Paramount+’s ‘Special Ops: Lioness’ follows the story of a black ops operative who is sent on an undercover mission to befriend the daughter of a terrorist through whom she locates him. The operative is a Marine raider named Cruz Manuelos, who got into the military while trying to run away from her tumultuous past. She is brought into the Lioness program by Zoe Saldaña’s Joe, whose job is to find and recruit people like Cruz while also helping them through their mission, which gets more challenging with every step.
While Cruz is dedicated to her job, it becomes difficult for her when the lines between reality and fiction start to blur. Her situation presents a realistic portrayal of what must happen to people who are out there working undercover. If you are wondering whether Cruz’s character is inspired by a real person, here’s what you need to know about her. SPOILERS AHEAD
Is Cruz Manuelos Based on a Real CIA Agent?
‘Special Ops: Lioness’ is a fictional series created by Taylor Sheridan. Reportedly, he drew inspiration from a real military program in which women were trained to find a way to high-value targets through their female family members. It is possible that the character of Cruz was based on one such operative, but it cannot be confirmed.
Laysla De Oliveira, who plays the hot-headed Cruz, said it was “one of the most artistically fulfilling experiences” she’s had so far. “There aren’t many roles that are written for women that are this gritty. And I love Cruz so much because she is badass onscreen, which is so gritty, and she’s so vulnerable, and playing the range of the two is something that really excited me,” the ‘Locke and Key’ actress said.
The role demanded her to be physically and emotionally tough as her character goes through quite a challenging arc. De Oliveira learned hand-to-hand combat to prepare for the part and underwent strength training sessions while on set. She also received weapons training from an ex-Navy SEAL and received hours and hours worth of training for the stunts in the show.
Speaking about the emotional challenges that the role brought, De Oliveira said: “Cruz goes through a very dark journey, and you can’t explore that without going there yourself. So it did take some time to shed, especially if you’re exploring that for seven months. It is quite dark.” The actress developed a personal connection with the character and found relatable experiences to find common ground between her and Cruz.
For the character’s “grit and determination,” she channeled her experience of growing up in an immigrant 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. You feel you’ve always got the shorter end of the stick, and it’s what you make of it,” she added.
Playing Cruz required De Oliveira to become familiar with the world of military and espionage. In preparation for this, she turned to documentaries about the lives of military personnel. “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,” she said.
With all the show has to offer, De Oliveira hopes people enjoy the ride. “I think people should be excited. It’s a very gritty, cinematic, raw, action-packed look into life undercover. Hopefully, it’ll leave people at the edge of their seats and wanting more each week,” she said. Considering all this, we can say that while Cruz is a fictional character, the actor and writer have put a lot of work into presenting her as realistic as possible.
Read More: Is Zoe Saldana’s Joe Based on a Real Person?