The 46-year-old actress returns to the small screen this month in the ABC murder mystery drama as Gigi Mendoza, the fierce and stunning yet cunning second wife of Grand Hotel owner Santiago Mendoza (Demián Bichir). Gigi, however, is more than meets the eye, with her own lies and secrets that will slowly be unraveled throughout the season.
"[I would describe Gigi as] a girl with many layers, with many secrets and regal," Sanchez tells ET over the phone. "[She's a bit] confusing, and that is one of the reasons I was so attracted to the material."
Grand Hotel is a modern-day American adaptation of the Spanish drama Gran Hotel, which follows a wealthy Latinx family that owns a luxurious hotel in Miami Beach. With a diverse cast, including Eva Longoria, who also serves as executive producer, the show dives deep into the differences between the upstairs and downstairs, their scandals, escalating debt and explosive secrets that lie beneath their picture-perfect exterior.
"I was a big fan of the original format out of Spain," Sanchez expresses, adding that Longoria, Bichir and creator Brian Tanen's involvement was a major reason for her wanting to join the show. "When I read the script, it's very different from the original. I read it and I thought, 'Oh my god, it would be fascinating to find this woman because she is very complicated, secretive and you don't really know what she's thinking.' I loved it!"
"It was actually really delicious to play her," she adds. "When I was reading the material and I would get the next script, I would be like, 'Oh my god! This is so good and I didn't see it coming.'"
Ahead of the series premiere, Sanchez breaks down everything that fans need to know about Gigi, the good, the bad, the ugly -- and how this show will bring better representation to Latinxs.
ET: The series is an adaptation of the Spanish telenovela Gran Hotel. Aside from the original being a period piece, what are the biggest differences and how much of the narrative is the same?
Roselyn Sanchez: The premise is pretty much the same, the upstairs and the downstairs and the dynamics of it all. The wealthy girl who falls in love with the poor kid, the murder mystery [are the same]. But Brian Tanen, who did the adaptation, definitely took some creative liberties and did a lot of changes. It definitely has a lot of new elements for people to believe that this is something completely new, even though it's an adaptation from Gran Hotel.
I'm not going to lie, when I read the script I was like, "Oh my god, this is so different. How am I going to do this?" because I loved the original. But once I got into it, this is the way to do it because we don't want people to compare. We actually want to stand on our own, and I think they did a good job. It is based on the original but it is very different.
It seems like everyone in the series has a secret. What will surprise viewers most about Gigi?
That she has a good heart. And even though she's going to confuse a lot of people and she does have secrets and her intentions aren't very clear, I didn't want to play the typical vixen or the antagonist. I want people to want to see more of her. And even though sometimes you're like, "Oh my god, why did she do that?" I want people to like her. The whole thing with Gigi is I want people to keep guessing, but at the end of the day, I want people to realize that she's all about family and she's going to do what she has to do for her family.
Speaking of family, Gigi has two daughters -- Carolina (Feliz Ramirez) and Yoli (Justina Adorno) -- whom she treats very differently. Why is she so much harder, and at times cruel, to Yoli?
It's interesting because when I started this show, I had a big sit-down with the showrunner and I said, "I'm all about playing a very dysfunctional, crazy character. But when it comes to family, I just want to make sure there is a reason why Gigi has this thing with Yoli." It will be revealed [as the season goes on], and it doesn't mean that it is right. It doesn't mean that the reason why she is so harsh with Yoli will be justified. But [audiences will find out] what it is about Yoli that triggers Gigi and why she feels that way. But at the end of the day, there is nothing but love. She adores her kids and she would kill for her children and her family and for whatever reason Yoli rubs her the wrong way. But why that relationship is so broken will be revealed.
Will the show explore Gigi's past and her relationship with her ex-husband?
Yes, [her relationship with Yoli] comes down to that. We actually explore her relationship with her ex-husband, how the kids get affected by this man abandoning her and then coming back into their lives. Through that storyline is where it explains why Gigi does what she does.
We also see this tumultuous love-hate relationship between Gigi and Santiago's daughter Alicia (Denyse Tontz). How will we see this stepmother-daughter relationship unfold?
It's all going to be revealed. If you watch the whole first season, it will be explained why that relationship is so dysfunctional. Gigi has known Alicia since she was born, they're like family. She's like a second mother [to Alicia and her brother, Javi (Bryan Craig)], but there is an incident and there is something that happens that they blame Gigi for. There was a big lie involved and that changed everything. She went from almost being a second mother to Alicia to "we hate you," and I think my character resents that and resents that they can't look past that and realize that she was with them since they were born. And that's why it's this love-hate relationship. A lot of it is this commonality in pain too. These girls are severely wounded because of what happened and that is going to be revealed.
This is yours and Demián Bichir's first major series since your time on Devious Maids and his on The Bridge. How was it working alongside Bichir and did you learn anything from him as an actor?
I'm so lucky and so blessed that I was able to work with him. I was so happy when he finally signed on to do this show because of his experience and with his background he brings a lot of substance and credibility to the material. It's been great. I love him so much. We became really close friends. I think he elevates everyone as actors. He was good for the young cast. He was good for me to share material with because he is just that good.
Bichir previously mentioned that he's never portrayed a character like Santiago before. Did you feel the same way about Gigi?
First of all, he looks incredible as Santiago Mendoza! I always tell him, "You look so hot!" because he usually gets to play these heavy, down characters and here he gets to play the Latin Lover. He looks stunning. The show has a lot of humor and comedy. It's almost like a drama with a wink and people aren't used to seeing that with Demián. [For him], to be able to be part of a show that allows you to be a little lighter, he was able to play and enjoy himself. He has a lot of heavy moments, especially for Santiago with his family and his son. It gets heavy, but at the end of the day, it's about entertaining. It's blue skies, it's Miami, it's sexy, it's hot, and the perfect summer show.
But we both had to adjust. I was used to it because of Devious Maids, which was a full comedy. So I was used to bringing that lightness, but I was so aware of not having any of Carmen Luna be part of Gigi. I made a conscious decision to play something completely different. But for Demián, coming from very heavy material, this was like a breath of fresh air for him.
Eva Longoria also guest stars as Beatriz Mendoza, Santiago's first wife who passed away. How much of her will we see throughout the season?
You're going to see more. She has a super important role. She's the catalyst and everything changes when she appears, and everything is explained when you know what happens to her. It was awesome. I love Eva. I have known her for so long. We are really close friends and to see her direct, produce and write, and have a baby and breastfeed while she says "action," she's just a rock star!
At the Television Critics Association earlier this year, Eva shared some great stats on the show: You had a female director of photography, two female assistant directors, the stunt coordinator was woman, half of the writers' room were people of color and women and seven out of 12 directors were women. Have you worked in this sort of environment before and how did that help you, not only a woman but, as an actor?
It was my first time to be so heavy female-oriented and it was wonderful! It was comfortable and they kicked a** and they did incredible work -- and kudos to Eva for doing that and making sure that was the case. It's a beautiful show and, yes, a lot of the departments were female.
Was there a noticeable change in the atmosphere with a female-led production?
A lot of the times a female eye catches things that a male DP won't or won't feel comfortable telling you. Something as simple as telling you, "When you do this scene, lift your chin a little bit because I see a double chin." Things like that that are ridiculous and stupid, but only a female telling another female that would be fine because having a guy telling you that would feel a little bit self-conscious and that's why they wouldn't do it. So it became very comfortable to have a woman doing the lighting, that knows what we care about and is comfortable telling you to move this way, try this angle, lift your chin up a little.
At this time, we're seeing more shows with Latinx casts. However, some still find it hard to grasp a general market. One Day at a Time got canceled, yet Vida just got renewed for a third season. How does Grand Hotel move the needle forward and put a positive light on representation and diversity?
It's so unpredictable to tell you the truth, who knows. All we can do is make something with respect and love, with great work and hope that we get support, not only from the Latino market, but also the American market. This is what I do know for a fact: we complain and complain that we don't have representation. I'm sure we don't. [About] 20 percent of the people in the U.S. are Hispanic and there's maybe only three percent working in TV and film. It's definitely horrific and when you think about it, we are not represented. But when we do get the chance to have representation and see our faces on TV and film, it's such a lottery and so unpredictable. We complain, and then at the end of the day, if the viewers don't show up, the powers that be -- the people that own the studios and networks -- they look at the numbers and they realize not a lot of Latino eyeballs tuned in, then we don't get the chance again. And that's why it's a gamble. One Day at a Time, a phenomenal show, well cast, well written, it's beautiful, guess what happens? They couldn't justify keeping it because they didn't have the eyeballs and it's a shame.
I hope Grand Hotel works and that everyone shows up to support it and is entertained. It's the perfect summer guilty pleasure. It has everything to be entertained, so I will be shocked if it doesn't work. We had a blast making it. We want the support and we want to be able to have more seasons. Representation matters and this is a show that will bring representation to Latinos in this market and I hope they love it as much as we do.
Grand Hotel airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on ABC.
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