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The star of Netflix’s 'Narcos' talks about playing Pablo Escobar

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Wagner Moura reveals all about stepping into the shoes of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar

“I was a skinny Brazilian actor who couldn’t speak a word of Spanish,” Wagner Moura tells ShortList over the phone from LA. Just a heads up: this was before he landed the part of overweight Colombian drug-trafficker Pablo Escobar in Netflix’s new 10-part series, Narcos. But when you sign up to play the most violent drug lord ever, you don’t mess about: Moura moved to Escobar’s hometown of Medellín, learnt the language in six months and, well, ate a lot of ice cream.

Welcome to the world of cocaine, Netflix-style. Set in the Eighties, the show chronicles the rise of Escobar, his Medellín Cartel and the rapid expansion of the cocaine trade. Escobar smuggled the drug in everything from fish to coffee, and bought Boeing 727s to smuggle 10,000kg in one go. He was also ruthless in his quest to maintain power, culminating in him bombing a plane in 1989.

Despite this, Escobar achieved a hero-like status in Medellín: “He’s still loved by people because he built lots of houses,” explains Moura. “They consider him the Robin Hood of Colombia. If you go to Barrio Pablo Escobar you can see an image of Pablo next to an image of Jesus Christ."

Escobar is a mesmerising and terrifying antihero. And making $60m a day doesn’t necessarily equal a happy drug lord. “Escobar was one of the richest men in the world, but he wasn’t accepted by the Colombian elite,” says Moura. “Social difference is a big issue in Colombia – Pablo is a product of that. He tried to be loved and accepted, but wasn’t. So he declared war on a whole country."

Shot over eight months on location, the show is in Spanish (Escobar’s story) and English – from DEA agent Steve Murphy’s (Boyd Holbrook) point of view. With gangs, blood and drugs, Breaking Bad fans might finally have a replacement. Or, as the show’s tagline puts it: “There’s no business like blow business.” 

Narcos starts 28 August on Netflix 

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