MADRID — Movistar Plus’ upcoming original series, the Beta Film-sold “Tell Me Who I Am,” based on Julia Navarro’s popular Spanish novel “Dime Quien Soy,” has finished shooting and will head to post-production for delivery later this year.
Set across multiple decades of the 20th century, the story kicks off with 30-something internet journalist Javier, tasked by his aunt to investigate the life of his great-grandmother, Amelia Garayoa, who left her husband and son behind her as she fled Spain as a result of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
Amelia becomes embroiled in some of the most important historical events of the century, from Franco’s ascent in Spain, the uprising and liberation of Berlin, the rise of Stalin’s communist U.S.S.R., the barbarity of Warsaw’s ghettos, Rome in the final years of Mussolini and the decline of Nazi Germany in occupied Athens. With a foot in both the past and future, “Tell Me Who I Am” sees Europe’s recent history personified in Amelia, a woman constantly dealing with the consequences of her own contradictory actions.
Producer José Manuel Lorenzo talked with Variety from set about the writing process, in which lead writer Piti Español (“Otros días vendrán”) received input from director, showrunner and long-time collaborator Eduard Cortés (“Merlí,” “La vida de nadie”) and the novel’s original author Julia Navarro.
“Julia had never wanted to adapt her books to TV, but I was able to convince her, and she was very involved in helping us with the adaptation. She didn’t write the scripts, but she did read everything we wrote and gave us feedback,” he explained.
“In the books, much of what happens is spelled out but there are many things left out, left for the series. When we wanted to know the background of the characters, she helped immensely in that construction. Her help was invaluable over months of conversations.”
Lorenzo also detailed the series’ massive scope. “300 different locations, more than 3,000 extras, actors and national figures such as [lead actress] Irene Escolar (Spanish Academy Goya winning Best Actress for “Un otoño sin Berlín”), Oriol Plá (two-time Catalan Academy Gaudí-winner for “Petra,” “Incerta glória”), or Carlos Hipólito (Goya-winner for “Historia de un beso”); Spaniards and many others. There have been many internationals which complicated production and raised the budget, but we wanted Germans playing Germans, English playing English.”
For the lead role, Irene Escolar put in a herculean effort.
“After eight months of filming and three months of preparation, I’ve finished what will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting journeys of my career and my professional life,” she said.
“I appear in 4,600 shots,” she went on. “It has been almost a year of my life in which I have met 168 actors of all nationalities and each of them has passed on their energy to me, which I have used to learn and grow. This has been a project of rigor, intelligence and quality, and that will be reflected on the screen and enjoyed by the viewer.”
Although the series is period, Cortés had no intention of making a stuffy historical documentary and has forgone complete historical accuracy in favor of a vibrant, energetic aesthetic intended to entertain more than educate.
“I’m not a fan of movies and series that are archaeological in their accuracy with old costumes and hairstyles. I prefer to render contemporary what we’re doing so it doesn’t look like we just pulled everything out of a closet that has been closed for decades. I want the viewer to feel like they could be present for what is happening in the show.”
After so many years of working in TV and film, Cortés has adapted his thinking when directing series and begun catering to a much larger, international audience than was the case as recently as five years ago when his now-international hit series “Merlí” began filming as a modest Catalan series meant for local audiences.
“When I started making ‘Merlí,’ it was a series with small audience expectations because it was only in Catalonia on TV3, we’re talking 600,000 viewers.”
But, like another Spanish series “Money Heist,” the series was eventually picked up by Netflix and found new and fertile life in territories around the world.
“The success of ‘Merlí’ changed our perception, and even in the three seasons we did of that show we had to remember that our series was finding major success with audiences in countries like Argentina, Mexico, and Chile.”
While most of the film’s cast and much of the crew will head off to their next projects, for Cortés and Lorenzo there is still plenty of work left to do before the series’ late-2020 launch on Movistar Plus.