Wagner Moura’s greatest challenge was presenting a nuanced portrait of the controversial man known as the Robin Hood of Medellin.

Anyone who’s binged on the Netflix original series Narcos will tell you that one of the most compelling elements of the show is the portrayal of one of the most complicated and powerful criminals to ever live.  As this Rolling Stone interview by Alex Morris details, the role was ultimately played to perfection by an actor who would have to undergo both a physical and emotional transformation in order to believably capture the iconic Pablo Escobar.

Wagner Moura, a well-known Brazilian actor, had to transform himself by gaining over forty pounds in order to truly embody the internationally infamous Colombian drug lord. When asked about adding the extra kilos he quipped “Anyone can gain weight – that’s not really acting.”

A more challenging aspect of the role was the fact that as a native Portuguese speaker, Moura didn’t know a lick of Spanish.  After attending night classes, he jumped that hurdle as well, learning the language meticulously enough to capture Escobar’s cadence and accent.

A gifted actor, Moura was able to cruise over these obstacles like speed bumps. He felt the real mountain  to climb would be executing a nuanced portrayal of a man whose legacy is still the source of controversy, especially in his namesake neighborhood he constructed for the destitute natives of Medellin, known as Barrio Pablo Escobar.

His preparation included spending time in Barrio Pablo Escobar as well as visiting the site of Escobar’s former ranch.  The extra effort clearly paid off since he delivers what Morris accurately describes as “a masterpiece of charismatic ambiguity.”  If you’ve seen the show, you can’t help but marvel at the way Moura is able to simultaneously project an air of insatiable greed and looming malevolence while also seeming to truly care about building a brighter Colombia for the poor.

If you’ve yet to spend a rainy day ploughing through the enthralling documentary-style series, it’s time to make the investment, if only to see Moura’s wonderfully chilling performance.