A long-time favorite for his Golden-Globe nominated turn as the ultimate antihero—Pablo Escobar in Netflix’s Narcos, Wagner Moura has seemingly not stopped working since his real life character’s inevitable death at the end of the series’ second season. The Salvador-born actor has upcoming roles in director Alex Garland’s next film Civil War, the Russo Brothers’ The Gray Man, and as the voice of The Big Bad Wolf in the Warner Brothers sequel of Puss in Boots.
First up, he tackles the role of a Chicago journalist, alongside The Handmaid’s Tale’s Elisabeth Moss, searching for a time-traveling serial killer in the upcoming sci-fi thriller series Shining Girls on AppleTV+. Below, he explains why playing Escobar gave him a sense of belonging, what led him to his next role, and the importance of portraying an honest journalist amidst our current fake-news climate.
Shining Girls is available to stream now on Apple TV+
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Salvador, Bahia, in Northeastern Brasil.
How does one become an actor in Brazil?
I started acting when I was 15. Not because I felt I was particularly talented, but I wanted to be around theater people, who to this day are my favorite kind of people. I graduated university as a journalist, but never stopped working on stage. In 1999, a play I did with my best friends from Salvador went on tour in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, the biggest cities in Brazil. The play was a hit, and suddenly casting directors were inviting us to audition for TV and film projects.
Tell us about your current project, Shining Girls?
Shining Girls is a new series on Apple TV+ which has a very cool mix of genres. It’s a crime story with sci-fi elements and a drama about a woman who is the only survivor of a serial killer. She is putting her life back together through tracking down her assailant. It’s a unique series about femicide—written, produced and directed by very talented women.
What drew you to the role?
Many things, but a very important one was the chance to play a journalist, which is my background. I have a profound respect for good journalists, especially nowadays with journalism at such a tipping point as people are getting information through social media, and continuing the spread of fake news, along with world leaders discrediting the work of journalists. This puts their lives at risk, feeds ignorance, conspiracy theories, and the polarization that is eroding democracies everywhere.
Dan is a troubled guy, but a very good journalist that I was proud to play.
What has been your favorite part of working on this project?
Elisabeth Moss. I loved working with her.
Most challenging part?
It’s always harder for me to work in any language other than Portuguese.
What was it like playing Pablo Escobar?
It was a great part of my life. I learned a lot about Latin America and myself. Brazilians are very isolated in South America; we are this gigantic cultural island that doesn’t speak Spanish. In Narcos, working with actors from all over Latin America, living with my family in Colombia and doing a series about the drug trade and the horrors of the so-called war on drugs, I felt that I belonged to something bigger than just being Brazilian.
I flew to Medellin, Colombia and booked myself in a Spanish course for foreigners, before Netflix even knew I was being considered for the part. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I was a skinny Brazilian dude that couldn’t speak Spanish. If I had said back then that I was in Colombia preparing to play Pablo Escobar, people would’ve laughed in my face. So I said I was there to study Colombian Spanish. Which was technically true.
Did you have any fears playing him?
Not more than I usually have. Pablo Escobar divided the history of Colombia before and after his reign. I knew casting a Brazilian guy to play him was going to be controversial. But I dedicated a lot to it. I gained 40 pounds to play him, among other crazy stuff. One fear I had was that I would not be able to get rid of all that weight when we wrapped.
What is next for you?
I’m now in Atlanta shooting a film called Civil War, written and directed by Alex Garland, a filmmaker who I have always admired.
Do you have any hobbies that help keep you sane?
Brazilian Jiujitsu. But I haven’t been rolling since the beginning of the pandemic.
Who is your role model in your industry and why?
I always learn from people I work with. Right now I’m having the honor of working with Stephen McKinley Henderson. Stephen is one of the most adorable people I’ve met; full of joy, curiosity and generosity. A master who constantly reminds me how great acting can be.
CHECK OUT WAGNER
In Netflix’s Russo Brothers-directed The Gray Man
As the Big Bad Wolf in Warner Bros’ Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
As in director Alex Garland’s Civil War
As Dan Velasquez in Apple TV+’s Shining Girls
As Pablo Escobar in Netflix’s Narcos
As Colonel Nascimento in the Elite Squad films