Manolo Cardona has come a long way since “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.” The Colombian actor had a recurring stint on Netflix’s “Narcos” and has now returned to the streamer headlining one of its hottest Spanish language series: “¿Quién Mató a Sara?” (“Who Killed Sara?”).
There, he plays Álex Guzmán, an ex-convict, a hacker extraordinaire and the titular character’s brother. Cardona is by no means a stranger to being a leading man, having starred in San Sebastian International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival and Goya Award-winning Spanish language and indie films, as well as playing notorious playboy Porfirio Rubirosa and Jesus on TV back to back. But this is the first time Cardona has entered the global stage, front and center, in a series that millions are viewing — and whose May 19 second-season drop they are eagerly awaiting.
What did you think of your character and how he handles grief when you first read the script?
I found him to be a fascinating and multi-faceted character — and many of those facets evolve or come forth over different stages of his life in the show. I think that is what makes the dramatic arc of the character compelling. [Creator] José Ignacio Valenzuela is incredible at writing multidimensional characters who go through dramatic mood shifts along the way of finding out what happened to Sara.
Did you have to learn any computer skills for the job of playing your character? How about action sequences?
The work I put into the character was done over several small stages, and it involved researching and mostly talking. I was able to chat with people who had those kinds of experiences — who had convictions that had gone in their favor and those who had been wrongfully convicted. I spoke to many psychiatrists and psychologists regarding certain mental illnesses and disorders that transpire in some people who have been in prison for many years that have been accused of something that they did not commit.
I also had to do a lot of physical work because Álex Guzmán is a personal gym trainer, that is how he meets Rodolfo. That’s how they became friends. So, I had to train for many months to get in peak fitness shape. As far as computing, I had some prior knowledge, but I studied certain sequences and algorithms and topics like hacking for many months, to make it as current and as believable as possible.
How, if at all, has your perception of Alex changed from Season 1 to Season 2?
As a young man, Álex is charismatic, good-natured, innocent and has a good vibe. But, after what happens to his sister and the aftermath, he has this whole personality change and practically becomes another person. We first meet Álex when he is preoccupied with finding out what happened to Sara and detaching himself from the Lazcano family. In the second season, there’s an interesting turn because Álex finds out things he didn’t know before, information he didn’t have in the first season, and it is going to alter quite a bit what he thought his motivations were and how he is going to start re-entering society.
This series challenges the idea of justice, and how you get it. Do you consider Alex to be a vigilante hero?
I looked for certain subtleties to humanize him so that people would feel empathy for him amid the significant pain he has gone through while also carrying out this grand mission. I can’t judge the character because, obviously, I have to interpret him in the best way and accompany him on his journey. But, if you’re asking me, Manolo Cardona, well, I believe in forgiveness, reconciliation, empathy and love. But, we’re talking about Álex Guzmán, who is completely blinded by his quest to deal with his problems by finding what he thinks is justice.
Why do you think “Who Killed Sara” functions as an intriguing, addictive mystery?
It is well-written, and I think it helps that it is full of suspense and mystery. It combines the best of Agatha Christie with lots of action, romance, and drama, and it also touches on taboo subjects that perhaps had not been explored in Latino TV in this way. I think many people connect with and relate to the traumas that these characters are going through. I also think it is exceptionally well-produced, directed, acted, photographed — it is a series that we are so proud and grateful for, and I’m ready to take on many more like it.
Was any part of the filming process during COVID-19? What were some of the obstacles the cast and crew faced during the pandemic?
Oh God, there were several. When we were filming the first season we were about a month from wrapping up before the pandemic hit. We had to pause filming for almost six months, and we had to re-shoot a lot of the first season, as well as finish it. The good thing is that Netflix had seen what we had filmed prior to the pandemic and they liked it so much, they approved the second season. So, we ended up filming both and I think it was a blessing and the best thing that could have happened to the show, because now fans don’t need to wait too long for the second season to come out. I think it is something that the audience appreciates a ton because they’re ready for the second season and haven’t forgotten anything from the first one.
What do you think about the surge of interest and demand for Spanish-language content in the United States?
I feel very honored, happy and proud. We hope that the show parts the seas, so to speak, for Latin American content. Breaking these barriers is only achievable through a platform like Netflix because it reaches so many people worldwide. And if it goes viral, and if lots of people are connecting to it, then it’s a testament to how good a Latin American series can be. Hopefully, “Who Killed Sara?” is one of many that permeates the global market. So, I’m incredibly proud to present this Latino show to the rest of the world.
Things you didn’t know about Manolo Cardona:
Hometown: Popayán, Cauca, Colombia
What’s in a name? Manolo isn’t just his stage name, it’s also his family nickname. The actor was born Manuel Julián Cardona Molano but has been referred to as Manolo all his life.
Knack for drama: In addition to performing, Cardona also hosted Telemundo’s version of “Temptation Island” in the early aughts.
Jetsetter: Cardona’s career has taken him all over Latin America and across the globe — some of his passport stamps include Peru, Mexico, Panama, Spain and the United States.
This interview has been translated from Spanish and condensed for clarity.