It’s always hard to recount and reveal truths about the life of a widely recognized celebrity in a biopic format. It’s another challenge altogether when that celebrity is Luis Miguel, colloquially known as “The Sun of Mexico.”
Carla González Vargas, showrunner of “Luis Miguel: La serie” on Netflix and president of Gato Grande productions, a joint venture with MGM Studios, had experience adapting the life of controversial figures, having worked in journalism and then written a book on Woody Allen in 2004. But she hadn’t tackled someone as beloved as Luis Miguel for a platform as broad as Netflix. Diego Boneta plays the title role.
Following the April 18 debut of “Luis Miguel: La serie” Season 2 (which marks the titular star’s real birthdate), González Vargas spoke with Variety about tapping into Spanish-language biopic fever. She also addressed the challenges of portraying the Mexican legend’s well-recorded public and tumultuous private life, from his days as a 1980s child prodigy with a bowl hair cut to the present.
Why do you think Luis Miguel’s story has worldwide appeal?
I think it’s precisely the combination of a very famous name with music that has shaped generations since he’s had a career for almost 30 years now because he started so young that his music has been with us for so many years. It’s good music that we have all made a part of our personal stories as listeners and audience. Fortunately, the rare combination comes with a dramatic, rich story that has universal appeal. I think it touches on primal aspects— the drama of being orphaned, so to speak, from parents at a very young age, having had a mother taken away in such a manner, without any explanation, and having your father be your antagonist. Plus, having a huge spotlight and appearing from the outside to have everything but, the more fame you have, the more your private life crumbles. I think they’re all universal principles that make for such a great story, so that is what is so rare about this project.
How do you think the recent surge in demand for Spanish-language biopic series in predominantly English-language markets will drive what productions MGM and Gato Grande Productions will consider now. What other iconic lives would you like to adapt for the screen (or would you like to see adapted)?
We are looking at all of the new projects that we’re developing that are not related to biopic series in general because it’s very rare to find celebrities or public figures that appeal worldwide in both languages. It’s not the same strategic bet in terms of development. We have contemplated a few names that we feel can travel and translate well worldwide, but their lives narratively speaking or dramatically speaking are not rich enough to have a super compelling drama, even if you’re not a follower of that person, per se. So, we are transcending that and focusing much more on purely scripted series.
It’s been a couple of years since the first season debuted [in 2018], so how did the creative and production process change for Season 2 compared to Season 1? Did COVID affect you in any way?
COVID affected it a lot. It prolonged the whole process painfully, so we decided to film seasons back-to-back, and the shoot got interrupted five times. It just took forever. My main challenge was making it more standardized because it was all that show when I was doing season one. Then the company [Gato Grande Productions] started after that. So, Gato Grande is two years old, and we started “Luis Miguel” four years ago. The show launched and gave birth, figuratively speaking, to a unique company, and that is doing things that haven’t been necessarily done before, and finding the right people and the right team to have a unique bicultural profile and be bicultural in terms of development is complex, to navigate both markets. So, we’ve been growing the business and establishing it simultaneously with filming and production.
What was the research and interview process like compared to the first season?
This time around, because the series already existed and people knew that we were trustworthy in terms of our quality, and our prudence in a way of handling sources. The challenge of portraying people on the screen is that most of these characters are alive, and they have their own names and their own family members. So, it was a tricky territory not to harm anyone, because that would never be the intent of the narrative. So, I think we gained the trust and opened that door to a lot of conversations of people surrounding Luis Miguel that were there during that time that want to remain anonymous. We wanted to honor Luis Miguel’s trust but also double-check his take on how things happened, because it also involved those other people.
How have you found new international talent and creators?
Authenticity is what we aim for because that’s what we stand for and what differentiates us in the market from other production companies that want to portray Latinx worlds. So, the way to achieve that is by finding creators from all of these countries that haven’t really crossed over to the U.S. A little bit before the pandemic we made a goal to travel to Spain, Argentina and Colombia to find these writers and to meet with local production companies that had access to top talent. So, now we [Gato Grande Productions] have eight co-productions with Spain, Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, and we are also working with seven different Spanish-speaking nationalities of writers at the moment, just to give you an idea. After the hype of “Money Heist,” we got one of the main directors who’s a writer to work with us to prepare a series for the Spanish and English-language market. We also grabbed a producer from the Catalonian series “Merlí,” so we’re co-producing with them as well. We’re always trying to find openings and new paths into Hollywood, really.
What is unique about the production of “Luis Miguel: La Serie”?
I think one thing that hasn’t been done in the Spanish-language market is having the same actor portray the same character in a 20- and 30-year gap difference. So, the prosthetics that we are using have never been used before in Latin America— we had to have a specialist from Los Angeles design the character, do the prosthetics and then teach the makeup team in Mexico. So, in that way, we have always looked to push the standard and increase the standard a little higher and as much as we can for a Spanish-language series. We still have a long way to go, but we’re escalating it little by little. We had Diego [Boneta] sit in a chair for four hours every day— nothing in his face, not even his eyebrows were his. They had to push back his hairline and push back his eyebrows, and his cheeks and the neck were all different, too. The poor thing said he felt like he was covered in maple syrup every day. That was quite an ordeal for industry and for a production that has never done that before in Mexico, traveling prosthetics back and forth.
What do you hope that audiences take away from this season?
That everything has a price. Success and fame pose unimaginable challenges for a personal life— heavy is the head that wears the crown.