'Narcos' Showrunner On Hitting Reset For Season 3 And What To Expect From Season 4 [Interview]

The second season finale of Narcos told viewers what season three was going to be about. Javier Pena (Pedro Pascal) was recruited to pursue the Cali Cartel. Narcos season 3 picks up the Cali Cartel story, who celebrated the demise of their rival (and seasons 1 and 2 lead) Escobar.

Narcos show runner Eric Newman spoke with /Film by phone about the show's third season. Newman is also producer of the upcoming Netflix original movie Bright starring Will Smith and directed by David Ayer. He's also attached to some high profile movies with directors Jon Favreau and Matt Reeves.

Was the Cali Cartel always the plan when you knew that the Pablo Escobar story was only going to be two seasons?

Actually, I started with Cali. About 20 years ago, I had heard a drug war story. It was so captivating that I did more research into the story and it turned out it was a Cali cartel story. So the show began there. I was going to do it as a film and as soon as I got further into the research, I found that it's hard to tell the Cali story properly without telling the story of their predecessor, Pablo Escobar. It all sort of came together from that entry point. I always planned on doing a couple years of Escobar and following the cocaine into the next iteration of super cartel and I feel like I can continue to do that now.

Is it true historically that Pena continued investigating the Cali?

No. That is not true. He left Colombia after Escobar and then returned a number of years later. So that character continuity was part of our dramatic license. He became a composite of a couple other characters, real people who were down in Colombia during this period. Chris Feistl and an agent named Dave Mitchell who we've renamed as Van Ness. Dave Mitchell is still active and there is another guy named Joe Toft who was the country attache at this time. We've built a composite and put it into Pena.

But Steve Murphy did not continue on the Cali investigation?

No, Steve Murphy left as seen in our show.

Is season three a good jumping in point if people have not seen the first two?

I think so, yes. It pays to know a little bit about Pablo Escobar but I think you could experience season three independent of one and two. It's always better to just start at the beginning I think but I don't think it's impossible to understand and enjoy season three without watching seasons one and two.

Is the Cali a different kind of outfit than Escobar's?

Very much so. The Cali Cartel had been Escobar's competitors and were very comfortable being in second place because they realized that having someone like Escobar around was good for them. He drew a lot of attention to himself and it allowed them to operate in secrecy. When the effort to take Escobar down became a national imperative, the Cali Cartel actually aided collective efforts. They worked with the Americans and the Colombians to take Escobar down and in doing so, they protected themselves. They built an alliance that almost ensured their escaping justice. Of course, what season three is about is their inability to pull it off. They had planned to surrender. They were a much smarter organization. They were a business. Escobar styled himself as sort of an outlaw standing against the state. The Cali Cartel saw themselves as part of the system. They made an alliance with the state and that allowed them to almost surrender with virtual impunity. Of course, that didn't happen.

Do the relationships within the Cali Cartel have a different dynamic than Escobar and his family?

Absolutely. Escobar was a much more emotional being in all the good and bad ways. He loved his family very much but he was also capable of atrocities when he was challenged or questioned or disrespected. These guys were just as cruel but they were much more measured about it and much more strategic about it. When Escobar killed you, he wanted everybody to know he'd done it. The Cali guys, you disappeared and they never found your body. The relationship they have with one another, and again there were four of them whereas Escobar was a very complicated sole practitioner. These guys were a much more complex organism. They were all very different and for the most part got along but as often happens, as good as your team is, when you start losing, you start pointing the finger at the other guy. I think we illustrate that dynamic very well this season.

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Was the shootout in the hair salon a true incident?

No, we created that, but it was true that they moved the Dominicans out of areas in New York to establish their own outposts, particularly in Queens.

Does the Cali have a clear historical endpoint too?

There is a very clear end point for them. Again, like seasons one and two, the bad guys don't get away with it but the beat goes on. Cocaine continues. Our position on the show is you're never going to stop the flow of cocaine by cutting off heads because new heads will always grow back. It ends up at a similar place of pyrrhic victory.

How many seasons do you see the Cali Cartel taking?

The Cali Cartel story is a one season story, but really it's a two or even three season story. Pacho Herrera shows up in season one. Guilberto and Miguel Rodriguez show up in season two and then Chepe Santacruz shows up in season three so I kind of see them as part of the Colombian story.

Does the season finale set up what a fourth season could be like you introduced the Cali mission in the season two finale?

It hints at one, yes. I'll leave it to the audience to make their best guess.

Would you want Narcos to ultimately catch up with modern times?

Yeah, I actually would. It would be kind of cool. I'm hoping by the time they catch up with modern times, the current players will be gone. It would be nice to be a step or two behind although a lot of these cartels are still active. Not in Colombia but in Mexico, it's the same people. Chapo Guzman was, until very recently, he had a 30 year run. I do like the idea of going as far into the future, or rather the present, as we can.

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Would Pena continue to be a character or would you have to introduce new law enforcement?

I think we'd probably have to introduce some new people. We've already given Pena some super powers in season three. It'd be tough to continue. He'd become the Zelig of the DEA.

Have you been able to make a higher proportion of Narcos in Spanish than when you started?

I would say we're probably in the same space, in the kind of almost 60/40 English to Spanish. I had always thought season one was sort of 70/30 and then we went to 60/40 but I never really did an accurate accounting on it. It's very possible that we're closer to 50/50. I don't know. I should do that as an exercise, do a word count. The great thing about the show I'm really proud of, especially having teenage children who can't do anything without looking at their phones every five minutes, ours is a show you have to really watch. Unless you're fluent in Spanish, you'll miss things. I'm really proud of that, to have something that has achieved this level of success and people are paying attention to it. I'm sort of in awe of that. It's one of a couple great surprises I've found making the show.

Do you still film in South America?

Yes, we just finished our third season in Colombia and I love it there. It's an amazing country and one that should be very proud of what it has overcome.

Being the third season in the same region, have your relationships with crew and production developed over three years?

Oh yeah. It wasn't that long ago when we first went down there. They'd never done anything this size. They did an amazing job. I've developed relationships with a lot of spectacular artists, designers and technicians. When anyone tells me that they're going to work in Colombia, I tell them that they're lucky. It's a great place to work.

Do you expect the conversation surrounding season three will be different than it was regarding Pablo Escobar?

Yes, partially because I think there was a lot of, not suspicion or doubt, but there was a lot of concern over how we would continue the story without Escobar. I think we have resoundingly answered that question with the show. We effectively hit reset where it's the same show but has taken a radically different course. I think people will appreciate that. I'm hoping that's the conversation.

Is the nature of having an organization as the antagonist different dramatically and narratively than having a single person?

Oh absolutely. They were the system. Escobar took on the system and they were the system. They had bought the presidency. They had ingratiated themselves in the highest levels of politics and law enforcement. We were trying to tear down a system rather than a gang. They were just so much bigger and more powerful than any criminal enterprise. They had made themselves untouchable. Not only were they difficult to find but there was a big part of law enforcement and the Colombian political machine that didn't want to find them, that would've been compromised by their being found. It's a much more sophisticated animal.

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With Bright, is developing a movie for Netflix similar or different than a series?

It's funny, this was not developed at Netflix. We brought it to them as a spec script with a package in place, but working with them has been amazing. I love it. They remind me of how studios used to be. In fact, the guy who runs the movie division, Scott Stuber, is the guy that ran Universal when I was there for many years so it sort of feels exactly like the old days where they were doing incredibly bold things and they were supportive of filmmakers. Though there is still some of that going on, there is also a lot of these big branded things everyone seems to want. It's kind of filmmaking by committee. I'm a huge Netflix fan as a viewer and as a producer.

It's still a while before December but do you expect you might reveal some of the creatures of Bright before then, or really keep them hidden until it premieres?

They have a plan. They've got a good trailer out there. I think they've got lots of great things planned but to tell you the truth, with Narcos coming out on Friday, that's entirely where my head is and that's where the marketing people have me focused on that. I'll start getting into Bright I would think towards the end of the year.

Are you still working on a They Live remake?

Matt Reeves is still attached to it. I hope it happens someday but it's one of those things that'll come together at the right moment.

He's busy right now doing The Batman.

He just finished two back to back Apes movies but there's an amazing script that he wrote. I'm hoping that someday it happens.

Another busy filmmaker is Jon Favreau working on The Lion King. Is his Magic Kingdom movie still in the works?

It's funny, I hope so. We've both been sort of sidetracked but I'm hoping at some point we can get back into it. Jon is such an incredibly talented filmmaker, as is Matt Reeves. I'd love to do anything with him and I hope at some point we get to make Magic Kingdom. It'd be amazing.

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Narcos season three premieres Friday, September 1 on Netflix.