How Veneno creators hope to spread love and empathy while honoring trans icon Cristina Ortiz
Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrossi's lives were impacted greatly by the magic of Cristina "La Veneno" Ortiz, a trans icon whose quick wit and unapologetic attitude took Spain by storm in the '90s. Through their series Veneno, the duo, known collectively as Los Javis, honor the enigma (played at different times by Jedet, Daniela Santiago, and Isabel Torres) with a little help from journalist Valeria Vegas (Lola Rodriguez).
Veneno is based on Vegas' memoir Not a Whore, Not a Saint: The Memories of La Veneno about her ten-year friendship with Cristina that changed the course of their lives forever. Vegas met Cristina during a critical time in both their lives, as the former was coming to terms with transitioning into a woman and the latter was returning to the spotlight after disappearing from the public eye.
Calvo and Ambrossi spoke to EW exclusively about their HBO Max series, set to debut on Nov. 19, as they premiere its first trailer stateside.
This interview has been translated from Spanish and has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did Cristina "La Veneno" first enter your lives?
JAVIER CALVO: Cristina was an icon in the ‘90s; she was very well known in Spain. At one point, she completely disappeared from public life but returned to television for a few appearances. She also started popping up on the internet, which is how the younger generations discovered her. Cristina entered our lives during her earlier years, and we both admired her so much.
Why did you choose to tell her story through Valeria's eyes?
JC: We became good friends with Valeria, who wrote the book about Cristina. When she celebrated its release, we attended and finally met Cristina. This event took place shortly before she died in 2016. It was thanks to this book that we discovered the deeper layers to this persona the world hadn't been privy to. On TV, she presented this funny outer shell, but she was burdened with pain and tragedy below the surface. This is what intrigued us most, and we were excited to explore this other side of her.
JAVIER AMBROSSI: We knew that to tell Cristina’s story, we would need a fresh set of eyes to help us understand the impact her life had on people. Not only that but also the significance her life had on members of the community, especially how she helped them feel represented in the media. We are talking about an era where that just wasn’t common. Just by her appearing on TV helped us develop into adults who felt seen, which was fundamental.
Once we were in the process of scriptwriting, the real Valeria told us her life story. How she went to Valencia in search of Cristina, who she’d later befriend and who inspired her to take the most important step in her life — transitioning. Her story gave us the perfect way to tell this incredible story about such an important figure while also inspiring. Viewers will fall in love with each of them through their mutual admiration for one another.
What message do you hope viewers take from the series?
JA: It’s important that we give a voice to those who are rarely if ever given a platform. It’s important that we face these stories head on and listen intently with humanity and respect. We hope to honor Cristina and to give her life the respect she deserves. Which I don’t believe has been done in a very long time.
JC: The series discusses how prejudice is killing our society and how we desperately need to have more empathy for one another. People like Cristina have helped shine a light on a reality that people preferred to keep hidden. What we hope to achieve with this series is to introduce the world to these incredible women so we can better understand them and unite in their fight. We understand that not everyone knows a trans person personally, so they may not understand why they wake up every day and fight.
What was Lola's experience bringing Valeria to life?
JC: Lola is a 21-year-old actress who is trans and this is her first major role. She stepped into a very challenging role because we meet her in the series years before her transition but the actress had already transitioned. We worked very closely with hair and makeup and costuming to go on this journey with her. This was a complicated journey for her because it caused her to confront her past. She stepped into it bravely, truly, because this is such a sensitive stage for a trans woman. And her performance in the series is such a gift.
What kind of research went into the series, outside of Valeria's book?
JA: A lot of research went into the series but Paca la Piraña, who plays Cristina's best friend, was actually her best friend in real life. She is playing herself! Her input was invaluable. While shooting, Paca told us it was like having her friend come back to life. And that was thanks to her guidance along the way. She kept us on our toes! If the lines or the portrayal was not to her approval, she would let us know. "No, she would not have said it like this," she would correct us.
While Cristina was alive, Paca helped her embrace the spotlight and now she's being celebrated too.
JC: Exactly! She's become a huge star in Spain now, viewers really fell in love with her. We are proud to be able to highlight what a beautiful and talented person she is.
Veneno was originally billed as a limited series but with all your success in Spain, will there be a second season?
JC: Throughout our research into Cristina's life, we realized the lack of other stories out there like hers. We found so many other voices we'd like to lift up or to find justice for. When we first dreamed of making Veneno, we imagined it as a beautiful anthology series of our stories as a collective. There are many more stories out there of trans women that need to be told. They busted their asses so we could have the rights we have today. It's our dream to honor and celebrate them too.
JA: We hope the series is well received outside of Spain so we can continue to tell these important stories. We dream of having more trans representation in media so future generations of trans children can feel seen and understood. I want them to find mirrors that reflect their reality. And maybe our project can help inspire a better and more just world for them to feel safe in.