Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal’s La Corriente del Golfo has teamed with Amazon Prime Video on a new issue-driven conversation series “Pan y Circo” (Bread and Circus), which will launch globally on the platform on Friday (Aug. 7).
Using an innovative new format of Luna’s own design, the series seats a group of different personalities with unique perspectives on a common subject around a table for a meal (the “pan”) and discussion (the “circo”). The table-centric model has hints of Facebook’s Jada Pinkett Smith-hosted “Red Table Talk,” though Luna has been developing this series for several years and the differences in the programs are perhaps more pronounced.
In “Pan y Circo,” the meals share equal billing with the conversation and each episode starts in the kitchen where Luna and that dinner’s chef kick off discussions about the topic and soup du jour. After the final course the meal is served, the chef is also invited to the table as an equal participant in the conversation.
Topics discussed in the program include gender violence and femicide, climate crisis, decriminalization of abortion, racism and identity, legalization and decriminalization of drugs, immigration, and finally, the COVID-19 pandemic in a remote episode carried out while quarantining through various virtual interviews.
Luna’s guests include La Corriente del Golfo co-founder and long-time collaborator and friend Gael Garcia Bernal; Mexican Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero; Dr. Hugo López-Gatell Ramírez, Mexico’s undersecretary of prevention and health promotion; former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos; actor Ana de la Reguera (“Narcos,” “Nacho Libre”); musician and activist Rubén Albarrán of Café Tacvba; singer Li Saumet from Colombian group Bomba Estéreo; mixe soprano Maria Reyna; indigenous activist Odilia Romero; and environmental activist Julia Caravias, among many others.
Next up for the actor are returns to previous roles in Guillermo del Toro’s Netflix Original animated series “Wizards,” the third installment in the director’s popular “Tales of Arcadia” universe, and another go-round as Cassian Andor in the yet unnamed series prequel to 2016’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Luna spoke with Variety about the series ahead of its premiere, and the larger work that’s now underway at La Corriente del Golfo.
How do you plan the dinners we see in “Pan y Circo”?
First we decide which topics we want to discuss, but the longest debate is about who is going to sit at that table and why. We do extensive research on each person at that table because we need to know what they think, what they would like to say and what they’ve said before. All that we can control. What we can’t control is the accident, which is the beauty of this show. That is, what happens when these ideas get confronted? How much of a transformation can you see at the table?
So you’re always thinking about finding people with conflicting viewpoints?
Having different voices and diverse points of views is part of the strategy, yes. But, while it’s easy to find people that conflict and will confront each other, for us the show is about nuances, the grey areas, not the black and white. It’s about trying to fight this polarization that is affecting the way we behave and relate to those around us, to a point where it’s becoming impossible to listen to each other. This show is about listening.
So the kind of guest you’re looking for has to bring an open mind to the table?
For me, a simple way to put it is that I would never seat Donald Trump at this table. I don’t care about his opinion, although I do care about differing opinions on migration. We must all start from the position that we are talking about human beings. If someone doesn’t believe others deserve to be treated as equals, then their opinion doesn’t matter to me. I wouldn’t seat Joe Arpaio at this table, but I do seat a neighbor from a town that says she doesn’t want immigrants around because she is afraid when her kids go to school. That voice I want, because she might learn a lot listening to someone that works with migrants. They can tell this woman what these people go through and what they are willing to leave behind just to think about a different reality, a different life.
You managed to get some of the most prominent figures from across Latin America to the table, including a former president, an astronaut, musicians, activists, writers and more. Was it important to have high-profile guests for this show to work?
To be honest, I stopped thinking about that at the very beginning. To me it doesn’t matter if you’re popular or not. But, if you are trying to do something with the platform you have, if you understand the responsibility of having an audience, then you have space at this table. We ended up with extremely popular people, but they were at the table for the right reasons.
It’s refreshing that in each episode we also see the people who prepare the food invited out to be part of the conversation. It really humanizes a typically faceless profession.
You’re right. I think it represents a change of perspective on how we feed ourselves and how much it matters whose hands touch what we’re fed today. The story of the food we eat matters and cooking is a beautiful way to tell stories, too. We chose every chef because they had something to say about the topic. They wanted to know who was sitting there and what they had to say about this issue that matters to them. They also wanted to contribute and trigger the conversation through their cuisine.
I care about the food I eat, and this pandemic is making me reflect on how we eat and what we are putting in our mouths, about the connection to our health, and about how it shows how vulnerable we are today when it comes to the food we eat.
How does this series fit into the other work that you do with La Corriente del Golfo?
As an actor, people expect you to do one thing, right? What they’ve seen from you before. But Corriente for us is a place where we can almost reinvent ourselves. It’s not just about our work as actors, producers and directors. The idea is that we don’t define ourselves one way. We do cinema, TV, fiction, documentary and more. We want to explore and expand our reach.
With Corriente we get to tell stories, so we must make sure we are careful about which stories we tell. I think this company comes for Gael and me in a moment where we are clear what we want to be part of, and what we don’t ever want to do again. “Pan y Circo” is a great example of that. I’ve had a need for a long time to do a debate show about listening to other people’s voices, about making sure your point of view is confronted by others so we can make sure we enrich our positions and our thinking, which inevitably will have an impact on our actions.
Gael once said that creating Ambulante, the migrating film festival you run together, is one of the proudest achievements of his career. What do you take pride in from “Pan y Circo”?
I was trying to think the other day, what is it that I really want this series to generate? And I think it’s very simple. For me, the table has always worked as that spot where I get to confront my ideas with others and understand and accept my own ignorance. I hope that after this show comes out, that can be replicated at other tables. If that happens I would be really happy. I’m worried about the world we live in and about how little people listen. I’m worried about how little we are doing as a whole. How much we have forgotten our civil power. This world today needs us to get involved, to be present and to have an opinion. This is an attempt to motivate people to get there.