Money Heist was a little known thing when its original run first hit screens over the Spanish airwaves in 2017 — that is, until Netflix acquired the global streaming rights later that year. An unexpected surge of viewership followed, which elevated the series to the worldwide phenomenon it is today.
By 2018, the Spanish heist drama, also known as La Casa de Papel, was the most-watched non-English-language series, as well as one of the most-watched series ever on Netflix. Even better — and this one’s more a personal observation really — its iconic red overalls and Salvador Dalí masks went on to become the most popular Halloween costumes of recent times, a testament to its place among pop culture’s greatest.
With the show’s winning formula of heart-stopping chaos, a rousing anti-establishment cry, as well as compelling, flawed characters that still have us rooting for them every step of the way, what’s there not to like? Alas, with Money Heist’s final season almost upon us, debuting this Friday, 3 September, it’s probably time we bid a bittersweet “bella ciao” to the series — though not without first hearing from actor Pedro Alonso, who plays fan-favourite character Berlin.
Calling this a “sleeper hit” only makes sense in the dictionary definition of the term. After all, we don’t want to belittle the unnerving suspense and high-octane action that occurs on our screens every season, leaving us with no choice but to hit ‘next episode’ with matching fervour.
Similarly, Alonso acknowledges the bold and masterful ambition of the series, as well as the writers and creatives in charge of it. “They are not happy, never, nothing is enough for them,” he said with a wry smile. “The show started as a story with a lot of action, then we had romance, and they even made it more like a thriller. In the last season though, I’d say this is the ‘final war’, where everything is on the line.”
The fifth and final season takes place over two instalments, with five episodes each — Volume 1 will be released on 3 September, while Volume 2 will be released on 3 December 2021.
If you need a quick recap of the series so far, know that our favourite heist crew has been stuck in the Bank of Spain for over 100 hours, and the situation looks bleak. Their usually well-composed leader, The Professor, has been captured by Sierra in a surprise move that left him without a plan, just as the gang is about to face the full strength of the Spanish army outside the bank’s doors.
For the upcoming Part 5, we’re also introduced to Berlin’s son, Rafael (Patrick Criado), now 31 years old and a computer engineering graduate at the prestigious MIT university. At the same time, another new character makes an appearance among the ensemble cast, Tokyo’s ex-lover René (Miguel Ángel Silvestre).
And though Berlin is (spoiler!) technically dead since the end of Season 2, he still returns in later seasons via flashbacks that connect to the more urgent, present moments of the show. Of course, we had to ask Alonso why Berlin, and his fine, complex villainy if you will, is so appealing to audiences that the showrunners had to have him return.
Unflinchingly, he shares some personal insight: “I think Berlin is someone who accepts all his contradictions, all his shadows, all his light, with a kind of brutal intensity. Each second of his life, with a kind of integrity. Immoral, indecent, no good in many aspects, but really integrated in his way of life.”
Ahead, we hear the rest of what Alonso has to say about the final season, and playing the notorious Berlin for the actual last time.
How would you best describe the fifth and final season of Money Heist?
“The writers, I’d say, are really ambitious. They are not happy, never, nothing is enough for them! The show started as a story with a lot of action, then we had romance, and they even made it more like a thriller. In the last season though, I’d say this is a “final war”, where everything is on the line. At the same time, it connects all the pieces from the past seasons, so we can understand how things happened in that order. For example, my role started off a dark role, though you’ll find new light in the later seasons, and now, at the end, I think you’re going to understand how it’s possible to connect these two parts, what made this human being the person you see — and this happens on all levels of the show.”
How do you prepare for a role like Berlin?
“The most important tool I use is painting. I paint all the time. When I prepare for roles, I paint. And when I look at what I’ve painted, I feel this, I feel that, and I begin to gain insight into the character in an intuitive way. It’s a little bit strange, but it’s a way to process information, and for me to know the core of my work. As an actor, when you hear the word ‘action’, you cannot think, you have to feel. You have to be brave, and if possible, not anticipate what’s going to happen.”
Even though Berlin has died, he’s still very present in the series, up till the current season. Why do you think he’s such an appealing character?
“There was a mother with a five-year-old child who wrote to me and said her child was inspired by Berlin. I was like, ‘Why?! No, this is not good!’, but at the same time, I appreciate it. I think that Berlin is someone who accepts all his contradictions, all his shadows, all his light, with a kind of brutal intensity. Each second of his life, with a kind of integrity. Immoral, indecent, no good in many aspects, but really integrated in his way of life. Most people, including me, would disassociate from that. When you see this monster, you say, I don’t want that, but having an afternoon with him would be great, fun, interesting, curious, emotional. He has a kind of impossible sense of humour, that the worst situations feel like the best moments of your life. An impossible dream that you can have in one hour — I’d like that, but only one hour please!”
Having played Berlin for almost 4 years now, what does it feel like to have his story come to an end?
“I like to say that everything is a transition. There is nothing definitive, and this has become a life mission that’s present in my process, especially after Berlin’s death [in Season 2]. The show’s success was something we did not expect. We received mountains of love from all over the world, so we tried to do our best for this one. What I want to do now is to watch the final show, and I’m really curious about how everything is going to come together. You read the script, but the crazy people of my crew have decided to change the order, so I’m interested in what the final work is going to look like.”
It seems like the show’s creators are always changing things, even with a script in place. Has that changed how you approach the scenes?
“Let me give you an example. I knew that I was going to die only one week before I had to play the role. The writer just approached me and said, ‘You’re going to die’. I was in shock. But 24 hours after that, I thought it was great. The writers are really good at intuitively knowing what to add and take away from the show. For my role, it’s a wonderful thing because I play a man who enjoys anticipation. All accidents are good news. Oh, is this going to happen? It’s okay I’ll go in that direction. This for me was an invitation to play and have fun with the character.”
You’ve mentioned that this is the ‘final war’. Given that context, what has been the hardest scene to shoot so far?
“We once acted out a sequence with around 350 takes and angles of view, and it took us around 3 weeks just to film that. I was asking my cast mates how they were, and they all said, ‘I am destroyed, it’s too much’. But what happened is that the scene actually ended up being cut because it wasn’t what they had in mind. That’s the level of crazy we’re working at! This should give you an idea of the level of ambition and excellence that the crew has set for themselves.”
Money Heist PART 5 VOLUME 1, out on netflix from 3 September. Volume 2 will be released on 3 December 2021.