Narcos: Mexico star Alberto Zeni dishes on hit Netflix crime drama

Alberto Zeni. Photo by Bobby Quillard/Courtesy of Anderson Group PR
Alberto Zeni. Photo by Bobby Quillard/Courtesy of Anderson Group PR /

Narcos: Mexico actor Alberto Zeni tells Precinct TV about his role as Amat Palacios in the critically acclaimed Netflix crime drama.

Narcos: Mexico season 2 premiered this spring and the Netflix series immediately became every TV crime drama fan’s favorite binge-watch. Once again, it dove into the battle between the DEA and the drug cartels south of the border—with its usual explosive results.

But what was it like to actually make the series? And how much prep work does it take to portray an agent? To get the answers to those questions and others, Precinct TV connected with Alberto Zeni, who played Amat Palacios. He gave us some insight into how the second season of Narcos: Mexico came together.

If you haven’t streamed the season yet, all ten episodes are still available exclusively on Netflix.

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Precinct TV: How did you originally get involved with Narcos? What interested you in the series?

Alberto Zeni: This is a show that’s been around for a while, and actually, I auditioned seven times for it. It’s one of the biggest shows on earth; it’s international, mainly spoken in Spanish, which is completely outside the norm. Not only the United States, but the rest of the world is actually taking it in, and it changes the mindset of the viewers who aren’t accustomed to reading subtitles. Once you have a show that is so well made like Narcos, you reach wider audiences. That was one of the things that got my attention the most.

I wanted to be a part of this project because of the quality—the amount of people that I admire that have been on the show, that I may potentially work with, is high. [With] this particular season, I was born and raised in Mexico, so there’s a lot of personal history, stories that I heard when I was a child that we tell during the season. It was appealing in all different ways.

PTV: Did being familiar with the show and having auditioned before make it easier once you were cast in Narcos: Mexico?

AZ: On the contrary, I had to do a lot of work. Every single network and show has a tone and a style, so as an actor, you have to prepare yourself within the parameters of the show that you’re going in for. I’m not going to be acting as if I’m on a sitcom if I’m going to be on Narcos, and I’m not going to be super-serious if I’m auditioning for a sitcom. There’s all these nuances and differences.

I actually had to watch every season of Narcos [and] Narcos: Mexico to know what the entire tone was and how it progressed and where they were at the end of the final season. I would fall into the same kind of acting and style and tone and everything. I needed to do research on what these kinds of characters were like back in those days, and how the DEA and policemen operated. I watched a lot of documentaries, I read books, and I talked to people. Then I got into creating my character Amat Palacios, and developing him with the few elements that I had to work with based on the script.

PTV: What elements of Narcos: Mexico season 2 stood out to you as you were filming?

AZ: The first couple of episodes have all of the DEA agents together, and we’re in this safe house and we have all these interactions as we talk to each other. You can see the specific personalities of everybody and there’s little details that everybody brought to the table that makes sense within that reality. So I guess episodes one, two, and nine would be my favorite, because they’re very distinctive in everything that we were doing in those episodes.

PTV: What were your thoughts on the fact that it was streaming as opposed to a linear release? Especially being a TV crime drama with an ongoing story, what was it like to have that all out at the same time?

AZ: We finished this in the summer of last year; there was still a gap between the time we finished shooting the entire thing and when it came out. It was kind of similar to the timeline of a movie. It’s very interesting to know the reaction people have when they see [me], even the people that have seen me in many other shows and films.

Some reacted with oh my God, you’re in Narcos. This is crazy. I’ve known you since you were a kid. Some people got very excited, and I get very excited with them. I’m very proud of the work that I did and the work that we all did within the show. Just to be a part of it is a big deal, and obviously I’m happy about it.

PTV: Then how do you move on after being in something the caliber of Narcos: Mexico? Did the experience change the way you’ve looked at projects since?

AZ: It’s not that easy, I have to say. I did a pilot for another show right after, and the style of production was so different. I got accustomed to the royal treatment [on Narcos: Mexico]. They would fly us first class, and they would give us all these amenities and put us up in a great hotel, and just the treatment overall was beautiful.

Then suddenly you move to the next project, and not every single project has the same amount of money or the same trajectory or the same elements to play with. You’ve got to adjust yourself to the needs and the pros of each project. It’s the nature of the business and at the end of the day, you’ve got to keep moving forward because each project is going to be different.

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Narcos: Mexico is currently streaming on Netflix.