At the end of Narcos’ first season, drug patrón Pablo Escobar escapes La Catedral, his mansion “prison,” and is on the lam. “It was the biggest law enforcement blunder of all time,” DEA agent Steve Murphy (Boyd Holbrook) says in season 2’s premiere. If the first season is about Escobar’s ascent into a cocaine billionaire, the second season is about his fall—and his inevitable demise.
The new season raises the stakes, with more violence, more smoking, more Spanish curse words, and most importantly, more female cast members. This season takes a step forward in introducing a female DEA chief named Claudia Messina, the only woman in a male-dominated government. This makes about six main, non-prostitute roles for women on the show, an uptick from last season. New York native and soap star Florencia Lozano portrays Messina. When she first comes to town and meets Murphy and DEA agent Javier Peña (Pedro Pascal), he snarls, “Get ready to get your balls snipped.” They aren’t happy about having to answer to anyone, let alone a woman. But she’s not the ball buster they think she is, and together they try to hunt down Escobar, even though it involves some illegal situations.
Before acting in the telenovela-like Narcos, Lozano spent seven years, as Téa Delgado on One Life to Live, and a year playing her on General Hospital. Lozano’s friend Catherine Curtin (prison guard Wanda Bell on Orange is the New Black) told her about the role, so Lozano auditioned and nailed it. Lozano spoke to Complex about the complicated history of Escobar, what went into playing a DEA agent, and the emotional difficulties in working in a foreign country.
Why did you want to be involved with Narcos?
I was really interested in being on a show that was set in Latin America and tells a Colombian story. My parents are from Argentina, so I was very interested in being a part of that storytelling. And I love that so much of the show is in Spanish. I think we’re getting to the point where there are more and more Spanish speakers, immigrants and first generation Hispanics who are in the U.S., and our stories are starting to be told in our language, partially at least, and that sort of integration of Spanish into the U.S. is very hopeful and exciting to me. I really like being a part of broadening people’s understanding of what it means to be Hispanic.
Last season, people criticized the show for not employing Colombian actors—for instance, Wagner Moura, who plays Escobar, is Brazilian. What are your thoughts on that?
People feel very proprietary about their heroes or their villains or their icons, and Escobar was arguably—depending on who you talk to—a villain, a hero, everything in between, but you can’t argue with the fact that he was a very prominent figure in Colombian history. There are people who I met down there who are tired of the story of Escobar and stories about drug dealing in Colombia. And I understand that, too. There’s a really great Colombian series, Escobar: El Patrón del Mal. It was shot in Colombia with all Columbian actors, and it’s a soap opera. It’s a really comprehensive story that follows the real life story of Escobar. If people want to see that story with Colombian accents, and Colombian actors, that’s a beautiful piece of work. Narcos is different; it is a gringo telling in some ways.
What kind of research did you do in order to play a DEA agent?
I called this homicide detective that I had met when I played a cop in the Harvey Keitel movie The Ministers. She introduced me to a DEA agent in New York, who in turn introduced me to a DEA in Bogotá, and he introduced me to a whole bunch of agents there. He took me to the Embassy. We went to Super Bowl parties; I introduced my cast to them. So we got to hang out and be friends and pick their brains about what it is they do. The story we’re telling is set in 1991, 1992 [and 1993] and Colombia was a far more dangerous place than it is right now. So what the DEA is doing now, yes, they’re risking their lives, but the people we are portraying had bounties on their heads. They had a very, very dangerous job. Bogotá was the place to be a DEA agent. It was where DEA agents wanted to go because they are thrill seekers. I talked to a man who my character was very loosely based on, who now no longer lives in Colombia, but I met him through the DEA agents who knew him, and he told me about how dangerous it was and how alive he felt during that time, so I feel like I got a sense of what it might’ve been like to be there in the early ’90s.
You have some intense scenes on the show. How do you prepare, mentally, for that?
It was an intense experience being in a foreign country away from my friends, my family, everything that was familiar, and telling a story that I knew was so deep for Colombians. It was intense being in a machismo culture where women are treated differently than here. So I didn’t have to do much work in terms of feeling what she might have felt there—very excited and grateful, but also alone. The DEA is very much a boy’s club, and my character is a woman in a man’s world within a man’s world, because Colombia is a man’s world, too. Getting to just live that, I think, translated to some of my work as a character.
What are your personal views about Escobar?
The U.S. history involvement in Latin America is one we don’t learn much about in high school, and it is a shady, criminal history. I think people do what they need to do to survive. And drugs are—whether they’re in this country or in any other country—lucrative. Escobar went way beyond earning money to feed his family. He was the one of the most wealthy men on the planet. I think for me, a lot of telling this story and learning about it, I continued to be amazed how greed can poison the human spirit, how the desire for more and more is never enough and really can wreak havoc on humanity, in all its forms—corporate greed, Escobar’s greed. For the Colombian people, he is a figure of great complexity and there’s a lot of power and grief and pride. I would never opine, because I don’t know enough to say, look, I think this about him or I think that. I know enough to know it’s a very profound character in the Colombian consciousness.