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I am watching the series Narcos in the original language. This means that Pablo Escobar's voice, among others, is in Spanish.

From the very beginning, his accent sounded very strange to me, not Colombian at all. To my surprise, I discovered that the actor playing this role is Wagner Moura, a Brazilian who learnt Spanish to play this role:

He moved to Medellín several months before shooting and started to learn the language, which he called “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” though he didn’t see any other choice.

Why was this actor chosen despite this? To me, this sounds as weird as having a John Ford movie where a cowboy has a Japanese accent.

  • 3
    The same happened with Viggo Mortensen being chosen for the lead role in Alatriste. From the director's point of view, Mortensen's acting quality and physical resemblance to the original book's illustrations (and marketing value for a "sword fight" movie, coming from LOTR) weighted more than his strong Argentinian accent. Still a bad decision IMHO, it seemed so unrealistic for someone to speak like that in 1600's Spain, it totally broke suspension of disbelief for me. – walen Oct 17 '16 at 10:48
  • "They took our jobs!" "Took urr jahb!" – smci Feb 15 '18 at 12:27
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It was a decision of the director José Padilha, who cooperated with Moura in the past:

A Brazilian former journalist, Moura made his name starring in the Brazilian police thriller Elite Squad and its sequel, that were directed by Narcos producer José Padilha.

What drew you to the role of Pablo Escobar?

The first thing was the relationship I had with the director of the show José Padilha —we had worked to together on his to previous films, and we established a very strong collaboration and relationship. So when he was invited to do Narcos, he just decided I was his choice for Pablo Escobar.

(source)

Regarding the accent, I believe that Padilha was aware that Moura's Escobar won't sound genuine, but as the show was targeted at international audience he possibly preferred the actor's quality over the authenticity of the accent:

But Padilha knew the tender and thoughtful Moura could transform himself. He had directed Moura in 2007's Elite Squad and its sequel, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, the highest-grossing Brazilian film ever. To play a military police captain, Moura submitted to boot camp with Rio's elite police. "Many actors gave up and said, 'Fuck it, I'm an actor. I don't have to be here,' " Moura says. He stuck it out.

(source)

In addition to the above, the show was initially planned to be shot entirely in English. Three months before the shooting started the plans changed and it was decided that Spanish language dialogues will be shot in Spanish. This could be one of the reasons why not only Escobar, but also some other main characters are played by non-Colombian actors:

Colombian audiences have been irritated and amused by the show’s hodgepodge of accents. A character based on Escobar’s wife is played by Paulina Gaitán (Mexican), his partner Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha by Luís Guzmán (Puerto Rican), while his rival Jorge Ochoa is played by André Mattos (Brazilian).

(source)

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    Thanks for the thorough answer. No discussions about how well Wagner is playing the role and how his image is close to how Pablo Escobar was like; however, for those hundreds of millions of Spanish speakers who watch it, it makes the character not realistic at all. – fedorqui Oct 17 '16 at 9:43
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    @fedorqui As a native English speaker who has never been to America, I couldn't place all of their accents. How easily will an average Spaniard (from Spain) pinpoint a Columbian, Puerto Rican or Mexican accent? – SBoss Oct 17 '16 at 12:24
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    @SBoss In general, we can easily pinpoint in blocks: Argentinian/Uruguayan can be one, Colombian/Venezuelan/Ecuatorian another, then Mexican/Central American. The more relationship you have with one of the regions, the better you can determine the specific country, and even region. In this case, though, it is a Brazilian guy with a sometimes-intense Portuguese accent. Compare the character and the original (0:33, for example); it's difficult to say what, but there is this something that sounds bad. – fedorqui Oct 17 '16 at 12:40
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    @SBoss I suspect it's similar to how well we Americans can pinpoint Canadian/Northern (Minnesota/Michigan), Jersey, Boston, and Southern accents. – Wayne Werner Oct 18 '16 at 0:59
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    @SBoss You have people from everywhere everywhere, so yes, you can pinpoint anyone mostly. Like fedorqui say, you mostly get the general area they're from. Besides that, in spain there's a lot of latinos, so you generally listen to a lot of their accents, and if you pay close attention you can start identifying them. Besides, it's like my english. Even if I have a really nice accent, people always tell me "you're not from around here, are you?" I have no idea how they do it, but they do it. Same here applies in spanish. – tfrascaroli Oct 18 '16 at 7:02

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