Over the first three seasons of USA’s hit series “Queen of the South," star Alice Braga was chased by drug lords through Mexico, Texas and Arizona while gradually turning the tables on those at the head of the cartels.
But, as Season 4 rolls into its setting in the Big Easy, Braga's "Queen" Teresa Mendoza has ascended the throne, gaining control of a smuggling operation that stretches from Sinaloa, Mexico, to Phoenix.
In New Orleans, Mendoza will meet her new antagonists, in particular a corrupt judge, Cecil Lafayette, played by Baton Rouge native David Andrews. He presides over the city like a draconian dictator.
Season 4 kicked off this month. It airs Thursday nights.
A longtime stage, television and film actor, Andrews is a graduate of LSU as well as Stanford University’s law school. And he is thrilled to be back in Louisiana.
“I haven’t lived here since the late ‘70s,” said Andrews. “I’m living in the Warehouse District (in New Orleans) now and on my bike when we’re not filming. I rode it every weekend to Jazz Fest, ripping through the traffic and the potholes, but I loved it. I’ve lived in New York and L.A., and now North Carolina, but this is what I grew up with, and being back reminds me how much I love the people and the culture here.”
Andrews described his character in the series as being infamous in the tradition of Louisiana politics.
“Judge Cecil Lafayette is a judge who’s as corrupt as they come and runs New Orleans strictly for his own benefit," Andrews said. "He may be only slightly worse than some of the roguish characters who have roamed this state, but it’s fun to play such a devilish and colorful guy."
Other enemies to the queen include Cuban drug dealer Raul "El Gordo" Rodriguez, played by Pêpê Rapazote, who is from Miami and isn’t about to relinquish his power, and New Orleans street gang leader Marcel Dumas, played by Alimi Ballard, who owns a hip jazz club in the city where illicit deals go down.
Coming to New Orleans was not just a whim. There are real-life reasons for moving the queen and her henchmen to south Louisiana, according to co-showrunner and co-executive producer Ben Lobato.
“Most people believe that drugs come into this country from Mexico and South America through Miami,” said Lobato. “But the truth is, Miami is inundated with DEA agents, so drug dealers go elsewhere.
"Louisiana is now the corridor for drugs coming into the states for the entire East Coast of this country. As the Queen moves her cocaine operation up the Eastern Seaboard, New Orleans has become her new base of operation.”
When the cast and crew aren’t bouncing around filming locations, they use the interior sets that were constructed for them at Starlight Studios in New Orleans East, which often replicate real-life places in the city.
This season just feels and looks different, said co-showrunner and co-executive producer Dailyn Rodriguez.
“It’s visually so beautiful, and we’ve injected music into the equation since it’s such an integral part of New Orleans," Rodriguez said. "We thought it was time to move the show to a new location with a new vibe, and New Orleans certainly fit the bill."
To catch up on the story line, the first three seasons are now running on Netflix. New episodes run through the summer.