Idalia Valles dishes on season 3

There are possibly a dozen crime thrillers on television at the moment, many dabbling in the drug cartel life, following the frantic and ever-tumultuous rise and fall of the drug lords. However, what separates USA Network's 'Queen of the South' from the barrage of these high-octane dramas, is the show's unique voice, putting women at the top of the game.

In fact, had it not been for the meticulous execution of characters like Teresa Mendosa (series lead starring Alice Braga) and her polar opposite nemesis, Camila (Veronica Falcón), this English adaptation of the hit 'La Reina del Sur' telenovela might not have struck such a chord with fans and critics. A partial credit for which must also be conferred upon Natalie Chaidez, who undoubtedly has introduced a million moral dilemmas ever since taking over the showrunner duties for the third season. Due to this, we get to see one of the more interesting complexities being the evolution of young Isabela, played by rising talent Idalia Valles. 

Idalia Valles talks about Isabela's evolution in 'Queen of the South' (USA Network)
Idalia Valles talks about Isabela's evolution in 'Queen of the South' (USA Network)

Raised in the drug-addled world of 'Queen of the South', Isabela's upbringing was never truly sheltered from the Vargas family's questionable lifestyle. And yet, up until season 3, Valles' character has hardly faced any ramifications. All of this changes in the ongoing season, though, which is headed straight for a climactic finale. In Valles' own words, "you either sink or you swim".

From evolving in the role of Isabela to getting comfortable in her own skin as Idalia, the 'Queen of the South' actress gives us a sneak-peek into the show and shares some previously unheard tales with Meaww.   

There are a ton of real life-inspired shows, all revolving around the frantic drug cartel life, what makes Queen of the South different from the lot?

The perspective of women empowerment and how women are fighting for what they want, for what's right, and equality... I think it is beautiful and that's what really makes the show different from the others drug cartel shows. I am biased when it comes to who can be at the top of the food chain, you know if you have the right tools if you have the power, and the work ethics to get to the top then you can do it. And it really connects us in the times that we are living in. Women these days, you know, you can have your own business, you can be your own boss, it's all about women empowerment.   


Does having two polarizing female figures - Teresa (Alice) and Camila (Veronica) at the heart of the plot help in setting a different tone?

Yes, of course, you have two sides of the coin. Teresa thinks in a totally different way than Camila and yet at the same time they kind of inspire each other to keep reaching to the plot. I think Camila sees Teresa like another daughter, following in her footsteps. So you have these two opposites, black and white, yin and yang, but at the end of the day, they want the same thing, just different ways to get there. And this really does help the show, it really does unite us as women. Maybe, if you don't like your enemy, then maybe you are kind of like them.

Tell us a bit about your character and her evolution. What sparked the change in Isabela?

In a chaotic experience (like the one Isabela faces - her father dies and so forth), all of these changes her, it gets her from innocent one day to the next day being a cold thing exposed to the real world. So when there's such a big change, you either sink or you swim. Right now, we are taking the mask off the innocent [Isabela]; we are taking the mask off this girl living in the teen world that you get to live in when you are in college and high school.

Do we see Isabela eventually following in her mother's footsteps? (USA Network)
Do we see Isabela eventually following in her mother's footsteps? (USA Network)

Speaking of changes, Isabela's relationship with Camila has also evolved, do we see Isabela eventually following in her mother's footsteps?

Yes, I think her true colors are definitely showing in this season. She is starting to think like [Camila], she is starting to manipulate different characters in the show, which I think is so smart for such a young girl. But it's kind of obvious for her to do that because that's all she knows how to do with her mom as the prime example. What I think is interesting is that [Isabela] uses [the manipulations] against her own mother, she does the same things that her mother does in season 3. 

It's refreshing to see Queen of the South for many reasons and one of them is the interesting mix of the cast - you got a Brazilian playing a Mexican and so on. But your casting is more true to the roots, right? How did you land the role of Isabela?

Well, I got a call from my agent in Texas and they were casting Isabela. And I truly thought I wasn't going to get it because they were looking for a really young girl, 13 to 14-year-old, and at that time I was around 20, 21-year-old. But I loved the character, I truly connected with her even with the two scenes that they gave me because it involved such a young girl feeling so many emotions and connection towards her mom, and I am very connected with my mother. So I felt an instant connection with Isabela. 



It was one of the first auditions where I didn't really care about landing the role, I was in the audition room just having fun with this character, and all the emotions and just playing with her. What is most important is who is the best for the role, they truly stick to who will play this character the best and that's how we have Alice Braga, a Brazilian woman playing Teresa, a Mexican drug lord.

What was it like, getting into the mind and skin of Isabela, a character who in every way possible defines a Latina?

It was fun because I had to think like an innocent high school student who gets into trouble and then having to choose morally for Isabela, in her next steps into the world. In my own life, I have never really been bullied... so it was a treat to go crazy with [the role]. It was like growing up, so beautiful to have the authority to kind of mold Isabela into an adult, into womanhood, into choosing between good and bad.       

Isabela surely has a lot more to offer in terms of the plot? Do we see shades of villainy from her in this season?   

Let me put this without ruining any surprises. Let's just say that Isabela truly treasures her past this season. She keeps on going through the past with drugs and Camila and then there is her branching out and going through a different and a better life. This season is a big change for her and the biggest decision of her life, and you will see that in the last episode.


If not Isabela, is there any other role on this show itself that you would have liked to give a shot?          

Yes, Pote (Hemky Madera). I would have loved to play Pote. He is the coolest character, he is so funny and I just love that he can say whatever he wants to anyone he wants. If I could in a different universe, I would play Pote. 

What do you see yourself doing after Queen of the South?

Right now my main focus is finding another show, working on some music and being able to start writing and producing my own stuff. 


On a parting note, we would love to know the story behind your name - why you chose to use Idalia instead of Sandy?  

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I always wanted to be named Idalia, it's my middle name. And a couple of the people I used to work with told me "don't that's such a big mistake because Idalia is going to make you seem so ethnic and you are not going to be able to enter into casting, so Sandy is perfect, very American, ethnically ambiguous, you can do whatever." I was very young and was trying to heed to what everyone was telling me and I let them guide me into making my stage name as Sandy. Now that I am older and I have so many strong, independent, Latina women around me, kind of guiding me... I realized that I can keep on living being called Idalia.