As of June 4, summer will turn blue, and our screens will be filled with a mixture of adventure, paranormal phenomena and a song of friendship, thanks to the premiere of “Paraíso”, the first original fantasy genre series from Movistar+, produced in association with THE MEDIAPRO STUDIO. We spoke with director and co-creator, Fernando González Molina (Pamplona, 1975), about this story set in Spain in the 90s and which he defines as a roller coaster ride of thrills and fun entertainment, with nods to the cinema of Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Robert Zemeckis and John Hughes, and a soundtrack featuring music among other, from the Spanish pop group Mecano.
I have the impression that, with “Paraíso”, you’ve broken a massive taboo: that only the Americans could make this type of series.
I only hope it lives up to the series we see from the United States! The fantasy genre, generally, is scary because it implies a level of production that we are not used to here, but we mustn’t forget that, currently, a series like “Paraíso” will be released all over the world at the same time and will have to compete with products that have ten times the budget we have. We’ve gambled on playing play in that same league, making an unprecedented production effort in Spain. And I think we have succeeded. The cost of the series is impressive.
“Paraíso” is set in a town on the Levantine coast, in 1992, and begins with the disappearance of three 15-year-old girls while on a night out at the disco. Faced with the ineffectiveness of the police, the brother of one of the girls with two of his friends, and the bad guy, decide to investigate what happened. Was it a project that you’d been thinking about for a long time?
Actually, it’s only about four years old. I had spent about ten years without doing anything for television and I was yearning to do another series, so I contacted Ruth García and David Oliva, whom I had already known for many years, and we got down to work to create “Paraíso”. And what did we want to feature in the series? The 90s, an abandoned nightclub, four protagonists who were our age at the time these events took place, the Spanish Levante … and, later, films, series and books that are part of our collective imagination: the series “Verano azul” and “V”, movies of Steven Spielberg and John Hughes, “The Goonies” and the teenage literary adventures of “The Happy Hollisters” and “The Famous Five”. As such, we began to develop and shape the universe of “Paraíso”. And Movistar+ and THE MEDIAPRO STUDIO were enthusiastic about this idea, which combined fantasy, adventure and nostalgia.
Surely you’ve been asked, or will be asked about a millions times if the trend of the phenomenon of the series “Stranger Things” influenced this immediate and unconditional support?
Sure, of course it did, but I think that even though it might have some elements in common with “Stranger Things”. “Paraíso” is different. Ours is a ghost story. So, what similarities does it share with that famous series? Well, the protagonists are also teenagers. But then, we’re not the only recent Spanish series where this happens, as there’s Albert Espinosa’s “Los Espabilados”, also on Movistar +. “Stranger Things” will be around for a long time, so this comparison doesn’t bother me, but, of course, the journey of the four kids from “Paraíso” is very different from the series you mention.
And how do you maintain that pace and that capacity to surprise that each of the seven chapters episodes has? And, within each episode, those twists every 15 minutes.
It’s been exhausting! We were always trying to put ourselves in the shoes of our audience, sit next to them while they watch the show and to give them everything they expected, and then some. Constantly imagining how they’d react and feel when faced with this scene or that scene or plot twist: a fright here, another surprise there, etc. “Paraíso” is a roller coaster ride of thrills and fun entertainment. It’s a series that had to remind us of the emotions we were feeling back in the 80s and 90s, when we were sitting in front of the TV watching series like “V” and “Beverly Hills, 90210”.
I was going to define “Paraíso” not as a roller coaster, but as an excitement packed amusement park.
Once again, I sure hope so! Sounds beautiful to me as a definition. We have to get audiences to binge the entire season in a short period of time. Since I was a director, I had become very critical and analytical, and I was always looking for the trick to all series and movies, I saw how they had been made technically. During confinement, locked up at home and watching tons of series and movies, all this changed, and I went back to being that little boy from before, who devoured “Gremlins” (1984) without ever wondering how it was shot.
Let’s go back to the protagonists of “Paraíso”: Javi, Quino, Álvaro and Zeta. The series is filled with adventure, supernatural phenomena and is a real thriller, but does it also call on us to always be and behave like ourselves, regardless of what we’re like? Is there a message?
There is some petty revenge on class bullies. In fact, David Oliva and I are Álvaro, and Ruth García is Olivia. The series talks about how you have to learn to love yourself from a very young age, even if things go wrong for you and others don’t seem right and they mess with you. And take advantage of life. It’s a recognition of being different, yes.
Was it difficult to find the four leading characters: Pau Gimeno, Héctor Gozalbo, León Martínez and Cristian López?
It was a task, yes, because I was obsessed with the actors being the same age as their characters. Far too often we see 23-year-olds playing 16-year-olds. The four boys from “Paraíso” were 14 when we shot it. After an initial and broad selection of candidates for the different young roles, we had a screening and began to work with them. One of my intentions was to make a series with several protagonists played by unknown actors for the public. Harness that unique and valuable energy of new actors and actresses.
One of them, however, did already have a prior career: León Martínez, whom we have seen in two TV3 series, “Merlí” and “Bienvenidos a la familia”. In addition, he’s also the son of a great actor, Marc Martínez.
Can you believe that when I chose León, I didn’t know he was Marc’s son? I worked with Marc on a series, “Luna, the mystery of Calenda” (Antena 3). I loved Leon. He’s a really special actor. And very funny. He reminded me of Álvaro Cervantes, whom I met for the first time during “Three Steps Above Heaven” (2010) and “I Want You” (2012). There, Álvaro created an unforgettable character, Pollo. And, like León here in “Paraíso”, Álvaro wasn’t the obvious choice for that Pollo character either, who required a serious sense of humor. I directed Álvaro again in the films of the Baztán Trilogy, although he had a small role, and I wanted to work with him again. That said, León has something of that young Álvaro Cervantes.
Also, the female characters in “Paraíso” are not merely supporting roles, and that’s all very well. Bravo for the choice of Macarena García and also for María Romanillos, who plays Bea, a friend of the four boys.
Macarena is great. She’s got charisma and empathy, and I really felt good about offering her the character of Paula Costa, the cop who investigates the disappearance of the girls and everything that comes after … It’s a role that’s far removed from the roles she had been given in the past; she doesn’t have that youthful, bubbly touch we had seen her play before. Paula Costa is a more serene woman. And regarding María Romanillos, I loved that melancholic French touch of hers. In this story, the girls aren’t there to merely support the boys. They’re even braver and take more risks than the boys. Ours is a script of strong female characters, and I really love that about it.
Let’s talk about adult roles. Here you combine great actors, but less known, such as Iñaki Ardanaz, with household names like Gorka Otxoa, and, also, television legends here in Spain like Ana Marzoa. There are many fans of Ana Marzoa, of her voice and personality, dating back to when TVE was airing in black and white.
Can you believe that I am one of them, even though I found out later? Ana fascinates me, and she does something truly special here. Like the rest of the plots, it wouldn’t be a good idea to reveal too much about what happens with Ana. Beware of spoilers!
The original soundtrack is very important. You have repeated with Lucas Vidal, a young composer with a very ‘American’ concept of music for series and films.
With Lucas we had already done “Palm Trees in the Snow” (2015) and the documentary “The Best Day of My Life” (2018). We have worked very hard exploring many musical genres, so that the soundtrack had personality. So that the original music, together with the songs by Mecano or OBK that feature, would take you back to that period.
Speaking of OBK, there’s a moment when a version of one of their hits, here performed by a choir, “Historias de amor”, that makes the hair stand up on end. Impossible not to cry because of the scene in question, which we will not reveal, and for the arrangements of the OBK theme.
I love that it happens. This reinterpretation of “Historias de amor”, performed by a children’s choir, is super sad and exciting. Yes, it is one of the high points of “Paraíso“.
Would it be fair to say that with ”Palm Trees in the Snow”, you had dived headfirst into the world of major projects, those that require having many solutions to great challenges and problems at all times?
Yes, “Palm Trees in the Snow” was an ambitious and complex project, a real learning experience to face, later, long and complicated filming. What I liked about “Palm Trees in the Snow” and now, about “Paraíso” is that both are unusual projects for Spain. Not many historical films of these characteristics are made here, nor are there series of the “Paraíso” type. After “Palm Trees”, the three “Baztán” films came along, that is, “The Invisible Guardian” (2017), “The Legacy of the Bones” (2019) and “Offering to the Storm” (2020), that also posed a challenge, in that case, of management. Production structure aside, in that case it was a question of maintaining a uniform tone in the story, of working a lot at the directing level with the actors, especially with Marta Etura, who is the common thread throughout all three films.
Who do you think the audience for “Paraíso” will be? As they say a lot now, is it a transversal series?
Yes, it is very transversal. Maybe the expression sounds a bit cliche, but I think it’s a “for the whole family” production. It deals with some pretty tough issues, like death and the loss of your loved ones, and, in turn, there’s plenty of action, comedy and other ingredients that are pure entertainment. Ideal age for watching “Paraíso”? It is for the little ones and for 90-year-olds.
In the midst of all these great projects, in 2018, you filmed “The Best Day of My Life”, a documentary about the demands and concerns of the LGTBI collective. Did you want to make a smaller, less complicated movie?
Something like that, and it was very liberating. Sometimes when you shoot major projects, the machinery gobbles you up. “The Best Day of My Life” was the opposite. In the future, after promoting “Paraíso”, I want to shoot a film with few sets and few characters and concentrate on my directing work. But, in the same way that I’m sitting here now telling you this, maybe tomorrow I’ll answer you that I want to shoot the next movie in the “Star Wars” saga (laughs), but I would love to carry out a small love story with only two actors.
Is the current Fernando González Molina, who is a director of assured success, very different from that Fernando González Molina of the same age as the boys from “Paraíso”?
I can assure you that Fernando González Molina, who is a successful director, has inside that young ‘nerd’ from Pamplona who was blown away the first time he entered a video store and saw so many movies to choose from. A sensation, by the way, that I recovered a few days ago when I entered a video store in Barcelona, Video Instan. I want to shoot some of my future movies at Video Instan.