WARNING: Spoilers ...
Two years ago, actor Pedro Alonso faced a conundrum. On the one hand, his series Money Heist, (La Casa de Papel) was picked up for two more seasons after it became a global phenomenon on Netflix, and his character, the devilishly charismatic Berlin, was unquestionably one of its breakout stars. On the other hand, Berlin had just died.
"The series was supposed to finish with the second season. That was supposed to be it, it was planned to be the end," Alonso tells The National.
The first two parts of Money Heist were a contained story. The finale of those 22 episodes, in which the gang – who call themselves La Banda – complete their heist of the Royal Mint of Spain and escape into the sunset, was supposed to be their happy ending. Alonso's Berlin, who was the group's leader, sacrificed himself so that the others could escape, an act of redemption for his many sins.
“My character was a man with questionable moral depth and was despicable in many ways, but he walked with a tragic air. His death made us see everything that had happened from another angle. I felt it was a gift for the aura of the character,” says Alonso.
Shortly after the show’s renewal, Alonso got a call from creator Alex Pina who said something that surprised the actor – they wanted Berlin to return. “Well, now what do we do?” Alonso asked Pina.
Pina concocted an idea for seasons three and four, the fourth of which is released today, in which Berlin will stay dead, but remain integral to the story. La Banda’s next heist is the dead leader’s idea, with Berlin’s best friend, Palermo, as the group’s new chief. Berlin will continue to appear through flashbacks, guiding the team in memory.
The scenario presented Alonso with a new challenge. All the growth his character had gone through was now wiped clean, and he would have to find a different version of the character to explore. The prospect thrilled him. “I had played all my cards and had to walk in another direction. There is nothing like working out of your comfort zone, to expose yourself again,” says Alonso.
Rodrigo de la Serna, who plays Palermo in seasons three and four, arguably had the harder job – filling the shoes of the show’s beloved anti-hero and joining a cast of which each of the characters had already become memorable in their own right.
De la Serna is also a foreigner – an Argentinian who came to Spain to act with a group of Spaniards. “It was obviously a lot of pressure, but my fellow colleagues made sure to immediately dispel that feeling,” says de la Serna.
Alonso was used to Pina’s frenetic creative process, but de la Serna was not. Pina does not tell his actors the story in advance or what is coming immediately next. He writes as he goes, and follows his inspiration as it comes to him.
“In TV, there is always this conversation around how it’s better to have everything written before you begin shooting. Alex does not want that. Alex wants to work in the moment. He likes to smell what is cooking, you know? He feels the energy of the set and then suddenly says: ‘Oh, that interests me,’” says Alonso.
That improvisational style, and the fact the actors do not know how the story or how their characters will unfold, forces them to approach acting differently than they had in the past.
“The uncertain future puts you in a paradigm of anticipation and full attention. You need to be present in each situation and in the scenes themselves. It’s always very demanding on a dramatic level – very, very demanding. It fascinates me to work in this way, where nothing is established, and anything can happen,” says de la Serna.
While the flashbacks may be enough to retain Berlin as a part of the show, it also keeps him static, unable to be a true part of the continuing adventure. As the backstory of Berlin and Palermo is potent – one wonders if it could become a spin-off prequel of its own, to show the early adventures of the duo before season one’s big heist kicked off.
When asked about this, Alonso pretends he no longer understands English. De La Serna does not catch on to the gag, beginning to translate the question himself, before Alonso waves him off, dropping the facade. “No, I understand. I just do not want to understand.”
“Why not? It’s an interesting question,” de la Serna says, prodding Alonso to answer it.
Alonso admits he has considered the possibility of a spin-off, but a part of him wants the character to live on for decades to come, even without him, hoping that other actors can continue Berlin’s story.
“I can imagine that happening. In that sense, the character’s natural being has been converted into almost a narrative icon. Of course, Berlin and Palermo are very powerful characters, and in storyline terms, it also interests me a lot. There is good material, and I believe that story has a lot of content,” says Alonso.
While Alonso says a spin-off is possible, he does not want fans to expect a continuation, or to speculate too far into the future, forcing us to stay in the moment, just as they had to on set.
“No one knows for sure. It’s better not to live for expectations, because everything can change very fast. What I can say is, up until now, the material that we are working with between the two characters is very potent and exciting,” he says.
Nevertheless, Alonso and de la Serna are excited to share what Money Heist season four brings for the two characters, promising a number of great scenes between the duo.
“There are moments that I have not seen on television before,” says Alonso. “You do not know if you are playing cowboys, and then there is suddenly a more tender sequence, then it seems like a boxing match. There is a mix of tones and textures between them. Also, both of them are lucid, intelligent and agile in their Machiavellian strategies. It’s really rich material.”
Money Heist season four is on Netflix from today