Miguel Angel Silvestre Talks ‘On Death Row,’ Injustice, Playing Pablo Ibar

On Death Row TV Show
Courtesy of MoviStar

CANNES  —  Movistar Plus has screened at Cannes Mipcom trade fair “On Death Row,” produced Bambú Producciones and Studiocanal which also handled international distribution. The four-part mini series follows Pablo Ibar, a Cuban-Spanish convicted of triple homicide, and his battle to receive a fair trial and prove his innocence. Miguel Angel Silvestre (“Sense8,” “Narcos”) who has broken out to international roles, plays Pablo, directed by Carlos Marqués-Marcet (“10.000 km”) in a series which jumps across follows Ibar down the years to show us the evolution of a man that has spent half his life in prison for a crime he maintains he never committed.

Based on the non-fiction work of the same title by journalist Nacho Carretero, a painstaking investigation of the case, the series was its heart on its sleeve. It not a question of whether Ibar is innocent or not, but rather, that he has been wrongfully convicted. Variety interviewed Silvestre in the run-up to the Mipcom Market Screening:

MovistarPlus series often draw strong character arcs. “On Death Row” gives you the chance to develop a character over 240 minutes and 25 years….

Silvestre: I admire the work that Movistar is doing telling stories. This case was – and still is – highly relevant and in the news. It was a very much followed by the media.  A four episode miniseries is a format not typically used for a large economic benefit, but more to make a social impact. It is a story that everyone knows, that every Spaniard has suffered about, and overall a great injustice. But people don’t know the small details and all he manipulation that took place during and before the trial. I think that Movistar and Bambú have to tell Spain what really happened.

The first episode recreates police interrogations where one can clearly see officers pushing for an arrest and charge….

Nowadays, thanks to the great platforms, we have stories like “Making a Murderer” and “The Way They See Us.” Stories that have actually happened where the system predetermines guilt no matter what. There is an expression in Spain that has always attracted my attention,: “Better to let a killer walk free than execute an innocent man.” Perhaps because of how I was raised it seems dangerously overreaching to people to pass judgment without hard evidence.. It’s part of a mediocre system. We are not divine.

When choosing projects, Movistar Plus have been partnering with great Spanish creative talent and many of the works they support are trying to talk about certain kinds of humanistic values. That is the case with “On Death Row.” 

Thee platforms make less concessions, take more of a stand, than free-to-air TV, which pulls its punches more. Today it’s possible to tell very concrete, local stories which have an international appeal. This is an international story that happened in the United States, about experiences lived by a Spaniard from a Cuban family. The best way for stories to travel is to talk locally about the culture of one’s own country.

Miami’s Cuban accent is quite unique, it’s musical. Was it easy to pick up?

Pablo Ibar’s mother is Cuban, but he was born in Miami. His mother has a Cuban accent and he has the accent of the people of Miami, which is a very particular. Both the director and the producers wanted us to be as realistic as possible, so I worked with a coach for the accent. In the end, it’s hours of practice and work, but I had a great coach. We worked for four months, two of preparation, plus two more of filming, the whole time speaking with my niece, nephew and mother with the Cuban accent. At first it was a bit funny, but on set it was reality, and we stopped questioning it.

When working with an ongoing story and real characters, how did you approach the role?

Many things happen to Pablo in this story, which happened to him in real life. It put me in an alerted mode. I had a commitment to approach the scenes from a raw place, to embellish as little as possible and approach the role with as much containment as possible because it’s the story of a person who is suffering in jail. The director directed us in an almost documentary way. It was a totally different approach to other characters I’ve played. The important thing for us was to tell the real story, even if sometimes reality can be bland and not at all spectacular in dramatic terms .

The series touches on the pressures of masculinity, for example its portrait of Pablo and his friends.

In Ep. 1, we see a much more adolescent Pablo who’s more visceral, wanting to be part of the system, wanting to have friends. Sometimes that makes young men far more impressionable. I think it portrays adolescence very well. It is period where one lacks authenticity. It’s very rare to meet a teenager at that age who has a strong and marked personality. Later, when he has already been in prison for years, he is more mature. He decides that it is time say goodbye to his father after having had a complicated relationship with him. Improvising, one of the things that came out was that, after all those years, Pablo could finally see and understand that his father wanted the best for him. He just wasn’t prepared to listen. People who are no longer in their teens will identify with these moments. Now I remember what my father told me and how right he was.