ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar has been dead for almost 20 years. He terrorized his country in the 1980s and made billions of dollars until he was killed by police in 1993. Well, now Pablo Escobar is again the talk of Colombia, this time as the subject of a TV drama. It aims to show how he flooded American cities with cocaine and nearly brought his own country to its knees.
NPR's Juan Forero reports on how Escobar is being brought back to life.
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JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: A small plane lands on a remote air strip in southern Colombia and a camera crew begins to film.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Three, two, one, action, a director calls out. A drug trafficker has flown into the ranch owned by the cocaine cartel chief Pablo Escobar. And the two begin to argue.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: And then it's a wrap and the actors celebrate after the scene.
FORERO: Since his death in 1993, Escobar has fascinated historians and journalists, but as fiction, he's been taboo. The subject has been just too painful a memory here. Now, half of the country's TV viewers are tuning in every night to "Pablo Escobar: Boss of Evil."
Andres Parra plays Escobar and says the series is having an impact.
ANDRES PARRA: We have all type of reactions with the project, good and bad ones. You know, it never happened before with any other TV show. Everybody's talking about this - politicians, people from the army, victims.
FORERO: With an army of hit men, Escobar detonated car bombs and ordered an airliner blown out of the sky. He also had thousands killed, including the progressive politician, Luis Carlos Galan, who died at a 1989 campaign event captured on film.
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FORERO: Galan's niece is Juana Uribe and she is one of two creators of the Escobar series on the Caracol Television Network. She said it was vital to show the Escobar years from the victims' perspective. She and co-creator Camilo Cano, son of the famous editor slain by Escobar's hit men, also wanted the series to be as real as possible.
JUANA URIBE: (Foreign language spoken).
FORERO: History sometimes mixes with art, Uribe says, and in this case, we emphasize that by using archival footage in the series. The series is also full of real-life events, like the police raid on a huge industrial-sized lab that churned out cocaine for American users. The creators say the biggest trick was getting Pablo Escobar right.
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FORERO: His mannerisms and accent, his frantic breathing and nervous ticks. The actor, Andres Parra, also had to reconcile the Escobar who is the good father with the sociopath.
PARRA: I couldn't understand how Pablo Escobar was able to be this wonderful father that he was for his two sons, you know, and at the same time, practically in the same scene, being able to blow up a commercial plane full of people, you know.
FORERO: It was, Parra says, a huge challenge in a country where everyone knows who Pablo Escobar was.
PARRA: It's definitely the toughest character you can have in your life because Escobar is a whole world of emotions and thoughts and actions and everything, so I think it's a very rich character.
FORERO: Indeed, Parra says, the fascination with Pablo Escobar will never end. Juan Forero, NPR News, Bogota.