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Wagner Moura immersed himself in all things Pablo Escobar for ‘Narcos,’ now he can’t wait to shed ‘that energy’

Enough with the violent drug cartels, ‘Narcos’ star Wagner Moura reveals he has a fondness for ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘House of Cards’

Before Wagner Moura stepped on the set to play Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar for the Netflix series “Narcos,” the Brazilian actor had more to learn than just his lines.

He had to learn how to speak Escobar’s native Spanish.

“It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as an actor, learn how to speak another language to play a character,” said Moura, 40, whose first language is Portuguese. “At the same time, it brought me [closer] to the character. In other words, ‘I’m learning your language to play you.’”

For his efforts at bringing to life one of the most feared and hated men in modern history, Moura was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in Season 1 of “Narcos.” Season 2 was released in September.

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The series is based on the rise of the Colombian drug cartel from the ’70s onward, how they terrorized an entire country (thus the term “narco terrorists”), influenced international politics and, ultimately, became the focus of America’s war on drugs. In the series, Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal play former, real-life Drug Enforcement Administration agents Steve Murphy and Javier Pena.

Moura grew up hearing about the nearby dug wars in Colombia on the nightly news, and understood that drug trafficking was a major problem across Latin America. Similar themes about law, crime and poverty have emerged in Brazilian films that Moura has starred in, such as the “Elite Squad” film series. He worked on the two films with director José Padilha, who produces “Narcos.”

Padilha brought Moura onboard for the Netflix series. Aside from learning Spanish and gaining 40 pounds for the role, Moura also did a crash course in the modern history of Colombia and Escobar.

“I think I had read everything written about Pablo Escobar, in Spanish and English,” said Moura. “And [studied] a lot of Colombian history…I observed a lot in order to forget it all, [then] create my own version of Pablo Escobar. I didn’t try to imitate him, but I knew so much about him. At the end of the day, that’s what all actors do… When you play a character that really existed, it’s your version of them.”

“Javier Bardem is going to play Escobar in a film and I’m crazy to see his version of him,” continued Moura. “I don’t want to compare Pablo Escobar to Hamlet, but I love to see other versions of “Hamlet” because each actor will have different versions of it.”

The real Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993 by Colombian National Police. Referred to as “The King of Cocaine,” he’d been estimated to be the wealthiest criminal in history during the height of his cartel’s power.

The closing scene of “Narcos” was eerily similar to photos and accounts of Escobar’s last moments. “We shot that scene on the very same rooftop where Pablo was killed,” says Moura. “I spent two years doing the character and working with those people and crew. We all knew that was the end of the road for that character. And the fact that I fell at the very same place where Pablo was killed. It was a very emotional day.”

The “Narcos” series is now going on without Escobar, and therefore, without Moura. It will focus on other drug factions, such as the Cali Cartel, which rose in the wake of his demise.

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“The idea was always to make a series about drug trade,” says Moura. “Pablo would only last one, maybe two seasons. I was lucky. Actors, generally when they’re going into a television series, they don’t know how their character is going to end. But I knew exactly how it was going to happen to my character so I could build this arc, this curve.”

Now Moura, who is directing his own film in Brazil, which is also about a tumultuous political and social era, is intent on shedding all that residual Escobar weight. “In the beginning it was great because I could eat all these delicious things and say ‘Hey, I’m doing this professionally,’” he jokes. “But I’m still chubby, and we wrapped [the last season] like a year ago. I’m still trying to get back to my former weight.”

“When I wrapped, I did this diet thing, a vegan thing, not only to lose weight but to get rid of him. It was important to get rid of him. I mean, more than [dropping] the weight, it was getting rid of that energy.”

When asked if there’s any chance that Escobar might come back to life in the series, like, say in a flashback or prequel, Moura’s answer was clear.

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“No. Pablo’s done,” he said. “But I’d love to, maybe in Season 5, come back as another character. A thin guy, great body, very sexy.”

Watch the full conversation below:

Wagner Moura of ‘Narcos’ put on 40 pounds to play Pablo Escobar. Shedding the weight was part of purging the character.

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lorraine.ali@latimes.com


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