Glass speaks with heart-throb Juan Pablo Raba on the release of The 33

Writhing, screaming, violently rocking. A petulant alcoholic trapped for over a week underground in a partially collapsed mine, for whom withdrawal has become all-consuming.

In one of the most powerfully emotive moments in The 33, Juan Pablo Raba’ character Dario Segovia plays out the decomposition of hope that each of the Chilean miners buried in a resource-diminishing mine, 2,300 feet underground, face with the passing of time.

With his role in this recently released film, Raba (already a mega-star throughout Latin America for his lead roles in the telenovelas Mi Gorda Bella and Los Caballeros Las Prefieren Brutas) made no meek proclamation of his acting chops. Alongside Antonio Banderas and Juliette Binoche, Raba’ performance in The 33 has foretold his role as distinguishably worldly actor—though he is strikingly handsome, he is much more than a guapo; he is an inextinguishable talent, and he has staked a claim on the turf of worldwide media.

Glass speaks with Juan Pablo on his entrée into this new sector of television and film, the shifting but still nascent presence of Latinos in global entertainment, and the role above all other roles – that of the family.

33-BA-05046A scene from The 33. Photograph: Beatrice Aguirre

This past year has been an impactful entrance for you into English-language cinema and TV. What have been the greatest challenges in that? The greatest rewards?
The biggest challenge for me has and will always be to keep [a] balance. It is such a passionate job, full of amazing and interesting characters, but at the end of the day it is just a job, and what really matters is your real life. So, considering 2015 a truly exceptional year full of great jobs and experiences, it also means that keeping [a] balance was [all the] more challenging. Being part of American productions is something I had always wanted since the beginning of my career, so it is a dream come true, so to speak – that is a huge reward. But nothing beats making your family and friends proud.

In Narcos, you portray this wonderful character, Gustavo Gaviria, whom we get to know as the serious, business-minded cousin and second hand man to infamous narcotics dealer Pablo Escobar. How did you first get involved in the project?
It was a regular audition. It was a little tricky with Gustavo because, despite the role [being] based on a real person, unlike Pablo, there is really not a lot of information on him. He flew under the radar and was against his cousin’s public appearances. It is a double-edged sword—[it] gives you a lot of freedom to work, but that same freedom can create a vague persona. We knew what [Gustavo’s] look was through some pictures, and on the personal [acting] side, I just focused on creating a character who could love, be loyal, and always tell the truth to Pablo. No matter what.

33-BA-04769A scene from The 33. Photograph: Beatrice Aguirre

You portray a real person in The 33, as well. How do you remain honourable to the real-life Dario, amid creative liberties within the script? How do you navigate the sensitivity of the whole project?
With Dario it was even more complicated because the real life Dario and [I] come from two very different universes. The challenge was always to make my Dario believable. To make him belong in that mine and embrace his problematic personal life. I understood that his journey was one of forgiveness, and discovered that is something we can all relate to, no matter how different we are. And that is the beauty of art—it has the capability to overcome social and personal barriers of any kind.

We heard that in preparation for the role, director Patricia Riggen had you and the other actors enter and experience real mines. Tell us about that.
Well, we shot in real mines. In the outskirts of Bogotá there is a town called Nemocón. They have amazing mines there, and that was the place chosen to film. It was indeed scary, but helped us so much in our work because that element [of setting] was very present and we never had to act it out. It was just there.

33-BA-05402rA scene from The 33. Photograph: Beatrice Aguirre

In Narcos, your character is Colombian. In The 33, Chilean. Being Colombian, having grown up in Spain and having lived in Argentina, I imagine your accent in Spanish is quite complex. How has living and working in countries with such specifically diverse accents helped inform the ways you act, linguistically and as a bilingual actor?
Every [living experience] helps, if you look and listen with attention. Growing up in such diverse cultures gives you more tools and a wider mind range. I love my heritage and I embrace it. I believe we have so many stories to tell. English is my second language, but American culture is something I have always been fascinated with. [English-language] music [and] cinema have been very important for me growing up, so I guess my ear has been trained to understand different ways of communication. It’s a matter of survival! [Rabas laughs.]

As a young actor, you took to the stage for a role in Gabriel García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Is stage work something you foresee doing again?
I would love to hit the stage again. I know it will come. But first, I want to do a lot more cinema!

33-BA-04705A scene from The 33. Photograph: Beatrice Aguirre

In the last decade, the role of the Latino and Latina character has been completely revitalized in English-language film and television. As a Latino actor working in English-language media, what are your thoughts on this?
I think the Latin quota is still very small. But, as you say, it’s getting better. The best part of it is that people now start to understand Latino culture through various [TV and movie] roles, and most [of those roles] are taking huge steps away from the cliché ones we all know about. That is very exciting to be a part of.

What’s been the most exciting part, for you, of the last year’s whirlwind of change?
Living this [out] with my family. Feeling my wife’s love and support. Living dreams I have been working on for so long—and understanding it’s just a few steps on a long [road] still ahead.

by Emily Rae Pellerin

Photographs: Beatrice Aguirre

Narcos is a Netflix original series. Follow Narcos on twitter here
The 33 was released worldwide last month.

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