Talking British drug laws and US politics with the star of Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico
Hey Diego. Where in the world are you right now?
I’m in Bilbao. You should be here, too. It’s beautiful – the sun is out, and the Guggenheim is right in front of me.
You’re starring in the fourth series of Narcos as Mexican ‘Godfather’ Félix Gallardo. Why do audiences love dangerous drug dealers so much?
It’s been there since the beginning, no? We want to hear the story of the twisted, obscure character who’s willing to cross the line that we’re not. I mean, Shakespeare, come on! It’s the same fascination that allows boxing to exist. Nobody wants to get into a fight, but a part of us enjoys watching people hurt each other. That said, Gallardo was so different to the image of the drug dealer that we all have in our heads – he seemed to be aware of the value of being discreet and subtle. He was more of a businessman than anything else, and was always one step ahead of everyone else. It’s a unique story, in that respect.
It’s a story that was happening around you as a boy growing up in Eighties Mexico. Were you exposed to it at all?
I was 10 years old when he was sent to jail. But I remember a Mexico from the perspective of a kid, so I had to revisit the Mexico that my father was hiding from me. What’s interesting with Gallardo’s story, is that it feels really necessary to revisit it right now, to not only help understand how the f*ck we’ve ended up living in this mess we’re living in today, but also as a part of the huge debate on the legalisation of drugs.
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Even more so in the UK, where specialist doctors can now prescribe cannabis products.
In the UK? Oh fantastic! That’s great news. Congrats.
I guess that answers the question as to which side of the fence you fall on.
Drugs will always be consumed, legally or illegally, and this is definitely where the conversation should be leading to, because the strategy has so far failed. I don’t have the answers, but I do know it’s time for the debate to happen. And a real one, because the violence in my country is insane. It’s ridiculous. It has reached every level of society. It is time to do something.
How does it feel to be Mexican, and living in Mexico, in a world where the US president openly vilifies your country at every opportunity?
It’s bitter-sweet. We’ve just come out of an election where the turnout was impressive, the majority was shouting for change, and that, I believe, brought us a lot of hope. But at the same time the complexity of our relationship with the US is… unique. We’ve never been in this equation: one day the president says he’s happy to work with the Mexican government, and the next he’s sending 5,000 soldiers to the border. It’s complicated.
It doesn’t fill you with much hope…
Hope comes in the form of peoples’ willingness to get involved. I’ve never felt it so strongly. Citizens are going out and participating. Our president changes on 1 December. What [incoming president] Andres Obrador is going to do still feels kind of enigmatic to me, but let’s hope something happens at least.
It does feel like an anomaly: an elected left-wing politician in a tide of global right-wingism.
I know, but polarisation is happening, too. A sense of “you’re with me or against me”, with nothing in between. It’s happening in Mexico, you feel it, and that’s scary. When you lose the ability to find what’s in between, then you leave many people behind.
Flipping the tone on its head, what makes Mexico a truly beautiful place to live?
Ha, yes, that’s the other side. Mexico has a richness that I wouldn’t change for anything. I love the idea of being able to transit from the dramatic Pacific Coast to the desert to the jungle to a huge city, and have so much territory in between that I’ve still yet to explore. It’s really cool, in terms of its music, its cinema. There’s still a lot for me to discover about my own country, not only in respect to its size, but its diversity, too.
Finally, your Instagram feed tells me you’re a fan of mezcal. How does one spot a really good bottle?
Mezcal! Yes! What I can tell you about mezcal is you won’t be drinking the best stuff unless you’re in Oaxaca. We keep all the good stuff for ourselves.
Narcos: Mexico is on Netflix from 16 November
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