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'Narcos' Actor Wagner Moura On Shedding The Weight Of Pablo Escobar

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"I think I've read everything that was written about [Escobar]," Moura says, "but I did that in order to forget all that and then to create my own version of him."

Pablo Escobar was one of the most notorious drug kingpins the world has ever known. His cartel — based in Medellin, Colombia — ruled in the 1980s and at one point supplied 80 percent of the cocaine coming into the U.S.

The drama and danger of those days is captured in the Netflix series Narcos. Brazilian actor Wagner Moura plays Escobar in the series, and at the time it was a surprising casting choice. For one thing, Escobar is on the chubby side, and as Moura tells NPR's David Greene, "I was very skinny." Also: He didn't speak Spanish.

So Moura gained 40 pounds (he's now lost them, thanks to a vegan diet), and the native Portuguese speaker quietly flew himself to Medellin for language school. "I was in a classroom with German businessmen and Japanese teenagers," he says. "It was interesting."

The second season of Narcos will be Moura's last with the show. It premieres Friday.

Interview Highlights

On finding the good in his character, Pablo Escobar

He wanted to be loved, accepted. ... He was a human being, you know, he was a person. I'm sure Osama bin Laden was a human being, and his friends were laughing [at] his jokes, and his kids loved him. ... And he was a mean, mean, awful human being, but he was a human being. He was not an alien.

For Pablo Escobar, it's the same. He was probably the worst thing that happened to Colombia, but he loved his kids, he had his wife, he ended up doing good things for poor people in his city. So all these contrasts are what makes us human, you know, all of us. And all of us, we all have — of course in different levels — we have a dark side and a good side.

On creating his own version of Escobar

I had to put myself in his shoes and think what I would do if I was Pablo in these situations. And this is very personal. I think I've read everything that was written about him, but I did that in order to forget all that and then to create my own version of him. ... I ended up doing things — for example, the way I was holding the pants and the way Pablo walked — I didn't try to do that on purpose. And then people were [like], "You know what? You know that Pablo used to do [that]."

On how playing Escobar affected his personal life

What happens is that when you're living with a character like that, it's not like characters are taking your body ... it's just that you're dealing with a certain kind of energy every day that's not good at all. So, for example, losing the weight: Doing the vegan diet wasn't only about losing weight, but getting rid of that character, you know, getting rid of that energy that I was having to live with for two years.

On whether the 40-year-old will continue to take on roles that demand so much change

No, I wouldn't change my body again. I meant that's — I think that's something for young people to do, you know. I can't do that anymore. My cholesterol was — it was horrible.

But to do something in Spanish? I would love to, because now it's a new tool that I have as an actor. You know, I would love to do films in Mexico and in Argentina, for example, where they do great films. And another thing that was really important for me is that working with actors from Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico ... it was a great thing for me because culturally I felt for the first time that I was part of something bigger than just being Brazilian.

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