Immortal combat

Immortal combat

By Michael Pickard
August 10, 2022


Inspired by true events, El Inmortal (The Immortal) charts one man’s criminal reign across Europe. Creator/producer José Manuel Lorenzo and the cast tell DQ about dramatising the story, overcoming the pandemic and recreating 1990s Spain.

A creative mixture of true crime and gangster fiction, Spanish drama El Inmortal (The Immortal) tells a story that will be familiar to many. Set in 1990s Madrid, the eight-part series chronicles the rise of Los Miami, a gang that controlled the city’s nightclubs and cocaine trafficking and was led by one man who sought to become the most powerful drug dealer in Europe.

“I knew the story because everyone in Spain knows it and knows this gang, especially if you live in Madrid,” says Álex Garcia, who plays José Antonio, a fictionalised version of Los Miami leader Juan Carlos Peña. “Telling the story from scratch is very interesting because the gang starts from nothing and then becomes like a mafia. It’s a really big thing – and it’s a family story.”

Revolving around José and his organisation, the series follows his rags-to-riches journey, during which he survives numerous assassination attempts that give him an almost mythical status as ‘El Inmortal.’

Despite knowing the story that inspired the series, Garcia (Antidisturbios, Un Asunto Privado) tells DQ he was determined to play the character in the script – who is also portrayed as a loyal family man – rather than the man he thought he knew.

“Everybody has these two sides – the dark one and the good one,” he says. “It was José’s circumstances that led him to start this gang. He’s a man with a big heart with his family and he doesn’t even know his dark side. That’s the point – he doesn’t think he’s using it, he’s just surviving. That’s the only way to find the balance [with the character].”

Alongside Garcia, the series also stars Emilio Palacios, Marcel Borrás, Jason Day, María Hervás, Teresa Riott, Claudia Pineda, Jon Kortajarena and Catalina Sopelana. Hervás plays Isabel, a woman from the other side of Madrid who is drawn into José’s world after she meets him in a nightclub.

José Manuel Lorenzo (centre) chats to actors on set

“Isabel is from a high-class world. You always feel very attracted to everything that is not like you, to the opposite world of your own, and she’s very wild inside, so José is probably the reflection of everything she cannot show but is inside her,” the actor explains. “She’s someone who tries not to think about life too much but just does things. He’s doing things all the time, he’s an action man. That’s something she admires.”

Hervás describes the relationship between José and Isabel as “very wild, very animalistic,” and viewers will see her make some important decisions about the role she plays in his life, not least when they have a daughter together. “Isabel and José don’t think about their decisions too much. They are intuitive and wild, so I don’t think Isabel worries, ‘Will he be a good father for my children?’ No, [she thinks] ‘I really want to fuck him and later we will see.’ What she finds is a man in trouble.”

Further complicating matters is the introduction of a character known only as La Rubia (The Blonde). Even Teresa Riott, who plays her, admits she is “quite a mysterious character” – someone who wears clothes like a shield to stop people getting too close. “She always looks nice and shows off the money she has,” Riott says. “She’s a very intelligent woman, but she cannot sit doing nothing. She likes action and the opportunity to have money, and she robs people like José. But he sees her as an opportunity help to kill the competition, and La Rubia and José Antonio build a very strong relationship. She’s always ready for action.”

Before he was cast as José, Garcia read the first six scripts in one day. A fan of gangster dramas such as Italy’s Romanzo Criminale and iconic US series The Sopranos, he was particularly interested in showing a deeper side to the character than just his bad-boy image. “People don’t want to stop for the small things in life, but that’s most important for me,” he says. “When I read the script, I called my manager and said, ‘Wow, this is a good one.’ It’s a good structure and they describe their characters in ways I love – with Maria, with Teresa, with José’s father. It has very good structure, descriptions and details. When you see the characters’ dark sides, you don’t see something artificial; you see the dark side of all of us, in a way.”

Hervás (Arde Madrid, El Pueblo) found she could relate to the story of The Immortal through first-hand experience, thanks to the fact there were members of Los Miami living in her neighbourhood at the time when the series is set. “It was funny because when the script came to me, it was like, ‘OK, it’s about this gang I already knew from my childhood,” she says. “But my character is not so involved in the gang. It was interesting trying to see the story from the outside. I am from a humble family, not like Isabel. It has been very beautiful to watch the whole story from another point of view.”

Álex Garcia as gang leader José Antonio

Meanwhile, playing La Rubia represented a greater personal challenge for Riott. More used to being cast as “lighter, beautiful and nice” characters, the actor says “it’s quite difficult to find the opposite kinds of characters” in Spanish TV. “I had to make a transformation and put myself on the dark side, and find a way to be a bad or evil person without judging. It’s the first time I’ve done this. The script didn’t just come to me – I had to work for the character, with research and doing my best in auditions, and then they gave me the part. I loved it.”

Produced by Spanish streamer Movistar+ in association with Telemundo Streaming Studios and in collaboration with DLO Producciones, The Immortal was created by José Manuel Lorenzo. It is directed by David Ulloa and Rafa Montesinos, and written by Diego Sotelo and David Moreno. Beta Film is the distributor.

With a slate including La Fortuna, Dime Quién Soy (Tell Me Who I Am), La Unidad (The Unit), Arde Madrid and Vida Perfecta (Perfect Life), Movistar+ has built up an enviable catalogue of original programming that has also found success around the world. The Immortal, says head of original programming Domingo Corral, is a perfect example of the type of show that is at home on the platform.

“It’s a high-end, premium drama with a unique voice and, at the same time, it’s a show that grabs you from the first minute,” he says. “That’s so difficult to get. Sometimes you make a show and you don’t get everything you want, but El Inmortal represents exactly what we want to do in original production.”

Lorenzo picks up: “The public is very close to this story – it’s local history. But the way we produce and the way we shoot the series is very premium, very international and very ambitious.”

When it came to chronicling the rise of Juan Carlos Peña and Los Miami, Lorenzo wasn’t interested in a “documentary about this guy.” He continues: “The life of this guy is not something I appreciate very much. It’s very repetitive. I don’t even like gangster series – those shows where every five minutes there has to be a killing or an explosion or cars flying around. No, I like series about characters, like Dime Quién Soy, which is a historical series we did together but is based on character.

Co-stars María Hervás (left) and Teresa Riott receive wardrobe adjustments on location

“What I like is the life of these characters, so this is what I tried to do. This is a fictional drama inspired by reality, but we built the fiction. We were really interested in the life of the people we created in the series. We were interested in the personal problems, the values, the family, the betrayal and the conflict between the gangs.”

That much is in evidence in the opening episodes, where the story shines a light on José’s family life – he is particularly protective of his younger brother – as much as his burgeoning criminal enterprise.

“This is the balance of the series,” Lorenzo notes. “It starts with this guy who is really poor, from a poor neighbourhood, with no education and no possibilities in life, who decides to be in the drug business as a drug dealer because he wants to make money in an easy way. We have to remember this is 90s Spain, and the 90s in Spain were crazy years. We had come out of a dictatorship and turned into a democracy and everybody felt crazy. Those years are really interesting.”

Then as José’s world expands, so too does the series. “We are more elegant in every episode,” Lorenzo says. “We tell stories that happen in many places, in Madrid and Ibiza, and about his personal life with his brother and with his father, who appears and changes the family’s life. Then there’s a fight between gangs and the first time this guy goes to jail. The series moves completely from his old neighbourhood to a big house in the rich area of Madrid. It changes the way he dresses, the way he lives, his friends – everything changes through the series.”

Between Lorenzo and the writers, developing The Immortal was a case of working out which parts of history to include and what needed to be invented, particularly when it came to the family. Sotelo and Moreno began developing the scripts, before directors Ulloa and Montesinos brought their ideas about how to marry the story with the way they wanted to shoot 90s Madrid.

The next crucial step was to secure the services of cinematographer David Omedes, with whom Lorenzo had previously worked on Dime Quién Soy. “But I knew we needed a completely different style from that. I talked to him for many hours about how the photography had to change through the series and evolve with the characters through every episode. He did a fantastic job,” Lorenzo says.

Composer Lucas Vidal was called upon to create the music for the series – which had its world premiere at French television festival Canneseries this spring – while Lorenzo was simultaneously building the cast.

“Álex Garcia is unbelievable,” he says of his leading man. “He built a character much better than the real one. Then we have the team we built around Alex – Teresa, Maria, Emilio Palacios, Marcel Borrás, Claudia Pineda, Jason Day. We have to be proud of what we did and the way we did it, bringing people with us step by step.”

But thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Immortal might not have been completed at all had it not been the faith and backing provided by Corral and Movistar. “This series was very difficult to shoot because we started and then we stopped and we were very close to not producing it,” Lorenzo reveals. “We stopped for one year and we were very concerned about how we were going to start this kind of series again during Covid. Everybody was brave and courageous and surpassed all the problems we had.”

“Most of our faith was put in José’s leadership,” says Corral. “He’s an amazing producer and creator and, even in the middle of the Covid crisis, you can trust him to take the production to a successful place, and that’s what has happened.”

Once production was up and running, recreating the 90s proved to be another sticking point, as “everything has changed so much,” Lorenzo says. “Ibiza has changed completely. I’ve lived there for 30 years, I know it very well and you don’t find anything like it was in the 90s.”

Madrid has similarly changed with the times, but while the Spanish capital was able to play a part in the series during the 17-week shoot, Ibiza and its famous beach parties were recreated in Alicante and nearby Altea, Denia, Jávea and Benidorm on the Costa Blanca.

While Garcia says everyone in Spain will know the story of Los Miami, local is global in the TV industry. That’s why Lorenzo believes this seemingly domestic gangster story will have universal appeal. “When you try to be international, it’s shit,” he says. “Whether it’s an American, Swedish, Norwegian or German series, it’s local stories that attract me the most.”

Corral agrees that any successful series “has to be authentic and rooted in a local place and with local people.”

“This show is a good example of that,” he adds. “What you have to reflect is universal conflicts, and the production values have to meet the best international standards. The combination of these things – the authenticity that comes from doing something truly local, with universal conflicts and top-level production – makes a show travel.”

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