There’s intrigue, deception, lust, greed and sex. Just like any prime time soap, all those elements are right at home within the plot of “Devious Maids.” Even so, the show – despite its titillating title – has a lot more to offer audiences than just jaw-dropping murder scenes and maids dusting crystal valuables in pushup bras, says cast member Judy Reyes (although admittedly you’ll get all that and then some in the first episode).
“The subject matter of the show has had people talking since word of it first emerged,” says Reyes, who plays Zoila Del Barrio, one of five maids featured on “Devious Maids.” “But it’s a telenovela. It’s melodramatic and suspenseful, everything you’d want. But there’s a complexity in the story line that I think rings true to the experience many Latinos have had in this country.”
“Devious Maids” – which premieres this Sunday on Lifetime and is an adaptation of the Mexican drama “Ellas son la Alegría del Hogar” – has been the subject of a highly-publicized debate, both from critics slamming the depiction of Latinas in a subservient position and from those who praise the show for being the first English language soap to have a majority-Latino cast. Executive produced by Eva Longoria and “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry, “Devious Maids” has had its fair share of skeptics – and surprisingly, Reyes counts herself as one of them.
“I will admit that I raised an eyebrow when I was first approached about the show, like ‘oh great, why does the first project starring all Latinas have to be about maids?’” admits Reyes, who has a devoted cult following thanks to her nine-year stint on the hit show “Scrubs.” “But I’ve connected to my role in a very specific way, playing a mother and playing a maid – that’s something that really resonated with me given my own personal history.”
Reyes, the daughter of Dominican immigrants, says “Devious Maids” is faithful to the many Latinas in the United States who have worked their way up from humble circumstances: the “Devious” maids are feisty and loyal; they dream big and fight for their family no matter what the cost.
“My mother was a housekeeper on and off for years,” reveals Reyes, who stars in the show alongside Roselyn Sanchez, “Ugly Betty” alum Ana Ortiz, fellow Dominicana Dania Ramirez and newcomer Edy Ganem. “I learned from her and my dad, who owned a bodega, that there is dignity in work and making sure your job, whatever it is, is well done. There was an unwritten rule that I learned as a first-generation Latino. You may be poor, but there are never dirty dishes in the sink, your clothes are clean and your walls sparkle. You earn your dollar and you do it honestly,” Reyes says.
That’s a main point of defense for her character Zoila, the eldest of the “Devious Maids,” who works alongside her teenager Valentina (Ganem) in the grand home belonging to Genevieve Delatour (played by soap veteran Susan Lucci). Zoila is vigilant about wiping up every speck of dust in the mansion where she works; she’s even more so about making her teenage daughter stays out of trouble and out of the arms of Genevieve’s hunky, WASP-y son Remi (Drew Van Acker).
“I really had a great experience filming the show and developing my character,” says Reyes. Her family — her three-year-old daughter as well as her partner George Valencia — were with her on set in Atlanta, Georgia during the duration of the show’s taping. “To me, being Latina means being true to the person you are and not letting your circumstances define you. That’s what I want to shine through in my performance, as happy and intense as the acting was.”
And come what may – the show has yet to be picked up for a second season – Reyes says that she’s proud of her role.
“There’s a lot of temptation to judge what Eva [Longoria] and Marc [Cherry] have decided to do,” says Reyes, who says that the key to feeling glam out of her maid’s costume is an extra-sexy pair of high heels and great lipstick. “No matter what happens, my responsibilities are to speak for myself and what I can do as an actor. ‘Devious Maids’ is a little naughty in nature – you want something completely true to life? Watch a documentary or the history channel.”
“This is TV you’ll feel good about watching – and will want to gossip about with your friends and co-workers the next morning, just like any really good telenovela.”