Following the success of Birdman, for which Armando Bó won an Oscar for Best Writing, Original Screenplay, the Argentine filmmaker knew he wanted to find something bigger, broader, more global. He’d also had such a good time wading into the dark comedy at the heart of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Hollywood satire that he was eager to find a project equally attuned to that sensibility. He found a perfect match in Amazon’s El Presidente. The ripped from the headlines drama follows the unraveling of the corruption scandal that rocked FIFA back in 2015 through the eyes of Sergio Jadue (Andrés Parra), the bumbling head of a small Chilean football club who became integral in bringing down the renowned soccer organization from within.
“I didn’t want to do a boring corruption scandal,” Bó shares, “Because this is not Narcos. It’s not so violent, it’s not so terrible.” Instead, the tone of the miniseries is one that straddles the line between a high-stakes thriller and a hilarious satire. Jadue, who is clearly out of his league from the get-go, stumbling onto his high-ranking role almost by accident, exemplifies how utterly ridiculous and alluring the draw of rigging games, cashing in and otherwise running soccer leagues like personal ATMs with perks aplenty.
On his heels and pushing him to do the right thing in collaborating with investigations into FIFA’s practices is an undercover FBI agent who’s passing herself as a flirty waitress. Played by Karla Souza in a variety of wigs and accents, Jadue’s erstwhile handler is all too happy to exploit his foolish antics even as they risk her own investigation.
Part of the joy of the project for Souza was the chance to work in Spanish again. Only it came with an added challenge. “This is a Mexican American FBI agent who speaks in Mexican Spanish, and sort of a neutral American accent,” she shares. “But then when she goes undercover in Paraguay, what accent can she put on to kind of fit in? Because if she puts on a Mexican accent that doesn’t really fit with any likely backstory. So then we decided, Okay, let’s choose a Venezuelan accent.”
As Bó notes, such attention to detail when it came to accents stressed how much things have changed in the television industry in the last decade. No longer are Latino characters being treated as interchangeable entities. “From the outside, in English, all Latinos sound the same. But for us — for Argentineans, for Colombians, for Chileans — they’re all different languages. We sound really different. It was a big deal to align all those things.”
With a platform like Amazon backing El Presidente, Bó’s vision of a global story rooted in Latin America feels all the more refreshing. It allows a transnational production that shuttles between English and Spanish all the while telling a globetrotting story about one of the world’s most beloved sports. For both Bó and Souza, the drama was also a chance to look into what it is that led to the many arrests that made headlines back in 2015.
“I didn’t know any of the big players,” Souza says. “I just basically knew there had been a scandal in 2015 and I didn’t really know anything else. I also didn’t know that the U.S.’s involvement had to do with basically having been left out of the game. And that’s why they ultimately started pursuing this case. That became a lot more interesting to me.”
The actress loved digging into the murky waters of how U.S. involvement was never going to be presented as a kind of moralistic high ground. “I think we’re living in a world where, I don’t know how many years ago, but the world started catching on [to soccer’s popularity] and going, like, ‘Oh, this is a huge business! We need to have our hands in this as well.’ And so then, you know, the U.S. started having their teams and sort of investing more in them. But it’s funny because we started seeing that and at the same time, the FIFA Gate scandal was happening. So, I wonder, was it the chicken or the egg?”
That’s also what helped establish the show’s tone and help craft Souza’s character: here was yet another storyline of corruption where U.S. oversight commingled with a hilariously righteous sense of justice. “I had a conversation with Armando on the phone,” Souza remembers. “And he sort of really explained the vision for this character and her personal life alongside the professional goals; how she was someone who was going to end up also being somewhat tempted by corruption in the end. We were going to see how the U.S. wasn’t a hero in the end. It was about how we’re all somehow participating in this in this game of corruption.”
It’s that kind of statement which makes the plot of El Presidente feel like a black comedy with no real heroes or villains, just greedy fools colliding. In that, FIFA Gate emerges as a story almost too ridiculous to be true. Which is also what makes it perfectly suited for the farcical thriller Bó has crafted.
El Presidente is now streaming on Amazon Prime.