Niecy Nash
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Trans Stars of HBO Max's Veneno Talk Bringing a Trans Icon to Life

Jedet, Daniela Santiago, and Isabel Torres as La Veneno

From left: Jedet, Daniela Santiago, and Isabel Torres as La Veneno

Veneno has been one of the big surprise TV hits lately, telling the story of Spanish television star Cristina Ortiz Rodríguez, better known as La Veneno, in an unprecedented way, focusing on trans narratives and trans talent.

The eight-episode series on HBO Max follows La Veneno as she rises to fame after being interviewed by a newscaster on a street where she was working. As La Veneno becomes the most famous trans woman in Spain, the series also follows Valeria Vegas, a young journalist who ended up transitioning herself and eventually wrote the book the series is based on, ¡Digo! Ni puta ni santa: Las memorias de La Veneno (I Say! Not a Whore, Not a Saint: The Memories of La Veneno).

The Advocate spoke to the trans women who brought this story to life: Jedet, Daniela Santiago, and Isabel Torres, who play La Veneno at different points in her life, and Lola Rodríguez, who portrays Vegas.

Jedet, who plays Young Veneno, says she’s “always been a huge fan” of La Veneno and “always saw her as an icon.” Playing the icon was “a huge honor and responsibility,” she says, but it was also “a beautiful present” to get to be part of her legacy.

For Torres, portraying the older La Veneno “meant the role of a lifetime.” She went into the show not knowing much about Ortiz but ended up realizing how much she has in common with her. “I think in it there was a lot of me, and in her there was a lot of all of us,” she says.

“I never thought we would have a lot of similarities,” Torres continues, “and at the end, after seeing the character, learning her story, and learning to love her through her wounds, I understood that we share a lot in common.”

Santiago, who plays Ortiz at the age when she was most popular, was on the other hand very familiar with the legend. “Of course I knew her! I thought she was a fighter, a warrior. A self-made woman,” she says. She remembers marveling at how beautiful La Veneno was on TV and then even got to live with her for a month in Madrid.

She was initially nervous about living up to the role. “I began to take classes, I prepared intensively with a coach, and from the very beginning it was clear to me that I would do anything to get it right, that it would be the opportunity of my life,” Santiago says. But the hard work was worth it, she notes.

For Rodríguez, the show offered a “liberating” chance to connect more with herself through portraying the early steps in coming out and transitioning. “It was an opportunity to liberate myself from all of society’s expectations and also my personal ones that I carried during the transition and to be able to see the beauty in all of that, the beauty of the beginning of the journey,” she says.

All of the actresses were excited to be art of a show that represents a shift in how trans stories are portrayed. “I think it’s super important for there to be visibility in all areas, especially in film,” Torres says. “I think this series — along with Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo [the creators, “Los Javis”] — has found this balance to create visibility for trans people in a way that has not been seen before.”

“Since the series premiere in Spain, it has been wonderful to see the public so excited about the story,” Santiago adds. “Viewers are realizing our truth; we are touching their hearts. We are finally being given the place that belongs to us.”

Rodríguez was also amazed at how many trans people were working on the show. “At first, I could not believe that I was with a team that was so big with so many trans professionals from different walks of life,” she says. “In the show, there are trans individuals with so much talent in front of and behind the cameras, in all departments. It should be the norm, but it is not. We deserve real equality, we’ve always been at the bottom. It has been truly empowering.”

In the end, she hopes that viewers will see the show and be inspired by the message of love. “Veneno shows how a person can get to where they want to if they have a safe environment, a supportive family, and friends that are on your side,” she says.

You can check out Veneno on HBO Max in Spanish with English subtitles or dubbed in English.

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