Much ado about Nada
Director Gastón Duprat joins Disney Latin America executives Mariana Pérez and Leonardo Aranguibel to discuss the making of Argentine series Nada (Nothing), exploring Buenos Aires’ gastronomic scene and casting Robert De Niro.
You might not expect to find Goodfellas’ Robert De Niro narrating an Argentine comedy drama, or in its first scene breaking the fourth wall by directly addressing viewers.
You certainly wouldn’t expect to hear him explaining the definition of the Spanish phrase Estar en el horno – which translates literally as ‘to be in the oven,’ or to find oneself in a particularly compromising situation.
Yet this is the opening to five-part Disney+ series Nada (Nothing), the latest project from Argentine filmmakers Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat. Their partnership dates back over 20 years, taking in films such as Yo, Presidente (2007), El Artista (2008) and El hombre de al lado (2009), as well as a number of television series.
Nada now sees them as creators, writers and directors of a series that stars Luis Brandoni as Manuel, a sophisticated culinary critic from Buenos Aires, an art lover and provocateur who has lived for decades with his housekeeper, Celsa (María Rosa Fugazot).
When an extraordinary event leads him to hire Antonia (Majo Cabrera), a young Paraguyan woman, to help him with household chores, Manuel discovers he has more to learn from her than to teach her, leading him to confront the prospect of living by himself.
Meanwhile, Manuel receives a visit from old friend Vincent (De Niro), a famous New York writer with whom he shares many adventures between food tastings, readings, long walks and talks, all set against the backdrop of Buenos Aires.
The series is produced by Metrovisión.
Here, Duprat joins Walt Disney Company Latin America executives Leonardo Aranguibel, VP of production and head of production operations and strategy, and Mariana Pérez, head of general entertainment, to discuss the origins of the project, Duprat’s partnership with Cohn and how they persuaded De Niro to join the cast.
How would you define the series? What is Nada?
Mariana Pérez: It is a series that deals with very interesting topics because it talks about generational and cultural issues. Two generations meet, they clash and even learn from each other. The context of this series is cooking, but history is about learning from generations. How a young girl teaches a grown man to live life differently and simplify things – that’s basically the concept of the series.
What does Nada have that led you to commission the series?
Pérez: A simple story that strikes a local chord, a relationship between a man and his domestic worker, with a spectacular script by Cohn-Duprat. Everything they bring is synonymous with being good, being intelligent, controversial and ironic, with an acidity that no one else has. On the other hand, it came from their direction and from the beginning Luis Brandoni was thought of to play the lead character. It was that whole combo that made us say yes.
Leonardo Aranguibel: In fact, it is a character series, with three very defined characters that drive the entire story. But it was very well structured, and the script was very intelligent. When you do the reading and everything flows, you say, ‘Well, this is going to flow on camera too.’ Again, this is still a gamble. But if you bet with the best and you have good people behind you, you have good directors of photography, good cameramen, good producers, good musicians, good talent, then you go to war safer.
Pérez: And Majo Cabrera is wonderful. She is a revelation.
Gastón, how does Nada reflect the themes and topics of your previous films and series?
Duprat: I suppose there will be a continuous line. Perhaps that analysis is not my task, but I suppose so – recurring themes, recurring actors. Despite being a series with a warmer and more humanistic tone than the rest of our films, it does have points in common with the rest of our work. I think it’s more positive than the others.
Is there a Cohn-Duprat style?
Duprat: Maybe in a few years I will begin to see that there are some themes, some reflections, some ways of filming – and that actually makes me happy, because with so many movies and series, if a distinctive style is recognised, I like it.
Are those themes unconscious or is there a plan?
Duprat: It is unconscious, but at the same time they are topics of interest. Together with Mariano and Andrés Duprat, who is the scriptwriter of our works, there are some themes such as the certain depiction of some professions or characters, the difference between what they think they are and what they are, and demolishing the myth of the moral superiority of artists who believe they are better than a greengrocer or a doctor.
Why did you want to move into television?
Duprat: In reality, within the framework of having an agreement with Disney, we made several series between writing for third parties and developing for others, but there are three series that we made in a personal capacity: El Encargado (The Boss) on Disney+; Nada; and Bellas Artes, which was recorded in Spain and will be released next year, with Oscar Martínez as the protagonist alongside Ángela Molina, Imanol Arias, Pepe Sacristán, Milena Smit and Dani Rovira.
What it was like working with Robert De Niro?
Pérez: It was, like, crazy. Mariano came one day and told us, ‘There is a character written who is a friend of Manuel, he is American and we see Robert De Niro.’ And it was a bit like, ‘Great, but it’s not going to be easy to bring him.’ We worked a lot – a lot – to make it happen because you can imagine that bringing an actor like De Niro to Argentina requires a lot of issues beyond logistics. And being able to spend a week with him, in Argentina, was great.
Leonardo Aranguibel: Another point that is not minor is that De Niro acts for the first time in a TV series. He appeared in a special, but in a television series, this is the first time in his career. Therefore, let’s say, we feel great pride that he liked the scripts enough to leave New York for Buenos Aires, with all that that implies for his family, and that no one forced him. He was very happy to come.
What was ‘plan B’ if De Niro didn’t come onboard?
Pérez: Can you believe that we never had a ‘plan B’? The moment Mariano told me it was De Niro, we went around thinking, ‘When he tells us no, we’ll look for another one.’ But he was interested in the script and we started organising trips, dates, availability and we moved forward.
Aranguibel: Normally, you know well, that’s not how it’s done. When you target such great talents, yes, you have plans A, B, C, but this time it was not like that. It was like, ‘It has to be him and let’s go after him.’ When he said he was interested in the project and he had the availability, the ball was already on our side – then it was up to us to get it done. And I always say that Mariana’s group, which is the one that organises all of this, did an excellent production job, with difficult, complex negotiations – like all of them – but they turned out perfectly.
Pérez: Besides, imagine his transfer to Argentina – we needed support police from all places, things like that for example.
Aranguibel: And that summarises a little of what we have always set as a goal: working with the best talent available – not only De Niro, but there is also Brandoni, Cohn, Duprat and Cabrera. In other words, we try to ensure that people perceive our content as not only [produced] with the greatest care and dedication, but with the best people in front of and behind the cameras.
Apart from De Niro, what must series have to stand out today?
Duprat: I’m a spectator, not an analyst. The most interesting series for me are those that have an author behind them that one can recognise, that they have a point of view on the world, a position on the issues, beyond what the plot of the series is. And that the author’s position is fresh and powerful, regardless of whether they are a police officer or ‘nothing,’ like in our series. What ends up differentiating it is that they have a position that is intelligent about reality, ultimately.
Why does Nada stand out?
Duprat: Nada has a leading actor, Luis Brandoni, who is one of the most important on the Argentine scene. Another reason is that it shows the city of Buenos Aires as it has never been shown in the audiovisual panorama. It also discovers the world of gastronomy within Buenos Aires and shows how it acquires an identity with the evolution and distortion that Argentines make of Spanish and Italian dishes. Then, well, Robert De Niro is the narrator of the series and has an important leading role, and seeing two actors of that category acting is a pleasure for anyone.
Gastón, how do you and Mariano work together?
Duprat: We work mainly with Andrés [Duprat], who is an art specialist in addition to being a screenwriter, and now, on Nada, he is an executive producer. For Nada, the screenwriter is Emanuel Diez, who also had the same role on The Manager.
The most difficult thing when one is working on a series or film is that one has to live with it for several years, know where it is going, what the meaning or meanings of the production are, where we want it to go, what sensations we want to convey, and then the execution may be a little easier.
We divide the tasks; we do them together, a little of everything. We have a ‘democratic’ format of production that has nothing to do with what is normal in series or films with a director with a top-down mandate whom everyone obeys. We don’t like that because almost always – in percentage terms with the films that come out – the director is wrong because no one tells them, ‘Hey, look, this doesn’t work like that.’
In our case, everything is very fun and open, even with the actors. We give them the scripts to give their opinion, they can watch scenes during filming so they can see how we can do it again, and that is one thing that, for me, increases the quality.
What importance do you give to creating the visual style for your shows? And how do you do it?
Duprat: It is very important. For example, in The Boss, the building in which he works is almost another character. It is super present. And we have been doing this in other films, even the oldest ones. In Nada, a lot of work was done on the art design, the places, the dishes, the backgrounds, the city of Buenos Aires; it has many details. We wanted to show a portrait of the city at the level of Buenos Aires. I think she looks good in the series.
Do you have any more series on the horizon?
Duprat: Yes. Perhaps a second season of The Boss will come out, then Bellas Artes will be released next year. We are also preparing a film with Antonio Banderas. Nada could finish perfectly with the ending it has, but it could have a second season. But we aren’t thinking about that for now.