The sandy-haired beauty at the door knocks tentatively, prompting the handsome young Rafe to rise from his chair to answer. The door opens and she appears with an inquisitive smile and offers the greeting, “Hi. You must be Rafe.” As she extends her hand and tells Rafe, “I’m your mother’s friend, Blanca,” she steps across the threshold into the next chapter of life in front of the camera for actress Ximena Duque.
With her debut as Blanca on the NBC daytime drama Days of Our Lives in June, Duque broke through into English language television after more than a decade in telenovelas, a TV format popular in Latin America that is shorter version of a soap opera.
“I broke the ice,” she beamed. “I’m like, OK, this I can do.”
Duque’s smile radiates positive energy that is almost palpable. Indeed, she has a lot to smile about, having accomplished by age 31 what many strive to achieve in a lifetime. She emigrated to the U.S., learned English and became fluent, launched a robust acting career and became a mom. Her uncomplicated beauty radiates through her many Facebook posts and she is a pleasure to talk to about life’s opportunities, faith in god and working hard to achieve your dreams.
“I started as an extra,” she says. “Whenever I’m doing a soap opera, I may be talking to some extras and say, you know, if this is what you want to do, keep up the good work, and keep preparing yourself.”
Born in Cali, Colombia, Duque moved to Miami in 1997 at age 12 and immediately began the task of learning English. She quickly realized it was easier said than done.
“Miami is a very hard place to learn English because everybody speaks Spanish,” she recalls. “In school, I remember hanging out with all the Latin people…Colombians, Cubans, you know, so it was hard for me to practice English. You get into your comfort zone. I was in a program for Spanish-speaking students for six years and one day the teacher says hey, you need to get out of this class because you know English already. So, I can say I really learned English the last year of high school because I had to practice.”
Duque is currently shooting her 20th telenovela, “La Fan”, a comedy in which she plays a rich executive.
“She falls for the handyman,” she says, describing her role. “They are not meant to be together, but they are a very sweet couple. My story is the young love story, you know, something people can identify with.”
Duque has earned kudos in Telemundo’s Premios Tu Mundo entertainment awards including The Best Kiss for Corazón Valiente, and The Best Bad Girl for Santa Diabla. Then in November of 2015, she sent NBC an audition tape in response to a casting call for Days of Our Lives and got the part of Blanca. She was sent the scripts and told to be in LA in three days to begin shooting. It all happened very quickly.
“When I first saw the script I said, oh my god, I’m not going to be able to do this. This is a lot to memorize. When I do a Spanish soap opera, you know, it’s my first language. So first, it’s easier to memorize. And second, the scenes are not that long. The scenes [in American soaps] are very, very long.”
And there was some apprehension that first day on the set.
“I told the director this is my first job in English so, you know, bear with me. But everyone was so nice that after the first day of work I was really happy because the director came up to me and said, ‘This was your first job in English? Congratulations!’”
While citing Julia Roberts as an actress she admires, she’s not hung up on role models.
“Since I was a little girl, I always tried to be unique. You know, people say watch this movie, watch this actress. I don’t like to do that because I don’t like to imitate. When I see myself acting, I feel that I am different from everybody… It has worked for me.”
Perhaps Duque’s most important role is that of parent to her son, Christian, 12.
“I am a single mom,” she confirms. “I had him when I was 19.”
Balancing an acting career with motherhood was tricky for a time.
“When he was a baby, it was tough, very tough. Now, he’s at that stage where he can come with me. He’s very independent. He can stay home by himself. He can say in the future that my mom raised me, not a nanny. He can say he was raised in a studio, but by his mom.”
Christian’s father, Christian Carabias, whom Duque was with from 2003 to 2008, is still in their lives and in a recent Facebook post, the three are seen posing together, smiling, with a message from young Christian, “I have the best parents in the world… my best friends!!!!”
She has heartfelt advice for young women seeking success as she did.
“I always say that when god puts something in your heart, if that’s what you want to do you have to work hard to get it. Many doors are going to be closed in your face. You have to trust god and just work hard because in my career, there is a lot of competition. You have to believe in yourself. Anything in this life is possible. You just have to believe you can and you will achieve it.”