Andrea Riseborough Talks To Us About Her Challenging Role In Amazon’s New Cocaine Drama, ‘ZeroZeroZero’

The Narcos franchise has been going strong at Netflix for five seasons running, and over on Amazon Prime, another action-crime drama revolving around the drug trade is set to take flight. ZeroZeroZero, which is inspired by Roberto Saviano’s (Gomorrah) book of the same name, will soon launch as a TV series. This show follows a globe-spanning journey of a massive cocaine shipment through Mexico, Italy, Senegal, Morocco, and the U.S. Over the course of eight episodes, the season covers not only the perspective of the cartels producing the powder but the crime syndicates who will take on distribution, and the U.S.-based company that brokers the deal.

That company would be the Lynwood family business, fronted by Gabriel Byrne’s character, although the bulk of the operations are handled by his daughter, Emma, who’s portrayed by Andrea Riseborough (Birdman, Black Mirror, Oblivion). The Lynwoods aren’t heroes, of course, but they tell themselves that they help keep the world’s economy ticking. As one can imagine, Emma’s got a rough job, steeped in underworld-bound danger, and she must step up when her brother, Chris (Dane DeHaan), cannot do so. In the process, Emma settles tough choices to not only keep the company afloat but survive. What follows is a harrowing power struggle on a truly global scale, and the viewer will not only get sucked into the story but also the breathtaking cinematography captured within every country already mentioned.

ZeroZeroZero is created, directed, and executive produced by Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Gomorrah) and streams on March 6. Andrea was gracious enough to talk with us about the astonishing journey that she took as Emma, who faces off with leaders of the Italian ‘Ndrangheta and a Mexican cartel.

You had two Sundance movies arrive this year. One of them (Luxor) was a last-minute choice for you, and you squeezed it in between shooting this series and another Sundance movie (Possessor). Could I assume that you don’t have much time to watch TV?

That’s a correct assumption on your part, yes! But I do enjoy it when I get the chance. I love documentaries in particular.

I ask that because, obviously, the Narcos: Mexico audience will be interested in exploring ZeroZeroZero as well. How would you advise people to prepare for the vast scale of your series?

Crikey. Keep your wits about you. I feel like the only thing you can really do is hold on for the ride. I think the unique thing is that you travel backwards with the cocaine, so you start in this supposedly civilized environment, and you end up going on a real tour of everything in between. It’s an interesting world that Roberto Saviano’s created, with the ZeroZeroZero book, and [it’s] based a lot on what we deem to be fact. What’s really interesting about the series is that with the family, they’re not really facing what they’re trading. There’s a lot of detachment behind this role, and how responsible Emma is.

Do you think Emma would have chosen this life on her own, if not for the family business?

I think she wants power and respect, and she’s been raised to want that. She doesn’t want vulnerability, she doesn’t want to be in any way penetrable. She wants to have control, and she’s certainly taken on more responsibility than she would have liked in the sense that Chris has been deemed to be unwell and not really stepping up as a working member of the family business. As she flowers, which is a really bad word to describe it… as she develops, her want for power and respect only gains momentum, and the need for anything else becomes incidental.

I worried for Emma with the increasingly dangerous situations that she found herself in. Each obstacle grew even more unsettling.

Death is probably the least of her concerns. Ironically, survival is probably her greatest concern. I wish I could pull it up right now, but in the ZeroZeroZero book, the speech from the beginning of the book — the police chief has given [Roberto] in New York the speech of somebody who is recruiting for the Italian mafia. It’s a mafia godfather, and there are so many things in that speech that it’s almost like a guide to life. One of the things that it touches on is that how unimportant it is if one should die, and that the ultimate goal is power and respect. Above money, above sex, above anything, so a lot of the situations that Emma finds herself in are dire, but I think she’s very aware — as removed as she is from the cargo, and as convinced as she is that she’s not a drug dealer — is that she’s very aware that she’s doing something that does cost life. She’s going to therefore be in situations like that. When it happens, she deals with it the way that she deals with a lot of things. She detaches.

It’s difficult to look at the Lynwood family in a black-and-white way, in terms of good or evil. It’s not clear cut. How do you think people will view them?

I don’t really have any hopes, but there’s something very valuable in this story that’s sought to shine light on the huge and vast extent of the cocaine trade. For so many of us, we don’t even realize how prolific it is and how many people it touches. [Roberto] had been trying to tell the story in different ways, and ZeroZeroZero as a series is a manifestation of that. People are losing their lives because of it, because I hope that when people watch it, it’s gripping, and it’s a valuable story to tell because it’s actually happening. There’s a huge element of realization that, even though it’s a fictional tale that we’re telling, it’s based on the idea that this is what a lot of people are living through.

You’re not only playing a woman who’s navigating a male world but a male-dominated underworld. Did it excite you to present the female perspective that we usually don’t see in these drug-crime dramas?

It really did. Down to the logistical thinking about whether I wanted to spend a year-and-a-quarter basically being surrounded by guys across the world [laughs] in many different countries. I thought, “What an incredible thing to be able to watch, to walk in that space as a woman and to discover how this person might navigate those waters.” One of the really interesting ways that Emma does is that she offers, like, a match. She’s not trying to get in touch with the divine feminine.

Oh boy. [Laughs]

That’s very much a joke!

I love that Emma, well, she doesn’t really dress like a man, but you can tell that she dresses the way that she wants to dress. It’s not for anyone else.

There was a freedom and liberation to that. To be able to spread my legs and have a conversation and, as Emma, the sexual currency is not the feminine sexual currency that we’ve come to anticipate with women onscreen. And I often think that [happens] because we lack enough female writers, and we need to see more from the female perspective, just so we can get an idea of what’s going on from a different perspective, in our heads. I really love that she’s, in a sense, genderless in this series, and god bless them for being brave enough to do that. Everyone agreed that there’s something about her that’s that all business.

It’s probably a good thing they didn’t work a love interest for her into this series.

There was one. He got cut out.

Oh, really?

And for exactly that reason. I haven’t actually talked to everybody about why it got cut out, but when I watched the first episode, I immediately saw why. It wasn’t useful. It was an interesting moment, but that’s all it really would have been. It just didn’t feed into our story at all, and that became apparent very quickly, so it was fantastic in the way that Emma separates the wheat from the chaff. The creators separated the same wheat from the chaff, and they got rid of anything that wasn’t needed. That was one of the things that I liked about the script. It wasn’t sensational. You were looking at working mothers cutting up cocaine. Often, the drug trade’s so glamorized, and it’s not that this series isn’t. It’s so decadent. The shots are luxurious and vast and gorgeous, but it doesn’t sensationalize it to the point where it’s something that people would want to jump into and be part of. They get into some incredibly tough situations.

Did you have the chance to soak in your travels while you were filming this?

Absolutely. One of the most amazing things about this job is that, basically, between the end of 2017 and the spring of 2019, we were in Mexico City for three months, in New Orleans for two months, we were in Italy for almost three months, in Morocco in the desert, in Senegal. Every single place, we then worked with half of a new crew each time, so we were working with locals. It was one of the most thrilling experiences that I’ve ever had in my life. And I really hope that’s reflected in what we captured.

It’s such a gorgeously rendered series, even though your character goes through some real ordeals. So if you have any time to decompress anytime soon and watch TV, are there any series in your mental queue?

Oh, anything with Steve Buscemi in it. I was just given a really good recommendation of the Miracle Workers: Dark Ages, which has Daniel Radcliffe in it. It’s a wonderfully lighthearted thing to watch. I do a lot of dark work with dark storylines, so I appreciate really silly things, and I’m a huge cinephile. So I’ll always go back to film, but some of the episodic things that I get really attached to are documentaries, and I’m so behind!

Amazon’s ‘ZeroZeroZero’ series will begin streaming on March 6.