Credit: Joan Marcus

Kate del Castillo, a soap opera star with a string of hit telenovelas that have made her a household name in Latin America, might just be the most famous actress you’ve never heard of.

While the Mexico City native became famous playing fiercely strong women, it was her turn as a no-holds-barred drug trafficker in the 2011 Telemundo soap La Reina del Sur — a show with season finale ratings that beat English language broadcast networks in major markets — that cemented del Castillo’s status as one of Latin America’s most popular celebrities. Now she’s prepared to stun fans with what could be her most daring role to date: a part in an off-Broadway Spanish language revival of The Vagina Monologues. Naturally, she’ll begin by surprising her parents. (del Castillo’s father, Eric del Castillo, is a Mexican cinema icon, making her family the Barrymores of Latin America.)

“They don’t actually know what it’s about,” laughs del Castillo. “They hate the title, of course. But I explained to them what it’s about and my dad is really proud. They support me.”

del Castillo stars alongside Latin actresses Angélica María and Angélica Vale in the Spanish adaptation of Eve Ensler’s play, performing monologues which touch on intimate issues ranging from rape, masturbation and sex — all of which are largely still considered taboo in conservative Latin households.

“I’d never read anything like this. I was moved because they’re so amazing, profound and yet funny,” says del Castillo, who first read Ensler’s monologues on a plane traveling back to her home in Los Angeles after walking the red carpet at the Guadalajara International Film Festival in March. “I thought we might need to do some rewrites to update the play, but I was devastated in the way that it’s so up-to-date.”

On stage at the Westside Theater in New York City — where the original Vagina Monologues was performed more than 1,000 times between 1999 and 2003 — del Castillo says she’s conscious of walking the line between levity (she pretends to masturbate on stage) and seriousness (one of her monologues touches on sexual violence).

“It’s a lot when you’re pretending to have sex on stage,” del Castillo says. “But it really is. It’s really hard. You have to make [each of] the monologues different, and get the message across. There’s the thing about violence and abuse, but you still have to entertain and be fun. It says a lot about women that even after centuries of violence against us, we are mature enough to create entertainment around these topics and inform people.”

It’s an exhausting performance to do nightly, del Castillo notes. (She does say that doing her own hair and makeup before the show calms her.) But once her run ends on June 1, there’s no chance of a summer vacation. del Castillo will immediately begin taping the upcoming Telemundo soap Dueños del Paraíso (Owners of Paradise), where she’ll star as a widow who emerges as a major player in the war for drug distribution territory in South Florida.

“I know what my value is in the Spanish market. I cannot just forget about that,” says del Castillo, who has been eyeing an English-language crossover for several years, appearing in 2013 indie film K-11 (she starred as a feisty, tattooed Chicana transsexual prison inmate) and starring on Weeds as a recurring character (she played a drug cartel boss). “I will always do Spanish TV — I have bills to pay.”

Even so, she’s not giving up on her dreams of crossover stardom.

“It takes so much effort to get a project in English,” explains del Castillo, who will also star in 33 with Antonio Banderas and Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming Book of Life. “I have to convince everyone who I am, what I represent. But I won’t give up.”

After all, she says there’s plenty of room for Latinas in Hollywood.

“I am trying to let people know the difference between [me] and Jennifer Lopez or Eva Longoria. We’re different kinds of Latinas,” says del Castillo. “They may be American celebrities, but I represent the immigrants that are here.”