Diego Luna has a cold. The Mexican actor, who is in India to attend a screening of the new season of Netflix's Narcos, is sneezing relentlessly when we meet for coffee at a Taj hotel in downtown Mumbai.
From a Mexican indie that became one of the defining films to come out of the region to a Hollywood blockbuster that broke records, Luna has covered a wide spectrum in his acting career. He is excited about his future assignments, which include a prequel series to Rogue One.
But playing dreaded drug lord Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, or El Pedrina as he was known in Mexico's Guadalajara cartel, appears to have taken a toll.
At the hotel, Luna often pauses to snort stuff out (it's just the cold), while I pretend to admire the opulence of our surroundings. A battery of anxious aides rush to him with tissues, pills and empathy. Then, after a dramatic coughing fit, Luna finally settles down, and we begin our interview.
From indie projects such as Y Tu Mamá También and Frida to toplining tentpoles such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it's been quite a journey. As a Mexican actor working in Hollywood, do you think the industry has become more inclusive and that actors of different ethnicities are creating a new mainstream?
A long time has passed since Y Tu... The world has also changed. The industry has changed. Earlier, to be a part of products such as Star Wars and Narcos, you had to be living in Hollywood. And guess what? Right now it's just the opposite. I live in Mexico and they go looking for you because they need that representation on screen. You can go to Hollywood and be who you are and retain your ethnicity. You don't have to change your name, you don't have to hide your accent. Fifteen years ago, people would ask me to 'neutralise ' my accent so I could be the next someone great. But right now I am Diego Luna and no one can be the next Diego Luna. They'll be the next whoever they are.
How does the current political climate inform how you choose the stories you participate in?
I think it's very important to tell the story of the case of Kiki Camarena and how it permanently changed the relations between Mexico and the United States. As far as choices go, I am making a choice thinking that it's going to have me in Mumbai a year-and-a-half later talking about it. So it has to be a cause that I care about. Stories last a long time in life. The first time I sat down with Eric (Eric Newman, producer of Narcos) was a long time ago. Now I'm here, still talking about it, taking the conversation forward.
Fifteen years ago, people would ask me to 'neutralise ' my accent so I could be the next someone great
Afew episodes into the new season, I found myself rooting for your character despite knowing that he's vile, corrupt, a monster. How do you humanise such a complex character without glorifying him?
There is an extremely thin line there. To humanise, you need to tell a story of people, not heroes. People that are flawed and who make wrong choices but who're also victims of a bigger system. I don't think we can blame Felix Gallardo for what we're living but we can blame the system that has been relentlessly fighting with a flawed, wrong strategy.
We can blame a corrupted system that has become unbeatable because it involves power at both sides of the border. If you think about issues this big, these guys are just an extra layer. Then you have the market. While talking about drugs, how is it that we never talk about health issues? We should be talking about addictions and provisions and rehabilitation and many things that aren't a part of the conversation. The reason they are not talked about is because it will bring down a business. And the business provides profit to many layers of the power structure. They don't want to let go of that.
While talking about drugs, how is it that we never talk about health issues? We should be talking about addictions and provisions and rehabilitation and many things that aren't a part of the conversation.
How do you make the bad look not-so-bad?
The guy that's supposed to be bad is not all that badbecausehe is a part of a system that's completely fucked up. It's not just him. I think that's the first step. You can't say that DEA (US Drug Enforcement Administration) is not complicit in this. It's not black and white, there's a lot of ambiguity. As an actor, you have to find the triggers in the character's decisions. These characters have an explanation for everything they do, just like you. Love, jealousy, ambition, fear, greed. All the stuff we feel. So when you approach it that way, it humanises them, instead of glamourising.
When the first few seasons of Narcos came out, there was a contrarian view that said it hurt the image of Columbia as it brings out traumatic memories of the past. How do you feel about that idea in the Mexican context?
If it was a memory, I would be happy to join a conversation from the perspective that question is asked. But for Mexicans, it's not a memory. In the last 12 years alone, there have been more than 250,000 people killed because my country started a war against drug trafficking. A war pushed by American politics and something we weren't ready for. It's a war we're all losing.
We're not talking about the past. We're talking about a country that is living a horrible reality of violence, one that doesn't quite belong to us. It not only belongs to Mexico but all of us.
This is a global issue and my country happens to be in the worst position at the moment. But the market is everywhere. Connecting drugs is not a memory, it is our present. We have to be reminded of it. We have to remind people outside of Mexico that the decisions they are making are affecting people they don't even know.
We'll have as many seasons of Narcos as it takes to fix the issue.
We have to remind people outside of Mexico that the decisions they are making are affecting people they don't even know.
Given the current conversation around #MeToo, where a lot of actors have publicly distanced themselves from Woody Allen, whom you worked with in A Rainy Day in New York, do you look at your experience of working with him differently today?
(Pauses) I don't look at my experience or the process I had with him differently. Not at all.
Would you still work with him in the future? (actors such as Timothée Chalametand Rebecca Hall have expressed regret for working with Allen while Javier Bardem has stood by the director, who's been accused of molesting his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow)
It's not as simple as that. I'd have to sit with you for another half an hour to get into that.
(This article has been corrected to say that Dylan Farrow is Woody Allen's adoptive daughter.)
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