‘Narcos’ Director Jose Padilha: ‘The True Story of Pablo Escobar is Too Hard to Believe’

The first Emmy campaign for Netflix’s “Narcos” has officially set sail. Wagner Moura and Boyd Holbrook reunited with director-producer José Padilha and executive producer Eric Newman for a special screening and panel discussion, moderated by Variety‘s Debra Birnbaum, Wednesday at Paramount Studios in Hollywood.

The series, created by Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro, offered a fact-based glimpse into the ’80s cocaine trade, chronicling the escapades of notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar (Moura) and the DEA agents (Holbrook and Pedro Pascal) hot on his heels.

Set and filmed in Colombia, the series adopts a documentary-like style, frequently cutting to archival video clips and voiceover narration provided by Holbrook’s character. According to Padilha, the historic footage was included to uphold the accuracy of the inaugural season.

“The true story of Pablo Escobar is too hard to believe,” Padilha told Variety before the event. “If I told it exactly the way it was, people would think we were making it up. This was so much so, that I had to cut to stock footage many times so people would actually say, ‘Oh wait, this happened?'”

The cast and creators prepped for production with an immense amount of research, which entailed interviewing various Colombian political figures, drug dealers and journalists who could offer insight on the kingpin’s reign.

“We really wanted to embrace the Colombian contribution to bringing down Escobar. They did incredibly brave things and died at an alarming rate,” Newman explained during the panel. “The journalists who covered the story were killed at a rate that, as a society, we wouldn’t know what to do with.”

Moura added, “We wanted to be as respectful as we could to Colombian history.”

Moura, who is a Brazilian native, didn’t speak Spanish before ultimately landing the role. He revealed that he traveled to the Colombian set location ahead of the “Narcos” cast and crew to familiarize himself with the language.

“You know what he did?” Padhila asked, addressing the audience. “Three months before we even scouted Colombia, [he] went to Medellin on his own, enlisted into a university where Pablo Escobar went and stayed there speaking Spanish for three months. When we got there, he knew how to speak Spanish; that’s what it takes.”

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