Series and movies that deal with supernatural events usually need a strong dose of reality to help the audience suspend their disbelief and fully enter the story. The problem is that so much reality usually makes them gloomy and gloomy, the world of the supernatural is not a happy place. One of the great surprises of the new series The Envoysavailable on Viacom’s Paramount+ streaming service since January 20, is that it takes us by the hand through a story about a confrontation between the supernatural and reason, in which the dark is counterbalanced by subtle humor and intelligent, which does not make it a comedy but does arouse human interest in what happens to the protagonists.
The Envoys is the story of two priests that the Vatican sends to a rural community in Mexico to verify the (supposed) miracles of resurrection of the dead at the hands of the local priest, who mysteriously disappears the day after the arrival of the investigators. This suspense series with supernatural elements is the creation of the Argentine writer and director Juan Jose Campanella, director of The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) Oscar winner for best foreign language film in 2010 and who in August signed an agreement with Viacom whereby he will write, produce, direct for ViacomCBS International Studios, also known as VIS. We were able to talk to him about his experience creating the series and what drew him to this project.
How did you initially get involved with this project?
This was a genre that always interested me. These characters are in the right place to be able to mix things that border on fantasy, because it’s not fantasy, it’s not a horror series, but it also has a strong element of an everyday earthly thriller. So we started to develop the theme and Emanuel Diez, who is a member of the writing team, brought these characters to the table and from there it started to develop.
Among the promotional materials about the series there is a trailer in which you say that the themes must be chosen with the heart and then write them with the head. what made you fall in love with The Envoys?
Precisely, being able to get into that area, which has always fascinated me since my first film in the United States, which is an area that I would not call madness or mysticism, but rather that area of parapsychology, that area of the mind that has not yet been studied and that is often confused with miracles. So I really liked the idea of being able to delve into that and precisely with characters whose task is to try to figure out if these things are true or false.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in the production of The Envoys?
In the production there were no difficulties that were worse than normal, for filming in a small town far from a film production center. But the truth is that with an excellent Mexican team there weren’t really any serious problems. In the creation of the script, there were challenges that I had never faced before, but that I loved, which were precisely that mix of genres. The series is a thriller, something I already did in El Secreto de sus Ojos, but it has mystical elements with which I had never played before, but it also has a lot of humor and a great sense of humanity, of everyday life. So making just those characters that have a great sense of humor, with moments I would even say laugh out loud, but also managing to permanently maintain tension and suspense. That’s what you have to work on is what I said, about choosing with your heart but writing with your head.
The main characters, the priests Simón Antequera and Pedro Salinas, are apparently an odd couple. What do you think is the reason why the interaction between them worked so well?
First and foremost by the actors (Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Luis Gerardo Méndez). The actors have chemistry on screen and they both have a very good, very natural and believable use of humor and truth. His handling of naturalistic humor is very instinctive. That humor that doesn’t come from clowning around but relies on things like a pause that’s a second longer than it would be in reality. That is very difficult to achieve by directing, the actors must have a great intuition for that and these two have it. Plus there’s an on-screen chemistry between the actors that’s necessary when the characters are an odd couple. This chemistry cannot be seen even on the film set, it is only noticeable when the film is already edited, but it is essential for the plot to work.
On the other hand, the differences between the characters are not so extreme as to turn them into caricatures. One has more street and is more wild and spontaneous, while the other has more school, care and parsimony, but they do not go to extremes that make them incredible. Perhaps both represent characteristics that can be found within the same person. They talk aloud about dilemmas that could be presented to the same person: do I do this? did you send me this transgression? do I break this rule? Dilemmas that are expressed out loud between the two characters but that are not so far apart that the same person has them. So it’s very nice to hear them discuss these things.
Which of the two do you like better?
No no no. A lot of the interaction between them was handled by me, and my writing technique is to ask myself a question without knowing what the answer is going to be. In reality, the two characters have things of mine, the discussions that they have, one also has within oneself. It is not that I decide that one is right and the other is wrong.
Tell us a little about the character of Sister Emilia, I found her fascinating.
We love Sister Emilia, played by Assira Abate. So much so that she becomes a regular character for the second season. She is the most revolutionary character in the series, she is a woman who is in the Vatican escaping from the mafia and who at the same time tries to find her place within this very rigid structure that is the Vatican with all her feminine push and her strength that try to renovate even very strong structures. She is the character that has the most internal contradictions in the series, she is a very rich and very funny character. Assira is an excellent actress.
The use of humor in The Envoys it is very fine, very subtle and very tasteful, but it also works as a counterweight to the tension and suspense intrinsic to the plot. Was this the intention to introduce humor in the script?
I could tell you that it is my characteristic, all my films are like that. Some have more emphasis on comedy others like this, or like The Secret in Their Eyes, have a greater emphasis on the dramatic, but all have an element of humor. I really like people who have a great sense of humor in life and that’s how I try to write my characters, no matter if they are facing a friend, a work situation, a murderer or God himself. I like that they have a sense of humor.
The eight episodes of the first season of The Envoys are currently available on the Paramount+ streaming service.
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