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Telenovela Stars Find Reality TV Tough

NEW YORK — What’s the hardest role for an actor? A reality TV star, says Sissi Fleitas, cast member for WE tv’s docuseries My Life Is a Telenovela, about actors vying for roles in the Telemundo Spanish- language scripted drama Eva La Trailera (Eva the Truck Driver).

Fleitas and other cast members on the WE tv program spoke at the Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable Hispanic Television Summit on Oct. 20 about My Life Is a Telenovela, based in Miami, Fla., a.k.a. Latino Hollywood. Fleitas said she’s had an amazing but challenging experience taping the reality series while competing for a role on Eva La Trailera.

Though, to hear from other cast members, producing a telenovela is a huge grind, often requiring actors to film three, 30-minute episodes virtually every day for a minimum 120-episode season.

“It’s extremely hard — it’s a lot of, lot of work,” said Enrique Sapene, a Venezuelan-born actor who plays a villainous character (Ramon Estevez) in Eva La Trailera. “But we love it and we enjoy ourselves.”

(It’s also not as lucrative as fans might expect: As The New York Times reported on Oct. 21, many actors on telenovelas produced for NBCUniversal-owned Telemundo in Miami are not paid union scale, something SAG-AFTRA is trying to change by urging Telemundo to come to an agreement. Telemundo told The Times it’s committed to keeping employees’ salaries and working conditions competitive and noted its created hundreds of jobs in Miami.)

Series actress Maria Portillo, who goes by Raquenel, said the WE series gives viewers an important look at the lives of Latino actors even as the presidential campaign has magnified inaccurate, negative stereotypes of Hispanics.

“I don’t call My Life Is a Telenovela a regular reality show. To me, it’s a very good and amazing experience,” Portillo (Rebeca Marin in Eva La Trailera) said. “We as Latino talent are showing to the audience how the behind the scenes is at a telenovela — for example, the joys of shooting and shooting and shooting.

“This is exactly the right moment,” Portillo added, “because we are in a political moment and we as Latinos want to show the people we are talented people and we came to this country to work and to be better and to help this country be much better than the way it is. And not just to be, like, assaulting people, and we are not criminals,” she added, to applause.

“Very timely,” panel moderator Dade Hayes, editor of Broadcasting & Cable, noted.

An audience member at the session at The Grand Hyatt, who said he’d recently watched the show (which premiered on Oct. 7), asked what sounded like an existential question about reality TV: “Do you guys come up with the script or is there a script writer who comes up with it?”

“It’s a reality show, there’s no script in our show,” replied Fleitas, a Cuban-born model and actress who was a longtime host on Univision’s Sabado Gigante. “We just go with the flow. This is our real life, shot in our real environment, after we are done with hours and hours of shooting telenovelas and movies, doing casting, preparing ourselves for our lives as actors.” For her, that includes home life with her mother, her grandmother and her three pets.

“In my opinion, reality TV — and I have done two reality shows already — is the hardest of entertainment. It’s harder than doing a theater play. Because in a theater you have a script, you know your entrance, you know your exit, you know your dialogue as an actor. Here, you know nothing. … Here, it’s the real thing, and that to me has a lot of merit and it’s very difficult. It’s the most difficult format I have ever done in my life.”

My Life Is a Telenovela airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on WE tv.