Narcos Mexico star Diego Luna on sharing that explosive scene with Pablo Escobar, death of a crew member
Carlos Munoz Portal didn’t die for Narcos. He was killed. There’s a difference, says Diego Luna, who plays the leader of the Guadalajara Cartel, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, in the fourth season of the Netflix show, Narcos: Mexico. He would know. His country is, as he says, at war.
The bullet-ridden body of Portal, a location scout for Netflix, was found in his car in a particularly violent part of the country where murder rates are increasing every year. A Sky News report estimated that more than 25,000 people died in drug-related violence in 2017. Portal was one of them.
Luna says that his death wasn’t as much because of his work on Narcos, a show that has been previously been threatened by Pablo Escobar’s brother, but more because he belonged to ‘a very dangerous country that is living a war at the moment.’ It is ‘a war that is affecting every level of society,’ he says.
Watch the Narcos: Mexico trailer here
As a prominent member of the ‘not huge’ Mexican film industry, Luna says that he knew Portal personally - the seasoned location scout has worked on major Hollywood films such as Spectre and Sicario. The news of his death saddened Luna, but it also motivated him to sign on to Narcos. “It kind of made more sense that we tell this story,” he says.
The fourth season of Netflix’s tremendously popular crossover hit can be viewed as a reboot. It has a new cast - Luna and Michael Pena replace Wagner Moura and Pedro Pascal, a new setting - Mexico takes over from Colombia - and a new narcotic to abuse. Narcos: Mexico presents the origins of the famed Guadalajara Cartel, which in the ‘80s found itself at the centre of a global drug war that it was instrumental in initiating.
“I don’t call this a new season. I call this a new series,” says Luna, before pointing out that since the story plays out parallel to the previous seasons, there will be a certain level of overlap. “There are connections, and they complement each other,” he says.
The next segment contains plot spoilers for Narcos: Mexico
One of the biggest moments where the past and present of Narcos meet happens in the fifth episode, when Luna’s character - the clinical Felix Gallardo - arranges for a meeting with a certain Pablo Escobar. He is brought to a secret location in the Colombian jungle, hoping for a business arrangement that would guarantee millions, if not billions in profit for both his and Pablo’s cartels. And then, as he’s waiting, surrounded by armed guards, out of the darkness steps the man who was once listed among the most wanted criminals in the world, and one of the richest people on the planet. At the same time.
“It was nice to work with him and to see what he generated on set,” says Luna about sharing such a pivotal scene with his ‘dear, dear friend,’ Wagner Moura. “It was really important for all the people I am working with because they’ve worked with him for two years,” he says.
Luna and Moura - a Brazilian star who found international fame, first with director Jose Padilha’s Elite Force movies, and then when he played the legendary drug lord in Narcos (for Padilha) - had previously worked together in Neill Blomkamp’s 2009 science-fiction film, Elysium. “I care a lot about (Wagner),” Luna says. “I’ve seen him grow in his career and even though I see him very little, we have a lot of friends in common, and whenever I meet him I feel really pleased because I’m very happy he’s having such a brilliant career.”
Moura’s performance as Escobar in the show’s first and second seasons - Escobar was killed off at the end of season two - was met with universal acclaim, and has gone on to define Narcos. This left a vacuum in season three, which shifted focus from the Medellin Cartel to the exploits of the Cali Cartel. The new season, Luna says, owes it to itself to responsibly portray the tragic realities of Mexico. “I live in a Mexico where there is violence,” he said at Netflix’s See What’s Next Event in Singapore. Even though he grew up at the same time as the events depicted in Narcos, it was a Mexico that his father, the set decorator Alejandro Luna, hid from him.
His research into Felix Gallardo’s life - Luna refused to meet the real man, who is ‘alive and in jail’, but instead chose to rely on the many ‘books and documentaries’ about him - made him revisit the Mexico of his youth, “The Mexico I didn’t know.”
Now fiercely involved in his country’s matters - Luna gave up the Hollywood life and moved back home recently - he says that his country ‘is a mess today because of what happened in the ‘80s’. The effects of US President Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs have crippled Mexico, which positioned itself ‘at the door to the big (drug) markets’. But there is ‘a cynical approach to this issue’ because drug running is ‘a fantastic business,’ he says, one that ‘not just the drug dealers, but many people benefit from.’
“You cannot criminalise the trafficking of cocaine,” he says. “What you have to worry about is the market. As long as there’s a market, there is going to be someone providing to this market.”
Although Luna is still very much a part of the movie business - he was announced as the lead in a new Star Wars show mere hours before this interview was conducted - he has found his true calling in life.
Narcos, he feels, has broken many rules ‘that the mainstream was not breaking’ and has helped ‘reflect on the reality that we live in’.