Wagner Moura drew raves for his portrayal of Pablo Escobar in Season 1 of Netflix’s “Narcos.” But according to the actor, his character study of the legendary Colombian drug kingpin, who in his homeland was equally revered as a Robin Hood and reviled as a ruthless killer, goes many fathoms deeper in the second season, which bows Friday with 10 episodes.
“Season 2 is very character-driven,” Moura told Variety. “Season 1 tries to make you understand the drug trade works. (Season 2) is more dramatic and less active. It’s focused on this guy getting hunted by everybody. We get to see how this powerful Pablo we saw in the first season is going to react to losing his power, losing his friends, losing his weapon – his money — and to be about to lose his family.”
When we last saw Escobar in the Season 1 finale (spoiler alert), he’d orchestrated a spectacularly dramatic prison break and is now on the run from Colombian and U.S. authorities.
Escobar’s family members, particularly his wife Tata (played by Paulina Gaitan) and mother (Paulina Garcia) become more prominent characters in Season 2, “Narcos” showrunners Eric Newman and Jose Padilha said. The pacing is very different in Season 2 because the time frame covered is about 18 months, from the time of Escobar’s prison break to his death in 1993, compared to a 15-year arc in Season 1.
“It allowed us to slow down and live with the characters a little bit more than we could have last season,” Newman said. “Now we’re watching his empire collapse around him.”
Another important theme of the season is the lengths to which DEA agents Steve Murphy (played by Boyd Holbrook) and Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) will go to kill Escobar. Newman compared it to “swallowing the spider to catch the fly.”
The showrunners see clear parallels to “Narcos’” examination of U.S. incursions in Latin America to the contemporary geopolitical quagmire that is the war on terror. The market for cocaine production in Colombia was ignited by the demand coming not from Latin America but from its big neighbor to the north.
“This show is about the choice (the U.S. made) about the war on drugs – to deal with it as if it were a problem of supply,” Padilha said. “So we go to Colombia and we will kill the drug dealers. But they cannot stop it as long as there is the demand. That’s why this show will never end.”
Newman added that history is pretty clear that efforts to eradicate drugs or Communism in Latin America “were generally pretty misguided, adding fuel to the fire rather than dousing it.”
Moura said all of that ambiguity makes for extremely compelling drama.
“All of the moral conflicts of the characters are much stronger in the second season,” Moura said. “The epic part of it is less important.”
For the Brazilian actor, playing Escobar has been one of the most intense roles of his 25-year career. He plans to take at least a year off from acting to recover from the experience. He’s turning his focus to directing a feature about 1960s Brazilian revolutionary Carlos Marighella that is set to begin lensing in January.
“It’s a nice moment,” Moura says of what “Narcos” has done for his career. “I just turned 40. It’s a moment to experience new things.”
Moura’s intent with the movie about Marighella is to open up a national conversation about the dark period in Brazil’s modern history, from 1964 to 1985, when the country was ruled by a military dictatorship. Marighella, a Marxist known for penning the handbook “The Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla,” was one of the few to attempt to take up arms against oppression that left thousands of Brazilians dead, tortured or simply “disappeared.”
“We don’t talk about that (period). Psychologically this is a very bad thing for the country,” he said, noting that his generation came of age as the military rule was ending. Everybody in Brazil knows someone who faced the wrath of the dictatorship but “we don’t really think about it or talk about it,” he said. Now that enough time has passed, he hopes the Marighella movie will spark a larger dialogue in Brazil. “It is something that should be discussed,” he said.
Although he was already well-known in his native country, the international platform of Netflix has provided an invaluable boost to his profile. “Now people say ‘This is the guy who played Pablo,’ not ‘This is the Brazilian guy,’ “ Moura says.
Moura has already shed most of the 30-plus pounds he gained to get into the skin of Escobar. But other aspects of the work on “Narcos” are harder to shake.
“Doing Pablo was such a strong thing,” he says. “I’m glad I don’t have to work as an actor in the next year or so. Anything I would do now would be totally impregnated by Pablo. I have to let it go for a while.”
But “Narcos” will go on even if Moura is bowing out after Season 2. The finale sets up a clear path for the story to continue beyond the destruction of Escobar’s Medellin cartel.
“We’ll stop when the drug trade stops,” Padilha says. Adds Newman: “We’ll stop when you stop. That’s our pact with America.”