When Orlando Pineda auditioned for Griselda, Netflix's new crime series, he had no idea he was somehow connected to the real-life story of Colombian businesswomen Griselda Blanco, who created one of the most profitable cartels in history.
"I got the audition from my manager first. I did the audition and the project was supposed to start filming in October 2021, but during the second week of October, I still hadn't heard anything. But by the third week of October, I got a call back, and by December, I heard I got the part," the actor exclusively tells Morning Honey of playing Dixon Trujillo Blanco, a very confident, good looking and smart child of Griselda's.
One of the most interesting parts is that Orlando's father, General Orlando Pineda Gomez, was the director of the army (police force in Columbia) when such a historic time was happening, and his father even led phase 2 of the Cali Cartel's take down. They later defeated the head of the cartel, Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, and many other drug lords around that time. The Cali Cartel was the direct competition of Griselda — but no one knew about this connection when he booked the part and shot the series, making it even sweeter to be part of the cast.
"It's really ironic because when I told my dad I booked this, he was very happy for as the father of an actor, but then as the general, he was like, 'Of course. 35 years of fighting trafficking and drug lords and this happens.' But he was so proud of me," he notes.
Because of his father's extent knowledge, Orlando took advantage and asked him everything and anything. "As humans, we know what's good and bad, even if we choose to do either. I wanted to have that freedom with Dixon. I wanted to show a soft side of this teenager just wanting to live life but then knowing we're killing people," he shares.
"I asked him about everything from that time. I asked him about the Cali Cartel, the story of Griselda. I asked him about what was said between these people, including these little rumors that started in small towns. I read absolutely everything that was out there," he continues. "I saw every documentary possible. Every time I was at the gym for two hours, I would be listening to music from that time, including disco and all these old school songs my parents said were huge hits back then."
Not only did the story draw in the rising star, but he also loved that the character description was about someone who is from Columbia. "I was born and raised in Columbia. I was like, 'I already understand 50 percent of this character.' They described this character as someone who is machista in a sense and someone who is willing to do everything for his mom. I relate to that because my mom means everything to me, so making that connection was very easy for me. From then on, it was a piece of cake," he says.
While researching and playing the part, Orlando says one of the toughest parts was for him to understand why people were acting this way. "They're criminals. Since my dad is a general, I grew up on the other side of this, so being able to find the why and then empathize with these characters was challenging for me. But then when I saw they're all human, I didn't see them as monsters anymore," he explains.
"I realized a lot of these people are damaged and they're trying their best and doing what they know they can do," he adds. "Some of them don't know any better and are just doing the best with the cards they've been given. Dixon is the clear example of having a bad influence in your life and still choosing to go down that path. There's always a choice. The kids chose what they knew, what was comfortable and what they felt was safe."
After watching the series, Orlando is "happy" with how things turned out, though he says he's not "perfect."
"I tried to put myself in the position of the viewer and tried to think about everything being believable," he says. "I'm very proud of absolutely everyone on the show. I learned so much; it's been such a blessing."
Additionally, Orlando learned so much from Sofía Vergara, who is also from Columbia. "She's such an icon, but she was nothing but humble, warm, caring and funny. She has this playfulness to her, and it was beautiful. It was just beautiful to get to know a person of that magnitude can be so humble in that way. When it came to working with her, she always made us feeling we're equals," he shares. "We were in this world together, we were on this roller-coaster together. Every second we were off camera, we would all ask her questions. She would put down her phone and talk to us and gave us so much advice and encouragement."
"Don't stop and get comfortable," Orlando recalls the Modern Family star telling him. "People are like, 'I made it to this show.' Then they work six months a year and take the other six months for vacation. She was telling us that while starring in Modern Family, she'd work for five or six months and the rest of the year she would be pushing her manager for more work. Her manager would be like, 'You're doing well, you can relax.' But she didn't want to and was pushing to do more. She's a machine. She just wants to keep going and that really inspired me. I aim to be like that. I aim to always be looking for the next best thing and not settle."
Ultimately, Orlando is grateful to be part of a show that is focused on Latinos. "It's such an opportunity for Latinos to show that they have personalities. We're warm and loud. There are so many shows in Columbia being made right now that have nothing to do with drugs and they're so beautiful and well done," he says. "I hope there are more opportunities like this. There's this weight on me now that I have to represent and keep going. I want to bring more opportunities to people. There's so many talented people from Columbia that would love to tell their stories. I would love to have my own production company one day and give back that opportunity that I was given to star in a show this big."
Orlando was bitten by the acting bug right before his 18th birthday. He confessed to his father that was the path he wanted to take, and fortunately, they were supportive of his next endeavor. "I could never repay them. It's been a journey, and then I started booking commercials. My focus was to always get into TV and film, but commercials are fun!" he dishes.
Going forward, Orlando would "love to do everything."
"I consider myself very versatile. I would love to do comedy, I would love to do drama, I would love to do action. I love spy movies, but I love everything about acting. There's a beauty in every single story if you connect with it and know how to tell it," he says.
"Everything's been a dream come true," he adds. "Just scrolling through my DMs and people say, 'I love your work and character.' It's really just the cherry on top of everything. I hope I can keep working and bringing these stories to life."
Griselda is now streaming on Netflix.