Shakira Barrera was a scene stealer as Yolanda on GLOW season 2, and fans of the Netflix series can now see her again starring in Greg Garcia’s Sprung on Amazon Freevee. As Gloria, Barrera is released from prison in the early days of the pandemic. With nowhere to go, she shelters in place with other recently released inmates, Jack (Garret Dillahunt) and Rooster (Phillip Garcia). Along with Rooster’s mom (Martha Plimpton), the quartet become an unlikely crew who band together to use their criminal expertise for good.
As the Amazon Freevee continues to roll out new episodes, Barrera spoke with LA Confidential about playing an identity theft mastermind, what she learned from Plimpton and Dillahunt and finding empowerment through her acting roles.
How did you prepare to play Gloria?
It's funny because I normally prepare heavily for all my characters. And I remember having the jitters before going on set and working. I always like to do as much as I can to feel good and to stay as free as possible on set and with the rest of the cast. I researched identity theft, credit card fraud and all those things and how they do make up in prison, stuff like that. And then I realized it just is more about me connecting to Gloria and her backstory and really diving into that, rather than little nuances of the day to day of being in a certain place. So it just became more about developing who Gloria was before she got to prison and what her morals are.
Greg Garcia shows have so much strength in the details. The small moments really drive the show and fuel the humor, like how Jack and Gloria wear only clothes from the ‘70s. Did you have a favorite look?
Greg is really, really funny about that. And that actually was one of the later notes because we had a full fitting with modern time clothes, and then we had another fitting and it was clothes from the ‘70s and I was so confused. I was like, “What is happening here?”
Him just adding that line with Barb saying like, “This is all the clothes that I have,” I thought was such a brilliant choice because it puts you into this timepiece, and also the time of COVID. It's many things at once to give the audience this really vibrant experience with our show. I think my favorite look was a T-shirt look, which is the most underdressed one, but it says “Feelin’ Fine” with these really awesome like Farrah Fawcett jeans. I loved it. So comfortable.
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What was it like working with your castmates?
The hardest part for me was not laughing. Gloria is kind of the straight shooter. I feel like she's with the audience, and a lot of the audience is thinking what she's thinking. She's also the brains of many of the operations, so she had to hold it together. And I think that was the hardest part for me was seeing Martha develop this character in literally three days. She was cast and in three days she had to make these choices. And obviously she's so legendary— just watching her work and create Barb and her process was really interesting for me to watch as somebody who's younger in this business. I had a great time. And also watching the chemistry between Martha and Garrett was just so amazing. They led with such grace and they really taught me to just go for it and make choices and don't be afraid of looking silly. Most of the time, their coverage was shot first, so it was a really, really nice experience for me to see them dive into it and then me get to do the same thing.
Sprung doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard with the COVID of it all. Why do you think the show has done such a good job at tackling the pandemic without losing its humor?
I think it's all in the writing. And I think Greg is very specific in his writing and what he wants to see. And he really thinks about his audience. He's very thoughtful in that sense to cater to his fans from My Name Is Earl and The Guest Book and Raising Hope. There's definitely a cult Greg following, and I think he loves to just throw in these little nuances for people.
I think there's a lot of things that we can look back on in the show and ask ourselves, “Did we really do that? Did we really think that?” And I think there's a sense of, tonally, this COVID happening and it was just a big hot mess with no one really knowing how we got it, and I think there's a parallel that the crew is also feeling. They're kind of a hot mess and we're following these people during this time, and I think Greg did such a fine job in showing those two worlds and making the people interested in our little crime family.
Sprung also references a lot of other important issues like mandatory minimums, the prison industrial complex, crooked politicians, etc. Why do you think its comedic tone is an efficient way to highlight these sorts of things?
The way that we do it on our show is just to laugh. A lot has happened to us as a collective in this country, and I think Sprung is just a show where you can look back and chuckle and find some sort of healing through it all. Some people may say it's too soon. Personally, I've had people write me messages that they didn't realize that they could laugh. And I thought that it's just such an interesting way to touch people through this show, through creating art, through healing in a way where you can find some comedy. It's just a great way to go look back and ask ourselves what we learned from it.
In Oct. 2020, you and some of your GLOW costars wrote a letter to the producers and showrunners about feeling disempowered on the show. Did that experience change your approach to what roles you take on?
Yes, it definitely did. For sure. GLOW was such a big heartbreak. It still is. I talk to all the girls; we have a WhatsApp group chat. And we just send each other such nice, loving messages. I'm obsessed with every single one of those women. It was such a heartbreak, but I try to learn from each job. Each job is very unique in what challenges it brings and what memories it holds that can change you forever. And I think that GLOW showed me that people of color and the Latinx community, we do deserve these leading leading roles. It just hasn't been presented to us as much as they should.
I hope that people seeing Gloria on Sprung next to these two amazing legends in our industry can kind of change people's opinion and say like, “These people can hold their own. These actors are good regardless of their ethnicity.” And that's what I was looking for: more responsibility on Sprung and in my future projects. I've opened up my own production company to tell more stories and produce stories of people of color and Latinx people and my community and move towards a storytelling that is just beyond the immigration story. That can evolve, and people can understand that Latinx people aren't a monolith. There are just so many colorful stories that can come from us and we're just getting started. We haven't even even touched the surface yet.
Did Gloria make you feel empowered as an actor?
Gloria definitely made me feel empowered with all the responsibility she has, how smart she was. And she's actually Nicaraguan American, and I don't think on any show I have ever seen someone play Nicaraguan American in my life. Like I said, it's just opening up doors for people to see themselves. And the fact that the show is this good is always a win for our community, for the audience and just for everybody involved in Sprung.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Courtesy Amazon Freevee