The title of Amazon’s crime drama series “ZeroZeroZero” is never mentioned in the show itself, nor is it explained in the book by Roberto Saviano on which it is based. But the meaning behind the phrase has a lot to do with the powdery white drug that the series focuses on.
“In Italy, there are various levels of purity in flour,” showrunner Gina Gardini explained in a panel discussion with actors Andrea Riseborough and Harold Torres for TheWrap’s Virtual Screening Series moderated by “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver” screenwriter Paul Schrader and presented by Amazon.
“There’s type zero, and type zero zero is the most pure,” she continued. “So Roberto [Saviano] had a play on that, creating something even more pure than double zero flour, and it’s zero zero zero.”
The series is a branch off of the popular ITV mafia series “Gomorrah,” which shares creators Leonardo Fasoli and Stefano Sollima, and on which Gardini also served as showrunner. The two shows are both based on books by Saviano.
“When Roberto [Saviano] pitched the book, there were only seven pages. And the first seven pages of this book is a first-person monologue which describes your life and how everything that is involved in your life… whether you use it, you buy it, you sell it, you’ve never seen it, is affected by cocaine,” Gardini said. “And this larger theme that cocaine is the most widely distributed commodity in the world, that it sustains the global economy, and without it, there would be an economic collapse on the level of which we’ve never seen before.”
It was from that monologue that the idea for the Amazon series was born.
“This idea of making another crime series but on a massive global stage was what intrigued us… We spent three years just crisscrossing the globe,” Gardini said. “We came up with the idea of following a single shipment of cocaine, a massive shipment of cocaine, and approaching our story with three main worlds: The people who buy it, the people who sell it, and the people who broker the deal.”
Gardini said the project took over five years to complete from start to finish and involved 151 days of shooting, which required traveling first from New Orleans, Louisiana, then to Mexico, Italy, and finally to Morocco.
Riseborough, who plays Emma Lynwood in the series, said one of her favorite places to shoot was in a small town in Calabria, a region in Southern Italy, that had been abandoned after an earthquake in 1973.
“There were literally people’s utilities bills from 1973, just left in the buildings,” she said. “The only things that were there were two little rabid puppies that we ended up helping down the mountain. That was a really memorable time, and also the scenes were so memorable towards the end of the series.”
Gardini said that the most challenging location to shoot in was Mexico, and detailed a startling encounter they had there with local police.
“Despite the years of going back and forth and months of prep, after three days of shooting, we were shut down because our shoot coincided with the national elections,” she said. “Federales came to our set pointing guns and basically said, ‘Get out of town.’ That was the biggest issue because it had a snowball effect on us. We had to shut down and re-prep and move location in Mexico. That said, our experience in Mexico was incredible.”
Riseborough also spoke about her experience shooting the final scene of the season, and of the odd benefits of shooting it smack in the middle of the production schedule.
“As Emma, I walked into a complete tumult of blood and the sadness of a family gathered, going very wrong. And I think it was just important because (you’re hardly ever) able to see the whole landscape of the piece at once, to just be present with where we were, to take in the reality of the situation and to know what’s gone before,” she said. “It maps out your trajectory in an odd way, if you do it halfway through. You know what you have to get to in the end. It’s surreal.”
Torres, who plays Manuel Contreras, said he didn’t know the scene was going to be the very last one at the time they filmed it.
“I remember when I was working with her, I tried to be the same level of [strength]. All the characters are very strong, and that makes the level of execution very high. I was thinking very much about how they’re going to be together in that moment, and the only thing that was important for me was not to try to intimidate her and not to try to be more evil than the character is,” he said. “It was important in all my work with this character [not to] play him that way — don’t try to be charming… It’s a strong scene and I felt something very important in that moment, even if I didn’t know that’s the end of the story.”