"I'm an actress, an artist. I think it's funny when they call me a narco actress or when they say I do narco films," said Claudia Casas, a plump-lipped performer now branching into Mexican politics.
Known for her work in Mexico's so-called narco-films, Casas, 30, is one of a slew of unlikely candidates vying for seats in this Sunday's mid-term elections. Among them are a national soccer hero, a famous clown, a popular female boxer, and a few aging soap opera stars.
Casas is known to portray characters carrying loaded AK-47s and executing rivals on the screen in more than 40 B-movies, including such titles as Culiacán vs. Mazatlán and Dying in Style.
If successful in her bid as a city council candidate in Tijuana with the small Social Encounter Party, or PES, she may soon be in charge of protecting citizens in one of the city's most dangerous districts against the very characters she has emulated: narco criminals who are once again threatening the relative peace of the border city.
And in spite of her frequent portrayal of underworld characters, she has no actual preparation when it comes to facing real criminals.
"I've been through a lot in this campaign," Casas told VICE News on a recent day. "I've seen things more unpleasant than what happens in the films, because here everything is real. This isn't acting."
Cuauhtemoc Blanco, one of the most revered soccer players in the country, decided to switch careers and run for mayor this year in the picturesque resort city Cuernavaca, Morelos state. It's a popular destination for Mexico City weekenders that has also faced persistent drug crime in recent years.
At a recent political rally, the former star for Mexico City's professional America club told VICE News — while handing out campaign umbrellas and soccer balls — that he is hoping to "score against the same old politicians" on June 7.
"This is totally different," Blanco told me. "I'm seeing the needs of the people: security, water, covering potholes: the people are screaming at me for it, because there are holes, and they damage their cars."
Not to downplay the importance of security, which he called "one of the most important things," he said that if elected he would create a neighborhood alert system and "pay the police well" as a way to improve the situation for Cuernavaca's citizens — the same sort of lines frequently delivered by Mexico's more seasoned politicians.
These candidates have thrown some unexpected moments into a political campaign season with one or two bright spots but otherwise not a lot to cheer for.
Patricio Zambrano, whose claim to fame is a 2003 stint on the reality TV series Big Brother, is running for a seat as mayor of Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon. He grabbed headlines in a May 12 debate after the 47-year-old went off-script, almost attacking a rival candidate who implied he was drug addict. (Talk about "unscripted" …)
Andres Garcia, a 73-year-old actor of the tall-and-handsome sort who has appeared in dozens of films and telenovelas, is running for mayor of Acapulco, Guerrero — considered the third most violent city in the world, excluding war zones.
The actor has said in a biography that he's escaped death seven times.
On May 31, Garcia showed up armed with 6-millimeter semiautomatic handgun to a press conference, in which he said that if elected he would seek to legalize the use of guns in Guerrero so that citizens can defend themselves against criminals.
"I'm going to clean Acapulco of the human scum," he said. "As much as I'm able, they are going down. Those who kidnap are going down."
Most of these candidates are running with smaller or newer parties, leading some observers to claim the unusual figures are being used to influence voting and to generate buzz for alternative parties among a population accustomed to the dominance of three major parties in Mexico.
"It is vulgar vote-fishing, to get public money under the Mexican model of campaign financing, which uses public money," Francisco Guerrero, a recognized political analyst, told VICE News. "So what they are looking to do is maintain their party's registry, in order to keep the financial support they receive annually."
Guerrero said the strategy of running unconventional candidates is clever, as some Mexicans are likely to vote on image and not on credentials.
"These figures are used as electoral bait so that people who lack faith in politicians vote for someone known popularly, without thinking that these people do not have a political duty to the public interest," Guerrero said. "Ideology, or an understanding of public policy is the last thing people care about."
'The Aztec Princess'
Jacqueline Nava, however inexperienced, is sticking with traditional parties in her run as a representative for Tijuana with the conservative National Action Party. The well-liked boxer, at just over 120 pounds and 35 years old, has a stellar record in the ring, winning 14 matches by knockout. She's known by the nickname "The Aztec Princess."
But her boxing skills have not protected her from the political opposition. On May 5, as Nava and her campaign team toured a Tijuana neighborhood, some residents began to throw stones at her, injuring three people and forcing her to flee the area.
"People write me to say that I'm not right in the head, because I'm a boxer. They think that getting hit will make you all crazy, but no," she told VICE News. "In my case I move around a lot, so I don't get hit much."
She said that in spite of her new career aspirations she does "miss boxing very much," but for now her campaign is "without a doubt the most important fight."
Another unlikely candidate following traditional party politics is 81-year-old soap opera star Carmen Salinas, a well-known figure in Mexico for the double entendre punchlines she delivers in any kind of setting.
With a more than 60-year career on the small screen, she is now running with Mexico's ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, for a seat on Mexico's Congress. Looking to keep busy, the actress has said that if elected, she would not give up her acting career.
"I don't have a plan yet," Salinas said when asked about her potential future as a congresswoman. "But I would love to support all my peers in the movie and theater business."
Salinas is known in Mexico as an evergreen subject of social-media memes and for her rather vulgar jokes and cynical opinions.
She has publicly acknowledged she lacks political experience, but on May 8 told VICE News she will "do her best," adding that she would present her ideas to Congress to combat insecurity in the region, and work to protect women, "which is very important."
However, Salinas has yet to explain how she will accomplish all of her plans, or if she is ready turn in a life of celebrity for public service.
"I don't see myself in Congress. It scares me," she said in April. "I've dreamt that the day will come, but then I change my mind."
Isaí Bermúdez contributed to this report. Follow Melissa del Pozo on Twitter @Melissadps.