In real life, we’re told to say no to drugs, but in movies and television, drug dealers have been some of our favorite characters — Scarface, Goodfellas, and The Wire come to mind. Netflix’s historical drama Narcos tells the story of real life cocaine trafficker Pablo Escobar and the DEA agents who brought him down.
Narcos is back for a second season, and history is going to catch up with Pablo Escobar. We spoke with Wagner Moura, who plays Escobar in the series, and producer Eric Newman about season two of Narcos, premiering on September 2 on Netflix with 10 all-new episodes. Here are 10 things we learned from them.
Fans with a basic familiarity with Pablo Escobar’s history likely know that he died in 1993, and season one covered his life from 1977 to 1992. Season two picks up after Escobar’s escape from La Catedral prison, and Moura always knew this would be his last year on the job.
“When we wrapped the first season, Netflix didn’t immediately say there was going to be a second one,” Moura said. “In the first one, we cover 15 years of Pablo’s life. From the day he escapes from La Catedral to the day he dies is one year. So I couldn’t even think of having a third season. I knew that if there was something else, it’s going to be the second season and that’s it.”
Joining Pablo Escobar and the DEA characters this season are a host of new actors playing traffickers in other cartels. The series has also introduced the character of Hugo Martinez, who commanded the Search Bloc, Colombian President Gaviria’s task force to apprehend Escobar.
“We have new cast like Damian Alcazar who plays Gilberto Rodriguez of the Cali cartel,” Newman said. “There’s a Venezuelan named Francisco Denis who plays Miguel Rodriguez. From Spain, we have playing Pacho Herrero, Alberto Ammann. There’s an actor named Juan Pablo Shuk who plays Hugo Martinez this season. So we’ve brought in a bunch of new characters. What we’re finding in our casting is that there is no shortage of phenomenal Spanish speaking Latin actors. We’ve been very fortunate with our cast.”
It’s hard to imagine the first 10 episodes of Narcos being more eventful than they were. Packed with historical information and the private lives of Escobar and DEA agents Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal), season one covered a decade and a half. Moura explained how the drama of season two would be even more focused.
“I think that Narcos has this balance of the epic and the dramatic, but the first season is very epic in terms of we really explain to people how the drug trade works,” Moura said. “We have the voiceover, the real footage. We still have the same thing. It’s the same style in the second one, but the second one, given the fact that it covers only one year of Pablo’s life, it’s very focused on Pablo on the run. So it’s more dramatic than epic. It’s more focused on the characters and how a character like Pablo that we are used to seeing so powerful in the first season, what is the breaking point of a guy like that? So we’re going to see him in situations that we never saw him in, emotional situations that we never saw him in in the first one.”
Narcos became somewhat famous for its voiceover. It was the most concise way for the show’s creators to explain all the history and the ins and outs of drug trafficking. Now, Newman says, they can spend more time actually letting the actors play the scenes.
“The first season was a lot of information, a lot of setup,” Newman said. “We need to tell you about this world. Now that we’re in the world, we can spend more time with the people in the world and the characters. So I would say that season two is more character driven. Less voiceover, I hope.”
While Pablo Escobar is nearing the end of his life. things get complicated for all the other characters in his world. His wife Tata (Paulina Gaitan) comes to the forefront, and agents Murphy and Pena have to question their actions.
“You’re going to see Murphy and Pena go through a very interesting emotional journey,” Moura said. “They get so obsessed about killing Pablo that the things they decide to do in order to kill him make them become something like him. So the moral barriers that people have to break in order to achieve what they want. It’s very character driven ,the second season. Also Tata and Pablo’s family — Tata becomes a very, very important character in the second season.”
After the success of season one, Narcos had some behind-the-scenes shakeups. Adam Fierro replaced Chris Brancato as show runner, and then Fierro left too. They hired a host of new producers for season two, but it’s still Newman and Jose Padilha in charge.
“Jose and I have still maintained control of the show,” Newman said. “We had a great partner last year in Chris Brancato. Then we began the season with a great partner, a writing partner who did what we had hoped he would do, which is sort of helped focus us. The show is exactly as we want it to be and very much takes into consideration what we felt worked last season, and areas we wanted to improve on a production basis. It is very much the show we want.”
Narcos is not the first drama to deal with an infamous real-life villain at the end of his life. The film Downfall — a scene from which became the meme “Hitler reacts to…” — depicts Adolf Hitler’s last days, and it reminded Moura of his final scenes as Pablo Escobar.
“I just remembered the film Downfall about Hitler and his last days in the bunker,” Moura said. “Hitler becomes kind of delusional at some point in that film, really believing that Germany was going to [win]. This is a great film. With Pablo, I think all the time he was very lucid, very aware of his conditions of his power, of his lack of power. Though he was smoking marijuana all the time, he was very grounded. I think that was interesting for me as an actor, because at the same time, he knew what was going to happen to him. I don’t know exactly how, but at the same time he didn’t want to give up. His nature was the nature of a warrior who had to fight to the end.”
When Moura had to film Escobar’s death, it was obviously emotional because it was the culmination of two years of Narcos. Add to that, they filmed the scene on the very spot of Escobar’s real death.
“So of course the scene where Pablo gets killed was really emotional for me because I was saying goodbye to him,” Moura said. “Not only me, but the whole crew that was living with that character for so long. We shot the scene in the very same place where the real Pablo was killed, which emotionally was strong. On the same rooftop where the real Pablo was killed. That was a very emotional scene for me. In that scene, we tried to be — because there was so much footage about it, so in terms of aesthetics — we tried to be as accurate as we could. But the scenes that precede that scene, that come before that scene — scenes that I don’t want to spoil — are scenes that prepared me for what was going to happen to him.”
Pablo Escobar was a transformative role for Moura. He gained 40 pounds and learned to speak Spanish. The Brazilian actor now claims his Spanish is better than his English, but after two years of Pablo Escobar, he had to get rid of the character. Losing weight helped him not only to regain his physical health, but his emotional health.
“So I went on a vegan diet, to clean up myself,” Moura said. “I went to this crazy doctor in Colombia — very interesting guy actually — who was doing a treatment with colors, color therapy. I don’t kind of believe in those things, but it was amazing. Also, not eating meat, which was good. I felt like I was cleaning up myself.”
Even though the death of Pablo Escobar is inevitable, it’s not the end of Narcos. Drugs remain a big business to this day, and the producers of Narcos can find more interesting stories to tell.
“There are any number of things that can happen after,” Newman said. “We have not committed to one or the other. Obviously there are a lot of other stories in this world that continue on beyond him. In some ways, for me, what they’ve done with Homeland after losing Damian Lewis after season three was amazing. Most of my thinking is about season two, and I haven’t really thought that much about where do we go from here. I just want the best version of season two. In my earliest conception of the project — and it’s been many years; I started this 15 years ago — I had always thought his interconnected universe of they all know each other. Sinaloa was in the heroin business until Colombian cocaine traffickers came to them and said, ‘We want to use your routes. This weighs less and costs more than heroin.’ They all know each other. They all have the same rolodex. Yes, there is the natural connected universe of drug traffic. It’s all over the world. The show is about cocaine as much as it is about Pablo Escobar.”