Andrea Riseborough and Dane DeHaan blow open Amazon's cocaine drama ZeroZeroZero
Based on Roberto Saviano's best-selling book of the same name, the eight-episode Amazon limited series follows a massive cocaine shipment from the Mexican cartels handling production to the Italian crime syndicates distributing it to the American businesses shipping it and controlling the money the market produces. The series, which is fictional but draws on Saviano's reportage, stars Riseborough as Emma Lynwood, the daughter of shipping magnate Edward Lynwood (Gabriel Byrne). ZeroZeroZero begins as she takes the reins of the family business after tragedy strikes; at the same time, her younger brother Chris (DeHaan), formerly sheltered from the seedier side of things because he has hearing loss and Huntington's disease, is forced to step up and help her for the first time, getting his hands dirty as he accompanies the cocaine shipment across the globe.
Riseborough warns that ZeroZeroZero — the title of which is slang for the purest form of cocaine on the market — could change all your previous perceptions and assumptions about the drug at its center. "You see every single step, from where it’s resourced, its travel all over the world, every individual who makes money or dies because of it, all the way to some Upper East Side bar," she tells EW. "It’s mind-blowing to imagine this powder that so many people have access to, where it’s been and who it’s been touched by. I thought I had an idea of what it would be like, but I really didn’t. The number of families, children, people all over the world who are affected by the cargo of this substance is astounding."
DeHaan was also shocked by how much he learned about the drug trade's power and reach.
"I certainly didn’t know much about cocaine trafficking before this, aside from reading an odd news article once a year about a shipment that had gotten taken by the DEA or something," he says. "So to look at it through a global lens and realize its impact globally, it’s an incredibly eye-opening thing. Cocaine is everywhere; it’s a part of the world’s economy and everything that happens, and to take it out would crash the world’s economy. It’s never going to go away. It’s involved on such a global scale, and that’s why this story couldn’t be told without making it a global story. All these different locations and languages and actors from all over the world, it’s the only way to tell a truthful depiction on the cocaine trade."
Created by Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Gomorrah) and head writers Leonardo Fasoli (Gomorrah) and Mauricio Katz (The Bridge), ZeroZeroZero also features an international ensemble that also includes Harold Torres, Giuseppe De Domenico, Adriano Chiaramida, Noé Hernández, Tchéky Karyo, Francesco Colella, and Claudia Pineda. But in addition to being a globe-spanning drama told in multiple languages, the series also takes a micro approach to telling stories about the people caught up in the narcotics trade, like the Lynwood family. One of the branches of ZeroZeroZero's character-driven narrative examines the loving but complicated sibling dynamic between Emma and Chris.
"Emma has a frustration with the way that Chris’ upbringing has been handled," Riseborough says. "Because of his sickness, he has been treated like an invalid. It has put a huge weight on Emma’s shoulders. She wants him to step up. She actually wants him to take on responsibility with the family business. She’s not steadfast on giving up control in any way, but she wants to share the weight of it; she doesn’t want to do it alone. She also wants the best for him and loves him so deeply. That puts a strain on their relationship."
Because Chris is a person with hearing loss and a degenerative genetic disorder, DeHaan took extra care in bringing the character to life, which he says was "incredibly powerful to do it justice."
"What was first described to me about the character was his illness — Huntington’s disease," DeHaan says. "But what’s most exciting about the character to me is that his Huntington’s disease is really just a secondary obstacle in the way of everything else he’s dealing with. In the grand scheme of the show, there’s so much more happening, and the fact that he has this disease is just one of many, many obstacles. It’s cool that it’s not a show about Huntington’s disease — it’s a show about international cocaine trade, and my character just happens to have this disease."
Since their father constantly kept Chris in the dark when it came to their family's part in the cocaine trade due to his health issues (and because they had all seen Chris' mother die from the same disease), Emma has taken up the job of becoming a leader and the heir to the Lynwood business — crimes and all. That meant molding herself into someone who could intimidate (often male) drug dealers and cartel leaders, which Riseborough says is where Emma's physical look comes from.
"Emma could have been many people externally, internally, aesthetically, but it was working with Stefano to develop the character she became a somewhat androgynous person who is surrounded by a lot of mistrust, a lot of power," she explains. "Her way of inserting herself into the world is to adopt the behavior of a man. That’s not how I interact with the world myself, so it’s really interesting to actually, as a woman, walk in the footsteps of one’s father. You get to see a young woman starting out as a businessperson and almost ends up as a don in her own city and has to deal with people who have much more experience in the crime world."
And though Emma knows the darker aspects of her family history, Riseborough says she has "almost a feeling of denial in how they really make their money."
"Emma has almost removed herself emotionally from everything she’s doing and has been a cog for most of her life," she explains. "Her mother passed away, so she’s stopped herself from having too much of an emotional connection to really anyone. She’s become a very self-serving, pragmatic, strategic individual. I think her masculine qualities were developed as a coping skill."
Soon enough, Emma gets her wish and Chris takes some of the (illegal) responsibility off her shoulders. "Early on in the series, my world is turned upside down and I have to step up in the family business and oversee the transport of this shipment of cocaine," DeHaan says. "That’s really the start of the series, as it becomes about the worldwide dynamics of the international cocaine industry and everybody that’s involved and the effect it has on the economy."
Describing ZeroZeroZero as an "experimental project," Riseborough still can't believe everything they were able to pull off as they traveled the world to capture the realities of the cocaine trade. "We were doing a lot of effects, a lot of stunts, a lot of drone shots, and attempting a lot in a lot of different countries. It was a constant learning process," she says. "Some of the action is wild. It got to a place where it felt like home shooting a car chase at 3 in the morning."
She laughs and adds, "It was a once-in-a-lifetime series, and it felt good to be a woman occupying that role and do something that was physical and very action-driven and one of the characters we follow through this environment as a woman. It felt extremely important that we change up the protagonist, because this can really be so many different kinds of people from so many different walks of life. It’s not confined to one gender or one race or one age or how attractive someone is. I think it’s so interesting to focus on the sensibility of a woman trying to operate in a man’s world in action scenes."
And DeHaan laughs as he exclaims, "A lot happens!" He also teases that the action picks up as "viewers will start to realize everything that can be involved in shipping $60 million worth of cocaine, but also in some ways everything that can go wrong."
"It’s incredibly exciting and unpredictable," he continues. "It takes place all over the world — we got to shoot in Italy, Mexico, Senegal, Morocco, the United States. It really was this worldwide journey, and when you watch the show it has this grand scope. We took advantage of the locations, and it became worth it: It had this gritty, realistic quality, and that’s because it’s all real. There are some crazy action sequences, crazy things happen on a ship, on helicopters, explosions, chases, and all that stuff. There was rarely a dull day on set."
ZeroZeroZero debuts March 6 on Amazon Prime Video.
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