When Wagner Moura was offered the role of Pablo Escobar in the series Narcos, he may have been a little surprised. Why? Well, at the time, he couldn’t speak Spanish and weighed about 40 pounds less than the real Pablo. So how did he end up helping to make one of the most beloved shows of our time? And how did they get so many people hooked on a genuinely bilingual program?
Gaining a few pounds was a piece of cake (or, I suppose, a few of them) compared to the language challenge Moura had in front of him — even by Babbel’s high standards, this was quite the undertaking. How were they going to replace his strong Brazilian accent with the unmistakably soft enunciation of el Patrón?
Wagner Moura wanted to score the role of Escobar at all costs, and he took the challenge very seriously. As he describes in an interview with Jimmy Fallon, he packed his bags and caught a flight to Medellín, where he lived for three months and pursued a very ambitious aim: to learn Spanish, and to learn it with a genuine Colombian accent. He completed a Spanish course for foreigners at the local university and pigged out sufficiently to gain the missing 40 pounds.
And now the world is currently waiting (impatiently) for the second season, even though everyone already knows the biggest spoiler of them all…
Aside from Moura’s formidable feat, Narcos has another valuable characteristic: it’s an entirely bilingual series. Rather than insisting the Latin Americans speak English like a demented Speedy-Gonzalez — “That’s no mouse, that’s el gato!” — or dub the actors with an artificial Colombian accent, the producers opted for an authentic representation of language. The story, which unravels primarily in Medellín, Colombia, is narrated by one of the main protagonists Steve Murphy, a US agent for the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). Although he speaks English, around half the dialogue is in Spanish. This not only augments the sense of authenticity, but also proves to viewers they can be informed and even entertained in a second language, while also emphasizing the fact that they can enjoy the inflexions and expressions that this second language brings to the table. For such a popular series to be so resolutely bilingual is impressive indeed. – Even the theme tune reflects the show’s commitment to bilingualism – the Spanish-language song Tuyo, which means yours, was performed by the Brazilian singer-songwriter Rodrigo Amarante.
So if you’re looking to learn, or to continue learning Spanish, check out Narcos for one of the language’s star learners, and also simply to treat yourself to some fine entertainment. You never know, by the end of the series you may be able to ignore one or two of the subtitles and produce a few of your own lines of Colombian Spanish, eh m’ijo.