He signed on for a TV show about ‘FIFA Gate.’ He made a satire of the soccer ‘mafia’
The late Argentine soccer executive Julio Grondona shouldered much of the blame for the corruption scandal that engulfed the sport’s governing body, FIFA, after 14 current and former officials and associates were indicted in May 2015 after an FBI investigation. But “El Presidente,” Amazon Prime Video’s new series about “FIFA Gate,” focuses on another character.
At its center is Sergio Jadue, who at the time the organization’s global web of bribery, fraud and money laundering came to light was both vice president of CONMEBOL (South American Football Confederation) and president of ANFP (National Association of Professional Soccer), which governs the sport in Chile, and before that had directed only the small club La Calera.
“His life is a tragicomedy,” said Armando Bó, the showrunner of “El Presidente,” which premiered Friday. “He is a guy who, at 31 years old, went from running a small club to managing all Chilean soccer; then he came to CONMEBOL and FIFA, and at the top of professional success, he was under the most pressure from the FBI.”
For Bó, who won the 2014 Oscar for original screenplay alongside Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone and Alexander Dinelaris for “Birdman,” the FIFA Gate project “was like music to my ears, because it gave me the opportunity to show a mafia that had not been shown before and in which, in addition, different nationalities were involved.”
After making the decision to focus on Jadue, the director and screenwriter had to choose a genre direction in which to steer the project. “I decided to take it on the side of parody, of satire, because it was a different way of denouncing [what happened], of laughing together at the circus that is soccer,” he explained. “When you realize that FIFA is a nonprofit association and that CONMEBOL had diplomatic immunity in Paraguay, you feel that all of this seemed to correspond to a real-life comedy. The freedom they had to do business, and which lasted more than 30 years, seemed perfect to adopt the tone of excess.”
But “El Presidente” is not a sports series, Bó stressed, and match scenes are scarce. “This is about the business behind soccer and not about soccer itself,” he said.
And that business is often a dirty one, up to the South American leaders who are depicted as thugs and sexual harassers in addition to participating in the corruption scheme.
“We undoubtedly present a dark world and quote people with their real names, but we also chose to tell the story of what they do as if it were the most normal thing in the world,” said Bó, who had no direct access to any of the people involved.
Bó — a declared fan of Club Atlético Independiente, as well as Argentine superstar Lionel Messi and his professional club, FC Barcelona — doesn’t feel it’s contradictory to admire the sport and at the same time highlight its mismanagement.
“The art of good soccer is something different,” he said. “It’s a great pleasure for me to be able to see a Champions League game; in fact, it’s what I miss most right now. But that doesn‘t mean that I can’t tell what happened in this case and that we can’t even entertain ourselves with those same events.”
Although he admits there was a long list of candidates for the starring role of Sergio Jadue, Bó is clear that Colombian actor Andrés Parra, who played drug trafficker Pablo Escobar in “Escobar, el Patrón del Mal,” was his first choice.
“There aren’t so many great actors of this age, with this predisposition and who are so similar to Jadue,” he said. “It was an important decision, because he carries the entire series on his shoulders, and he does it very calmly. He manages to make you laugh and at the same time that you care about the character, that’s something that not everyone can do.” (Of the decision to cast Parra and Mexican actress Paulina Gaitán, who plays Jadue’s wife, Nené, as Chilean characters, Bó said, “They got the accent perfectly, and in what didn’t work, they were helped. There’s no scandal around here; the scandal was already the story of Jadue.”)
TV series like “ZeroZeroZero,” “Queen of the South” and “Narcos” draw on the same fascination as “The Godfather,” but in a brave new world.
The cast of “El Presidente” also includes Mexican actress Karla Souza, best known as Laurel Castillo on the ABC potboiler “How to Get Away with Murder,” as fictional FBI agent Lisa Harris. Bó underscored the importance of their casting to highlight different types of “strong female characters”: “Paulina has a somewhat overwhelming energy, while Karla manages a profile that goes completely the other way,” he said.
Bó, who lived for four years in Los Angeles and has not ruled out returning to the city, is riding out the COVID-19 pandemic in his hometown, Buenos Aires, where he is working on various projects — but only on paper.
“All in all, the situation around here’s quite controlled, although there has been a ‘lockdown’ for two and a half months that’s making things socially difficult,” he said. “It’s a great time to develop content on the computer, but there are so many people suffering that it’s hard to see the situation as something positive.”
Bó declined to give details of those projects, which will come directly from About Entertainment, the production company he launched in May , but he hinted at the possibility they will reach a set sooner than expected. “In Uruguay, filming has already resumed for a month. We will see what happens,” he said.
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