The return of Pablo: Original Narcos star Wagner Moura on helping bring Mexico to a close
Pablo is back… kind of.
Original Narcos star Wagner Moura, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for his chilling turn as drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, has returned to the Netflix crime franchise to direct two pivotal episodes in Narcos: Mexico's third and final season (now streaming). The Brazilian actor's memorable run ended in 2016, with Pablo dying in the season 2 finale, but he did help launch the Mexico spin-off with a season 1 cameo opposite new lead Diego Luna (as Félix Gallardo). And now he comes back to finish the job he started.
"I pitched the season to him and he was immediately super-enthusiastic," showrunner Carlo Bernard recently told EW. "And he got saddled with two huge episodes, like two of the biggest set pieces we've ever done. The cast and crew loved him, all the other actors were excited to work with him. He's just terrific, such a sweet, considerate guy, and it was really nice to have him back home. That was one of the nice things about this being the final season, for the show to be able to have this long history and be able to reflect on it, it really did feel like a homecoming having him, especially as a director. And he just killed it. His episodes are very ambitious, and you feel his aesthetic throughout in a way that is really cool but also fits with the other episodes. I was really impressed by his work."
In addition to sharing an exclusive behind-the-scenes video of Moura's return, which you can watch below, EW chatted with the actor-turned-director about reusing his onscreen death, filming a pair of episode-ending shootouts, and saying goodbye to Narcos.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Wagner, welcome back to Narcos! How are you feeling?
WAGNER MOURA: Yeah, man, I'm here in São Paulo, releasing my film [Marighella] in Brazil, finally. It's been a war, because we released the film in Berlin in 2019, and then until now we couldn't release it in Brazil because the film was censored. I don't know how aware you are of [Jair] Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, who is a f‑‑‑ing fascist. And my film is about the ones who resisted against the directorship in Brazil back in the '60s and '70s. And he himself adores the dictatorship and praises the dictatorship and says that that was the best moment of our country. So the film is in opposition to his views of it. So it's a war. But at the same time it's been great because people are really embracing it in a very beautiful way.
That's amazing that you all have stuck with it that long, and for good reason since this is essentially why you made the film, to push back on this kind of behavior from people in power. So that's a huge victory.
Yeah, can you believe that this is 2021?
Insane. But that makes this that much bigger a week for you, between your breakthrough with the film and the release of your two Narcos: Mexico episodes. I talked to Carlo before I had seen any of the new season and he had said that you were directing two of the biggest set pieces they've ever done, and now having watched, I feel like he may have somehow undersold that! Starting at the beginning, how did you directing on the final season come about? Were these conversations that went back to your Pablo days?
No, it was sort of because of my film. [Producer] Eric Newman and Carlo, they are very good friends of mine, so when I directed Marighella I sent the film to them, I wanted them to watch it. Eric gave me a lot of feedback when I was editing, and he was very excited about it. Back then, and that was 2019, he said, "I think you should direct some episodes of Narcos." I don't really consider myself a director. Honestly, I think I'm an actor who directed this film and then Narcos. My film is a very personal thing for me, and a very political film about my country that's causing all this crazy situation. And Narcos is also very personal. I don't think I would accept an invitation to direct a show; I don't feel that I'm a director for hire. I wouldn't do it if I hadn't had a very strong connection with the show. I know the show, I know people in the show, and in a way it was sort of like finishing something. Because I was in the first season and now I'm in the last one. So I immediately accepted. It was like, "Yeah, let's do it."
Once you were on board, what were the conversations like in determining which episodes you'd get? Did you have any input on that?
My film is mix of genres, but it has a lot of action in it. And I think Carlo thought that the way I directed those scenes was something that he was looking for, because like you said, we have the shootout at the dance club and the other one at the airport. When I'm shooting scenes like that, I'm not thinking about the show, the action, the violence, the explosions. I'm thinking about what's going on with those characters when they're under a shootout, or while they are doing those things. And also, too, I think I brought to the show a feeling of the first seasons where we were hand-holding the camera a lot more than in Narcos: Mexico. There was slight change where they were doing it more classy. And I think that on my episodes I was trying to connect my participation and to bring back some of the high static of Narcos: Colombia, which was very, very close to the characters and looking for them with the camera more alive than what was going on with Narcos: Mexico, which is beautiful but different.
With filming those two shootouts, the airport one specifically was this historic and tragic moment in this era of the drug trade in Mexico, so was this a situation where you went and looked into the actual events?
Yeah, there was a lot of footage… and we used some of it actually, with the journalistic coverage, which is nice, pure Narcos style, mixing real footage with the things that we shoot. In that case, there were a lot of images that we could really look and try to replicate. But no one really knew where they were going and which parts of the airport they went to. We storyboarded everything and created a sequence of events. Part of the shootout is outside, part of it is inside the airport, and that didn't really follow the real events. What really happened is El Chapo escaped into the baggage carousel. He really did that, and I thought that that was fun to do. But it was tragic. That was a tragedy because a lot of people died. That event changed a lot of things.
It really sends the show on the trajectory toward where it ends. You have these ambitious episode-enders, but your second hour opens by reshowing your death in the season 2 finale of the original Narcos. How surreal was that part of the experience, just being sent back to that time?
It was a little weird for me to deal with that. Like I was editing myself in my own episodes. I don't know if Carlo thought about that when he asked me to direct those specific episodes, I never asked him that. But in a way there is also a connection, right? I mean, I'm there and I'm directing. But it was weird in the beginning to have myself in the beginning of an episode that I was directing.
And that was all old footage, right?
Yeah, we tried to re-edit. We tried to re-edit so it didn't look like exactly how it is in the 10th episode of the Narcos second season. So we had the footage and we re-edited it so it could also match the style that I was trying to use in my episode. I was trying to be closer to Pablo in those scenes and to make it a little more frantic than the way it is in the episode previously directed by Andrés Baiz.
I loved that I don't think we ever get a real glimpse of your face or Boyd Holbrook's face. You remember the sequence, but also you now feel like you've seen it in a whole new way.
Exactly! That was actually Carlo's idea. We kind of know who that guy is but we don't really see him, at least until the end.
You mentioned earlier how this kind of felt like a full-circle moment. You helped launch this behemoth that Narcos has become, and then you're here at the end to help close it out. At least for now, as Carlo has said the door's open for possible further extensions. But if this is it, what has Narcos meant to you?
A lot. Narcos was a really important thing for me in my life, in very different aspects. One of them was to be aware of something that's really strong and tragic, especially here in countries that produce and export drugs. Mexico, Brazil, Bolivia, South America, Latin America, this is where this war is going on. And to have the clarity of how wrong the war on drugs is, that this is just a means to practice social control in poor countries where young people many times have no options but the drug trade. These are the places where young people are getting killed, are dying, for nothing. The fact that the war on drugs is a big flop was really clear to me when I was working on Narcos.
And of course, Narcos made people know who I was everywhere in the world. I have never done anything as an actor as popular as Narcos, so it opened a lot of doors in my professional life. And I had many personal joys and connections. As a Brazilian, Brazil is this country that speaks Portuguese, and I went and I lived in Colombia, I learned how to speak Spanish, I brought my kids to Colombia, they lived there with me, they were going to schools there, they were learning Spanish. It really connected me with being Latin American and working with people from all different countries in Latin America. I'm still very connected to the people that made Narcos. There's so many in the crew that was on the first season of Narcos and they were still there in Mexico. So yeah, it's very special in my life. No doubt. And I'm really proud of the show. I think it's important. It's a political show, and I love it's also pure entertainment. I find that sort of balance very, very hard to make. When you do something that you can bring awareness to something in a very accurate way — and Narcos always did that, like it's very accurate. We have to fictionalize a lot of things, but if you look, those characters existed and that s‑‑‑ really happened. At the same time, it's fun to watch.
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