Special Ops: Lioness is based on a real-life CIA program. The show follows Cruz Manuelos (Laysla De Oliveira), a rough-around-the-edges but passionate young Marine recruited to join the CIA’s Lioness Engagement Team to help bring down a terrorist organization from within. Zoe Saldaña plays Joe, the station chief of the Lioness program tasked with training, managing, and leading her female undercover operatives. The debut episode of the new series is astounding; it ranks amongst the best debut episodes of a television show, ever.
From Academy Award nominee Taylor Sheridan, the espionage thriller features a star-studded cast, including series lead and executive producer Zoe Saldaña, Laysla De Oliveira, Emmy Award nominee Michael Kelly, with Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman, and Academy Award winner and executive producer Nicole Kidman. Special Ops: Lioness is produced by MTV Entertainment Studios and 101 Studios for Paramount+. The series is distributed by Paramount Global Content Distribution outside of Paramount+ markets.
Lioness also features series regulars Dave Annable, Jill Wagner, LaMonica Garrett, James Jordan, Austin Hébert, Jonah Wharton, Stephanie Nur, and Hannah Love Lanier.
Special Ops: Lioness is the newest addition to Taylor Sheridan’s growing slate on Paramount+, which includes Yellowstone, 1923, 1883, Mayor Of Kingstown, and Tulsa King, as well as the upcoming series Lawman: Bass Reeves and Land Man. Get more info on the show here.
We thank Laysla De Oliveira for taking the time last week to field a few questions for V13 via Zoom. The audio (via SoundCloud) and video (via YouTube) are available here if you’d prefer to hear De Oliveira’s answers in real time.
Welcome back to Toronto.
Laysla De Oliveira: “Thank you. It’s been such a warm welcome. I feel so honoured to be here and be celebrating such a milestone moment in the city I was born and grew up in. It’s really special.”
Wonderful. What happens to you after you land a role like Cruz in a show as physical as Lioness?
“I am just taking it day by day. It’s been really, really exciting. It was so incredibly artistically fulfilling to dive into a role like that. I feel so honoured that Taylor saw Cruz in me. It was incredibly physically demanding. It was incredibly emotionally demanding, and I learned so much. I’m so happy that I had guides around me, and I could kind of soak in everything they were doing because they’re the best at their game. I learned so much about endurance, physical and emotional, and I was so excited to bring Taylor’s words to life.”
Your character Cruz has had a pretty uncomfortable life. What aspects about her did you feel like you needed to maybe study for, or prep for, on an emotional level?
“I really enjoyed, well, not enjoyed because they’re very tough to watch, but in terms of character study, what I would do is I’d watch a lot of docu-series or documentaries of people in the military recounting their stories. I’d try to study their body movements, things their bodies are doing, and their eyes, and kind of see that. And I really just try to infuse as much grit and fight as I could.
“And I really pulled that from my family. I’m a daughter of immigrants. I’ve kind of seen that fight firsthand and heard some incredible stories. And so it really is just picking from everything that you can or have been influenced by and just infusing it into the character as much as possible.”
Can you recall what your first day of shooting on the show was like? Was it a surprise to you, or was it just business as usual compared to other shows you’ve been on?
“I can’t say it without giving it away, but the first day, the first week on set, is basically in the second episode because we shoot out of order, and it is an incredibly challenging scene. And I couldn’t believe we were going to start with that, but I was so excited because I knew if I could get through that week, I knew that I would be ok through the entire show. And, uh, I’m really happy we shot that first. You’ll know as soon as you watch the second episode.”
Awesome. How open-ended is this show? Is there going to be another season of Lioness?
“Should we call Taylor Sheridan right now? I would love to know as well, but I think that’s a Taylor Sheridan question (laughs).”
And lastly, what do you hope viewers will take away from a show like Lioness?
“I hope that they just enjoy the ride. It’s such a raw cinematic look into life undercover, and of course, there’s the aspect of it being released weekly. I love the feeling of sitting at the edge of my seat and waiting to see what happens next week. There’s this sort of union that happens when everybody is watching (if they’re enjoying the same show), and that would be so great to see.”