Tamara Vallarta had to learn Spanglish for the role.
How embarrassing! I just looked out my balcony, all hungover and disheveled, to find un chingo de gente afuera,” (an f--- of a lot of people outside), comments Lalo, my neighbor from the building in front of me, on a Facebook messenger group called VECINOS. After a few robberies in our area, the group consisting of a few neighbors (vecinos) was created to stay alert, share information, invite each other to block parties, and sometimes gossip.
There were no police and the crew blocked traffic.
Without any warning, a filming crew of a couple dozen people showed up on our street
Saturday morning, May 26. The crew consisted of one big trailer and a couple smaller ones filled with camera gear, boom mics, reflectors, clapperboards, walkies, cables, and all that is required to do a proper shoot.
“Perhaps it’s the same film crew from last week that I spotted on Segunda y Cinco de Mayo?” Asked Luis, Lalo’s upstairs neighbor.
“I just walked by with Margara (her Rottweiler), everyone stared at us,” said Jessica. “At least they were filming on the other side, but I didn’t see the actor.”
“I saw a board that read TINTA ROJA” (Red Ink,) “but who knows,” said Gilberto (my upstairs neighbor) and shared a picture from his balcony.
I grabbed my camera and took a few frames just in case someone turned out to be famous. I sent the pictures around to friends and neighbors and no one recognized anyone. I posted them on other social media and still nothing. Pictures show an actress grabbing a public phone and crossing the street. There were no police in the area, and the director of the scene, with his crew, blocked traffic dangerously to shoot the scene.
After an hour of filming in the vicinity, the crew cheered for having got got the necessary shots, packed up, and left.
“It seems what they were recording [in the morning] was for Netflix,” Luis finally had the answer later that same afternoon. “It’s the story of Zeta (the weekly newspaper) or something like that.”
It wasn’t until two weeks later that I found a news report with details about a new Netflix series.
It turns out that the series is simply going to be called Tijuana. After the success of El Chapo, Univision and Netflix joined forces again to make a series about the difficulties of being a journalist in Mexico. It follows the life of Antonio Borja, the director and co-founder of newspaper Frente Tijuana, not Zeta. The story follows Gabriela Cisneros, an intrepid young reporter that uncovers a corruption network behind a murder. Both are fictional characters based on real people.
Borja is played by Mexican actor Damián Alcázar (from Narcos). Tamara Vallarta plays the role of Cisneros. (Vallarta’s Internet Movie Database profile only features a handful of minor roles). She was the unknown actress filming outside my apartment. I reached out to her on social media and she replied through Instagram the same day. They have stopped filming in Tijuana and she was back in Mexico City, but we agreed to a facetime interview later when our schedules allowed it.
“I’m very nervous, está muy cabrón,” (it’s going to be wild) says Vallarta via a video chat. I had asked whether she was ready for the fame and attention she is going to get after her breakthrough role in a major series.
“I’m not sure what it [fame] implies, my only reference is my famous friend who everyone stops for pictures.”
I asked her if she could use the friend’s name.
“Sure, it’s Natasha Dupeyron, she’s been in telenovelas since an early age, so she is used to it. But even she says ‘You are going to be big,’ which makes me very nervous, va estar muy cagado,” (it’s going to be silly.)
Side note: Dupeyron and Vallarta star in an Mexican upcoming film called Plan V. Judging solely by the trailer, the movie looks to be a sophomoric attempt at a summer sex comedy like American Pie mixed with making fun of nerds like CBS’s The Big Bang Theory. The premise is three pretty girls figure out that virgin men will love them forever. Natasha plays the main pretty girl, Vallarta’s role is the nerd gatekeeper.
I informed Vallarta that the term cagado — it means shitty, but is used to mean silly or weird in Mexico City slang — is not used in Tijuana. I asked how she learned the Tijuanense accent and Spanglish for the role.
“I have had some coaching sessions for my accent, but we ended up agreeing to not overdo it,” continues Vallarta. “It was all so sudden, I wasn’t expecting it, I got a call and they told me ‘We’re starting in a few days.’ I was like ‘What?!’ And shouted ‘Adriana!’ That’s my voice coach… We saw ways to have the right accent, some words and melodic curvatures, but not that much Spanglish. I caught myself saying ‘chamba’” Mexico city slang meaning work or job “which you know is a very Chilango word.” A Chilango is a person from Mexico City.
The reaction from the majority of Tijuanenses that I’ve talked to about the series has been of “it’s great they are doing another show here, too bad it’s about the same negative connotation as always.” The secretary of the municipal government, Leopoldo Guerrero, declared to Frontera news that the Netflix series will not have the name Tijuana since the series is about violence and this does not reflect the wants of Tijuanenses, though he said Netflix told him the series was about freedom of expression and it wasn’t necessarily about violence beyond a couple scenes. Guerrero has no power to change the name, and by all accounts it will be called Tijuana.
“For us, on set, our labels and all read ‘Tinta Roja,’ but I’m not sure what name they will use,” Vallarta was not informed that the series might not be named Tijuana. “They don’t tell us until the end, I am not the decision maker.”
“I think that thanks to specific cases, you can broaden up to a general case,” continues Vallarta about the sensitivities of Tijuana being depicted as a violent city yet again. “Yes, the whole story takes part in Tijuana, but it’s a reflection of what is happening in the whole country. Murders, disappearances, kidnappings, and all the other threats to journalists. It’s one of those realities that we are experts in ignoring, or we know it’s happening pero nos hacemos gueyes.” (We play dumb.) “I think it’s very appropriate to do a series like this, for people to open their eyes and speak up about everything that’s happening. And I want something to happen.”
Regarding the scene filmed outside my apartment, “I was spying on someone from the syndicate of a sweatshop!” Vallarta explains. “Should I spoil it for you? That was chapter 10 out of 11. I cross the street by your apartment and I get discovered by the other character...” (spoiler withheld). “My character is a young journalist who is very ambitious, adamant, egotistic, and wants to get very far. It’s not like she [Gabriela] is based on Zeta or Adela [Navarro, Zeta’s director], but there are anecdotal lines that cross, stories do have a feel for that. Gabriela wants for people to recognize her, but what I like about her is that she has the need to tell the truth. She’s fearless. Attacks happened to the newspaper’s offices, but she has to tell her story. She goes over the top and goes where she’s not supposed to go. She wants to find out who it was, why, where, what, and how, you know… dangerous investigative journalism.”
Tijuana will air at the end of November or early December on Univision, and once the season ends, it will be uploaded to Netflix. Vallarta and the crew will be back in Tijuana in October to continue filming the series.