In recent years, very few TV shows have managed to transcend language and cultural barriers as well as Narcos did since it premiered in 2015
Most of the drug trade drama's dialogues are spoken in Spanish, but that didn't stop global fans - including Malaysians - from getting hooked onto Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar's rise and fall in the first two seasons, and subsequently, the Cali Cartel storyline in the third.
After all, Malaysians are no stranger to watching TV or movies with subtitles. ;)
Now in its fourth season (well, sort of), the Netflix crime drama is moving its centre of operation to a new location - Mexico - and a fresh cast of big names
As implicated in the finale of the third season, [ -- SPOILERS AHEAD -- ] the illegal drug trade has moved to Mexico with the last of the Colombian cartels getting snuffed out.
However, Narcos: Mexico will not pick up where Season Three left off. Instead, the storyline will rewind to the 1980s to explore the origins of the modern drug war in Mexico, with Diego Luna (Rogue One, Flatliners) and Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian) playing the leads.
"We're following the story of cocaine, which moved from Colombia to Mexico, and now, Mexico is the centre of the cocaine trade," said showrunner Eric Newman.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with lead actors Michael Peña and Diego Luna as well as showrunner Eric Newman for a chat. Here's what we learnt about Narcos: Mexico with their insights:
1. You've probably noticed that Narcos: Mexico has a separate page on Netflix. So, is it actually the fourth season of Narcos... or a new show altogether?
"It's both," Newman said. "If you are a Narcos fan, and you're familiar with the first three seasons, it's Narcos Season Four. If you're new, it's Narcos: Mexico Season One."
So, if you've never seen a single episode of the show, Narcos: Mexico could be your first entry point to the Narcos universe.
"The show was always designed to not be the story of one person or one place, but to be a story of this whole invisible empire. It connects all of us, every country - including Singapore and Malaysia - where there are drugs despite all the efforts to stop the flow of drugs," he explained.
2. Narcos: Mexico follows the rise of the Guadalajara Cartel and how its battle with the American DEA sparked a drug war that has yet to see an end today
At the centre of the conflict is cartel leader Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (played by Diego Luna) and DEA Agent Kiki Camarena (played by Michael Peña).
The story will take viewers back to a time when Mexican drug trafficking was a relatively disorganised community of independent marijuana growers and dealers. Gallardo unified the traffickers to form the Guadalajara cartel, and quickly rose to become one of Mexico's most powerful figures in the trade as he ultimately abandoned marijuana for cocaine.
The battle between the cartel and law enforcement is primed to come to a head following a series of tragic events, which would ultimately launch the modern-day drug war that would last for the decades to come.
3. Diego Luna plays Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, one of the most powerful figures in Mexico's illegal drug trade and co-founder of the Guadalajara Cartel
On his character, Luna said, "[Gallardo] is not the stereotype of a drug dealer that we've seen before. He's much more of a businessman.
"This guy is one step ahead of everyone. He sees an opportunity, he takes it, and before anyone takes a look, he already owns the whole system."
In real life, Gallardo co-founded the Guadalajara Cartel - one of Mexico's first drug cartels - to unify and build an organised confederation of growers and dealers. As his empire expanded, Gallardo eventually abandoned marijuana for cocaine and partnered with Colombian cartels to help transport their drugs across the border.
Commonly referred to as El Padrino (The Godfather), Gallardo controlled almost all of the heroin and cocaine trafficking in Mexico as well as the corridors along the Mexico-US border in the cartel's prime.
Luna revealed that he decided not to meet Gallardo nor anyone close to him when preparing for the role
"There are books, there's a ton of articles that you can read, documentaries (to watch), and I learnt a lot about the guy," he explained.
One thing stood out to the actor in his research.
"[Gallardo] knew the value of being discreet. With many of these guys, you'll find a lot of visual material, but not this guy. He knew how to hide and the necessity of belonging to a community.
"He owned restaurants, bars, he had a hotel, he was even a consultant in a bank! Can you imagine that? While building the biggest cartel Mexico has ever seen," Luna said.
4. Meanwhile, Michael Peña plays Agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, an American DEA officer who brought his wife and son from California to Guadalajara to take on a new assignment
He soon realises that he's facing an uphill battle. Not only does the Guadalajara Cartel has the Mexican government and law enforcement officials in their pockets, the relatively new Drug Enforcement Administration does not have enough resources nor support from the American government to wage war against the drug trade in Mexico.
Unlike Luna, there wasn't a lot of firsthand information on Camarena for Peña to base his portrayal on.
"There was very little written on Kiki. There was a TIME magazine cover story, there were a couple of books. They interviewed people that knew him, like (Camarena's wife) Mika so I had to rely mainly on [those]," he said.
Playing a law enforcement officer is not new to Peña, who underwent five months of ride-alongs with the LAPD as well as SWAT and tactical training for 2012's End of Watch.
"Also, my brothers are police officers and I have friends who are Navy SEALs because of the movies that I’ve done, but all of that was of no use once I entered the show," he said.
"[In the show], the DEA was just beginning. You were always held down by how slow the communication line was, and you couldn’t make snap decisions because you had to wait for confirmation of authority. So I was dealing with DEA in the 1980s, as opposed to the DEA the way it is now.”
We also learnt that Peña began work on Narcos: Mexico the day after he wrapped up as the hilarious, fast-talking Luis in Ant-Man and the Wasp
However, rather than finding it intimidating to shift from a light-hearted headspace to an intensely serious one, Peña found it refreshing.
"Whenever you do a comedy, you can't wait to do drama. And then when you do drama, you wanna do some action. You just wanna change it up, especially because I've been doing movies for the better part of 23 years," he said.
"Oddly enough, in both Ant-Man and Narcos, [both characters are] based off a real person. For me, that's always the coolest thing to do, 'coz I feel like I have more instincts if I'm playing somebody else."
5. While filming one of the longest and most complicated sequences for Narcos: Mexico, the shoot was halted for three days straight by a "purple cloud"
The sequence, a marijuana field raid which will appear in Episode Seven, is - according to Newman - "incredibly intricate, complicated, and really extraordinary".
Which was when Peña chimed in, "But also on that day, it was very odd and it's something that I've only seen in Mexico.
"It was very hot, and every day around 3pm, there was a purple cloud that would come by and then it would start hailing like ice. It was the size of golf balls! It happened for three days in a row. Wait, I have it on video."
Peña whipped out his phone and started scrolling."Okay, look at this. Look at how big those things are," he turns his phone to show us the video he took. As someone who has never experienced hail, the sound of hail constantly pelting is quite terrifying.
"Look at how big those things are. I was like, 'What the f---...!" he exclaimed.
6. Be prepared to learn some new Mexican slang to add to your limited Spanish vocabulary. :p
We're not gonna lie, we learnt quite a number of Spanish curse words from watching Narcos... a fact we gleefully told Newman and Peña.
Newman laughed and joked that that was the "intended goal".
He turned to Peña, "What are your favourite Spanish phrases?"
Peña started ticking off his top picks, "Well, in this one, you're gonna have the 'cabrón', it's not 'malparido' anymore. There's "no mames'..."
(At this point, we've lost him 'coz we had no idea what he was saying.)
"I think those are the top ones, especially in Mexico," he said.
Narcos: Mexico is now streaming on Netflix, as are all three seasons of Narcos. Watch the trailer here:
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