Life lessons

Life lessons

By Michael Pickard
July 2, 2024


Spanish drama Nos vemos en otra vida (See You in Another Life) dramatises the true story of how a teenager became involved in a terrorist attack on Madrid in 2004. Creators Alberto and Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo explain how they approached making the fact-based series 20 years later.

It was one of the deadliest terror attacks ever in Spain, and the largest on European soil for almost 20 years. Bombings on four trains in Madrid in March 2004 led to the deaths of 192 people and injured nearly 2,000.

Then a month later, seven of the suspects involved died in another explosion, one that also killed a police officer.

Twenty years on, these events are at the centre of Nos vemos en otra vida (See You in Another Life), a Spanish drama now streaming on Disney+.

But the six-part series, which is produced by Kubik Films, isn’t strictly a dramatisation of the attacks themselves. Instead, creators, writers and directors Alberto and Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo were inspired by an interview Gabriel Montoya Vidal gave to journalist Manuel Jabois in 2014 about his connection to the devastating events.

At the time, Vidal, who is known as ‘Baby,’ was a 16-year-old teenager who took part in the so-called Asturian plot to transfer the explosives that the terrorists would use on March 11, 2004. He later became the first person to be convicted of the attacks and was key to a subsequent trial in 2007 that led to a further 21 people being convicted of crimes relating to the atrocity.

Set across three timelines – the lead-up to the attacks in 2004, the court trial in 2007 and the interview in 2014 – See You in Another Life builds a picture of the events that preceded and followed the attacks.

Jorge (left) and Alberto (right) Sánchez-Cabezudo with star Roberto Gutiérrez

Best known for thriller La Zona (The Zone), the Sánchez-Cabezudo brothers spent three years working on the project before its release. But the lengthy production cycle wasn’t due to scriptwriting challenges or filming delays. Instead, they took a thoughtful, patient approach to determining how best to tell this story and, importantly, the place of the victims within it.

“We were very concerned about the victims,” Alberto tells DQ. “The series is based on a book, an account of the interview the writer did with Gabriel, who was the first person convicted for the attack. So it was interesting to start with his point of view – it was another way to talk about the bombings – but of course we were very concerned where the victims would be placed in the show. Now we are very happy because we collaborated with them and we had a positive response from them.”

“We felt the best way to tell the story of the attacks was through their testimony in the trial,” adds Jorge. “We were so impressed by the tone and the way they explained to the judge what happened. It was so calm and responsible. When we talked to them, we all had the same goal with this story, the same objective, which is to tell the story and to let Spanish people know what really happened and have a unique account of the facts. Their testimony was the moral point of view of the series.”

Alberto describes the memory of the attacks as a “wound” on Spain, one that is exacerbated by the fact that three days after the bombings,  anti-war socialists won the general election, with many seeing the attacks as retaliation for Spain’s involvement in the war in Iraq.

“Both things have been quite difficult for Spanish society and that’s why it took so much time before a fiction was made and the audience was prepared to travel to the past,” he notes. “But it was time enough. Our main concern was the victims. They didn’t have the opportunity to talk, or their words have been lost. We expected some controversy because when you are talking from the criminal point of view, it could be controversial, but we received no criticism at all and we are so happy that everyone felt it was necessary to tell this story.”

Gutiérrez plays ‘Baby’ (real name Gabriel Montoya Vidal), who was connected to the 2004 Madrid bombings

Much of the drama is based on court testimonies, including some scenes and scenarios Jorge says are “completely amazing.” “If I were to put that in a normal fiction, nobody would want to believe us. But the reality was very interesting to follow and very unknown by the Spanish audience,” he says.

The brothers drew a line between fact and fiction by deciding not to meet any of the real people involved in the story and building a distance between them and the actual events through the dramatisation of some scenes and invention of characters.

Yet at its core, See You in Another Life is the story of how a teenager got caught up in a terrorist plot, and would become the first person to be convicted for their involvement in it. “It was our journey as creators to tell this huge tragedy from the small, emotional part of the characters,” Alberto says. “There are other [teenagers] who decide not to follow this path of crime, but it was interesting to describe the context where that can happen, in these neighbourhoods, and how children sitting on a bench can end up in this horrendous crime.”

He’s referring to the very start of the series, where Baby is sitting on a street bench with a couple of friends when the opportunity to steal some fast food presents itself. When they do, it leads Baby (Roberto Gutiérrez) to meet Emilio Trashorras (Pol López). Baby would later help Emilio transport the explosives from Asturias in Northern Spain to Madrid.

During development, Alberto and Manuel took a lot of time to consider Baby’s story and the consequences of his actions, and spoke with Jabois about his interactions with the real Baby. He later read the scripts and was there as a guide, but the brothers always wanted the series to stand apart from the book it is based on.

“You need a certain distance to be free,” Alberto says. Jorge adds: “And to make your own mistakes and to fail.”

Baby helped to transport the explosives used in the attack

To that point, some scenes were cut from the final edit, while Baby’s voiceover narration needed to be consistently “dry,” almost emotionless. The series also had to maintain the point of view of the teenagers in the series and confront the consequences of their actions. “Once you spread out from that, it wasn’t OK,” Alberto says. “For example, the plot of the bombings is so huge with so many characters going in other directions. That was the hardest part.”

Jorge says: “It’s a story about Baby, and everything with him in the plot was good for the show. The realistic tone features in the whole of the series, and scenes must be in this tone. If some are more constructed, we said goodbye. Finally, for the main actor, Roberto, he was a non-professional actor, and the tone of his acting set the tone of the series. These were the lines we couldn’t cross.”

Watching the series, it’s not immediately clear what Baby will ultimately become involved with, as the early episodes chart his increasingly criminal lifestyle.

“One thing that is quite interesting for a writing arc is he really didn’t know what he was doing in the beginning,” Alberto explains. “Once he realises, you are like, ‘Why don’t you leave? Why don’t you say no?’ In that moment, it’s quite emotional for the audience because you have been with the characters for two or three episodes.”

But despite the emotions that may accompany Baby on his journey through the series, See You in Another Life is not a redemption series, its creators say. “The character after leaving jail, he never regretted what he did, and that also allows us and the audience to keep their distance,” states Alberto.

When they work together, the brothers discuss the story and then write the scripts jointly before Jorge steps into his directing role and Alberto takes up his position as executive producer. On this show, Jorge directed four episodes, with Borja Soler picking up the other two.

Nos vemos en otra vida (See You in Another Life) was made for Disney+

But whatever their titles, both are involved in all aspects of production, including casting – a process that led them to identify Gutiérrez to play the teenage Baby. Quim Ávila plays adult Baby.

In fact, the series marks Gutiérrez’s screen debut, after he was first scouted by the production team outside a local McDonald’s.

“We did street casting in the North because we really wanted a local boy from Asturias,” Alberto reveals. “Of course, when you say you’re casting a TV show for a platform, everyone wants to do [Netflix Spanish teen drama] Élite, but that was not the profile we were looking for.

“Our casting producer was going home at the end of the day and saw this guy with long hair, very cocky, and she stopped and interviewed him. He has some similarities with Gabriel, he’d lived a harsh life also. At the end, he said, ‘If I can’t do this, no one can.’ We were lucky because we found him quite early so we could coach him for two months.”

“His acting is very fresh,” adds Jorge. “It’s very intuitive.”

Then one day during filming, the real Baby appeared, having finally tracked down the set after hearing the show was being made. “We just spoke with him for 15 minutes and he was OK with the series. We didn’t want to explain too much,” Alberton says. Other than that, the brothers’ only worry was the weather during production on location around Aviles and Gijon. Interior scenes were filmed at a studio in Madrid.

“We had incredible technical and artistic teams, and we were praying not to have rain in the North of Spain,” he adds. “It was quite easy. We were very concerned about Roberto’s acting, but it worked.”

With the show now streaming on Disney+, Jorge and Alberto hope viewers can find themselves in the universal aspects of Baby’s story. “It’s a story about a guy in a neighbourhood – it could be a neighbourhood in any place on the planet,” Jorge says. “The story between Emilio and Baby could be something very universal, and the bombing attacks – each country has its own and painful story of attacks like this one.”

“Evil is not always in big minds,” Alberto surmises. “It can be found in the very inconsequential, in everyday life. That’s something that can interest the audience too.”

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