CelebrityNarcos Stars Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook on Life with Pablo
The hit Netflix drama Narcos, which returns today, follows the hunt for notorious Colombian kingpin Pablo Escobar. Leading the chase are Javier Pena and Steve Murphy, the duo played by Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook on the show. GQ hosted a live Q&A at The Gent with the show’s frontmen ahead of the Season 2 premiere where they talked getting into character, shooting on-location in Colombia, and doing their own stunts. Here are some highlights:
How would you describe the aesthetic of Narcos?
Pedro Pascal: I would call it very authentic. We shoot the whole show in Colombia. The aesthetic structure of the show uses a lot of archival footage, real documented news reels and photographs, articles of everything that actually took place alongside everything that we’re shooting. It fits in perfectly as an aesthetic structure. To capture the environment is what makes Narcos the visual experience that it is. And the visual experience is really, in a way, the star of the show.
Boyd Holbrook: You don’t really have to dress a ton of actors. You don’t really have to spend a bunch of money lining up extras to look the time period.
Pascal: It’s a very cinematic country. Bogota is a beautiful, beautiful city that we have shot in every single corner of. We’ve seen more of Bogota than many people who were born and raised there. And other cities as well: Medellín, Santa Marta, Villavicencio. That’s very much what makes the show work, outside of an incredible performance by Wagner [Moura] playing Escobar.
How do you get in character for the role? How do you feel about the characters themselves?
Holbrook: I’m the furthest thing away from a cop. So you get a little paranoid about getting to that side. Pedro and I got to go to Quantico—go through scenarios, raids, shooting rubber bullets at each other.
Pascal: We trained for a week. We met our real counterparts, Javier Pena and Steve Murphy. It was Boyd’s idea—as far as I was concerned, I didn’t really want to go. I was like no, that’s scary!
Holbrook: These guys are like royalty, they got us in. That week summed it up of how legit these guys are. For me, it was really enough.
Talking about shooting on location, using locals as extras, what’s the general perception of the show?
Pascal: They’re amazing. There’s so much more to Colombia than drug trafficking, you have no idea. They’re a bit worn out by the association. But the show committed itself so completely to providing so many authentic perspectives and also made the physical landscape very much the star of the show, as well. Regardless, they’re unbelievably supportive. There’s this big crowd scene in the first season that production was not prepared to shoot. So they rallied all these people and had this massive audience for Escobar to give his first political speeches to his community. They were able to do that in minutes. We wouldn’t be able to do it if it weren't for the support and participation of the locals. They are unbelievable, unlike any place I’ve ever seen.
What was the most difficult thing filming?
Holbrook: The first season was like 6 days a week, 14 hour days. The second season for us was way easier. I was surprised that it’s been received this way because we came off it just worn out, just exhausted. I was done, I was totally spent.
Pascal: The fact that we were in real locations 90% of the time, it really is a day-to-day adventure, even in the second season. You can’t predict what’s gonna happen, you can’t predict if people are going to participate, you can’t predict if there’ll be interference. For the most part we get away with it. It does feel like we’re getting way with something.
Holbrook: You’re battling something every day.
Pascal: There’s this great chase scene in the first season. You see one in the first episode that I’m involved in. Even if they only end up using a couple seconds of footage, it wasn’t a few seconds of shooting. And these were in the real comunas. You can’t fake that at all. My back felt it. Scaling real walls, running on real rooftops.
Holbrook: People build their own houses, they make their own plumbing, they make their own life—it’s a maze. These things can travel up a mile from one house to another.
Pascal: And they let us shoot there. We got away with it. It went well. There are no tragic stories to share.
Boyd, you’ve taken on many characters—what was so challenging about being part of the Narcos experience?
Holbrook: I’ll be extremely honest with you, this show kind of changed my life. For an actor to go to work every day is an extreme blessing. For me to go to work every day for two years, that really changed me and how I approach stuff. When you’re trying out something like a musician, or a painter, you’re trying to get it right. Doing this experience, I actually took something and held onto it—I’m going to hold onto it the way I want to, I'm gonna move this the way I want to—rather than just moving through it and not trying to fuck up. To go to work every day for two years, that was life changing.
Pedro, would you say the show changed your life?
Pascal: Um, nope!
Watch the full interview here, including a rousing game of Who Bought It: Pablo Escobar or Nicolas Cage?.
Season 2 of Narcos is streaming on Netflix starting today.
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