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Diego Luna keeps his distance from drug lord role

Dylan Amirio

The Jakarta Post

Singapore  /  Fri, February 22, 2019  /  09:04 am
Diego Luna keeps his distance from drug lord role

Most wanted: Mexican actor Diego Luna (right) stars as ruthless drug lord Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo in Netflix’s drama series Narcos: Mexico. (Courtesy of Netflix/-)

Mexican actor Diego Luna found that portraying a ruthless man in Netflix’s drama series Narcos: Mexico was something he had to approach with caution in order to be fair to everyone affected by the Mexican drug war.

The Star Wars: Rogue One and The Terminal actor stars in the new revamped season, which takes itself further into the history of the south-of-the-border drug wars that have ravaged multiple countries with violence and war.

Mexico is the scene of the deadliest drug war in the 21st century, with over 250,000 killed and many more missing between 2006 and 2017.

After concluding the sagas of the Colombian Medellin and Cali cartels in the first three seasons of Narcos, the lens shifts into the heartland of drug war history in Narcos: Mexico.

Originally intended as a fourth season of Narcos and premiering late last year, Narcos: Mexico became its own series and is reported to be getting a second season.

Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo operates in a different way from Pablo Escobar. While Escobar carries out his business with sheer emotional ruthlessness (which ultimately proved to be his downfall), Gallardo saw the drug trade purely as a business, and approached it with the heartlessness of such.

Personal: For actor Diego Luna, playing a figure like drug lord Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo hits home hard. Personal: For actor Diego Luna, playing a figure like drug lord Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo hits home hard. (Agence France-Presse/Frederic J. Brown )


For Luna, playing a figure like Gallardo hits home hard.


He was there growing up as a child in the 1980s when the Gallardo-led drug wars were raging, with his father trying to shield him from the violent environment.

At that time, he said he had no idea of the extent of what was going on. But through his thorough research, he learned a lot about the Mexico that he grew up in.

“The violence in the last 12 years even, has got to the point where nobody in Mexico feels safe anymore,” he says.

Back in the 1980s, even as the drug wars were raging, he felt that people still had a degree of freedom and safety. It could be because the 1980s was when things were just getting started, but it became an unsafe environment really quickly. Mexico’s government only launched a real, intervening war against the cartels in 2006 under the presidency of Felipe Calderon, but the violence around it continues to this day.

He said playing as Gallardo also took an emotional toll on him as it basically went against all he was raised to be. He was recently nominated for Best Actor at the Critics’ Choice Awards for his performance in the show.

“It’s challenging actually, to portray a figure like him,” Luna said. “The guy lives in Sinaloa but is willing to go to Guadalajara to chase the opportunity of being a kingpin. In order to do that, he was willing to leave his family behind and sacrifice his friends. Personally, I feel that the relationships that I foster are the most important thing in my life and I want to take care of them.”

The real life Felix Gallardo is currently sitting in prison serving a 37-year sentence over the vicious murder of American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Kiki Camarena in 1985. Camarena is portrayed in Narcos: Mexico by fellow Mexican-American actor Michael Pena.

Camarena’s murder is infamous for the myriad torturous methods that Gallardo subjected the American to, including the injection of drugs into Camarena’s system in order for him to be alive as he was tortured throughout the 30-hour ordeal. Before that, Camarena worked undercover for the DEA in Guadalajara, infiltrating the Guadalajara cartel and managing to earn Gallardo’s trust at one point.  

Felix Gallardo himself was arrested for Camarena’s murder in 1989 after avoiding a high-intensity chase by both the Mexican government and the United States government.

Camarena’s death sparked a large-scale homicide investigation by the US, which also helped to bring down several corrupt officials and authority figures that sympathized with Gallardo. Gallardo used this extensive network to evade capture for four years. At one point he was the most wanted drug kingpin in the world.

Luna said that in his research for the role, he was very careful in choosing which materials to base his character on due to the fact that Gallardo was very well-documented.

He chose to not meet with the real-life Gallardo nor get too close with anyone closely associated with him, instead relying on the various articles and books about him. It was about keeping a distance from a man who he had no interest in personally becoming or knowing enough so that any of his actions could be rewarded with the slightest bit of justification.

 “I tried not to judge him, and make him a three dimensional character,” he explains. (ste)


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