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Manolo Cardona is busier than ever—and loving it. If you didn't already know the Colombian actor and producer from his roles in El Cartel, Narcos, the Sundance-winning film Contracorriente, plus a number of hugely successful telenovelas—chances are, you do now. Since its premiere in March, Netflix's newest hit thriller Who Killed Sara? has brought Cardona international recognition, as millions of households around the world tune in to follow the revenge journey of his character, Álex Guzmán, the older brother of the titular Sara.
As a protagonist, Álex is a complicated hero. In flashbacks to the early 2000s, the audience sees him as a kind, fun, and good-natured teenager. But after serving 18 years in prison, tricked by the powerful Lazcano family into taking responsibility for the parasailing accident that killed his sister, Álex is hardened by grief and trauma. He's had plenty of time to plan his revenge, and he's hell-bent on destroying the lives of the Lazcanos. The business of vigilantism is a tricky one. Throughout Season One and Two, fans watch Álex hack into the Lazcanos' casino, turn them into the government for their shady finances, detonate a bomb in their newly-acquired amusement park, and more. It can be hard to root for such rampant, full-throttle rage and destruction.
But Cardona brings Álex to life, crafting his character as sympathetic and complex even as his actions are that of a stone-cold badass. And as allegiances shift and truths are revealed in Season Two, we see Álex transform yet again as he works together with his enemy and finally gets a semblance of closure... that is, until that twist ending leaves fans wanting more. Cardona spoke with Esquire about the challenges of playing Álex, what shocking moment in Season Two surprised him the most, and what we can expect in a possible third season.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity, and contains spoilers for Who Killed Sara? Season Two.
Esquire: Congratulations on Who Killed Sara?. The biggest non-English language show Netflix has ever seen!
Manolo Cardona: Thank you. It's an incredible achievement that none of us were expecting. It's totally an amazing and beautiful surprise. We're very thankful. And I think this is very important for the Latino shows that we're doing down there, because what's happened is that now we see that we're able to connect in a global way with the world, if you have a show that can do that. Because now the problem is not how we connect with the world, because we now have platforms like Netflix that allow you to do that.
ESQ: What first drew you to the show and made you excited about playing Álex?
MC: When I first talked to the writers, Chascas [José Ignacio Valenzuela], the producers and Netflix, they were telling me about this idea they had for the show—the point of view, and they were talking to me about my character, and how he's going to go through this journey. And for me it was very interesting to pass through all this sadness, at the beginning happiness, and go to two characters. I think that Chascas is very good at doing characters with multidimensional faces. Maybe you know something about one character, but you don't know because you can get another face from the same character, in a different angle. So I think that it's very interesting, and the people who were involved made me make the decision to do it. And I mean thank God I did it, it's amazing.
ESQ: I watched the first season very quickly, and I just watched all of the second season. What would you say was the biggest challenge of playing this character?
MC: I think the biggest challenge was to humanize the character. Because it's a character that, if I didn't connect or try to see the way to connect with the audience, I think that would be difficult for the character to have a chance for the audience to join him in his journey of revenge. Of course, there were also physical challenges because Álex is a personal trainer of Rodolfo. So that's how he gets to high society, because they become friends. But he's not from that society. And also, of course, going through all the psychological things that the character is living, it was very tough. For me, it was tough. Not only for months of physical training but also to go and to try to understand his journey and then to act it, it was very hard.
ESQ: With the second season, there were so many twists. Now a lot of people have seen the finale. At first, everyone thinks it was Marifer, she cut the ropes. But then it turns out that Nicandro is actually behind the murder. What is your interpretation of that final twist?
MC: No, I mean, I have something that I cannot say. So many things. But what I can say is that Chascas is a genius in writing, doing twists and doing so many things. And I think that the audience is so connected with the show, with the story and with the characters, that hopefully we can get a third season. It's not official of course, but I would love to definitely do a third season and try to keep going with the story and the surprises that the public can have with the third season. It's going to blow minds.
ESQ: As an actor, what would you like to see Álex do if there were a third season? Is there anything you're excited about, for where you can take the character?
MC: To be honest, I would love to follow the journey of the writer... because he has been throwing me to so many amazing journeys and hard journeys not only mind-wise. So many amazing scenes and stories and everything that I cannot even imagine what crazy things Chascas is going to put us on in a third season. For me, it's just, be amazed again with the journey that I already have and to enjoy and to try to do my best in everything, to make everything as real and try to connect with the audience as much as I can.
ESQ: Definitely. Have you heard any of the fan theories about the show? There's one online, where people think that maybe somehow Álex killed Sara.
MC: [Laughs]. Well... I mean, that's what I'm telling you. Who knows what Chascas is going to make me do? I don't know, I mean to be honest, there's so many things. Yes I've heard so many things, that Álex killed Sara, that Sara is alive. So many crazy things. We don't know how this is going to end. That's the interesting part. It's interesting because it's a journey for us also, as actors. It's a journey for the audience, as viewers. They come with us to a journey and we are in a journey and we don't know where we are all going to end, and that's very exciting.
ESQ: What do you think of the arc of Álex and Cesar's relationship? Because obviously, the show starts out with Álex's intense need for revenge. Then in the end, they end up working together to save Elisa. What did you think of that change?
MC: Well, I think as Rocky says to all Russians in Rocky IV at the end, "If you can change, I can change, and everybody can change." I think as a form of light, I think everybody can change. I don't think it's only black and white, I think it's grey, and that's what makes the character interesting. Álex was seeing light after a while, he meets Elisa, he falls in love, he gets to see from the outside, the horizon.
ESQ: The show looks like it was fun to shoot, all of the beautiful settings, the cast. Do you have a favorite memory from set?
MC: To be honest, we lived so many. Starting with how good we all get along together. These things that we have to do, this drama and these physical and psychological, we were laughing off camera. And that was an amazing part of the journey because otherwise, it would be harder and tough, and I think the beautiful people that are not only Carolina, but all my partners and all the actors and actresses and all the people around make the journey easier, and I think that's something you remember.
ESQ: We've talked about some of the twists the show takes, and I think every viewer has their one twist that really shocked them. Do you have one twist that stood out and really shocked you?
MC: Yeah! I mean, there's a lot of twists. With everything. But there's one, I don't know if it's going to be a spoiler also for the people who haven't seen all of the second one, but the end of the fourth episode. As a viewer, if you don't get shock about it... it's amazing. It's crazy!
ESQ: As we mentioned at the beginning, the show is the biggest non-English language show Netflix has ever had. You've been working as an actor and a producer for so many years on many different projects. What does the international success of this show mean to you at this point in your career?
MC: I think it's a combination of many things. For me, and I'm saying this from the most humble part of my heart, it's a combination of so many years of hard work and discipline and being there always to try to do the best in all the projects I have done in all my career. And suddenly, this one was the one who make my character and my person known globally. So that's something that I have to thank so much to the show. And of course, that brings me so many good opportunities here and there and everywhere, because now, it's a global phenomenon. And I'm very thankful, to be honest. And very humble about it, so I'm just enjoying it, this moment, so much. I'm trying to be as happy as I can, be thankful day by day, and then keep going to tell stories from the producer's side or as an actor, so many ways. It's a good reminder of let's do it, because we're doing things good, and right.
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