You might recognize Wagner Moura starring as the late United Nations diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello in Netflix’s new film “Sergio.” Or maybe not. Moura looked a lot different when he earned a Golden Globe nomination in 2016 for his work as Pablo Escobar in the first two seasons of the streamer’s “Narcos.”
He packed on 40 pounds for his portrayal of the notorious Colombian drug kingpin. “I was hanging out with [my kids] and eating whatever they were having — pizzas and burgers,” the Brazilian actor says during an appearance on this week’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.” “But there was a point when that started to make me feel really bad because that wasn’t my body and I was just eating junk food.”
Fortunately, playing Vieira de Mello — who spent more than three decades as the U.N. diplomat from Brazil brokering peace agreements and addressing refugee problems — was a much healthier endeavor. “Sergio exercised all the time,” Moura says. “Wherever he was, even if he was in East Timor, he was jogging every day.”
Many predicted Vieira de Mello was on track to become U.N. secretary-general. However, while working as the U.N. special representative for Iraq, he and 20 members of his staff were killed in the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad in 2003.
“Sergio” is directed by Greg Barker and based on his documentary about de Vieira de Mello as well as Samantha Powers’ biography “Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World.” It focuses on the last years of Vieira de Mello’s life and his love affair with U.N. economist Carolina Larriera (Ana de Armas).
How are you coping in quarantine?
“Ups and downs. Ups and downs, like everybody else, I think. There are days that I’m more sad but honestly, I’m usually in a very good mood. I’m just very concerned with Brazil and with countries that are more vulnerable, the poorest countries. Of course I’m in touch with my friends in Brazil, but a country with a president like [Jair Bolsonaro], it doesn’t help. It makes things become worse.”
Do you think things will change in Brazil?
“I’m very pessimistic with the present, but very optimistic with the future.”
What keeps you optimistic?
“I think that Bolsonaro is a backlash to the moment that we lived in Brazil in the last 12 years of very progressive governments, as I think Trump is a backlash of Obama’s moment as well. I think this is going to turn again at some point to more [liberal governments]. This virus is exposing how weak most of the world leaders are nowadays.”
How did you get involved with “Sergio”?
“This film is part of a more ambitious and a political project that I have, which is to produce films here in the U.S. about Latin people that don’t reinforce stereotypes. I thought that Sergio’s life, his legacy of being a man, a Brazilian man, fit into this project. He was considered a mix of James Bond and Bobby Kennedy, considered the world’s “Mr. Fix-It.” But for me, what this film is about and the quality that Sergio had that was above anything else was empathy. When we see in this pandemic how this value is lacking, especially in the leaders of the world, Sergio was someone who could see people not as statistics or as numbers — he could see people as people. He could look at George W. Bush and the janitor of his office in the same way.”
Tell me more about wanting to see Latin people portrayed in ways that aren’t stereotypical.
“It’s always the violent Latino or the sexy Latina. It really doesn’t represent what this group really is in American society. When I saw Diego Luna in “Star Wars: Rogue One” doing that character with his Mexican accent, I thought, ‘We can play the ‘Star Wars’ dude or doctors or engineers. It doesn’t [always] have to be related to the issues that we know that Latin America has, which are poverty and violence.'”
You shot this film with Ana de Armas before “Knives Out,” before Hollywood “discovered” her.
The first time I met her, we had lunch in Westwood. I had an immediate connection with her. She’s a very grounded woman. All these things you and I were just discussing, all of it matters a lot to her, too — representation. She’s an awesome actress. She’s very fun to hang out with.
So how did you lose all the weight after playing Escobar?
When I wrapped “Narcos,” I wanted to get rid of not only the weight, but I wanted to get rid of the energy of that character. I started to eat vegan. Even today, I still don’t eat meat or chicken.
This interview has been edited and condensed. You can hear it in its entirety below. You can also find “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.