The ease in which Roberto Garcia moves on screen is as charismatic as it is unsettling.
As the ex-military turned mercenary, Oslo, in the popular Spanish Netflix crime caper series Money Heist, Garcia is an assured performer.
While his scenes are infrequent, the supporting cast member channels the right amount of calm and malevolence to make his character one of the most loved of the series.
The bulky 45-year-old has been finding out the extent of this fandom during his stay in Dubai. As the guest star of iLounge's New Year's eve bash last week, Garcia was mobbed by fans requesting selfies, autographs, fist bumps and even a few bro-hugs.
“It was very surprising to me. This was the first time I came to the Middle East and to see all these people here, from Arabic, African, Latin and European backgrounds watch the show is simply amazing,” he says, before adding with a hearty laugh: “Some even wanted to know what is happening in the next season, I said ‘sorry, I can’t say.”
The Dubai experience of watching the fireworks shooting out of the Burj Khalifa, Garcia explains, also crystallised to him how his life changed over the space of a few years.
It was only four years ago that he was a struggling actor in Madrid.
Garcia's bodybuilder frame resulted in odd jobs that either had him play a heavy guy in commercials, or an extra in one of the many soap operas produced in the country.
That was until Money Heist producer Alex Pina contacted him in late 2016, stating Garcia's physical appearance and intensity made him an ideal fit for the live-wire character that is Oslo.
Garcia not only agreed because of a steady payday, but also down to the fact that he had met and dealt with plenty of Oslos in his prior life.
The agility and intimacy with weapons Oslo displays throughout Money Heist is down to intense training Garcia received prior to being an actor.
A 21-year veteran of Spain’s military force Guardia Civil, Garcia spent 17 years of which in the elite UEI, a tactical operations unit called upon for high-risk situations.
Garcia understandably doesn't want to say too much about the specific missions he took part in, other than stating that "it included lots of narco-trafficking and hostage situations on land, some in sea."
With sharp shooting an integral part of the job, Garcia’s deteriorating eyesight meant a discharge in 2007 that led to him kick-starting a career in acting. His reasons for the radical career change hints at the pressure cooker environment he experienced as part of the UEI.
“I wanted a break from myself, if that makes sense,” he says. “I do have a big imagination and for me to play someone else is great for me. Honestly, a lot of the times it feels like a vacation.”
Ironically, the success of Money Heist has resulted in Garcia becoming a national celebrity at home. For someone who used to work in the shadows, he admits that it took him a while to get used to appearing in the Spanish tabloids at home.
"But it ultimately made me satisfied because I am a different kind of actor than the Spanish are used to watching on television," he says. "All the male actors there are skinny and have beautiful hair, and I look very different. Even my voice, which is a bit strong, does not sound the same as the others which is more smoother."
Garcia's observation can also be applied to the series as a whole. Produced by the private Spanish broadcaster Antena 3 under the name of La Casa de Papel, the premiere in May 2017 was met with equal mixed controversy and acclaim.
"People were not used to seeing this kind of show," he says. "At the time, and still today in many cases, the shows you see at home is family drama or comedy. Money Heist was different because of the subject and the story was very sophisticated."
Perhaps to hedge their bets, Antena 3, decided to air the series (which had an original running time of 70 minutes each episode) at 10.40pm each Wednesday. It was a decision, Garcia states, which hamstrung its appeal nationwide.
“People have work, you know,” he says. “We can’t ask people to stay up until midnight to see each episode.”
Hence, the importance of Netflix's global streaming acquisition in changing the show's fortune.
Not only did the online streaming giant make the first season available at a re-edited time of 50 minutes per episode, but the twisting nature of the plot made it ideal for a binge-watching session.
With ratings lagging back in Spain, Antena 3 pulled the plug on Money Heist after the first season, only for it to be fully taken on by Netflix for a further three seasons. With Netflix's wide reach and marketing power, Money Heist was declared by the platform to be its most watched non-English series of 2018.
While no data has been revealed about the show's impact in the Arab world, social media points to a dedicated regional fan base with one of its biggest supporters being none other than Lebanese singer Elissa.
In August, she tweeted a picture of a Money Heist gift pack she received. In gratitude, she posted a message saluting one of the key characters: "Nairobi (played by Alba Flores) we're coming to save you. Love Beirut."
While not knowing any of Elissa’s work, Garcia is chuffed by the response, stating the Netflix effect is real.
“This is a show that’s definitely made for such a situation,” he says. “It is very addictive, you can’t stop watching it once you start.”
And as long as the fans are captivated, Garcia is happy travelling to meet them. With the Dubai appearance deemed a success, Garcia is considering returning to the UAE in time for the release of season four release on April 4.
“I just feel very good to do this,” he says. “I get to come and meet people and make them happy. Who can say no to jobs like this?”