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Exclusive interview: Jenny Pellicer lights up Cocaine Godmother with Catherine Zeta-Jones

Jenny Pellicer, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Jenny Pellicer plays Carolina, the lover to Catherine Zeta-Jones’s Griselda. Pic credit: Lifetime

Cocaine Godmother is the story of infamous Colombian drug queen, Griselda Blanco, aka ‘La Madrina’ — played by Academy Award winner and Tony Award winner Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Holding up to this lioness is actress Jenny Pellicer, who plays Carolina, Griselda’s lover. The film is directed by Guillermo Navarro, so often the right-hand DP to director Guillermo del Toro.

In Cocaine Godmother, Navarro’s gravitas as a filmmaker will shock those expecting a Lifetime TV movie. Also in the telecast is Raúl Méndez cast as Darío Sepúlveda who tries to pull Griselda away from Pellicer’s sultry Carolina.

Pellicer is an up-and-comer who was in FX drama The Bridge and State of Affairs with Katherine Heigl. Her exotic blonde beauty is thanks to her Norwegian-American mother and Mexican diplomat father.

Pellicer has a facility for languages, speaking four fluently, and a solid educational foundation, graduating valedictorian from the international school in Oslo.

Pellicer also spent time in Costa Rica working for the Ministry of Health to combat the spread of dengue fever. Furthering her education, Pellicer obtained a law degree with a specialty in International Human Rights from Durham University in the UK. From there Pellicer moved to London and worked for Newsweek magazine.

We spoke to her about Cocaine Godmother, a surprisingly gritty and realistic movie, and a role that sees her in a magnetic relationship with Catherine Zeta-Jones:

Monsters and Critics: We totally stalked you on your Instagram, all your lovely Norway pictures, and they’re amazing…

Jenny Pellicer: Yes, it was really nice being home. It’s just lovely. You forget. When you go back, everything is just manageable, public transportation, clean.

M&C: Do you feel this film is a good fit for Lifetime, are they changing their game up a bit? Because it was quite graphic.

JP: I think that everybody, Lifetime included, is realizing that TV is such a powerful outlet, so everyone’s upping their game. The quality of TV movies and television shows seem to be so much better than…I don’t know. They just seem to be really, really good right now.

I think that’s definitely what Lifetime’s doing, trying to be a little bit more…what’s the word? Risque, or daring. They pick a story about this very powerful woman who’s essentially a very complex form of sociopath, so yes, it was daring.

M&C: I was so excited to see Guillermo Navarro being the DP and directing this because I am so familiar with his career. Did you geek out a little bit?

JP: Absolutely. Not only is he one of the most prolific…Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s a very important figure. Also, I’m half-Mexican, so there is that sensibility of feeling this immense sense of pride.

I had worked with Guillermo previously on The Bridge. He directed one of the episodes that I did, and so I’d already worked with him. I already knew what a magnificent director he was but he also has just such an incredible sensibility to not only your work as an actor and working with you on your character but also, you feel so safe because he’s constantly so aware of your surroundings, the lighting. He knows how to set the scene, and he’s so efficient.

Guillermo is such an efficient director. Very few takes, but he knows exactly what he wants, and there is an utmost level of trust. I was very excited when I saw Guillermo. For me, he’s a master. Yeah, it was really exciting.

M&C: Catherine Zeta-Jones, she really ballsed out on this role. You two really do have a chemistry on screen, which is just a testament, A, to your acting, and B, to your chemistry.

JP: I’m glad that that showed.

Jenny Pellicer, Catherine Zeta-Jones
The moment Carolina and Griselda connect in the club is instant attraction. Pic credit: Lifetime

M&C: When Darío Sepúlveda comes on the scene, he pulls her attention away from you. It felt like at that point in the film, there was an energetic shift in Griselda’s relationship with Carolina. I’m wondering if you can talk about that moment.

JP: Yes. The moment that Darío comes into the picture, exactly, what you’re saying is correct. I feel like there’s so much as an actor that you work on that isn’t shown necessarily always on screen, or things that get edited.

The story of our relationship and what I represent to her…she can speak to that, that vulnerability and the only good thing in her life. Equally, for me, for Carolina, Griselda is this incredibly powerful, magnetic woman or human being that gives Carolina a sense of acknowledgment, a sense of belonging, a sense of feeling — just that thrill of life.

When Darío comes into the picture, there is that harsh reminder or a reality check of the fact that this woman doesn’t pertain to anybody; all the immense disappointment and heartbreak and descension into trying to fill that void.

Carolina fills the void with cocaine, with Basuco (‘bazooka’), with anything else, with alcohol, to fill the void that Griselda previously had filled and filled her with such light and love. It’s very sad. It’s quite tragic, for both of them.

M&C: Your character really lived at the whim of Griselda. There’s the one point where she’s fully addicted to cocaine, and she entices your character. She essentially corrupts Carolina into this lifestyle full force. 

JP: It’s a tricky one because it goes from our meeting and the chemistry that’s sparked to us at her wedding with Alberto Bravo and me — it actually kind of being our wedding night.

So many things, it feels like a roller coaster, like those moments in life where you jump in and plunge in headfirst and everything feels so fantastic and euphoric because you found something that’s so beautiful and brilliant and satisfying. It’s like Griselda was a drug.

Jenny Pellicer
Carolina was dragged downward by Griselda’s insatiable appetite for drugs, corrupting her. Pic credit: Lifetime

When I was working on Carolina, it was very much looking for that…when you’re at a moment in life when you’re looking for that quick sense of solution, that quick sense of acknowledgment. That’s what she was for me because as much as she fell in love with me in the club, I fall in love with her. I think that’s a very human quality.

I think there’s that time in your youth or at any time of life when you’re searching, and someone fills that void. I think it’s just a human thing that we sometimes can lose our sense of judgment and reality and leap in, and the fall is hard. You just never know. So many times, you never know which way it’s going to go.

M&C: I saw that you have a law degree focusing on international human rights, when you read the script, how did you feel about the child prostitution part of it?

JP: That’s a very good question. One of the things that I was talking about with some friends recently, actually, about this movie, who haven’t seen it yet…but I was reflecting on it because obviously, this woman, Griselda Blanco, not to celebrate — she killed hundreds of people. She was a vicious and ruthless woman, human being.

It’s complicated, then, to make a film about her and not make it a justification for all of her actions.

What I loved about this film is it shows you her journey. It shows you just who she was and where she came from. I think it is important to know these basic things that we sometimes can take for granted, the basic human right of a child for care and home and safety and just basic amenities around you in every sense of the world. A loving family. All of these things have such an incredible impetus for the rest of your life.

This is fairly factual. She did kill her first person when she was about 11 or 12. It makes you wonder, what was the environment that she was living in? In Colombia at the time, there were dead people on the streets. Children were more accustomed to seeing death. You see it in many places, where children have weapons or grow up with that level of violence. You get perhaps a little more numb to it. I think it’s a very complicated and lengthy discussion.

I think, from a human rights aspect, it was just very interesting to see this character, see Griselda, to learn about where she really came from and what her experience was as a child because as a child acting as a prostitute or being a prostitute, I can’t even imagine, and it’s the reality unfortunately for still many children today.

I think sometimes it’s uncomfortable to talk about these things, but I think it’s the only way that we grow and learn. I’m really happy that Lifetime’s putting something as unpleasant but true on a screen.

M&C: There are moments when it is very ‘Scarface’, the action and the dialogue. There’s a lot of parallels to that film but there’s a lot of gravitas, too, to the reality of the story and the situation. Did you and Catherine engage in conversation about any of it?

JP: Because Catherine was shooting every single day out of the 30 days that we were there on set, she was busy most of the time. I don’t know how she did it. She just really was incredible. A lot of the times in between, if we had a day off, she would invite us out for dinner, we would have a cast dinner.

Our conversations, as such, we wouldn’t go into these deeper conversations. There just wasn’t time. Most of our conversations were planning a scene or rehearsing a little bit more technical issues as opposed to getting into more political conversations. I saw recently, on her Instagram, I know she was just in Cambodia. I know that she does some charity work there. I think her and Michael Douglas are very, very politically savvy and engage on an international level.

We didn’t get to delve into that. It was more just focusing on our characters and what our relationship was and how we were going to do a scene. It was more at that level at that time because that’s the little microcosm world that you create, but it is interesting. I would be very interested to talk at length with her.

What we did get to talk about more was just the importance for her of representing this woman and actually telling a story. For her, when we were in New York and we did the premiere and the Q&A, she was talking about how important it was for her to tell this woman’s story, a very powerful woman in a male-dominated industry, the drug cartels. Everyone knows about Pablo Escobar but not necessarily about Griselda Blanco, and so she was excited to tell that story.

M&C: What’s next on the horizon for you?

JP: Next that’s coming out is probably Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich, which is a horror movie. It was a cult classic in the ’80s. There were 12 of them, and this is the 13th. They’re doing a full revamp of it, and I’m really excited. I have seen a few little shots here and there…it’s pure fun.

Other than that, the same directors of that movie are writing another movie which is more of a psychological thriller, and they’ve asked me to star in that one, so I’m excited about that one.

M&C: Excellent. What are your four languages that you speak? I know you speak Spanish, you speak Norwegian, you speak English. What’s the fourth?

JP: French, but it’s been a while. You see, I went to an international school. At an international school, it’s a hodgepodge of…you have kids from all over the place, so they really put such an emphasis on learning different languages. We had French since we were about eight years old. I did the “bac”, the International Baccalaureate in French.

It always helps if you have a glass of wine. My French is a lot more fluid. It’s been a while, but yeah, I understand it perfectly. It helps with the Spanish. It’s the same with Italian. When I speak Italian, I just take my Spanish and add an Italian flair. I’ve read enough where…the Latin languages, it helps to speak one of them.

Cocaine Godmother airs this Saturday, January 20, at 8/7c on Lifetime.

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