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Carlos Montero on New Netflix Original ‘The Mess You Leave Behind’

Netflix’s announcement of new Spanish series late last month underscored the platform’s intent to diversify its palette in the country while betting once again on one of their own, Carlos Montero. After co-writing “Elite” Season 2, and with a third set soon to bow, Montero has made the jump to the director’s chair for the small-screen adaptation of his novel “The Mess You Leave Behind.”

The novel, which won Montero a Primavera Literature Award, is the story of a lit teacher who takes a substitution position in a small town in the interior of Galicia. She soon finds out that her predecessor, Elvira, committed suicide. But, as Raquel gets more involved with those who knew Elvira, the truth about her death becomes murkier. A thriller unfolds amidst themes of personal lose, grief and guilt.

Starring Inma Cuesta (“Arde Madrid”) as Raquel and Barbara Lennie (“Magical Girl) as Elvira, “The Mess You Leave Behind” marks Netflix’s first production shot entirely in Galicia, co-produced by Vaca Films (“Eye for an Eye”, “Kidnapped”). It’s set for release in fall 2020.

Variety talked with Montero about his book, his first time directing and keeping the story grounded.

There are characters and dynamics in the “The Mess You Live Behind” that echo those of “Elite,” but the plot places them in relationships and turns on themes directed towards an older audience. How would you compare the two?

I would almost say it’s the reverse of “Elite.” Here we are in a school again but focus on the adult world. I think it’s a less talked about topic, students’ harassment of teachers. We are always dealing with bullying between students, and yet many teachers can tell you about when they feeling attacked by students and being afraid of even going to class. That is terrifying when someone tells it in the first person. So, I wanted to talk about that, the arrival of a young teacher in a place where she is received with hostility, without knowing why. That leads her to investigate what is happening. That main plotline is the theme on the novel: the mess left behind by the absence of a recently deceased person or a loved one when they leave and you find yourself rebuilding your life.

We are in an age where genre no longer has clear borders. Your novel has thriller beats but doesn’t fall easily into that category.

Exactly. I wouldn’t say that this is a typical thriller because it’s more of a drama that gradually becomes  a thriller. It starts getting muddy. I was interested in intrigue. I was interested in mystery but from a more domestic point of view. What the English call domestic noir.

Netflix relies not only on discovering talent but growing it with them. After two successful seasons of Elite you jump to show running and directing here, alongside Silvia Quer and Roger Gual. How was the experience working with Netflix on this project? 

They gave me everything that I needed, which was fantastic. It’s wonderful when they trust you and give you the power to do it and help you grow. I have never felt that with any other network. They let me direct and they have bet on me, on my story, which in principle is less commercial than “Elite,” a bit more auteur. Although I do see it is as series that will do very well because it has all the elements to be commercial. Also, being based on my novel seems a risk that Netflix took with me, but they were the ones who encouraged me to do it.

Your work is always framed within a Spanish reality, which in this case feels especially grounded. Why Galicia as the background for this story?

As a writer I always start from reality. Writing the first novel here in Galicia was deeply touching. I knew that if I made it take place here, even if the story had a lot of mystery and intrigue, it was always going to feel true because I knew the world of the characters. I know what’s going on in their heads. I understand these Galician teenagers very well because I was one of them. Even though that was 30 years ago, I feel the teenagers of that time and now are the same. So, the fact that it is Galician, I think, connects it with a reality that gives it truth. This is a main difference with “Elite,” which is based in reality but framed more in its genre than this one. Here, genre is more diffused. As soon as you see the first episodes, you’ll realize it breathes that truth.

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