Luis Gerardo Méndez almost didn’t get the role that has thrust him into the international limelight: an earnest police officer obsessed with the unsolved killings of young Mexican women amid drug cartel turf wars in the hit Netflix series “Narcos: Mexico.”
After a successful audition and meetings with the show’s producers, a call from his agent interrupted his premature celebrations.
“They really love you, but they said you look like you just came out of a Pilates class; you’re too skinny for the role,” Méndez recounted. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m an actor, I can change my body. I don’t see the problem with that.’”
A determined Méndez pledged a full physical transformation to inhabit the role of Victor Tapia, a police officer in 1990s Ciudad Juárez trying to investigate a mounting series of killings of women amid brutal drug cartel turf wars, the dueling roles of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Mexican officials and the corruption and shortcomings of the criminal justice system.
“Being Mexican, all this hits differently,” Méndez, 39, said when asked about the emotional impact of his role.
‘A relevant tragedy’
“I grew up in the ’90s, watching all these headlines about Cardinal Posadas Ocampo,” Méndez said, referring to the shocking killing of a Roman Catholic cardinal who was caught in a crossfire as a cartel gang tried to kill drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán at the airport in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“But in the specific case of the women getting killed in Juárez, I think the creator of the show, Carlo Bernard, and the writers have done an extraordinary job,” Méndez said. “The reason that this storyline is in the last season of ‘Narcos: Mexico,’ is to talk about the consequences of drug trafficking. I’ve been in conversations with friends in the U.S. and Europe about drug trafficking, and I hear, ‘Oh, they are killing each other because they decide to work in that business, that’s on them.’ And it is not exactly like that.”