Network gives U.S. viewers second chance to see popular telenovela

Kate del Castillo is becoming a household name in this country -- at least in homes where Spanish is the primary language.

The actress is a popular telenovela star in Mexico, and she made quite a splash in the States last year on Telemundo.

Del Castillo played the title role in La Reina del Sur, aka The Queen of the South, a 63-episode thriller that set ratings records for the Spanish-language network.

The series averaged 4.2 million viewers, sometimes outperforming its prime-time competition on such networks as Fox, NBC and the CW.

There's a point when an under-the-radar cult favorite becomes big enough to be considered a bona fide mainstream success. La Reina del Sur and its leading lady can make a case that they qualify.

When the show begins an encore run at 7 p.m. Sunday on cable's mun2, it will air in Spanish with English subtitles, just in case those who don't speak the language want to see what the fuss was about.

Episodes also will air at 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Del Castillo is confident that all viewers will be able to enjoy it.

"First of all, it's a very visual series, so it's easy to follow," she says. "Second of all, it's a riveting, fast-moving story, always going forward, forward, forward, so it's very easy to become addicted."

It's the story of Teresa Mendoza, a naive girl from Sinaloa, Mexico, who falls in love with the wrong man, becomes the unwitting target of drug dealers, survives by the skin of her teeth and ultimately becomes head of the largest drug cartel in Latin America and Spain.

Del Castillo believes last year's record ratings are evidence that a major viewing demographic in America is being underserved by most American television.

La Reina is not as slickly made as U.S. prime-time dramas -- "our small budget cannot compete with what they spend to make television here," del Castillo concedes -- but it does have its strengths.

It is high-end as far as telenovelas are concerned, shot on location in Mexico, Morocco, Spain and Colombia. Plus, it boasts a blazing-fast, don't-look-back pace that U.S. soaps would do well to embrace.

"In the beginning, Teresa is an innocent young lady," del Castillo says. "By the end, she is one of the most powerful women in a man's world. She goes through many phases. It is quite a transformation.

"And she is the complete opposite of the typical heroine we are used to seeing on TV. She traffics drugs, she kills people, she drinks tequila, she smokes pot, she uses bad language. Yet this is amazing: No matter what she did, the audience still loved her and always felt close to her," del Castillo says.

That's probably as much a testament to del Castillo's performance as to the writing.

Del Castillo, who also won praise for 2007's Under the Same Moon, lives and works in Los Angeles. Her most notable credits on U.S. television to date include a six-episode story arc on Weeds, in which she also played a vicious drug kingpin, and episodes of American Family and CSI: Miami.

Ironically, the late-30s actress started landing many of her juiciest roles back home after she moved to L.A. But del Castillo says she doesn't care where the work is as long as it is challenging and fun.

"There is nothing I can think of that I would rather be doing," she says.