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How Natalia Cordova-Buckley prepared to play a superhero on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Exclusive

On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez has a pretty simple origin story: After a battle with the Inhumans, S.H.I.E.L.D. accidentally drops a plane full of Terrigen Crystals into the ocean, where they infect the local fauna. A few months later, people with latent Inhuman DNA began manifesting superpowers. Yo-Yo is one of them, and it's not too long before her super-speed abilities attract the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.

For Natalia Cordova-Buckley, who's played Yo-Yo since halfway through Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s third season, the transformation into a superhero was a lot faster. As Codova-Buckley tells Looper in an exclusive interview, there were only 12 hours between when she learned she had landed the part and when cameras started rolling, leaving her very little time to prepare.

And yet, Cordova-Buckley really wanted to get the character right, especially since Yo-Yo was the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first Latina superhero. "[I wanted to make her] everything I ever would want to be," she says. "Everything I work towards and constantly fail at, I wanted her to have."

So, the actress looked at the women who inspired her, and borrowed elements from each to make Yo-Yo a character worth admiring. "There are all these women who were part of building her," Cordova-Buckley says. But she calls out one in particular: activist and author Angela Davis.

"There's one quote by her that says, 'Radical means simply grasping things at the root,'" the actress explains. For Cordova-Buckley, that became a guiding philosophy when it came time to bring Yo-Yo to life. "I think being radical has been sort of misinterpreted nowadays as barbaric, or that you don't think before you act," she shares. "I wanted Yo-Yo to be radical in the sense that she would always think of the deeper impact."

That's been Yo-Yo's MO ever since. When we first met her, she used her powers to fight corruption in her native Colombia. Now, Yo-Yo's the member of the team most likely to question orders she doesn't think are right and to stand up for what she believes in — even if, as Cordova-Buckley observes, she doesn't hold a very popular opinion.

What Natalia Cordova-Buckley took from the comics while playing Yo-Yo

Yo-Yo is one of the few main Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters with roots in Marvel's comic books. She's been around since 2008, when she made her debut in Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's The Mighty Avengers #13. And while her superhero codename is different — in the comics, she goes by Slingshot (Yo-Yo is just a nickname) — her Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. incarnation is a pretty accurate interpretation.

Cordova-Buckley had a lot to do with that. She has a number of comics starring Yo-Yo, which she keeps in a drawer with other pieces of S.H.I.E.L.D. memorabilia. "I still look at them, and I informed myself a lot with them," Cordova-Buckley says. In fact, she's the one who pushed for Yo-Yo's traumatic injury: "I also begged them to cut off my arms, because it was part of the comics and I think it is a beautiful part of her evolution." 

She continues, "In the comics, I sense that she starts to become just an agent, a person with very little individuality. She's just a soldier of the cause." Cordova-Buckley lobbied hard to bring that transformation to the small screen. "She ends up stripping herself of everything that is an identity, and I love that about her," the actress says.

That process has continued into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7, during which Yo-Yo gets prosthetic arms that easily pass for the real thing. "She realizes that having robot arms really identifies her and makes her different, so she strips herself of anything that makes her distinct," Cordova-Buckley says, "of being any sort of protagonist, of being able to be highlighted in any way, and I love that about her, too."

Just don't expect Cordova-Buckley to rock Yo-Yo's shaved head, at least not until Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wraps up its seventh and final season. "I said, 'I won't shave for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but I would shave it if I'm the lead of a show or if I'm ever in a film.'" Here's hoping.

Tune into new episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s final season on Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on ABC.