The Emmy-winning "Breaking Bad" has a Spanish-language adaptation
The series debuts in Latin America in September
It's already bowed in the States and in Mexico to positive response
Sixteen Emmy Awards.
That’s how many trophies the cast and crew of “Breaking Bad” have hauled home after five seasons of groundbreaking TV, with six of those honors being earned at Monday’s 66th Primetime Emmy Awards. The three-hour ceremony, hosted by “Late Night’s” Seth Meyers, nearly doubled as one long standing ovation for the AMC series, which ended its run in September 2013.
But as creator Vince Gilligan and stars Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul laid “Breaking Bad” to rest with gleaming Emmys in their hands, elsewhere in the world the series is just getting started.
In September, Latin America will get its own, Spanish-language version of “Breaking Bad” called “Metastasis.” The premise is the same – a science teacher decides to cash in on his specialized knowledge by entering the drug trade, to devastating consequences – but the setting is Bogota, Colombia.
Instead of watching the evolution of a man named Walter White (played by Cranston in “Breaking Bad”), potential fans will follow Walter Blanco, as played by Colombian actor Diego Trujillo. Walter Blanco has wife a named Cielo – the Colombian equivalent of Anna Gunn’s Skyler – and a partner-in-crime named Jose Miguel Rosas, the equivalent of Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman.
The series debuted in the States on the Spanish language network UniMas in June, and has also made its way to Mexico. But “in Colombia, not many people know about ‘Breaking Bad,’” Trujillo explained in an interview from Bogota. “There’s not a great cable culture here, people watch open television on the basic channels that we have. ‘Metastasis’ is going to be a great surprise.”
While adapting shows to another language is commonplace – Trujillo previously worked on Latin American versions of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives,” and the U.S. turned Colombian series “Betty La Fea” into “Ugly Betty” – producing “Metastasis” was no easy task. The cast had to film the entirety of “Breaking Bad” nearly shot for shot in just six months, and they didn’t know how the story was going to end because the final season of “Breaking Bad” was still in development at the time.
Despite those challenges, the story doesn’t get lost in translation. Well-crafted symbolism, such as the noteworthy pink teddy bear that falls from a plane, appears in “Metastasis,” as do other scenes well-known to “Breaking Bad” viewers.
“The themes that it touches are very universal,” Urbina said. “To me, the show is a moral question about how far you would go while exploring the complex character like that of Walter.”
One of Walter’s scenes that strikes a chord with Trujillo takes place near the end of the series, when the “Metastasis” protagonist comes back to see his wife Cielo and say goodbye to her and their baby girl.
“That’s Walter and that’s what all the characters are,” Trujillo said. “Every scene is full of contradiction, it’s full of humanity.”
While both Trujillo and Urbina were certainly influenced by Cranston and Paul’s portrayals of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, they made an effort to break away from the original and make the characters, and the show, their own.
“When you start working with a different language, with a different director, a different cast, and our own traditions, at the end you really do your own version,” Trujillo said. “Characters come alive by themselves. You forget very soon what you saw, and the reference you have of the other actor.”
When Urbina first began filming, he was too attached to Paul’s portrayal of Jesse, with the memory of “Breaking Bad” scenes ingrained in his mind. Yet by making a conscious effort to start from scratch, he said he reimagined his Jose Miguel Rosas.
“I think the biggest difference between Jesse and Jose is they are both very insecure people, but I think Jesse’s character shows that through aggression and violence, while Jose, I tried to make him a little more vulnerable,” Urbina said. “I think you are able to relate more to him and feel what he is feeling. He’s not a character afraid of showing his sadness, his emotion.”
There are other factors that distinguish “Metastasis” from “Breaking Bad.” The setting of Bogota moves the story into the urban environment of a big city, as opposed to Albuquerque’s suburban landscape. The city also lacks deserts, or the border and immigration issues prevalent in Albuquerque.
With its high elevation, Bogota is cold year-round, so the pool in Walter’s backyard is replaced by a fountain, which Cielo falls into as she’s having a dream. The RV where Walter and Jesse make their great escape in the “Breaking Bad” pilot is also replaced by a rickety school bus turned into a lab for “Metastasis.”
Although they’re sharing similar material, there’s no competition for the actors. Quite the opposite, actually: Urbina and Trujillo were both rooting for “Breaking Bad” to win at the Emmys on Monday.
“Cranston’s performance is absolutely wonderful. He deserves all the awards, as well as the rest of (the cast),” Trujillo said. “I think they are just great actors, and they did a great, great job.”
So far, Urbina and Trujillo haven’t been doing too badly with the roles themselves. The actors said Vince Gilligan admires “Metastasis,” and they’ve received positive feedback from fans near and far.
“I have gotten an amazing response from people all over, people in Mexico and the States,” Urbina said. “There was this one guy in Mexico that wrote to me, and it was very touching because he identified with the character. He went down on drugs and he lost his girlfriend and he was reaching out, not for help, but to connect and to grieve. So I think it has touched people in a very powerful way.”
There is only more to come, as the much anticipated season finale airs on UniMas in mid-September, and “Metastasis” comes to Latin American audiences with Fox Live on September 1.
“The story is really well-adapted to our conditions here,” Trujillo said. “People are going to believe it, believe the people. It’s an amazing story, and I’m sure it’s going to be really well received.”