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Narcos: Mexico’s Diego Luna refused to meet with the real-life ‘narco’ he plays

William Mullally

Published: Updated:

The story of the Mexican drug cartels is some of the ripest material for the most popular Hollywood fiction, from Breaking Bad to Sicario. But as kingpins such as El Chapo have become infamous across the world, the full story behind how it began, and how the situation became what it still is today, has still been left untold.

After Narcos, one of Netflix’ most popular series, finished the story of Pablo Escobar and the Colombian cartels, it was natural to move to where the story moved in real life—Mexico. To tell it, Narcos would have to go back before the time that the original series of Narcos began, to meet the man who first organized the Mexican drug trade into one organization—Felix Gallardo.

To play him, the producers of Narcos found perhaps Mexico’s best and most prominent actor working today—Diego Luna. The story, however, would not be easy for Luna to tell.

“For Diego it was very personal because he’s a Mexican, and very politically active, and very aware of this union between drug traffickers and the Mexican government, and the relationship with the United States,” Eric Newman, the showrunner of Narcos: Mexico, tells me.

From Luna’s perspective, he doesn’t have the luxury not to be political about the topic.

“To be honest, I don’t think there’s a Mexican today who cannot be aware of this. We live in a country where more than 250,000 people have been killed in the last 12 years,” Luna tells me.

But even Luna, who has seen this story play out in Mexico since he was born, didn’t know the full story.

“I have to be honest, I wasn’t aware of what happened in the 80s. I lived the 80s as a kid and I saw everything from the perspective of a kid and I’m sure my father tried always to hide the Mexico that we are talking about now to his son. I had to revisit that time from a different perspective. I started reading a lot about it. To me, playing Felix Gallardo is a heavy thing to do. I said, I’m going to learn about the Mexico that he lived in to understand him—the context he worked in,” says Diego.

Refusing to meet with Gallardo

To learn about Felix Gallardo, the man who founded the Mexican cartel, Luna refused to meet with Gallardo, who, unlike Pablo Escobar, is still alive today.

“I read a lot about what he did, and then I thought, well, who can do that? What kind of a character can do that? I didn’t meet him, I didn’t talk to him, I didn’t talk to people that knew him. I decided not to go there,” says Luna.

“I said, I’m just going to work with the material that’s already written, documentaries, and stuff like that, but I don’t want any contact with them.”

Narcos: Mexico’s Diego Luna
Narcos: Mexico’s Diego Luna

Though Luna has his own opinions about the Cartels and their effect on Mexico, to play Gallardo, he stripped away whatever thoughts he had about the man beforehand.

“I tried not to judge him, and make a three dimensional character. It’s really easy when they tell you that you’re the bad guy, and you appear in every scene and are bad, and everyone has to look at you and feel scared. In fact, this guy was the opposite. He was called the businessman. I think it’s because he understood the value of being discreet in this world and he had the ability to convince everyone to sit down at the same table,” says Luna.

“He managed to organize what everyone thought was impossible to do. He managed to say, ok, let’s divide the territory and work all together to make an organization that is so strong that no one can bring it down. You have to be very smart to do that and you have to enchant people to do that.”

The show made Luna aware how deep the issues went.

“It was quite interesting to see that the story has been told to us as if there was good and bad guys. In this case, it’s very different. It’s an organization where everyone participated—the politicians, the police, the military, the business sector. It was happening on both sides of the border,” says Luna.

Narcos: Mexico’s Diego Luna
Narcos: Mexico’s Diego Luna

“I said, ok. I’m playing the bad guy, but in fact this bad guy is working for another guy and there’s always another guy. Yes, I am playing a criminal. But there are so many criminals out there wearing suits and making decisions for Mexico. That story was never told to me like that. I learned a lot through the series in doing the research to play this man.”

The story does not stop in the US and Mexico, however. For fans of the Colombian seasons of Narcos, rest assured, the two worlds will interact.

“What I can tell you is there are many gifts through out the season for those who loved Narcos and the previous seasons,” says Luna.

Narcos: Mexico is now streaming on Netflix.