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Alberto Rodríguez and Rafael Cobos • Director and writer of The Plague

“Filming a show like this is like running a marathon”


- Director Alberto Rodríguez and screenwriter Rafael Cobos continue to work side by side on the second series of Movistar+'s The Plague, presented at the Seville European Film Festival

Alberto Rodríguez and Rafael Cobos • Director and writer of The Plague
Alberto Rodríguez and Rafael Cobos (© Festival de Sevilla)

Together, Rafael Cobos and Alberto Rodríguez are a formidable creative force. Today, the duo behind the acclaimed Marshland [+see also:
film review
interview: Alberto Rodríguez
film profile
are here at the Seville European Film Festival to introduce the second season of The Plague, subtitled in its original Spanish version La mano de la Garduña (lit. "The Hand of the Beech Marten") and produced by Movistar+. Cobos is the series’ writer and creative director, while Rodríguez directed the first two episodes before passing that baton to David Ulloa.

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Cineuropa: The first season of The Plague was unveiled at the San Sebastián International Film Festival; now the second season is set to make its debut in Seville.
Alberto Rodríguez:
We’ve always come to the festival here in Seville as regular audience members, so it feels incredible to be taking part. The fact that the series is set in Seville just adds to that — it seems such a natural choice for the first screening. We’ll be presenting the first two episodes here before taking them to the UK and Germany. For a period drama like The Plague to get picked up by the BBC is an indicator of the quality of the production, so I’m really proud of that.

Rafael Cobos: The Seville festival is a fantastic event and it’s the first time that a series has been chosen to take part. Plus, it’s a European festival, so it just makes sense for us to be here. We were at MIPCOM in Cannes with this second season of The Plague, and there was a lot of interest in the show.

When you first found yourselves tackling a period drama, did you look to old British shows like I, Claudius for inspiration, or even the old Spanish series filmed for TVE in the 1970s?
AR: At the moment, it feels like the series format has only just been invented, but there were some fantastic shows made in the twentieth century, with directors of the calibre of Mario Camus and Pilar Miró. This channelling of talent from big screen to small is not a new phenomenon. For inspiration, we turned to the visual arts, looking at paintings and engravings dating from around this time.

RC: There are scenes in The Plague that look like they’ve come straight out of a painting by Velázquez or Murillo, because the artistic direction of the show was strongly influenced by those artists.

AR: The second season is a bit punchier, and the plot has more twists and turns than the first. With the characters already introduced, we were able to dive right into the story.

Did you film in Chile, where some of the action takes place?
No; the wintry scenes you see on screen were filmed on a set in Dos Hermanas, in 40-degree heat. The spring-time scenes were filmed in Almería. We recreated South America through a combination of real footage and CGI. The comparison to the beech marten [la garduña, in Spanish] is very apt.

RC: The beech marten is a stealthy predator that attacks under cover of darkness, which is why it made a good name for a Mafia organisation. The Garduña was a criminal organisation that started in Spain and met its end in Italy. It represented a section of society that was fed up with living from day to day in a precarious situation, and so found an alternative way of making a living outside the law. Over time, the name came to be associated with the Mafia which, at its peak, was particularly active in Seville.

AR: This season is all about power — both conspicuous power and the invisible power that lurks in the shadows, pulling the strings of an entire city. You can’t understand one without the other.

How long did it take you to film?
Four months, with David Ulloa and myself taking turns on set. He worked on the first season, so he understood the tone of the show. Filming a show like this is a marathon, but we had all the energy of a committed team behind us. The hardest part was imagining the scenes we were creating, because in reality they didn’t exist. Seville is a totally different city to how it was in the past, and so almost all the exteriors were shot in Carmona, Utrera and Alcalá de Guadaira.

What have these two seasons taught you as filmmakers?
I feel like there are a lot of parallels between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries. As a director, I learned a great deal; working on a series trains you to solve problems and make decisions on the fly. I get a real kick out of tricking the audience — it’s the magic of conjuring something that isn’t really there.

RC: Being a creative director can be difficult, and there’s a lot of responsibility. Writing is more in my comfort zone; I enjoy the work and it’s satisfying, whereas here you have to make decisions to ensure nothing is out of place, everything gels together and there’s a clear visual identity.

After The Plague 2... Will it be straight back to the big screen?
Yes, we’re working on the script for a film and I’m itching to get back to cinema and something more self-contained and manageable. Next year, we’ll have a clearer idea of where our new film project is heading.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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