Listen: Diego Luna on Why It Took ‘Months’ to Sign Onto ‘Narcos: Mexico’

Diego Luna didn’t exactly jump at the chance to play Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo in Netflix’s “Narcos: Mexico.”

Gallardo is one of the most infamous leaders of the 1980s Guadalajara drug cartel. He was arrested in 1989 and charged with the kidnapping and murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena (played by Michael Peña in the series), several violent crimes, racketeering and drug smuggling. He was sentenced to 37 years behind bars.

It took “months” of conversations with showrunner Eric Newman before Luna signed on, the actor says. “I sat down with him and I said, ‘What is really what you want people to know? What do you want this series to trigger? Why is this series is important?’” Luna recalls on this week’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.” “And he answered the way I would answer, the way I’ve been answering. I realized he wanted to talk about the system and not a character, about a system that allows these characters to exist and that keeps using them.”

The second season of “Narcos: Mexico,” which also stars Scoot McNairy as the DEA agent who is tasked to apprehend and capture Gallardo, premiered on Netflix Thursday.

“Getting into the shoes of this character, having to portray him was demanding and it’s something I’m glad I did, because as an actor it pushed me to do stuff I’ve never done,” Luna says. “But I’m also really happy it came to me at this time, when I’m 40, when I have a family, when I know what life is about, when I know how to disconnect. I just go to my kids and get reminded of what life is about.”

It wasn’t always like that. “Probably at 20, I would be having panic attacks at night,” Luna says. “Not anymore. I know this is a job, and even though I dedicate a lot to my job, and I give a lot of my time and energy to my job, it’s never more important than my life. That’s not happening again. That happened already that I went through those years where I sacrificed everything for my job. Not anymore. And so it’s the right time for me to be doing something like this.”

Authenticity has a been a key to the success of “Narcos,” which started as a three-season look at the rise of the Colombian drug cartels. “We’re not shooting in East L.A. and in places around here because we are worried to go and shoot in Mexico,” Luna says. “We are not doing it in English with a weird accent so people can understand it. We have Mexicans playing Mexicans. We are shooting in the real locations. We are seeing a country we have never seen because it’s not the Day of the Dead, it’s not Cancun. Or it’s not the times of the revolution and Zapata and Villa. It’s the Mexico that’s there [now].”

However, Luna did not reach out to Gallardo to help prepare for his work. “There is a very long interview he gives that I read, but then I realized it was more useful for me to read what people said about him,” he explains. “I think if I ask you who you are, you might say half-truths, but if I ask the people around you what stamp you left in their lives, I might understand who you were.”

Many times during Luna’s sitdown with Variety, he expressed dismay that the corruption that aided the cartels still has a stranglehold on many parts of the Mexican government. “We say we fictionalize true events because we don’t know the truth,” he says. “No one actually knows the truth, so many of these characters are still out there. I’m talking about politicians, bankers, people in the police, in the military, they’re still there…The system loves blaming the drug dealers: ‘We got the bad guy.’ And you go like, ‘Well, but the problem is still out there.’ Why we don’t fight to bring down the number of consumers? It’s the market we need to be fighting.”

You can listen to the full interview with Luna below. You can also find “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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