Interviews

Interview: Michael Peña and Diego Luna get super serious for "Narcos: Mexico"

Writer: Naseem Randhawa



Michael Peña and Diego Luna lead "Narcos: Mexico".

Back in 2015 there sneakily came forth a series on Netflix revolving around a certain real-life drug kingpin in Colombia known as Pablo Escobar. You might have heard of him.

Little did the world know that although the series was predominantly heavy on its use of the Spanish language - thus viewers having to rely on subtitles quite a bit - it would gain an immense following, regardless.

Three years later and now ready for a whole new story - a 'reset', if you will - executive producer and current showrunner Eric Newman has bid the Colombian cartel farewell and is bringing the drug trail right in the heart of Mexico.


In season 4, the Guadalajara Cartel led by Félix Gallardo back in the 1980s is dissected and it chronicles how this drug lord who managed to keep himself on the down low, worked cunningly to build his empire. Playing him of course is Mexican actor Diego Luna of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"; a versatile actor known for nitpicking roles that suits him the best.

However, where there is darkness there must always be light, and playing the DEA agent who is set on bringing Felix down is Kiki Camarena, played by "Ant Man's" Michael Peña, who viewers are surely excited to see take on the most career-defining role of his career.

So what's in store for "Narcos: Mexico"? We caught up with actors Michael Peña and Diego Luna as well as executive producer-showrunner Eric Newman in Singapore for Netflix's 'See What's Next Asia' event recently, and they so kindly gave us everything we wanted to know about this new entry in the "Narcos" extended universe.

Pssst! All 10-episodes of "Narcos: Mexico" is out today on Netflix!

Hi Diego, tell us about your character. How is playing drug lord Félix Gallardo different from the other drug kingpins portrayed before?

Diego:
My character is not the stereotype of a drug dealer that we've seen before. He is much more of a businessman and he is one step ahead of everyone. He sees an opportunity and he takes it. He created a system that transcends people.

What about you Michael, you play the good guy DEA agent Kiki Camarena, so do you agree with Diego's views?

Michael:
When you're reading a part, you're looking at it from your viewpoint. So I don't agree with Diego that he's a businessman. But that's strictly from Kiki's point of view. When you're a drug dealer you think you are helping people but what you're really doing is you're killing people with the drugs, destroying families and eventually killing those that get in your way.

When I was looking at Kiki's journey, I talked to his wife. What makes this guy tick? You don't have a lot of people in the world who just want to do right. He was just a guy who saw the signs of a cartel empire being build and wanted to stop that from happening.

As Félix Gallardo, Diego Luna takes on a more grounded albeit serious role after "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story". 

You might know him for his comedic chops, but you've never seen Michael Peña in a role like this!

Diego, how do you feel knowing that the global audience are not Spanish speakers and yet still feel so engaged when it comes to "Narcos" and its ability in crossing borders?

Diego: That's one of the things I celebrated through season 1. If you're going to tell a story, be specific, be authentic. Respect the context of where it happened. I grew up watching Bond films where the bad guys just had a weird accent, so I liked the idea that "Narcos" was very true to the culture and language. The show is whatever language it needs to be spoken in when it calls for it. People will end up respecting that.

Eric, with this new arc for "Narcos" it's like the perfect entry point for new viewers who haven't seen the last three seasons. What's your feelings on this legacy?

Eric: We've been on slightly uncharted territory. We're not an anthology series. We've switched out our cast three times, location twice. In terms of 'entry point' we've always designed this show sort of like an extended universe on drug traffickers. When you watch "Narcos: Mexico" you will also realise that in the background the Colombian story exists, and if you want to watch THAT story, you can go back to season 1, 2, and 3 and catch it there.


The cast pose with their executive producer and showrunner, Eric Newman (middle).

Diego and Michael, what kind of responsibility did you guys had to undertake to play these real-life characters for the series?

Diego: He's alive and in jail. I decided not to go and meet anyone. There is enough material out there written about this man. There even a documentary and through all this I learned about the guy.

Michael: Mine was different. There was very little written about Kiki. There was a TIME article but they interviewed people who knew him, they never interviewed Kiki himself, so I had to rely on his wife. What kind of person drives himself to danger to stop the bad guy? He's one of those kind of guys who couldn't sleep at night knowing what was going on in Mexico and the cartel. Sometimes as an actor you can get paralysis through analysis. Too much of an information overload.


Michael Peña and the real-life DEA agent Kiki Camarena.


Diego Luna and the real-life Félix Gallardo.

Eric, "Narcos" has been notorious for pushing towards the extremes and having that shock value that comes with everything drug and/or cartel related. Has Netflix ever stepped in to say, "Oh no guys, we can do that or show this"?

Eric: I've never had a more supportive team like Netflix in my 25 years of being in the industry. They've never placed any restrictions and we've never exactly tried to push the envelope, I think, it just so happens that all these situations that are related to the cartel - sort of just are in its nature - kind of shocking on its own. We're just telling it as it is. Authenticity has always been key. It's never our intention to shock anyone, but it's just hard not to be shocked by the reality of it.

What do you hope viewers will take away from watching "Narcos: Mexico"?

Diego: I think the conversation needs to be open. Clearly the way we are approaching this issue now is not effective. It keeps growing. When people say they are going to grab one guy and everything is going to go away, it is just not true. There are so man criminals who are wearing suits. Unless we accept that this is bigger than what the stories are telling us today, and as long as there is a market, this drug issue is not going away.

Michael: There were some people in America who were speaking out against the cartels and it looked like they literally had cocaine in their nose as they were speaking. Maybe guys... stop buying it? [Laughs]

 

 

Cinema Online, 16 November 2018


Related Movies:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (15 Dec 2016)
Ant-Man And The Wasp (04 Jul 2018)

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