Millions of fans watch Paola Lázaro each week on AMC’s hit show “The Walking Dead,” and while she knocks it out of the park each week with her humorous and tender portrayal of Juanita “Princess” Sanchez, a lot of fans don’t realize that the Puerto Rico-born actress is also an accomplished playwright.
Lázaro was the playwright in-residence for the 2016-2017 season for the Atlantic Theatre Company in New York where her play “Tell Hector I Miss Him” was nominated for a Drama League Award for Best Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play.
She was also selected for the Van Lier Playwright Residency at the Public Theater in 2018, and was a 2021 recipient of the Steinberg Playwright Award.
Her latest work “There’s Always the Hudson” is in the midst of its world premiere bow at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, running through June 5.
“The play is about Lola and T— a Puerto Rican woman and a Haitian American man — who meet at a sexual abuse anonymous group,” Lázaro says. “They make a suicide pact and the play takes place on the night they’re supposed to commit suicide. They decide before that moment, they are going to take some matters into their own hands.”
The inspiration for the show came from a conversation Lázaro had with a dear friend years ago.
“We were by the Hudson River and were going through very hard times in our lives, and I looked at him and said, ‘Someday I’m going to write a play about this,’” Lázaro says.
He didn’t believe her, but a year later she wrote the first four pages and it took off from there.
“I do like to draw from my own life,” she says. “My time as an actor and writer has given me access to certain emotional folders that I keep of my life, and I can pull from when coming up with fictional situations that have the same feeling of actual situations I’ve been through.”
In the show, Lázaro plays Lola opposite Justin Weaks’ T, and the production also features Elan Zafir, Migs Govea and Marilyn Torres. The show was originally supposed to open in March of 2020, but the pandemic had other plans. Thankfully, the entire cast was able to return, as was director Jess McLeod.
“I finally found that collaborator who gets my voice and gets what I’m trying to do, and is not intimidated by my vision,” Lázaro says. “We challenge each other and we’re here for the same end-product. It’s been a true blessing.”
Usually when she pens a new play, Lázaro doesn’t write with thoughts of playing a role, even if the character is based on her. But for this play, she knew she wanted to be a part of it on stage.
“This project has been in the works for a while, so it’s always been a priority for me,” she says. “I have spent the last two years tweaking it and working on it, and it always stayed in my mind — I was always thinking about it and working on the craft.”
Having spent the past 14 months in Georgia wrapping up the final season of “The Walking Dead,” Lázaro hasn’t had much time for writing recently. She tries to balance the acting and writing as much as she can, though.
She feels her notoriety on the show will help bring an audience to “There’s Always the Hudson,” and she believes many may have never even been inside a theatre or seen a play. She’s thrilled to open this world up to them.
“When I do comic conventions and they ask me what I’m doing next, I do always tell them not to bring their kids,” Lázaro says. “There are aspects of Princess that might be similar to Lola—the toughness especially, but she’s definitely different in many ways.”
With filming for “The Walking Dead” now completed, Lázaro can devote more of her time to the show. She’s working on bringing “There’s Always the Hudson” to the big screen.
Lázaro also has been working on a one-woman nonfiction show for Audible which she calls “the hardest thing I’ve ever written” because she can’t hide behind a story. She’s also writing a TV show, working on some music and continues to mull her next acting project.
But for the next month, you can find her at Woolly Mammoth. She invites everyone to give the show a look.
“When you come to this show, you’ll see two people saying what they’re feeling and it’s exhilarating to see someone live out their fantasy of revenge and say what they’ve always wanted to say their whole lives,” she says.
“There’s Always the Hudson” runs through June 5. Tickets start at $29.