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‘ZeroZeroZero’ Creator on Making an Old Story New and How Andrea Riseborough Got Hurt (EXCLUSIVE)

Stefano Sollima, the Italian director known in Hollywood for “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” and TV show “Gomorrah,” is the main creative force behind cocaine-trafficking series “ZeroZeroZero,” which will world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 5. Festival chief Alberto Barbera has praised it as blowing “Narcos” out of the water.

Sollima directed the opening two installments of the ambitious eight-episode show, which was shot on three continents and in six languages and stars Andrea Riseborough, Dane DeHaan and Gabriel Byrne. The series, created by Leonardo Fasoli, Mauricio Katz and Sollima, is produced by ITV-owned Cattleya for Sky Studios, Canal Plus and Amazon.

Sollima spoke to Variety about the challenge of telling a familiar story “from an angle that is totally original.”

How did “ZeroZeroZero” originate?

It all started with Roberto Saviano’s book [the same author of “Gomorrah”], which is completely different from the series that we ended up writing. The book is an exposé of the cocaine trade. But at its core, and this is what drew me, is the idea of depicting the cocaine trade from a different perspective…of narrating cocaine just like any other merchandise.

So we tried to imagine the narrative of “ZeroZeroZero” as a voyage. The voyage of a cargo carrying cocaine….We imagined the arc of the series as a voyage of this cargo from its point of departure in Mexico to its point of arrival in Calabria, passing through Senegal and Morocco. The actual narrative tells about cocaine trafficking and the money that is made from it and what criminal organizations do to gain its control and how this impacts all different aspects of real life with which it intersects – some of which are pretty politically extreme and paradoxical.

Besides coming up with the concept, directing, and working with the writers (in part the same ones as “Gomorrah”), what has your role been? Do you consider yourself the showrunner?

I’m the showrunner, Italian-style. Actually, Sollima-style. What I mean is that showrunner is usually the writer who coordinates the activity of other writers and directors on set. In this case it’s a bit different because I worked with great screenwriters, together with whom we created the series. We all wrote all the episodes together; I must say, more the other writers than myself.

On the directorial side, what I did with the two other directors [Pablo Trapero and Janus Metz, who split the last six episodes] is not what a classic U.S.-style showrunner does. I sought directors whose vision and narrative ability were spot-on and easy to blend with my work so that I could have their 100% creative input without any vigilance on my part….The ability is more in forming the team than in micromanaging it. 

The non-linear narrative is a defining aspect of the storytelling. Can you talk to me about it?

The idea was to narrate the world of those who ordered the cargo, and why. Of those who supplied it, and those who acted as intermediaries who guaranteed delivery and price. In depicting these three main worlds we realized that we could not proceed in a linear fashion, that for a fully satisfying narrative there had to be some temporal overlaps. So I thought about trying to tear time up and take it backwards in the points that these three worlds have in common. This creates a sort of hopping forward and backwards in time, playing with the structure in a way that I think is quite endearing. But at the same time each episode has a fully completed arc.

Aside from finding the resources, what was the biggest challenge?

The most ambitious and risky part was the concept. I’m not talking about just doing a series on cocaine shot in the real locations in three continents around the world. I mean telling a story [drug trafficking] that’s already been told many times, but from an angle that is totally original, so much so that it doesn’t even seem like a drug smuggling story.

Andrea Riseborough was injured on set. What happened?

We were shooting a scene that, incidentally, was not an action scene. I don’t know from a medical standpoint exactly what happened, but she suffered an injury, which was not a fracture, on her knee. This led to her to doing some physiotherapy. And due to how our shooting schedule was structured, in which each director shot his episodes in full…we had to suspend [for several months]. Not because it was a such a bad injury…but she needed time to recover. An actor who works with their body needs to feel at ease, so we gave her the time she needed to be at ease.

Will there be a second season?

No. “ZeroZeroZero” is actually a mini-series. It’s eight episodes, and the season ends there. 

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