Tonight is the night: At 8 p.m. ABC Family’s hit show The Secret Life of the American Teenager returns for a second season, and as a fan of the show, I’m psyched! So I called up Colombian actress Paola Turbay, 38, who stars as Cindy Lee, (Francia Raisa’s sexy mom in the series), and after she made fun of me for being a 26-year-old who watches what is definitely a show for teenagers (that hurt, Paola), the beautiful, charming, and funny former Miss Universe runner-up shared details with Vivo Por TiVo about Secret Life’s second season, her lesbian role on TNT’s The Closer, and her dramatic guest starring turn on A&E’s critically acclaimed series, The Cleaner. With all her roles on TV both present and past (remember her sensational turn as Jimmy Smits’s wife on the short-lived CBS series Cane?), Turbay is showing Hollywood that she's a fierce talent. She's also what we Latinos call "una encantadora!" (a charming lady). Read on for the scoop:
Secret Life is back tonight! Will you be watching?
Of course I’m watching! I have a few scenes [in tonight’s episode]. Why do you watch that? Are you a teenager? (Laughs).
No, I’m 26. But I enjoy it! How do you like working on the show?
It’s amazing. It’s a huge hit. The numbers are ridiculous. They’re way beyond anything in the history of ABC Family.
I love Mexican actress Francia Raisa. What’s it like playing her mother?
It’s great! She is an amazing actress, and I know she’s going to do great. She’s very dedicated. She learns everyday, and is really on top of her character. She looks at me to see what I do so she can imitate it as any daughter would imitate her mother. It’s amazing that she does some of my gestures, like the way I stand. That’s so clever. You look at us and she looks like my real daughter!
Last season, your character was dating a married man, and she was kind of, well, promiscuous. Don’t you think?
She was not promiscuous. The man was leaving his wife. They got together when he had already left his wife, but he didn’t tell her the whole story, She is a very lonely person, and she does everything for her daughter. She wants to have a family for her daughter, so in the first season, when she dated a guy, she wanted it to be the right person to complete the family for Adrian—a guy that Adrian would feel comfortable with. It wasn’t about her sleeping around.
But in season 2, Cindy gets back with Adrian’s dad, right?
Adrian’s dad shows up, and I think that little spark they left behind a few years ago starts up again. We realize we do like each other, and we’d like to be together. We’re worried about our daughter, because she’s really promiscuous, and we are aware of it, and worried about her relationships.
You’re also playing a kick-ass new character, Det. Mikki Mendoza, on TNT’s The Closer. Tell me about your role.
She is such an interesting and strong woman, and she’s very tough. She directs SIS, which is a real department in the LAPD that is in charge of preparing everything, so that the squad and detectives can come in and take care of a situation. They crash the cars and knock down the doors. They also added that they wanted her to be a lesbian, and she’s been interesting to play because I’ve always played a good girl, and I’ve wanted to play something different.
Have you gotten a lot of mail from the GLBT community about your role?
No, I haven’t. But I think it’s interesting for the community to see that there are so many interesting roles on TV. I think that is good for them to see that they’re respected on TV, and get important roles. It’s no longer an issue to be gay the way it was 10 years ago. People are out of the closet and they are gay and happy to be completely accepted. My gay friends are also happy to see me playing a lesbian. They say, “We feel like you’re playing us.”
Did you do any research to get into character for this role?
Oh, of course. I watched a lot of The L Word, and I have a lot of gay friends. Sometimes people, when they play gay, they play it too hard. A gay person is exactly like a straight person, but when it comes to choosing their partner, they choose a different partner. You can’t make that much of an effort to portray them because they’re not different.
The Closer is an action-packed kind of show. Do you perform your own stunts?
Well, I do up to a certain point. I’m full of bruises. But on The Cleaner (starring fellow Latino Benjamin Bratt in a kick-ass role), I do my own stunts and people are like “ahhhhh.”
Your role on The Cleaner sounds crazy and amazing. Can you tell me about it?
I am in the 11th episode. I play a boxer’s wife. Five days before fighting in his title fight, my husband gets a DUI, and so Benjamin Bratt comes to our house to help him, and to make sure he doesn’t text positive on a drug test. Only he finds out that the one who is really messed up is the boxer’s wife! I am ready to jump off the 20th floor of this hotel because I’m loaded on drugs, narcotics of all sorts and pills. It’s so good! It’s been a pleasure to play something so different. To play these extreme situations and moments.
You’ve been Miss Colombia, and in 1992, you were the runner-up for Miss Universe. What are your thoughts about the recent events in beauty pageants, for instance, the way Miss Teen South Carolina stumbled when asked a question about geography, and Carrie Pajean’s response to a question about gay marriage?
The girl with the maps is one of the best videos on YouTube! [Laughs.] It is so funny how she jumps from one country to the other, from one issue to another. It makes absolutely no sense. But it’s not because she’s not smart, it’s because of the nervousness. You could tell she was extremely nervous, and words were just falling out of her mouth. I’m sure she has an answer for that, but sometimes you're just awed by the situation. About Miss California, I don’t think she was nervous. I think she got put in a difficult situation, and she has her point of view, which I think is respectable, even though I don’t share it.