If you have yet to get on board with Teresa Mendoza’s bloodstained journey to become the Queen of Cartel, you are missing out. Originally a novel and then a Telemundo telenovela, La Reina del Sur (Queen of the South) made the jump to the English-language USA Network in 2016 to become one of our favorite shows.

In short, Queen of the South tells the (partially true) story of Teresa Mendoza, who is both seeking refuge in Dallas from drug violence and on a personal mission to bring down the Mexican cartel responsible for her boyfriend’s murder. Wrapped up in all the narco-drama is Houstonian actress Idalia Valles as Isabella Vargas, the daughter of Camila and Epifanio Vargas, two of the show's most powerful and cunning characters.

But before she made her USA debut, Valles graduated from Pasadena Memorial High School and spent more than 12 years working on her actress armor at Theatre Under the Stars. We talk to her about her journey to the screen ahead of the show's third season—mild spoilers ahead.

Your name is actually Sandy, so, pero like, who is Idalia?

I knew it’ll be confusing for the first couple months because everyone knows me as Sandy—even for Queen of The South. Idalia is my middle name. When I first started acting in L.A. I wanted to change my name to Idalia, but my manager and agent at the time didn’t want me to. I was told Idalia was "too confusing." That with a simple name like Sandy you could be white; you could be anything. I listened to them. Now years later, I realize that was a big mistake. I am sticking to my core. If you can’t pronounce my name, or you don’t get it, tell me. I am here to teach you.

In previous interviews, you mentioned you were told you were not Latina enough as an actress. What was your audition process like for Queen of the South?

I truly believe that every [show] that I was wrong for in the last four years was because this is specifically a role for me. I immediately connected with Isabella. I empathized with her because she is going through so much pain. I have never experienced the pain she is going through with her family, but just imagining not having a great family like mine, it made me want to take care of Isabella. I remember my agent calling me asking if I wanted to go to Dallas for an audition. I said f*ck —I couldn’t afford a plane ticket at the time, but I made it work with my mother’s help. I arrived at the audition room in Dallas that flooded with pre-teens. I thought I was definitely not getting the role. Although I was a bit confused with what was going on, I decided to just have a blast with it.

About two months later, after I had completely forgotten about it, I get a call from my agent, and I was told I made the producer rounds. They were gonna ask me to come and audition one more time. About 10 minutes later, I get another call from my agent saying, “They saw the audition tape again, and they don’t care. They chose you. You start filming in the next two days.” Now we film here in Dallas and Galveston. 

Why do you think this famous Latino novel that became La Reina del Sur on Telemundo needs to be shared with the English-language market?

It comes from a women’s point of view who is fighting her way to get what she wants—I find that beautiful. I feel anyone who is striving to reach their goals can relate to it. It translates so well to any type of market. Now that we are on the third season, I have people from Australia, India, Russia who Instagram message me over how it’s such an amazing story. This is such a cool thing to see that this Latino-female driven cast is breaking barriers.

Isabella plays the daughter role of Governor Vargas, but it seems that her father’s past keeps haunting her reputation as the daughter of a cartel leader. Do you believe Isabella will soon embrace her “cartel” colors?

We end season 2 with her really thinking about it. It’s the next logical step. She's going through so much she sees the true ways of how her parents function. Logically, we see she would want to go to the next step with her family. She has two great examples there.

At the end of season two, our leading lady, Teresa Mendoza, spares the life of your mother, Camila Vargas, but ends up taking the life of Isabella’s father, Epifanio. Will Isabella seek out revenge for her father’s death in the upcoming season?

I cannot say yes or no. Once something that traumatic happens to you I think naturally you are going to want to find closure someway, somehow. I guess you’ll need to watch season 3 to see if it’s me being vengeful, or if I will just keep doing drugs, or go cold turkey! Revenge is in full force this upcoming season.

What are some future projects for our Houstonian leading lady?

I am back to auditioning and finding the next great project. This year I want to start getting into screenwriting, directing and producing, because little by little I soon want to start working for my own production company or start being more involved as a Latina woman in the industry. I didn’t know how important this was for me–to be involved in all aspects around a big project like Queen of The South.

What would you tell Pasadena Memorial High School’s Sandy Valles or any other Houstonian actor before going off to L.A.?

Never stop wanting to learn. Be curious, have goals, reach them. That’s it. 

Season 3 of Queen of The South premieres June 21 on USA Network at 9 p.m./8 central.

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