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Acting Without Shame: HIV-Focused Bilingual Telenovela Informs and Entertains

An Interview With Actors JM Longoria III and Joanna Zanella

January 16, 2013

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Family secrets ... betrayed trust ... condom usage?

The classic, persistent themes of Spanish-language soap operas, also known as telenovelas, get a refreshing, enthralling update in Sin Vergüenza (Without Shame), the new telenovela that is taking the Internet by storm. Presented in English as well as Spanish, and imagined and realized by California's vast AltaMed health care network, the aim of the show is to "educate without being educational." The project is a unique endeavor -- it combines a fresh narrative format with the ability to tackle real-world issues such as HIV, stigma, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) issues, family issues, infidelity, shame, aging, dating and more.

Before you read, make sure to watch Episode 1 of Sin Vergüenza. Stay tuned for three more episodes in the coming weeks -- each accompanied by a conversation with key people involved in the production!

Haz clic aquí para ver la telenovela Sin Vergüenza, capítulo 1, en español.

This interview is Part One of a series. Read Part Two, an interview with series director Paco Farias; or check out what's coming up in the series.

JM Longoria III (Credit: Patrick Maus) Joanna Zanella (Credit: Ernesto Olivares)

JM Longoria III (Credit: Patrick Maus)


Joanna Zanella (Credit: Ernesto Olivares)

In the first interview in this four-part series, was lucky enough to sit down with two of the series' main actors -- JM Longoria III, who plays gay son Enrique Salazar, and Joanna Zanella, who plays doting daughter Christina Salazar. Both are performances not to be missed, and in this interview they discuss the honor of spreading HIV awareness through this project, why timing is essential and what they took away from playing Latinos who are dealing with issues of sexuality, condom usage, HIV and family secrets.

Mathew Rodriguez: How did you hear about this opportunity to get involved with the telenovela, Sin Vergüenza?

Joanna Zanella: I was submitted for it by my agent, and it said it was a theatrical project, and it was for HIV awareness and it was going to be in a telenovela style, so they wanted bilingual actors who could speak perfect English and Spanish. I saw it, and I thought, "Oh my God, I think I should audition for this, because I speak perfect Spanish and perfect English and I think it's a great opportunity and a great cause to talk about: HIV awareness." I went into the audition, and that's where I met Paco [Farias, director of Sin Vergüenza]. I went in with another actor, and I thought I did pretty well, and I got a callback.

At the callback, there was Natalie [Sanchez, AltaMed's HIV prevention and education program manager], Hilda [Sandoval, manager of the psycho-social services and mental health clinician program at AltaMed], Paco, and a whole bunch of other people, and I actually ended up going in with Eric, who plays Hector, my boyfriend, in Sin Verguenza. And, I think we both did so well. Our chemistry was there from the beginning. When we went in, everybody started laughing when we acted it out. We added on to the actual script, which was great, that Paco let us play with it.

I got the call; they said "You booked the job," and it was amazing. It was wonderful news. As a Latina actress, getting the opportunity to play the same role in English and Spanish was such a blessing.


JM Longoria III: For me, it was sort of a happy mistake. I ran into a friend the night before the audition, and he was saying there was an audition going on at this casting office, and I was a little hesitant. Typically, your agent should submit you. One of my coworkers convinced me to show up, so I show up to Blanca Valdez's casting office. They told me I was too young for another role that I was trying to get an audition for. They recommended me to audition for this project, Sin Vergüenza, and I had no idea what it was. I was like, "Well, I'm on my lunch break, I need to go back." And they said, "Well, you're next." So they paired me up with another guy and had me read.

I had no idea what the project was about, or what the context of the scene was. Paco was there, and at the end he said, "Oh my gosh, thank you, this is what I've been looking for all day!" And I was like, "Great!" Then I ended up getting the callback, and I had to tell my agent I got a callback for this role that she hadn't submitted me for -- but she had actually submitted me for Hector's role, which is funny.

At the callback, I just felt so comfortable. We had fun, and thank you Paco for allowing us to kind of improv a little bit more, to add on and bring our own personalities. It's such a great role for Latinos. It's bilingual. And playing the gay son who's in law school in this Mexican-American family, where there are so many taboos and machismo mentality, is wonderful. It's being put in such a positive light, and it being surrounded by HIV awareness is beautiful. It's a great project. And I hope this message gets out there and educates the Latino community.

Mathew Rodriguez: It sounds like the HIV awareness aspect of the project made it more attractive to both of you.

JM Longoria III: Oh, definitely. As I continued to find out more and more about the project, I was like, "Wow!" I felt like I had found this gem. As an actor, these are the kinds of project you want to find: doing work that has so much more meaning than something that you can forget about as just one performance.

Joanna Zanella: I'm with JM. When we went to the screening for the first episode on World AIDS Day: Usually, like JM said, when you see your work, it's an amazing feeling. But when you know it's for a great cause, it's a one thousand times better feeling than it is to just be doing something because it's just a project.

That day, one of the ladies who was a speaker at the event had been living with HIV for 22 years, and she was telling us her story, and I was in tears. This whole time I was in tears because of the strong woman that she was. But what really hit me was that she came up to me, and she hugged me, and she told me, "Thank you so much for doing this, for helping the community understand." When she said that to me, I just started crying, because, to me, I felt like I really didn't do anything. It's such a small thing that I felt that I did. But to other people, they're really appreciative, because we were able to express real people's stories in the novela. You get into a character that is actually someone's life. To me, it's one of the most amazing projects that I've been a part of.

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This article was provided by TheBody.
See Also
A Series Without Shame: Episodes and Interviews From HIV-Focused Telenovela Sin Vergüenza
13 Moments in Black Celebrity Activism
History's Biggest HIV-Positive Celebrities
More About HIV on Television

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