It the early ‘80s, 5-year-old Roberta Valderrama and her family left their home in Lima, Perú to escape the internal conflict brought on by the communist Party known as the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).
With terrorism acts occurring in the country, the Valderramas moved to Miami, Fla. to flee from the violence and attacks against Peruvian citizens. They would stay in Miami for a decade before returning back to Lima when the political unrest was not as prevalent as before.
“When we moved back, it was a whole different experience,” Valderrama said during a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles. “It was a
culture shock going back. It was very eye-opening.”
Back in Perú at the age of 15, Valderrama attended a private school and joined a British theater company where she performed plays at the Teatro Británico. Even as a little girl, Valderrama knew she wanted to act.
“I remember my parents telling me, ‘Oh, but you’re so smart; you can be a doctor or a lawyer,’” said Valderrama, who holds a BFA from the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama in Pittsburgh. “I always told them, ‘Or I can play one on TV!’”
Today, Valderrama stars in the improvisational TV comedy “10 Items or Less” on TBS. On the show, she plays Yolanda, a fiery Puerto Rican supermarket employee who works in the produce department.
“10 Items or Less,” which airs every Tuesday at 10 p.m., is currently in the middle of its third season.
How did you get cast in the show?
I got a call from one of my favorite casting directors. She said there was a role that was completely my sense of humor and that I should meet the director and producer. She couldn’t tell me much about it because it was very hush-hush. All she said was that it was very realistic and it was set in a supermarket. When I went in, they gave me a job application as if I was applying to work at the grocery store. That’s when I created my character. That’s when Yolanda was born.
Since you didn’t know too much about the show at first, how did you react when you found out you were going to be doing improvisational acting?
I was a little scared at the beginning. I had done a little bit of improv [at the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama] but it was mostly classical theater. We did a lot of Shakespeare and Chekhov. But I always loved improv. When I would mess around with my friends – because we were all drama geeks – we would hang out and play off each other. I was never in an improve troupe, but as soon as I got in front of the camera [for “10 Items or Less”] it just came out very easily for me. It was something I wanted to excel at.
Are there any similarities between Yolanda and yourself?
There are a lot of similarities (laughs). She is roughly based on my mother. She has this narcissistic personality and wants to conquer the world. She doesn’t care what you say. She is a very strong Latina. She knows she is a sexual being. She knows she is hot-to-trot and uses it to get her way. I’m definitely more of a pussycat compared to her though.
Well, congratulations on the third season. For people who haven’t had the chance to see “10 Items or Less” yet, why should they tune in?
I want people to have some belly laughs at the sometimes-ridiculous nature of the show. There are a lot of fun relationships and the characters have a lot of crazy little quarks. Sometimes the show won’t make sense because it’s so out there and funny, but you have to be open to laugh.
In real life, how would you react if you saw someone get into a “10 Items or Less” line at the grocery store with 11 items?
(Laughs) I’d throw them out. Or I’d have them eat [one of the items].