How Diego Luna Overcame His Hesitation to Play a Drug Dealer on ‘Narcos: Mexico’

TheWrap Emmy magazine: “Characters like Félix Gallardo are really important to understand why El Chapo exists today, but I wanted to make sure we could go into the gray areas that we normally miss,” Luna says

A version of this story about Diego Luna and “Narcos: Mexico” first appeared as part of a special Latinx section in the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

“We’re asking so many people to be patient when we shouldn’t — they’ve been patient for decades,” “Narcos: Mexico” star Diego Luna said of television’s slow pace in increasing the telling of Latinx stories. “But stories are getting more specific, which is great news. More and more, we’re caring about where the story comes from and about the reality we’re trying to portray.

“I think the beauty of what’s happening these days is that audiences are having a voice that before they didn’t, and the industry is having to react to that voice, which is a great thing in terms of representation. Because a world where our stories are not told makes no sense.”

Still, Luna wasn’t sure if the story of “Narcos: Mexico” was one he originally wanted to tell. When he was approached about playing 1980s drug kingpin Miguel Angel Félix Gallardo, the actor who’d been making indie films since “Y tu mamá también” in 2001 was wary of how the issue of drug trafficking would be portrayed.

“I just wanted to make sure that we were telling the story for the right reasons,” he said from his home in Mexico City. “The project is important and relevant these days when we’re experiencing so much violence on this side of the border for an issue that doesn’t just belong to the States and Mexico, but to the whole world. Characters like Félix Gallardo are really important to understand why El Chapo exists today, but I wanted to make sure we didn’t glorify the characters and we could go into the gray areas that we normally miss. It’s not good people and bad people — the corruption has reached everywhere, and this show reminds of us that.”

It was crucial, he added, that the show addressed the ways in which the drug trade sucked in ordinary Mexican citizens and also impacted and destroyed lives. “There are so many criminals that are still out there, wearing suits and making decisions for my country, that we expose in the show,” he said. “That was important for me – and not just that, but to make sure the portraying of our history was done with respect and clarity and honesty, and with the necessary complexity.

“The reality is that the choices for these characters was difficult because they were playing a game where they’re not setting the rules, you know? I was worried because of the amount of people that have lost their lives, that have been killed by violence in the last decades — it’s huge, the suffering and the scars that this war is leaving on so many Mexican families. It’s insane.”

Luna is also aware that the show is on the air at a time when forces in the U.S. government are working to demonize immigrants from Mexico by portraying them as drug dealers.

“For this very complex machinery to work, yes, you have the drug traffickers, but you also have the government on both sides of the border allowing this to happen,” he said. “For this to happen, there’s someone allowing it to happen on the other side. And there is a market to feed. The biggest market is up north from where we live, so we are here.

“It’s not that Mexicans are worse than any others. It’s just that we happen to be the door between the developing world and the first world, and we are the longest border between these two very different realities. That’s reality for us.”

In Season 2 of the show, Luna said the biggest challenge was finding new sides to Gallardo — something that the 10-plus hours of a television series helped him accomplish. Still, playing the role took a toll: “Spending all your day with this material, having to deal with these emotions, with this dialogue, with these images — he was hardcore, man,” he said. “And he was exhausting. I didn’t realize how heavy the weight was on my shoulders until I finished and said, ‘Holy s—. Now I can I feel my upper back again.”

Luna is now playing the lead in a “Rogue One” prequel series for Disney+, which will make him the second Hispanic actor to headline a “Star Wars” spinoff series, after Pedro Pascal in “The Mandalorian.”

But it’s the work he’s doing closer to home that really gived him hope for increased Latinx representation in Hollywood. “My company is producing a show and looking for a studio, and there’s not a single studio available to shoot in Mexico City (in the near future),” he said. “So much is happening here.”

I think there’s more and more of us working, uh, in different projects and not just in the characters you would expect us to be in, uh, which is great news, but there’s a lot of work to do on that angle, you know? And, uh, and I think also audiences, we have the power to send that message, you know, uh, we, we, we have to make sure we are responsible with the way we consume, you know, because that’s the way to send the message.

Read more of the Drama/Comedy/Actors issue here.

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