Sofía Vergara wears a white bodysuit and sits in a gray room.


As Columbian drug lord Griselda Blanco in Griselda, Sofía Vergara transforms.

Photography by Alexi Lubomirski
17 April 20247 min read

Inspired by the real life of Colombian drug lord Griselda Blanco, the new limited series Griselda finds Sofía Vergara performing a magic trick. Everything we’ve ever known about her — including her ingeniously funny performance as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett for 11 years on Modern Family, a role which garnered four Emmy nominations and four Golden Globe nominations — vanishes for a singular focus: to imbue a devilish character, a mother who is a mass murderer, with a sense of depth and complexity.

Blanco was one of the most nefarious players — terrifying, it is said, even to Pablo Escobar — in the booming cocaine trade of the 1970s and 80s. This was an unprecedented feat for a woman. At times, it’s easy to empathize with her skill and ambition, but it’s never just that simple either; we lose sight as to whether it’s the money or some other kind of sad mania that’s driving her. We find heroic things in her, but thanks to Vergara’s subtlety, we never accept her fully as a hero. Here, the actor best known for her comic timing and hilarious one-liners offers a master class in mystique, giving us an opaque portrayal of a courageous survivor who’s also a deadly snake.

Vergara — who is Colombian like Blanco and executive-produces the series — brings a relentless passion to the project. For over a decade, Vergara has been working to bring Blanco’s story to life. She partners with the creative team behind the Emmy-nominated series Narcos: Eric Newman co-creates and executive-produces and Andrés Baiz directs and executive-produces to make the series happen.

Across its six episodes, Griselda paints a vivid picture of Blanco’s life in 70s and 80s Miami with patinated gold hues and hazy blue Florida skies, punctuated by gunshots and explosions. It’s Vergara’s performance at the center that grounds the drama in reality. Even at its most entertaining, the series never loses sight of the very true stakes of the dangerous game Blanco is playing.

Here, Vergara tells Queue how she brought this shadowy figure known as La Madrina into the spotlight.

An edited version of the conversation follows.

Griselda Blanco (Sofía Vergara) brandishes a baseball bat against a sunny, palm tree-lined scene.

Griselda Blanco (Sofía Vergara)

Alex Frank: The world knows you as a great comedian because of your work on Modern Family. How did you make the decision to take on this dramatic role in Griselda?
Sofía Vergara:
I didn’t see Griselda as my way into starting as a dramatic actress, I just saw it as a very interesting character, a character that I knew very well. It sounds weird, but we had a lot in common: I come from Colombia, I’m a woman, an immigrant, a mother. Griselda was a survivor — she had a very difficult childhood. So there were a lot of things that I kind of understood about her. I’m always looking for characters that I can play — because of my accent, of course, it’s a little bit limited. So when I found out that she actually existed, I was fascinated by this character.

I’ve not done much in the acting world — Modern Family, that has been my thing. I did it for 11 years. And comedy is something that for me is very easy because that’s what I feel like I know how to do. It comes naturally. Stepping into this new role was a completely different thing. I had to act in Spanish for the first time. I had to learn how to smoke. I had never done prosthetics.

How did prosthetics and makeup help you here?
SV: It’ll give you a horrible headache. Immediately after they put it all on you, you’re already exhausted. You arrive at set super early, earlier than everybody. It takes like three hours, so by the time you’re done with the makeup and hair, you already want to go home — and then your day is about to start. I had to get used to that —  I had a wig on, a plastic nose, fake boobs, padded underwear so that my body didn’t look like my body. We tried to change the way I walked, the way I moved. So it’s complicated. It’s a lot of things I wasn’t used to. My job has usually been just to know my lines and land the joke. This was another thing. I didn’t want people to be looking at the fake nose the whole time. I wanted people to forget that it was me or Gloria Pritchett underneath all of that. So it was a lot of concentration, and you go home really exhausted and drained.

Griselda Blanco (Sofía Vergara) walks through a crowd of people, wearing black trousers and a patterned shirt.

Griselda Blanco (Sofía Vergara)

Photograph by Elizabeth Morris

You grew up in Colombia during the cocaine era. How did that help you understand the role?
I think that was what fascinated me about the character. I grew up in that era when drug trafficking was booming in Colombia, unfortunately. It was part of everyone’s lives, and we would see all these drug dealers on TV. We would always be talking about what they were doing. The American government was after them — it was a really dramatic era. And I was living there. My brother was, unfortunately, part of this business. He was killed in Colombia in the 90s.

I didn’t need to go anywhere: I want to play a doctor, so I’m going to stay at a hospital for one week. I knew exactly who these people were, who these characters were. The only thing that I had never seen was a woman doing this. She looked very hard and yet she was very loving with her kids. She raised four kids. To me, that was a mystery, how a woman was able to get to this level of evilness.

How do people in Colombia feel about these kinds of stories being so popular in global entertainment?
When you’re producing something, you need the money, you need the support, and these are the stories that people want to see. I am Colombian, and I understand that it’s part of our history. I know that Colombia right now is the country that it is because we survived this era that was so horrific. We’re resilient, unstoppable. I don’t think it’s because of the weather — it’s because of the life that we’ve lived. Nothing is going to stop us, and we’re not afraid of anything.

What’s masterful about your portrayal is that we never really know in total what Griselda’s motivations are — whether she’s just trying to support her family or if she’s addicted to the hustle itself.
That’s something that I wanted. That was in my head the whole time I was playing her. I didn’t want her to just be a plain, flat monster. I think I wanted to believe that Griselda had good intentions as a mother at the beginning — as a woman who was abused, who was escaping, who wanted to start a new life, who didn’t really have any education. She had a very hard life. And I thought that she had so much love for her kids that she would’ve done everything to protect them and save them. She didn’t have any other tools. She didn’t know anything but that business. She was a very intelligent woman — I think if she had taken another direction, she could have been the president of Colombia. She went the wrong way.

There is this weird thing that I admired in her: I think there was a point that she began competing with men. She tried to be worse than them and that’s when things started to go downhill. When I was thinking about creating the character, believe it or not, I always thought about Tony Soprano. I wanted Griselda to be a character that people could understand why she did bad things.

Sofía Vergara wears a black bodysuit and strikes a pose against a gray background.

Sofía Vergara

You give an incredibly rousing speech in one episode to a group of recent Cuban immigrants whom Griselda has hired to help run her empire. In it, you make a case for the drug work as a means to achieve the American dream, even telling them that working for her means that they “won’t be washing dishes.” Can you tell me about filming that and what it meant for you?
I think she was feeling all of that. She felt like one of those men. They saw her as one of them: someone who was able to become something else. When I was doing that scene, I tried to really understand it. I am an immigrant. And of course, I didn’t have exactly those feelings. I wasn’t that angry when I came. But I couldn’t get roles because of my accent. I did feel different. It was harder for me to do everything. So I did try to make her feel all those things that she was saying.

You’ve said in the past that it can be really hard to find good parts as a Latina woman in Hollywood. You executive-produced this project — is that why it was so important for you to make sure the cast was filled with Latin actors?
I wanted it to be realistic. That’s why this series is in Spanish and in English. I’ve always felt that I’ve been kind of missing out because I’ve wanted to work in Latin America, but I haven’t had time. I have a lot of work in the United States. It’s my home, and I cannot disappear and go three, four months to do a production. So it was fantastic for me to be able to work with some of the best Latin American actors. I hoped that this would maybe fulfill a dream for any of those actors. I mean, it’s a big production, one that had the money to be at the level that everything on Netflix does. So for them to be able to be a part of Griselda — for it to be their Modern Family [in the sense] that it opens doors and changes life for them — is going to be super rewarding.