November saw the US premiere of Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrossi’s stunning limited series Veneno which lovingly and masterfully weaves an epic tapestry based on the life of Spanish trans icon Cristina “La Veneno” Ortiz. At the heart of the series, alongside the figure of La Veneno herself, is a compelling, beautifully layered performance by Lola Rodríguez, making an impressive screen acting debut as Valeria Vegas, whom she portrays over a decade from an uncertain young journalism student discovering herself to Cristina’s official biographer and proud trans woman.
With Veneno receiving acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic and all eight episodes now streaming on HBO Max, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann spoke exclusively with Lola Rodríguez about the challenges of portraying Valeria’s transition, the experience of being part of an ensemble of trans actresses, spending time with the real Valeria and Cristina’s friend Paca la Piraña, who appears as herself in the series, and the creators’ commitment to telling Cristina’s story authentically.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: Congratulations on Veneno, which I loved. I thought you were fantastic in it. How familiar were you with Cristina and her story before you became involved in the series?
Lola Rodríguez: “Thank you! I’ve known about Cristina since I was nine-years-old, when I started my own transition. I discovered her as a public figure in her golden age in the 1990s through watching videos of her on YouTube. I really connected with her and her story when I read Valeria Vegas’ book before my first audition for the series.”
What resonated with you personally about Cristina’s life?
“When I delved deeper into Cristina’s life, the story of her parents is what resonated the most. The kind of environment you grow up in makes you go in one direction or another, it helps you to live or it makes you a survivor. Growing up in a secure environment, feeling safe and loved changes everything.”
What was it like to work with a cast of such talented trans actresses?
“Incredible! It was amazing. They have elevated me, they’ve helped me to become a better person and a better actress. They’ve helped me to feel more secure in myself and to value myself more. I take away so many wonderful things which I learned every day that I spent by their sides.”
How would you describe working with Isabel Torres who plays the older Cristina?
“It has been so special to walk this entire journey with her. We’re both from the Canary Islands and in the early days of the project Isabel felt a little overwhelmed by having to do Cristina’s accent, but she finally got it and she fully embodied Cristina and made the role hers. When we were filming I would look at Isabel and I would see Cristina.”
Paca la Piraña plays herself, what authenticity did that add to the series and what insights did she give you about the real Cristina?
“It was incredible, very exciting. Having her perspective was a gift.”
What did you learn from spending time with the real Valeria Vegas whom you play?
“She has become a maternal figure to me. Spending time with her has marked a pivotal moment in my life. She has given me a lot of security and taught me to respect myself. Her immense commitment to social justice really inspires me.”
What was it like playing your character over ten years and during her transition?
“It was very complicated. Playing her before her transition was difficult because I saw myself at points that I had already overcome in my own life. I realised that there were thorns still buried in me that doing this series helped pull out, which I’m so grateful for. I saw the beauty at the beginning of her journey, but the final three episodes are my favourite part of the series and I felt far more confident as an actress. I wanted Valeria to be proud. Being at her side gave me a sense of calm and reassurance.”
What has being part of this series meant to you?
“The series has given me a tremendous sense of security as a person and as an actress. I look back and see the journey I’ve gone on both personally and professionally. It’s been a continuous learning experience. I came in as a little girl and left as a young woman.”
Given that the series’ creators, Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrosi, aren’t trans women themselves, how did they ensure that this story was told authentically?
“They involved us and asked for our input on everything from the beginning and they really listened to us. There was a trans team both behind and in front of the camera. They wanted to tell our truth.”
By James Kleinmann (Interview translation by Alberto Alzate)
Veneno, the entire limited series is now streaming on HBO Max.