Marianna Burelli, Star of Disney’s ‘Ultra Violet & Black Scorpion,’ Is Defined by Her Passion
The latest Disney Channel original series, “Ultra Violet & Black Scorpion,” follows a young girl named Violet who, after crossing paths with a magical luchador mask, dons the alter ego Ultra Violet.
In the show, Mexican-born actress Marianna Burelli plays her mother, Nina Rodriguez. mitú caught up with Burelli to talk about the new show, Ultra Violet’s obsession with social media, Burelli’s love for the environment and her eco-friendly brand AMAI.
In “Ultra Violet & Black Scorpion,” you play Violet’s mother, Nina Rodriguez. How did you first come across the role and what attracted you to it?
I’ll be honest, the first time I read the scene, I wasn’t completely sure that it was the right role for me. It wasn’t until we were in the studios at Disney, when we were doing producer sessions and chemistry reads, that I was absolutely taken by it. I was like, ‘I need to play this woman. I need to!’
Sometimes, not even the creator really knows where the character is going until they meet the actor. When I was doing the producer sessions at Disney, we had loads of them because they needed to choose the mom and the girl, Ultra Violet, first. So they had me back with Scarlet, who plays Ultra Violet, and several other moms and other kids. And they would mix and match to see which combination would fit best.
The comedy, it was clear how well-written and sharp it was. The comedy is on point, it’s a really funny show. That was one of the things I was most excited about, as well as the fact that it was a Latino family.
Although it was a Latinx context, that wasn’t the main thing, you know? It wasn’t like, ‘Oh look at us Latinx people, this is what Latinx people do!’ It was just a family that happens to have that ethnic background, but they live normal lives. They encounter problems that are very similar to other people.
In addition to playing Violet’s mother, you also play a school principal in the show. For a story that’s so larger-than-life, with superheroes and vigilantes, how did you approach playing a character that’s more grounded?
It’s interesting because my character is kind of larger-than-life. You know how some people, in real life, they’re like that. They’re louder than normal. They’re more than average. And I think Nina is more than average. She’s such a tiger mom. But at the same time, I feel like what really makes her grounded is that she’s full of flaws, and she knows it. But she hates to mess up because she’s such a perfectionist and an achiever.
The background that I created for the character, she’s an immigrant that came to the United States to do University. She had to work hard. She saw the opportunity to become a teacher and she went for it, and she became the best at it. And when the show starts, she’s just gotten a promotion. She’s pushed her family forward, and she has a beautiful relationship with her husband. But they fight, you know, like normal people. And she apologizes sometimes. Sometimes not so easily.
That’s the way she’s been able to survive, through this force that she has. And that’s what’s allowed her to be where she’s at right now. But at the same time, what makes her grounded is the fact that she recognizes herself as a human that has so many flaws. No matter how much her larger-than-life persona tries to cover up the mess, sometimes she has to give up and admit that she messed up. And that gives her dimensions.
One of Ultra Violet’s main characteristics is the fact that she wants to post everything she’s doing on social media. That’s not a stretch of the imagination for many parents. As a parent yourself, how do you feel about social media and the way it’s become so unavoidable?
We have a very beautiful episode, it’s actually the second episode, that talks about media. Because, yes, Ultra wants to get recognition from the outside world more than the people she knows, who love her. She wants this approval from this blank void, which is the audience that nobody knows who they are, you know. Numbers and likes.
I find it very daunting, as a parent, to be honest. I won’t say I’m scared, because I think when you feel scared that kind of petrifies you and stops you from moving, and I don’t think that’s a good thing. But that’s one of the things that I am paying the most attention to, for sure. Fortunately, my daughter is only three, so none of that is an issue yet. But definitely, it is scary to know that your child will probably feel loved or unloved by an app, or feel that her worth is more or less according to what people think.
Nobody is meant to be liked by 50 million people. That’s not normal. That is the idea of a society that just accumulates. And I think that’s a reflection of what we do with our lives in general. We do fast fashion. We create loads of clothes and we destroy the environment really quickly. And we wear it three times and throw it away because it broke, and it doesn’t work tomorrow and it lost its color or blah, blah, blah. Everything is so disposable nowadays. And I feel that social media is a big reflection of that.
I appreciate everybody that follows me, and I don’t want to be negative about that at all, because that’s not the point. But when your self-worth depends on it, and when your ability to believe in what you do, and to maybe stand up for something that a lot of people don’t agree with. I think that authenticity goes against social media in a very clear way.
What was it like for you and your co-star to pair up and develop your relationship both on- and off-screen?
Sometimes you meet somebody and you just hit it off. It’s just very clear. And that’s what happened when we were doing the chemistry reads and we were doing different combinations of moms and daughters. Every time she and I were together, it was just very easy and efficient. It felt very familiar to me. Her whole being felt very much like she was part of something that I already knew. And she felt the same.
So when we did the first pilot, we did a first pilot that didn’t work. And then COVID happened, and the show got rewritten. Then we went to New Orleans and did the whole show. But that first pilot we did was super useful because we were able to feel each other’s energy. She is an extremely smart girl, and one of the most sensitive, subtle, perfect performers I’ve ever met. She understands subtlety to a point that is kind of scary because she’s 13 years old.
There was a lot of playing on set. She’s an animal lover and I’m an animal lover, so we found each other there. She’s a pescatarian and I’m a vegetarian. We found loads of things in common along the way. It was very clear from the beginning that she felt safe with me on set, and I felt safe with her.
It created a very easy relationship where we gave each other nicknames immediately. We had so many little games going on. Every director that would come and direct a new episode would be like, “Guys, you feel like a family.”
Tell us about your cosmetics company, AMAI. What inspired you to start the brand and what started you on your environmental quest?
AMAI is a brand that I have with a friend of mine who’s also an actor, Aislinn Derbez, that we started in 2019. I moved to LA right after I got married, and I was in a bit of a transition, limbo place. I came from Mexico where I was working constantly. I had such a good rhythm where I was doing movies and TV shows and plays. I was as busy as a human being can be. And then I moved here and it was, like, silence. And it freaked me out.
I don’t know how to just not do anything. I wasn’t born with that chip in my head. I am hyperactive in terms of working and finding ways to do things. And I have two big passions. One is acting, and the other one is finding new ways to be kinder to planet Earth, and to actually change habits and find new ways of doing things. Because I think we’re in big, big trouble here.
So I was thinking: “I have a lot of hair.” I’m always trying new shampoos, new conditioners. And one day I looked around at my bath and I thought, “this is horrendous. I am such a hypocrite!” I can’t tell people to look after the environment and take shorter showers and I’m literally drowning in plastic here. Plastic bottles from shampoo, conditioner, body soap, bubbles and bullshit, really.
So I was talking to a friend of mine about solid shampoos and conditioners. We went on a quest and we bought loads of bars and tried them all and none of them worked. So she said to me, “Why don’t we make them?” We started finding people in Mexico who would be able to do these formulas. We found a group of women, they’re incredible.
We spent, I think, a year doing trial and error on the first kit that’s called the Full Moon. It has one shampoo, one conditioner, one body soap, exfoliating body soap, and one body cream. And they’re all solids so they don’t come in plastic.
I think the hard part is to actually know [how to help the environment]. So the idea is to create awareness. I believe that we humans are capable of looking after our planet. I just think we’re too busy doing so many other things that are not so important.