Interview: Hemky Madera Talks ‘Queen of the South’, Auditioning and How Self-Tapes Are “Your Friends”

Hemky Madera talks about his role as Pote and tells a great story on booking the show. He also gives some fantastic advice on auditions and self-tapes!

“I have booked so many things with self-tapes. More than in the room… I go full on. Dress the part… it’s not just to stand out, but that they’ll see the character, and they’ll remember that. If you do your job, they’ll be like, “Wait a second, whoa.” – Hemky Madera

To say that Hemky Madera is terrific as Pote in USA Network’s Queen of the South is an understatement. He’s evil one minute, protective and caring the next and all the while, you never know what he’s thinking. Madera, who went back to the original book to create the character, said that he “tried not to judge him from the beginning.” He wanted to “make him a real person who just happens to do something that is not good or morally right.”

In this interview, Madera, who also stars in the upcoming HBO series Perry Mason, talks about his role as Pote on Queen of the South and tells a great story on how he booked the show. He also gives some fantastic advice on auditions, self-tapes and more!

I love you on the show. Your character, he’s a bad guy, but with you in the role, he’s this three-dimensional person.

Hemky Madera: When I first got the role, I read the book. In the book, the guy was always by her side. And, as a confidant, to protect her, and all that. Then I saw the soap opera, and the actor who did a great job in it, but it was more comedic. It was more charactery, more of a cartoon. So, I went, “No. That’s not happening.” So, I went more for the book, and more making it real. Just because the guy does what he does, doesn’t mean that he’s not a real person, with real feelings. So, the thing that I had to do from the beginning to portray Pote is not to judge him, but just to make him… That’s his job. He also has feelings, and he’s also a very good person. He just happens to kill people for a living.

One of the first things that I learned years ago, is never judge who you play. Because if you start judging, then you’re already lost. My job, and I’ve always believed this from day one, when I started this 20 something years ago… My job in the scene is to make my partner look good. I do my job, try to make my partner look good. And, if they do the same, we’ll both shine, and the scene will be believable, and amazing in every way. I tried not to judge him from the beginning, and make him a real person who just happens to do something that is not good or morally right, in any way, shape, or form.

I read a cool story about your audition. You were originally called in for another role?

Hemky Madera: Yes. I was originally called for her dad. I went in, I had been trying to get into the casting office for years, and never the right role, or they just didn’t even see me. They brought me in, I knew I was too young for it. I knew I was just way too young, but I said, “Let me just do my best, and see what happens.” Because one thing that I’ve learned through the years is never give up. You never know what could happen. So, I went, and I did my thing.

Then a few days later, they called me, and they said, “All right, Hemky. We want you to put yourself on tape for the role of Pote. You’re going to have to do it on tape because the producers, the show runners, are going to be on location scouting in Mexico.” So, I did it the day before Thanksgiving. My wife, Jesse Lynn Madera, she’s an amazing singer/song writer, and just released her album. She graduated from Tisch. So, I joke around saying that I have a $40,000 reader because she helps me when I do self-tapes.

But anyway, in the sides, it said that Pote had an extra, extra large Taylor Swift t-shirt on. I’m like, “Why is that?” And then, I read the script. It was because he was tortured, he was naked, and somehow escaped, or was let go, and all he saw was some big t-shirt hung in somebody’s house, like drying. So, he put it on. I’m like, “hmm, this is interesting.” So, I went to every t-shirt store on Hollywood Boulevard. At this point, I’m 38, 39, with gray hair, everything. I’m going, “Do you have any Taylor Swift shirts? Extra, extra large?” And, people are looking at me weird. “No. No, sir.” I felt like, “Oh my God, they think I’m a perv or something.” One guy in one of the stores, says, “There is actually a place down on Highland and Sunset, and they make t-shirts. They’ll print anything you want.” So, I went and got a big, extra large, extra, extra large t-shirt. I went there, and they printed a Taylor Swift shirt. So, I put myself on tape.

One thing that I’ve always done, and I recommend this to anybody out there, always give it your all. Don’t assume that they’re going to see it. Especially when you self-tape. That’s a gift for you. Use all the props that you can. Wear what you think the character’s wearing. Just go all out. Because it’s easier for them to visualize something then imagine it. That’s always been my motto.

Anyway, going back to the story. I put myself on tape. I sent it in on Thanksgiving day. As I get out of my shower, and I look out my window to my driveway, you could see the neighbors. I’m like, “Oh, the new neighbors, they just moved in.” So, I got dressed, and I said, “Mommy, I’ll be right back. I’m just going to go hello to the new neighbors.” I go to the fence, and say, “Oh, hi, welcome to the neighborhood.” These two guys turn and say, “Hemky! Oh my God. We’re going to bring you back for the roll of Pote. We love you!” It happens to be Josh and Mark, the showrunners. They just moved next to me at that time. So, of course, I’m like, “Oh, well, thank you. I did it already.” “Oh, we haven’t received it.” “Oh, well I did it yesterday.” “Oh, then it’s because of Thanksgiving.” Blah, blah, blah, small talk. I go inside. I’m like, “Mommy, mommy, mommy…The show runners of Queens.” She’s like laughing her butt off. Then, we had our baby at the time, Georgie, he was three. She goes, “If you don’t get this role, I’m going to walk out in the driveway every morning, and give him the look.” Man, but then I got the call. I got tapped. And, fortunately I got the role. I was so very blessed when I got it.

Then I re-read the book, and I watched a bunch of documentaries about Sicario’s and hit men in general, and criminals, and to try to get into that mindset. The one thing that I noticed over and over, in all those interviews, was some of them knew that they were doing something wrong, but they just acted like it was just their job. Like they’re working in a bank… which just happens to be with a gun and killing people. I found that very crazy and interesting, how cold you can be. But then, I added that.

Then, what I wanted to add is also the personal, the struggle. I just wanted to put more dimensions. And then, the writers did an amazing job in the next season. Two and three, especially, and in season four, adding a love interest. It’s good. And season five, we had to stop because of Corona but it’s another dimension of Pote as well. They are great writers. We are very lucky.

I was going to ask you about self-tapes. That was perfect advice.

Hemky Madera: Look, I have booked so many things with self-tapes. More than in the room. In the room, I still go full on. I go full on. Of course, if there is a weapon, I will not bring a weapon. But, dress the part. Just because they see so many people. I mean, it’s not just to stand out, but that they’ll see the character, and they’ll remember that. If you do your job, they’ll be like, “Wait a second, whoa.”

I remember for a pilot, I couldn’t do it because of Queen of the South. They had a conflict of scheduling. Again, I went, the character had a t-shirt called, Kiss Me I’m Irish. Of course, I mean, the character weren’t Irish either, but they just wore crazy t-shirts. And, he was a superintendent of a building in the Bronx. So, I went to a key store, and I bought like 100 keys, used keys, to make this big chain, key chain. So, I was walking around with a key chain. I had my, the Kiss Me I’m Irish, t-shirt, right. I looked like a superintendent of a building. You’ve got to do it. I highly recommend it. Just go for it. Don’t go over the top. Just make the character real. Don’t make it into a character, or a cartoon. It’s just make the character real.

Like for Pote, for example, at first they wanted me to have a full beard. Because I had a full beard, and they loved my beard. But I said, “Guys, the way that I see him is when I was growing up in the Dominican Republic, all those old Mexican movies that I used to watch as a kid, with the big mustache, and the big sideburns.” The difference is, is that you say, “Okay, to make this guy more scary, slick my hair back.” So, it was my idea to leave this big mustache, and these big sideburns.

And then, the wardrobe designer, we started talking over the phone, and I explained to her how I see him. So, she got all this wardrobe. So, as soon as I started putting these clothes on, and the chain, and the boots… My stance just… I started hovering my shoulders, right away my thumbs went to my belt. It’s interesting what clothes and the accessories does to a character. That’s why I say with self-tapes, just go for it because it will only help you, not hurt you.

When you do your own self-tapes, how many times do you do it?

Hemky Madera: It all depends on the person. What works for me is, I’ll read it, I’ll memorize it. Because one thing I like to be… I need to be off book, so I can play. Some people don’t do that. I remember people used to tell me, “Hemky, do not be off book completely because they want to see you with the paper, and you’re not locked into something.” And I’m like, “They give me a direction then, I go with the direction they give me.” But, if you have both of your hands free, and you can actually play, and you feel comfortable… That’s the first thing I say, just memorize it. Don’t lock yourself into it. Just memorize it. And, run it with somebody multiple times. Just take your time, take your time, and just get the flow of it. Then afterwards, just shoot it.

Sometimes I put myself on tape, and in two takes, I got it. Sometimes I got it the first take, and I know that I got it, but I do it one more time, just in case. Other times I do it 8, 10, 12, 13 times, just because something is throwing me off, or I just don’t feel right. It all depends on the person and how you feel at the time.

I do that also at work. I’m a pranker at work, I’ll prank people, I’ll joke around. I’ll be pulling pranks to the camera… Especially the camera department, right, when they’re calling roll camera. And then, you see me pulling focus, the focus guy, just messing with him as I’m walking in. And then, I go from this crazy face, smiling, to Pote. Because I already know the character and I not have fun. And, you have to know when to do it, and who to do it to, of course. But, I try to have fun. I play around a lot, because I already did my work at home. Like I work 14, 16 hours, and then I go to the hotel, or to wherever I am. And then, I shower, and then I work for another two hours on what’s happening for the next day. Just do your work beforehand. And, it all depends on yourself, how comfortable you feel.

For me, I think the more you do it, you lose something, because it becomes very mechanical. I’m trained in the theater. I did a lot of theater. I did one show for three years, two and a half years. So, you can imagine how many times I could say this line to make it interesting to me. And, it’s not like you could ad lib. You have to say what’s on the paper. So, you find your ways, your technique, your way to keep yourself sane, that’s how I saw it.

When I was doing the play, I was like, “How do I not lose love for doing this? And, how do I not go crazy?” Because, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it. Who is sitting on the chair might be seeing it for the first time. So, it’s not their business that you’ve done it 350 times.

You’re also part of the Marvel Universe?

Hemky Madera: Yes.

As an actor, and someone who just has loved Spider-Man since he was a little kid, I would be so immensely happy about that credit.

Hemky Madera: Look, I auditioned for it. And you know, you have to sign a NDA and all that stuff. I auditioned for the role and then, nothing happened for months. The character originally was from the Pacific Islands, Mr. Delmar. So, they were trying to find somebody, but it was, “But that’s Hemky, Hemky’s right there. If he’s not filming Queen, it’s going to be great.” And as soon as I got it, I went to them to say, “Guys, this is New York. Do you know how many bodegas are Dominican? Do you know how many Dominicans own bodegas, grocery stores, in New York and Queens?” They were like, “Oh my God.” So, they made it Dominican, which is great. Because I love playing my people on screen as well.

And then, they brought me back for Far From Home. But it’s one of those things that they brought me for one scene. My wife and I came together. She came with me. I called that the paid honeymoon in London, because I had one scene. I remember, after I filmed it, I went to Jesse, and I said, “Mommy, this scene might not make the movie.” She goes, “What do you mean? It’s a funny movie. It’s a funny scene. It’s a great scene. But, I think they just brought me because they love what I did. And, if the movie is too long, they’re going to cut it.” And, that’s what they did. But instead of just scratching it completely, they added me, to Peters to-do list, something that wasn’t even, I don’t think it was even planned, of the things that he needed to do for this trip. And, one of them was going to the grocery store to get some supplies. So, let’s see what happens on the next one. I haven’t been tapped on the shoulder yet, but I hope I am.

And then, you know what’s crazy is, it’s I auditioned, and I booked Suicide Squad 2. I booked a great role, an amazing, amazing role. But unfortunately, we were supposed to start filming Queen of the South in February, and they needed me to be in Panama in February for the movie. So, they went back and forth, back and forth, both producers back and forth, until I couldn’t do it because of two days that would have been a conflict with Queen. And of course, after we had to pass, and I was heartbroken.

That’s another thing too. It was a self-tape, and I had someone help me put myself on tape, because we were filming Queen. I was a general, an Argentinian general in South America. I also went all out. I didn’t even have a military suit but, I looked very military. Again, I was off book. So, it made it easier. And, I had to do an Argentinian accent. So, that was fun. The night before, I think I went to bed around 3:00 in the morning watching Argentinian movies.

From actor to actor, just keep going at it man. Like I said, self-tapes are your friends, especially nowadays. Not just because of the Corona, but it makes things so much easier. You can record it on your phone, you edit it on your phone, you send it. Before, I used to have a camera, then transfer it to the computer, and then compress it. It was a pain. Now, I do everything on my phone, and get yourself one of those ring lights. Get yourself one of those, and get yourself a microphone that connects to the phone. It’ll make your life so much easy.

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