Inside ‘Griselda’: How Sofía Vergara Crafted Her Career Reinvention With the ‘Narcos’ Team

After “Narcos” and “Narcos: Mexico,” director Andrés Baiz was hesitant to return to the world of cartel crime dramas. At least until “Modern Family” star Sofía Vergara and her business partner Luis Balaguer approached Baiz and executive producer Eric Newman with the story of Griselda Blanco, the Cocaine Godmother.

“I’m going to be very honest here. Because I’m Colombian and had been working in ‘Narcos’ for seven years, I was a little bit over [the subject matter]. I wanted to do something different,” Baiz, who has also directed episodes of “The Sandman,” told TheWrap.

But when he was given the opportunity to guide Vergara through her prestige drama debut by directing and producing all six episodes of “Griselda,” Baiz changed his mind.

“It was less about the character and more about the opportunity to work with somebody and getting her to reinvent herself as an actor. That was what really drew me,” Baiz explained. “It was a challenge and it was risky. But I’m not going to do things that are I consider easy. Challenging stuff really is what matters.”

Vergara specifically wanted to work with the pair due to their previous work on “Narcos” and “Narcos: Mexico.”

“It was fascinating for me because I grew up in Colombia during that era and we all knew who they were. They were household names — Pablo Escobar and this and that,” Vergara told TheWrap. “And no one had ever heard of this woman.”

The first time Vergara heard the name Griselda Blanco was when she was watching a documentary. Even then, she thought the claims made about Blanco were “an exaggeration” and that she was “some girlfriend or wife of a narco.” Yet the more she looked into this figure who’s been largely forgotten by history, the more interested she became in bringing her story to life.

Sofia Vergara stars as Griselda in “Griselda” (Netflix)

Because Blanco was a Colombian mother who was also an immigrant to the United States, Vergara felt a connection to her “incredible” story.

“I started realizing that this woman was not just a woman who was part of the cartels, or part of the narco traffic business. She was the narco traffic business,” Vergara said. “She was raising four kids and could be as brutal as these narco men.”

During development and pre-production, Baiz would go to Vergara’s house “once or twice a week.” These meetings were dedicated to analyzing scenes and fleshing out Griselda’s motivations. Baiz knew that he needed to gain Vergara’s trust so that she would give the best performance possible.

“She wanted to present herself completely different than what she is in real life. We spoke about her childhood and her past in Colombia, and we were trying to see if there were elements in common with the real character that she could use in crucial scenes,” Baiz said. “My way of directing is very, very permissive. It’s about asking questions and allowing her to express her intuition. I think the moment a director says, ‘This is the way it is,’ then an actor is not able to utilize their instincts as much.”

Though the two drew on Vergara’s personal life for the role, like with his previous work, Baiz took care not to glamorize this world or its central anti-hero. “It cannot become propaganda,” Baiz said.

The director highlighted that “Narcos” and “Narcos: Mexico” were as much about their central anti-heroes as they were about the war on drugs, and how American foreign policy impacted countries like Colombia. He emphasized that it’s not clear “who is bad and who is good” in these stories.

“The CIA can be a terrible player,” Baiz noted.

That’s all true of “Griselda,” a series that plays with all of these themes but adds another force into the mix: toxic masculinity. The Netflix drama pairs Griselda Blanco’s story with that of June Hawkins’ (Juliana Aidén Martinez) a real-life officer who was one of the first female members of the Miami P.D.

“She and Griselda are both different sides of the same coin. They’re both fighting for respect,” Baiz said.

Baiz estimated that they shot “Griselda” over 100 days. Within two weeks, he saw a marked difference in Vergara’s performance. Repeatedly, he praised the star for her work ethic, passion for the project and humility, both on and off set.

“In at the beginning, it was a little bit more difficult, but then she completely got it and was into it. She was very kind to all of us in the crew. She was making jokes,” Baiz said.

Both Baiz and Vergara also took care to cast “many” actors who were Colombian in this story about a largely forgotten Colombian narco. He called the on-set environment, which took place in Los Angeles, “amazing.”

“It was empowered. We were empowering so many actors that don’t live here, and it was a dream for all for all of us to be shooting with Sofía,” Baiz said.

All episodes of “Griselda” are now streaming on Netflix.

Jose Alejandro Bastidas contributed to this story.

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