And in this corner, ladies and gentlemen, make some noise for Shakira Barrera.
GLOW, a Netflix series about pro female wrestlers and Hollywood misfits inspired by the cult ’80s show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, is back in the ring today for a second season. Barrera, 28, joins the cast as Yolanda aka YoYo, a Mexican-American lesbian stripper with major money moves.
A New Jersey-born actress known for roles on shows like Faking It and Queen of the South, Barrera tells NewNowNext how she and her GLOW alter ego are always kicking ass.
Shakira, I remember when you became Pineapple Fantana, a Fanta soda spokeswoman, in 2009.
Oh, wow! [Laughs] Yeah, I was 19. When I won that nationwide Fanta contest, they flew me out to L.A., and that was the first time I realized acting was an option for me. I was like, wait, I’m speaking to a camera and getting paid? I’d been dancing since I was 3, but that’s when I realized I could do more than dance—I could use my voice, too. So Fanta really changed my career.
What was it like to be the new girl on the GLOW set, joining the show for its second season?
I was already a fan of the show so I tried not to be too intimidated. It was such a successful first season, so I knew all I really needed to do was be a student and learn from everybody. I had a lot of catching up to do, but I came in knowing I had to earn my spot.
GLOW was created by two women, showrunners Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch, and has a largely female cast. How does it feel to be on a show about female empowerment in our current political climate?
With everything going on in the world, our set felt so safe. The story is risky and it needs to be told, but with so many women writers, producers, and directors, I always felt like I was in good hands. That provided this great playground that allowed me to come in, be myself, and have fun.
That sounds a lot like your character, Yolanda.
Yeah, I love that Yolanda walks into the wrestling ring ready to go, ready for any challenge, unapologetic and totally uninhibited. I’m a little jealous of her, living her life to the fullest with her cool ’80s hair.
Yolanda initially takes over a wrestling persona, rapper Junk Chain, from another girl. How does her presence affect the group’s dynamic?
She shakes things up a bit and strengthens their sisterhood. There was constant competition last season, but when Yolanda comes in, the girls take more ownership of their show and realize they need to protect their spots. She helps the girls realize they’re a family, which makes them grow even closer.
Yolanda is also a stripper, and we see her in action at the club. Was it fun to work a pole?
I don’t know what’s more painful—dancing, wrestling, or stripping. Stripping was definitely difficult. I have extremely flat feet, so dancing in heels for longer than two hours was really hard, and my legs were so bruised the next day. I’m lucky that I’m physically active and that I have a dance background. Our choreographer really challenged me, but I think Yolanda looks good up there.
She also breakdances. Was that part of your dance training?
No, I’d never done a breakdancing move in my life. I don’t like going on the floor if I don’t need to. But I love to learn, so I went in with an open mind and present body. They were like, “Shakira, do you want to spin on your back? I was like, “Sure!” I loved getting to explore dance styles I’d never done before.
Yolanda is so cool and effortlessly sexy. Do you share her self-confidence?
Well, I really worked on my body before coming onto the show. I worked out five times a week, preparing for what was to come, and I trained really hard in my dance classes. Like Yolanda, I feel sexiest when I’m putting my body through physical turmoil. But I like to think I’m always pretty confident. I grew up with a single mom who was extremely independent and strong, working three or four jobs to take care of me, so I think that’s where I get it from.
Yolanda serves a lot of amazing ’80s looks. How would you describe her style?
She’s like Rosie Perez reincarnated, even though Rosie Perez is still alive. She’s got a Michael Jackson-inspired thing going on, she gives you so much color, and she isn’t restricted. I’m definitely a fan of Yolanda’s wardrobe—I wanted to keep every one of her jackets.
GLOW was sorely lacking queer characters in its first season, but Yolanda, an out lesbian, is a welcome addition.
I’m so excited to be representing the LGBTQ community. Honestly, Yolanda doesn’t feel like my character because she’s the LGBTQ community’s character. She’s a Latina, too—she’s Mexican-American—and that combination means so much to me. I have so many Latina and gay friends who want to see themselves represented on TV, so I feel an extreme amount of responsibility. I hope people like her as much as I like playing her.
Yolanda tells the girls, “I haven’t gotten any pussy since joining your straight-as-fuck all-women’s wrestling show.” How does her sexuality impact the group?
She’s not a stereotype, so you might not know she’s a lesbian at first—men still hit on her and she has to shut them down. But we’re in the ’80s, a more sensitive time, and people don’t always talk about the obvious. The fact that she comes into the group so open and proud really shakes the women up. It makes them look at themselves and who they really are. Somebody might even relate to Yolanda in some way and maybe think she’s the same? I guess we’ll have to see.
It took guts to be out in the ’80s. Where does Yolanda’s confidence come from?
She’s a rebel. She can be misunderstood, because people judge her for being a stripper, but she’s intelligent and knows that’s just easy money. She’s empowered because her passion is dancing and she knows that’s what’s going to fuel her future.
You’re already bringing attention to various humanitarian causes on social media. What do you hope to accomplish with your increased exposure from GLOW?
I’m a first generation Nicaraguan-American, so I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my mother emigrating from her country. I’m proud of where I come from, and I want to help the country where my roots are. There’s so much need in Nicaragua, so I want to use my platform to bring an awareness to that, and I particularly want to bring the arts there. I have a responsibility to help others because I’m a little more fortunate than most, and I’m not going to take that for granted.
GLOW season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.