In The Mix

Choosing Change

Sticking to a routine is not part of this actor’s résumé.

Maria Neuman
  • Sergio Matos

Some people take the easy route to success, while others enjoy the journey's twists and turns.

For Pêpê Rapazote, a star of the Netflix drug drama Narcos, the easy route could have involved staying in his native Portugal. There, after years as a movie and television actor — following a prior career as an architect — he has garnered massive success.

"I'm probably one of the top three actors there, and I get recognized all the time," he acknowledges. "I made good money in Italy, Spain and France, but I needed new challenges. I still enjoy the process of auditioning for new roles, because that's what feeds my soul."

Since coming to the U.S. in 2010, Rapazote has built up a varied résumé — including roles in Showtime's Shameless and the upcoming Chris Weitz–directed feature Operation Finale. His knack for accents and ability to speak five languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French) definitely helps.

"I love to study dialects, so I always get asked to audition for the roles where the character has a Russian mother, Chinese father, and grew up in Oregon," he says, laughing. "It's been a gift, because it's given me some amazing parts."

When he landed the role of Cali cartel co-leader José "Chepe" Santacruz Londoño in the third season of Narcos, he got the chance to study up on one of the biggest crime syndicates of all time.

"These guys made $23.5 billion in profit back in the early '80s, and even by today's standards, that's crazy money," says Rapazote, who learned Spanish while living in Venezuela as a child. While researching the part of the trigger-happy Colombian drug lord, who'd been based in New York City, Rapazote heard plenty of stories from people who'd lived in Queens during that time.

"Most of the extras in my scenes in Narcos were people who knew the real Chepe. Apparently he had a great sense of humor but was also totally frightening."

For this actor — who is married to Portuguese actress Mafalda Vilhena — security and routine aren't the most important parts of résumé-building. "I know I have a very patient wife," he says. "But I'm one of those people who feels like they'd go crazy being a regular on a show, season after season. Two seasons would be amazing."

Stay tuned.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2018