Cristina Rodlo has had a breakout summer, starring in two of the best shows of the year, Amazon's Too Old to Die Young and AMC's The Terror: Infamy. The two parts — her first American TV roles — have allowed the Mexican actress to demonstrate impressive range. On Nicolas Winding Refn's surreal crime series Too Old to Die Young, she played Yaritza, the High Priestess of Death, a nearly silent avenging spirit who materialized out of the desert in Mexico with a mission to rid the world of evil men. On The Terror, she plays Luz Ojeda, the demure Mexican American girlfriend of Chester Nakayama (Derek Mio), whom she accompanies to the Japanese internment camp after her father disowns her for getting pregnant out of wedlock, and who leaves her alone there with his family, whom she barely knows, while he goes to serve as an Army translator in the South Pacific.
It's hard to imagine two more different women, but Rodlo finds the truth in both of them. "I think both of them, in their own way, are very powerful women," Rodlo tells TV Guide. "That's the first thing that drew me to both. They're two women that want to be better, want to do better, in their own way, which is very different." Luz wants to be a nurse and help people and become a member of Chester's family, while Yaritza wants to free women from tyranny by slaughtering everyone who does them wrong. But they're both trying to make the world a better place the way they know how, you know?
Rodlo had a pair of standout scenes in Episodes 4 and 5 of The Terror. In "The Weak Are Meat," Luz gave birth to stillborn twins, a horrifying and heartbreaking sequence that was an intense physical experience for Rodlo. "We did that scene, I'm not even kidding, probably 28 takes," she says. The directors needed to get a lot of coverage for the scene, so that meant a lot of painful screaming. And since she had to give birth to twins, she had to deliver around 50 times. "It was so exhausting, but it was so good," she says.
And in Monday's "Shatter Like a Pearl," Luz left the camp. Her father came to get her, and as they were leaving, Chester's emotionally distant father, Henry (Shingo Usami), whom she had been trying to establish a relationship with since she arrived, came over to her, hugged her, and told her to take care of herself. It was maybe the most moving scene in the season so far. "Even I cried when I was doing that scene," she says. It was really snowing while they filmed the scene, which made it even more dramatic.
The two roles, though so different, fit Rodlo's artistic criteria for the parts she chooses. "When you go and watch a show, or when you watch a movie, you have to be someone different when you go in and after you go out from watching it," she says. "That's art for me. So that's what I want to do, and that's what roles that I take have to have. "
For The Terror, a big part of that meaning comes from the historic weight of the material and its contemporary resonance. Japanese American internment is barely taught in American schools, and Rodlo, who grew up in Torreón, Mexico, didn't know about it until she auditioned for the part and showrunner Alexander Woo told her about it. "When Alex told me this had happened, I was like 'Oh my God, I have to be in this show,' because it's happening again," she says, referring to the internment of migrants that's happening at the border of her country of origin and the country she lives in now. "And we need to change that." She believes we need to change the course of history. And in order to change the course of history, we need to know what happened, and learn from it, and regret that it happened. "Because if we don't regret, we're just going to keep doing the same thing over and over again, like right now."
Luz may have left the camp, but Rodlo promises we will be seeing her on The Terror again. We will not be seeing Yaritza again, however, as Too Old to Die Young will not return for Season 2. But it working on the series was an amazing experience, Rodlo says. She moved to Los Angeles to work on it — her first major American production, the Gina Rodriguez-led thriller Miss Bala, filmed in Mexico — and it was a production unlike any other she worked on or is likely to work on again, because of the singular vision of director Nicolas Winding Refn.
Rodlo says she read the scripts and loved them, and then she got to set and realized they weren't going to do anything that was in them. "Nic would change everything," she says. "He has so many ideas and all of them are brilliant." He would have the script as a backup and a guide to where the story needed to go, but he would make up the route as he went along. "We're gonna go to set, and then he's gonna feel the energy, and he's gonna feel how it looks, and he's gonna feel everything, and then he's gonna be like 'OK, we need to do this,'" is how she describes Refn's creative process.
She was not prepared for the stillness the role required. The first scene she shot was actually in Episode 6, when Yaritza and her husband, cartel scion Jesus (Augusto Aguilera), run into an old friend of his in the supermarket. "The first thing Augusto tells me, because Augusto started before me, is like 'OK, I just want to let you know, Nic is going to come, and he's probably going to ask you to take some time between one line and the other,'" Rodlo recalls. "I was like 'That's weird, but OK.'" And then they started shooting, and Refn would tell her not to rush and take her time. "And then I understood that 'your time' means you're going to have to wait like at least a minute, or 45 seconds to a minute, to say the next line." The challenge for her was to find a way to deliver the lines with such long pauses between them in a way that still felt truthful. "It's like, OK, I need to reprogram my mind, because I don't speak that way," she says. "Reprogramming your mind" is an apt description of what you have to do to watch Too Old to Die Young, too. Even adventurous viewers are not accustomed to watching something that moves so hypnotically slow.
She says that the main note Refn would give was to be still. He would tell the actors to pick a position and then not move for the duration of the scene, and every scene is at least 10 or 12 minutes. "You're not even going to move one finger," Rodlo says. "And I'm Latina, and Latinas, we talk with our hands. So for me, it was an amazing training, because my body and everything changed completely." She had to figure out how to express everything with her eyes. "And the only way that it can come through your eyes is if you're really feeling it, and if you're really living it," Rodlo said. So she had to become the High Priestess of Death.
Next for Rodlo is a starring role in an upcoming Paramount Network series called 68 Whiskey, a M*A*S*H*-esque dramedy about medics at an Army base in Afghanistan. She'll play Sergeant Rosa Alvarez, who enlisted and trained as a medic so she would have a marketable skill back home. But when her father gets deported after an ICE raid, her outlook on defending her country changes. It's the next step on what's developing into a great career.
The Terror: Infamy airs Mondays at 9/8c on AMC. Too Old to Die Young is available to stream on Prime Video.