Cross­ing borders, Net­flix recre­ates Pablo Es­co­bar’s world


It’s a tall or­der to play the role of Pablo Es­co­bar, the larger-than-life druglord who be­came the world’s sev­enth- rich­est man with his shrewd, ruth­less dom­i­nance of the in­ter­na­tional co­caine trade.

The Colom­bian king­pin has al­ready been brought to the screen by ac­tors rang­ing from Os­car win­ner Beni­cio del Toro to Vin­cent Chase, the fic­tional heart­throb in the HBO se­ries “En­tourage” who nearly wrecked his ca­reer with a dis­as­trous Es­co­bar biopic.

So Brazil­ian ac­tor Wag­ner Moura knew he had his work cut out for him when Net­flix hired him for the lead role in its latest orig­i­nal se­ries, “Nar­cos,” which chron­i­cles the height of “Don Pablo’s” reign over the Medellin Car­tel in the 1980s.

The first thought to cross his mind, he laugh­ingly told AFP in an in­ter­view, was: “I’m fucked.”

He spoke no Span­ish, for one thing. And he didn’t look the part.

“I was a very thin Brazil­ian guy,” he said.

But he threw him­self into the role.

He moved to Medellin for six months to study Span­ish in Es­co­bar’s home­town. He gained 20 kilo­grams — which he is still strug­gling to shed, he ad­mit­ted. He adopted the druglord’s look, from the mus­tache to the lop­sided hair­style.

Re­view­ers have praised the ac­cu­racy of his por­trayal, which en­abled the show’s di­rec­tor, fel­low Brazil­ian Jose Padilha, to seam­lessly splice his­tor­i­cal footage of the real Es­co­bar into the se­ries.

“Nar­cos,” which de­buted Fri­day, recre­ates Es­co­bar’s world through the eyes of Steve Mur­phy, an agent with the U.S. Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion. He is played by Boyd Hol­brook (“Gone Girl,” “Milk”), whose jaded nar­ra­tion of the cross-bor­der op­er­a­tion against the Medellin Car­tel frames the show.

Shot al­most en­tirely on lo­ca­tion in Colom­bia, the show fea­tures di­a­logue in both English and sub­ti­tled Span­ish.

“I don’t know any­thing in Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion that looks like ‘Nar­cos.’ It’s spo­ken in two lan­guages. It’s shot here in Colom­bia. It has a very Moura.

Net­flix spokes­woman Kari Perez said the U.S. video stream­ing gi­ant sees the show as part of its “on­go­ing bet” on Latin Amer­ica, where it first rolled out ser­vice in 2011.

“We wanted to have to have a se­ries that would work in two dif­fer­ent worlds: It would be very in­ter­est­ing for an Amer­i­can au­di­ence (and) a Latin Amer­i­can au­di­ence,” said Padilha, the di­rec­tor.

“And the way to do it was to tell the DEA story.”



A Com­plex Killer


Padilha made his name ex­plor­ing the up­side-down moral uni­verse of cops and drug deal­ers in his na­tive Brazil with “Elite Squad” (2007) and “Elite Squad: The En­emy Within” (2010), both of which starred Moura.

A pierc­ing critic of the war on drugs and its un­in­tended con­se­quences, he said “Nar­cos” gave him the chance to tell that story from both sides.

“Es­co­bar marks the be­gin­ning of the in­flow of co­caine with vol­ume into Amer­ica and Europe,” he said in a Net­flix press re­lease.

“He shaped history ... So, where else to be­gin?”

The show — 10 episodes of 45 min­utes each, all avail­able im­me­di­ately for Net­flix’s 65 mil­lion sub­scribers — also fea­tures Chilean ac­tor Pe­dro Pas­cal (“Game of Thrones”) and Mex­i­can ac­tress Stephanie Sig­man (“Spec­tre,” the forth­com­ing James Bond movie).

Twenty-two years af­ter his death in a shootout with Colom­bian po­lice on a Medellin rooftop, Es­co­bar is still revered by some in the city as a Robin Hood fig­ure who built them hos­pi­tals, schools and hous­ing.

Oth­ers re­vile him for un­leash­ing a cam­paign of terror on Colom­bia in his bid to avoid be­ing ex­tra­dited to the United States.

Moura said he wanted to cap­ture Es­co­bar’s com­plex­ity in his por­trayal.

“I love the fact that he’s a very con­tra­dic­tory char­ac­ter,” he said.

“He loved his fam­ily. He was loved — he’s still loved by a lot of peo­ple in Medellin. And he’s still one of the most ter­ri­ble killers in mod­ern history.”

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