From the cast bio in the press folder for Queen of Swords:
Newcomer Tessie Santiago cuts a wide swath across 19th century Southern California this fall as Tessa Alvarado, a Spanish beauty who masquerades as the avenging QUEEN OF SWORDS, striking fear in the hearts of evil-doers and bringing hope to the good. While she landed the part of the sword-wielding Spanish heroine in her very first professional acting audition, instantly capturing the essence, strength and beauty of a young Latina woman fighting for all things just, Santiago has been preparing for the role her entire life.
The Miami-born Cuban-American grew up in a tight-knit family of artists, including a sculptor grandfather, musician father and painter mother. From playing the piano at age 7, to performing in musicals, to studying Shakespeare in London, and earning a double major in Film and Theater at the University of Miami, Santiago has always immersed herself in creative endeavors. At the University of Miami, she starred in the independent film Echo and became the resident "It Girl," acting in many student films. As part of a nationwide search, Santiago read for QUEEN OF SWORDS, and her life literally changed from one day to the next.
Since getting her own TV show, the 5-foot-8-inch beauty has filmed two commercials in Spanish and thrown herself into training for QUEEN OF SWORDS; learning how to horseback ride, flamenco dance and fence. She's particularly proud to play the part of a strong-willed Latina woman battling oppression. Since most of Santiago's family fled from Cuba after Castro and communism took hold of the country, she easily identifies with her character of the QUEEN OF SWORDS. This first-generation American is passionate about keeping her Cuban heritage alive and passing it onto her own children one day.
An avid reader, who counts Henry Miller, Anais Nin and Milan Kundera among her favorite authors, Santiago also aspires someday to work behind the camera, both as a writer and a director.
Tessie, who was named after her mother, loves living in Miami, where she attends plays and concerts, watches foreign films and spends time with her family and lifelong friends.
From the Paramount Pictures Oueen of Swords website biography:
Newcomer Tessie Santiago stars in this series set in 19th century California as "Tessa Alvarado," who masquerades as the avenging "Queen of Swords." Tessie is a Miami-born Cuban-American who grew up in a tightly knit family of artists, including a sculptor grandfather, musician father and painter mother.
Santiago has immersed herself in creative endeavors from piano playing at age 7, to performing in musicals, to studying Shakespeare in London. At the University of Miami, she starred in the independent film, "Echo," and acted in many student films. Her life literally changed with the casting as the Queen of Swords. Santiago recently sat down to discuss her new life and her role as Tessa and the Queen of Swords.
From Good Morning, Miami NBC Media Village Biography:
After brandishing a fearsome variety of swords, whips and knives while starring as "The Queen of Swords" in Spain, Tessie Santiago feels like she's returning home again to her native Miami in the new comedy "Good Morning, Miami" as a sassy, opinionated – and dog-toting – Latina TV host.
"Having a comedic role is a nice change-of-pace for me," says Santiago, a Cuban-American. "‘Queen of Swords' (a syndicated drama) was my first professional job out of college and it was a lot of fun and hard work overseas. I had to train using whips and daggers, learn flamenco and how to ride a horse – all while wearing a corset!"
Santiago was born and raised in Miami as the oldest of three children. Her parents both have artistic tendencies that continue to inspire her. Santiago began playing the piano at age 7 and later graduated from the University of Miami with double bachelors of art degrees in film production and theater. While in college, she also starred in many independent student films.
As soon as Santiago completed college, she was cast as the masked, avenging Spanish beauty in "The Queen of Swords." Upon coming to Los Angeles in 2001, she landed a co-starring role in the VH1 movie "The Way She Moves" (opposite Annabeth Gish) which allowed her to exhibit her dancing skills.
In her newest role, Santiago makes a leap from action-oriented drama to unbridled comedy as a ditzy Cuban-American host of the lowest-rated morning show in America. "Lucia is very over-the-top and I use a heavy accent as a prop – it brings color to my character," says Santiago. "The Hispanic community in Miami, like any other community, is filled with colorful characters. Lucia is eccentric and fun."
Moreover, Santiago is enthralled with the opportunity to portray a fellow Cuban-American, even though as an original honey blonde, she doesn't fit the traditional Hispanic stereotype away from the set. "My grandfather and grandmother were blondes with light-colored eyes," she says. "I love that people are seeing that Hispanics don't have to be associated with a certain look."
When not working, Santiago enjoys going to dog parks with her pet dog that she rescued while working in Spain. She also loves to read, go to the theater and spend time with her close-knit family in Miami. Her birthday is August 10.
History of appearance on the TV scene by Bob Ivry, January of 2001
Swords, leather whips, galloping horses: everything you need to build your own romance novel. Or a career, for that matter-especially if you're Tessie Santiago, the star of the new syndicated TV series Queen of Swords.
Last November, the 25-year-old brown-eyed Cuban-American was plucked off the University of Miami campus to play aristocratic Tessa Alvarado on the show, which is a kind of female Zorro set in 19th-century California. At the time, Tessie didn't know swash from buckling; after all, parry-parry-thrusting and restraining wild broncos by their manes weren't the skills she needed in 20th-century Florida. But as the Queen of Swords, she can impale criminals with a steel blade and separate a bad guy from his gun with a flick of her pretty little wrist.
Other notes of interest:
In a December 19, 2004 article about the making of the film "The Way Back Home" by Roger Moore (the Orlando Sentinel Movie Critic), Ms. Santiago describes herself as "prissy" or someone who does enter into the world of outdoors, grime, and bugs to terribly often. … Expand
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