Narcos: Mexico's Diego Luna, Michael Peña, Eric Newman discuss new season and 'glorification' claims
Is Netflix's flagship crime drama, Narcos: Mexico, a worthy follow up to the Medellin and Cali Cartel? Eric Newman, Diego Luna and Michael Peña answer.
It is odd to see Diego Luna, who plays convicted Mexican drug lord Félix Gallardo in Narcos: Mexico, answer questions about the show unassumingly in a Mumbai hotel. His portrayal of the former head of the now defunct Guadalajara cartel on Netflix's crowd-pleasing cult sensation is tastefully ostentatious. In person though, he is far from anything you would associate with 'the godfather', as Gallardo is often referred to. The flu is not helping, either. Michael Peña, his co-star from the show, plays DEA agent Enrique 'Kiki' Camarena, the man whose killing splintered Gallardo's flourishing drug network. The two are joined by Eric Newman, the showrunner and executive producer of Narcos, whose fourth season veers to Mexico and trace the origins of the modern drug war after documenting the fall of the Cali cartel in the preceding season. The trio talks the Narcos phenomenon, shooting in Mexican badlands, and what to expect from the fourth installment before jointly making a rather self-indulgent promise: "This is the best season we've had." Excerpts from the interview:
What has it been like to be a part of a show as consuming as Narcos?
Michael Peña: It's been great. Even though I am of Mexican descent, I didn't know every part of the country. It's a hard place to live in and difficult to navigate as sometimes, we would be shooting in the middle of nowhere. It all started when three years ago, I met Eric and he asked me if I'd like to play Kiki Camarena. I don't think I've said this in interviews before but, this is one of the first shows I've said 'yes' to, without seeing the script. I read the script later and thought it was great, obviously.
Eric Newman: It's funny because I haven't had much time to consider it given I've been so busy for five years. I love the show. I'm very proud of it and what has for me been the best strategy is to make the version of the show that I want to see as a viewer. Going through periods when I did not have anything going on, that's the worst feeling than being really busy. It's not easy, for sure.
Diego Luna: The process of a TV series is more tedious as compared to films and it was demanding to be this guy (Gallardo) for such a long time. But I try not to think too much of my character, even if it's a drug lord I'm playing.
How do you ensure that you do not glorify the drug war (something which the show has been accused of) and yet, humanise the men responsible, on screen?
Eric: There are certainly aspects of these men that might appeal to one. For example, the money or the power or the ability to kill your enemies. There is no way to depict a drug war without showing the money or power. However, the cost at which it comes, to me, is as plain as day: if you’re willing to lead a short, violent life on the run where you could die on a Medellín rooftop to have a nice car, I can’t help it. I don’t know how else to tell the story. I don’t think we glorify the drug lords; they meet horrible endings. I think we, in fact, do the opposite. We show the reality of these characters and it’s dangerous to demonise someone: Pablo Escobar indiscriminately killed children, men and women. These people are created by circumstances, an appetite for drugs, corruption et al. Therefore, the glorification argument is easy but not legit. It’s a lazy argument and speaks of not having seen the show.
Diego: If you think about a character like a larger-than-life character, it's going to be impossible to create a human with his complexities, depth, necessities, worries and impulses. Gallardo, is willing to cross the line and he is a violent person. He has his own reasons. He'll tell you why he's doing the things he's things - for love, friendship, ambition or jealousy. You have to find those elements that trigger his actions in order to create to a real portrayal of a human. I don't wanna tell the world that this is a good or a bad guy.
We're re-telling events and he is a victim of the system within which these events happened. If you get rid of Gallardo, you still don't fix anything. The system is corrupt and f*cked up from the top. So, it's dangerous to blame one person. We need to change the perspective. One thing I love about the show is that the 'bad guys' also report to someone else. It's not just one person, a nexus.
There are plenty of shows on the drug war on Netflix and outside. What do you think Narcos does differently?
Eric: I have seen shows that, I believe, imitate us in a way that’s undeniable. I don’t take it personally and find it flattering but I definitely feel like we are the best in terms of quality and execution. There are some shows I like, Gomorrah, for example. I think we talk a lot about our obligation to the audience that has followed the show for three seasons and I hope the show will again, as it did in the third season, post-Escobar, it will move to the next level. A lot of people thought the show without Escobar wasn’t worth watching; I think we proved people wrong and I’m looking forward to strengthen that notion.
Michael: I like to be informed so I’ve seen some of these shows. One thing with Narcos is that the way it’s shot, directed, edited and told, it’s fantastic. It has its own natural style that I think is unlike any other film or show. The Mexican actors in this season are great.
What did you add to the portrayal of your characters?
Diego: I did not study the guy too much. I studied what he represents, read a lot of books to understand the context. My approach to playing his character had a lot to do with how I imagined he would be. I am also always scared of playing people the audience think they know very well because then it's impossible to be subjective. But what I liked about playing Gallardo was the freedom I got. He was a very discreet man - it's tough to find pictures and videos of him which would give you an idea of the person he is.
Michael: I definitely added more tenacity to the character. You might notice something peculiar about my character once you watch the episodes; it's his need to focus really hard. Now, there's always a reason for people to act that way. For Kiki Camarena, it comes from a place of surprise. He couldn't believe what was happening around him. It's almost like he's screaming and nobody's reacting. That might be annoying to watch sometimes, but you'll eventually come around. It's tough love.
Diego, what does Félix Gallardo have that the Rodriguez Brothers or Escobar did not?
Diego: Everything. He's not a producer. He's a middleman. It's a completely different character and that's what very exciting about this season.
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