Armando Bo, Juan de Dios Larrain Talk Amazon’s ‘El Presidente’

It’s a mark of just how new the Latin American high-end series production scene is that “El Presidente” marks Amazon’s first Chilean Original, the first international series from Pablo and Juan de Diós Larrain’s Fabula to employ talent from all over Latin America, and “Narcos” producer Gaumont’s first TV co-production with Latin America.

Selected for main competition at Series Mania, “El Presidente” also represents the first TV work from Argentine Academy Award winning screenwriter-director Armando Bo, a co-scribe on “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”

Starring Colombia’s Andrés Parra (“Pablo Escobar: El Patrón del Mal”) and Mexico’s Karla Souza (“How to Get Away with Murder”) and Paulina Gaitán (“Diablo Guardían”), eight-part “El Presidente” kicks off with Julio Grondona, president for 35 years of AFA, the Argentine soccer assn. and VP of world soccer governing body FIFA for 25 years,, narrating from his coffin how, if the English wrote the first regulations for soccer in 1863, he invented the new regulations. These, as “El Presidente” makes clear, turn on deep-rooted corruption.

Cut to small-town Chilean soccer club president Sergio Jadue whose club, despite not because of him, wins promotion to the country’s first division. The wrong man in the right pace, he is chosen to become president of Chile’s soccer assn. One of his first moves is to pressure Marcelo Bielsa, one of the most revered soccer managers in the world, to resign as the coach of Chile’s national side.

“That a first medal we can pin to our chests,” boasts his wife, a kind of Chilean Lady Macbeth.

Yet Jadue – bumbling, sly, amoral, ingratiating – a fish out of water in Grondona’s grand scheme of corruption on a continental scale –  rises in FIFA’s hierarchy, sparking FIFA Gate, a $150 million corruption scandal. This could only be  farce, and that’s how Bo tells it.

Variety chatted to Bo and Larraín about “El Presidente,” originally slated to world premiere in main competition at Series Mania, and one of the biggest of Amazon’s Latin American plays.

What drew you to this story in the first place?

Bo: It’s a parody about what happens to people, what they become in this business. When I first heard about this story, I felt I needed to get into it because it struck me as funny. It’s one of those instances where fact is stranger than fiction, and in any case if one takes the world of soccer too seriously, they lose the DNA of it.

Can you talk briefly about the creative process? Who helped you bring this story to the screen?

Bo: We had a wonderful team in our writers’ room. We worked together to build the world of this series. One challenge as director and showrunner to maintain a flow and continuity of tone between episodes. We had so much really good material to work with. We were also very fortunate to have the complete support of Amazon, Gaumont, Fabula and Capo.

And how did you decide to tell your story? One ley creative decision is the comedy. 

Bo: First, we were lucky to have such strong actors that can deliver the drama and comedy elements of the show. In real life. Sergio Jadue rode his luck and gave the impression of being a winner, but somehow his story always stayed one of a loser. That mix inspired me to do this as a parody, as a comedy. Then we wrapped the creative elements around that story; the art direction, music and acting. There is comedy, but it’s not a banal comedy, it’s ironic. In our lives, the things we are passionate about we hold onto from childhood and make us feel like kids again, lets us laugh like kids. I hope this series lets us laugh like that too; that we can laugh at how the world of soccer is handled in Latin America. I didn’t want to tell a true story in a documentary way, but instead preferred to play with reality and show how the one who controls the world of soccer gets diplomatic immunity, like a sort of ambassador.

One key to the series is its actors

Larraín: For us the most important thing was to get good actors because we need to be able to see the character and forget the actor playing the role. Andrés Parra’s role, for instance, is exceptional. It’s a role with a lot of humanity to it, and a confusion between insecurity and loyalty, but he also has moments of happiness, empathy and triumph. One thing about him that interested me was the dichotomy between being good and bad. He has both. To often today in storytelling we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. With our series, we see that they are all bad, which then means that the good in them stands out. I think that’s something interesting in the Latin American narrative.

This is a uniquely Latin American story, but quite global in its scope. It deals at length with the globalization of the game, and frequently the politicization of the game as well.

Bo: To tell the story of Conembol, we must address its connection to FIFA, which is managed out of Zurich, which was an organic way to make the series more international. The union of countries and how FIFA manages the business side of soccer is naturally an international issue. Football is often used to cover up political problems. If you become world champions suddenly all the social problems in country seem to disappear. To a degree, the world of football is undoubtedly linked with politics and society. The series talks about how we manage that part of society.

Larráin: FIFA became a school for corruption, especially in Latin America where 22 of the 23 soccer bosses were found guilty of corruption. That is something very human that happens when there is too much money and too much control dispersed among very few individuals. This isn’t new either, it’s historical in FIFA. What we do in “El Presidente” is show what happened here in Latin America and how corruption is part of the structure of the organization.

“El Presidente” looks like another building block in Fabula’s attempt to build a pan-Latin America entertainment industry…. 

Larraín: This show represents an important step for Fabula because it’s a high-profile series with a big budget, experienced partners and universal themes. We made it at the same time we were making “La Jauria,” another important series with a decent budget, but that one is more local and very intense. I think those two series indicate what we’ve worked towards since establishing the TV part of our company a few years ago. This is the fruit of that labor, and I think everyone involved is extremely proud.

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