Spain’s trendiest twosome, Claudia Costafreda and Ana Rujas, are co-creators of “Cardo,” the series on everyone’s lips since launching last fall on Atresplayer, the OTT platform run by Spanish media conglom Atresmedia, last fall and one of Variety’s best international TV shows of 2021.

Rujas stars in the furious tirade against external, bogus beauty standards and Costafreda directs with Lluís Sellarès also heading two episodes. “Cardo” is co-produced by Atresmedia, Buendía Estudios and Suma Content (formerly Suma Latina), the outfit setup by iconic multi-hyphenate partners Los Javis (“Veneno”), selected by Variety as talents to track, as was Costafreda.

“Cardo” offers a raw, deeply disinhibited portrait of almost 30-year-old María, a character who rebels against her own attractiveness, as the actress herself ­– formerly a model– did on stage in the acclaimed production “The Ugliest Women in the World,” written by Rujas and Bárbara Mestanza. María, distraught and confused, must face the consequences of a crazy night out which culminates in a tragic motorbike crash.

With a strong auteurist personality, “Cardo” – a contemptuous Spanish term for ugly women – casts its secondary characters and environments in dark comedic tones at times, while at others it demonstrates a wildly dramatic flair with touches of Buñuel, Almodóvar and costumbrismo – a Spanish term for an artistic movement in which art imitates life. The series features a motley soundtrack including traditional Spanish religious music, reggaeton and trap.

“Cardo” recently took the best series prize at the Premios Feroz, Spain’s top honors for TV as the Academy’s Goya Awards have not yet incorporated series.

An alum and teacher at Barcelona’s Escac film school, Costafreda served as writer and director on “Veneno.” She is repped by UTA while Rujas is currently in talks with a U.S. agency about representation.

Could you try to put the sensation that “Cardo” has caused in Spain in context for the international audience?

Costafreda: Beyond the specific story, characters, and background, it tackles universal feelings and emotions– guilt, fear, good and evil…. anyone can feel represented.

Rujas: It’s a portrait and a shout. A cry hooked into the need that Claudia feel to tell our truth, something tightly linked to the pain of needing to be somebody in life, when you don’t even know who you really are.

The series is visceral protest and feels like it’s been written with tremendous creative freedom, something not very common on TV. What was the secret?

Rujas: The series arises from a need, a hunger­– that I have been dragging for a long time– to be able to express myself openly, to create something that was honest, beyond all other considerations. And this was made possible thanks to the Javis and the magic that arose between Claudia and me. We reached an understanding immediately, although it has absolutely not been a process in which we always agreed. We have argued, laughed, cried… That’s why “Cardo” is the way it is.

It sounds like a cathartic process…

Costafreda: Sure, and in addition, the producers have allowed us total freedom– Atresmedia and Suma Content, who always watched over us. The well-deserved respect the Javis now have gave us the possibility to raise our voice as we needed to. Ana and I have been able to cross this emotional mountain so freely because there was no red tape.

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Cardo Credit: Ale Del Corro / Buendia Estudios

As was the case with “Veneno,” “Cardo” has a strong generational component. What do you think these types of programs say about the next generation of Spanish TV?

Costafreda: We can’t draw big conclusions about our generation because we are, simply, living in it. But we do notice that we are trying to immerse ourselves in the present, as if we cannot look to the future or be responsible for relationships. It has to do with living as children in a time of bonanza. We were hit by a time of crisis in our adolescence, when suddenly we were forced to be entrepreneurs to save our own bacon.  We didn’t know how to manage relationships with ourselves, others or with our own self-esteem.

It’s also a generation facing concepts of what’s “politically correct” like never before…

Rujas: I think that now people in their 20s have fewer prejudices, partly because of the social networks that allow us to look at everyone without being constrained by standard rules which, in my case at least, were imposed on me. We grew up in a world where there weren’t so many directors, actresses doing “punky.” I think we’re a generation that keeps fighting to move forward, however we can.

How did you work together to create the character of María?

Costafreda: It has been a real team effort from the very beginning. And it’s unusual because the director generally explains to the actor how to play the character, but in this case we both knew the character perfectly as we had built her together through the writing process.

Rujas: María is on the verge of 30, without anything to offer and with many expectations to fulfill. She comes from a world that requires her to follow a standard and there comes a time when she says: I am not this, I am a lie, I do not know who I am. In short, she faces questions asked of every generation. That’s why we think the series is not as generational as some might say.

What are your hopes going forward career-wise? Would you like to work together again?

Costafreda: We both want to continue working together, both on the second season of “Cardo” and on other projects. I would like to continue directing episodes of series with people I admire and enter the world of cinema. The dream I have now is to make my first feature as director. And regarding the type of cinema I’d like to do? It’s very simple, more of what I’ve done with “Cardo,” where everything is conditioned by the emotions of the characters.

Rujas: I made a big change coming from the stage, but I have felt very comfortable working on the series. In the new season I will also focus on directing, beside Claudia, who is the best partner I can have right now. I also want to continue working as an actress.