Ah, Berlin we knew you well. If you haven't seen the original Money Heist, this fan favourite (played by Pedro Alonso) took the L for the team in the second season. It may be an early exit for someone with top billing but in later seasons, Berlin stuck around in flashbacks.
But given the popularity of Money Heist, why kill the cash cow when you can get more from a spin-off? An upcoming series, BERLIN, focuses on, well, Berlin and it will be set in Paris, during a period before the events of Money Heist.
It follows the same formula as the original series. (It's such a trope that we can rattle it off like we're reading from a food label.) There's a plan; then a recruitment; followed by the heist, which is sure to be filled with twists and turns. Could we expect anything more from this? Something that makes it stand out from all the rest of the heist series, we've seen thus far?
Welp, from the trailer, it looks like there's a lighter tone to the series, with an emphasis on the protagonist's charisma. Money Heist's creator Álex Pina helms the show. So, we may see the reappearances of some of the characters from the original series as well. Maybe Tokyo (played by Úrsula Corberó) but most probably The Professor (Álvaro Morte).
In the Q&A with Pina at this year's Tudum event, he has this to say about BERLIN. That it will be "a trip throughout the golden years of the character. When he was stealing all over Europe, madly in love." And given the romantic history of the character (married five times?!), expect to see Berlin fall heels over head over a femme fatale (probably).
BERLIN is expected to stream on Netflix on 29 December 2023.
Regressing to a past life finds Pedro Alonso filling the sandals of Filipo, an ancient Roman warrior. In an autobiography unlike most others, the actor—I’m referring, of course, to Alonso’s present-day proceedings. There are details a journey towards spiritual liberation; how the encounters with a rebel leader (think Neo from The Matrix) open young Filipo’s eyes to a hidden truth. Oh, and a troubling trade-off: to serve the system or to serve his principles.
For a man robbing the Royal Mint of Spain, this soldier’s dilemma is easily answered. After all, the desire to illegally print billions of euros doesn’t betray much love for the system. In Money Heist, Alonso plays Berlin—a character driven by a strict code of duty. So committed to the plan, in fact, that he opts to stave off a SWAT team by himself while the rest of his crew try to escape.
Alonso lives many lives—on-screen, in regressions, through his words and paintings—and he lives them all at once. Yet, in his eyes, they all seem to be one and the same.
“I try to work with my own nature,” Alonso describes the process of playing Berlin. He pauses, to clarify that he’s not a killer or pervert. “I’m not so tremendous nor terrible, but all of us have shadows and areas of light. I try to find the resonances, the notes that are innate to me. And I go deeper and amplify these aspects.” It’s a melting pot born from introspection. “I begin cooking it up like soup. I paint using references, fill in the blanks with my intuition. In some moments, I pray, in my own way, to try and figure out the mysteries. It's about putting myself in a place to disappear in the role.”
Alonso’s method is one of self-discovery. It doesn’t call for him to transform into a character but, rather, to find the character within himself. He sleuths through the script. In search of lines (or the spaces between them) that connect with him on a visceral level. “I approach it like an investigator would. Trying to shine a light. To find meaning behind what’s happening in my pure present—as an actor and as a human being too. I always want to discover the angle of view in a role that offers me the opportunity to grow as a person,” Alonso says.
“Sometimes, it’s not exactly in the script. I have to find the right perspective which allows me to bring something alive in the role. Without that intimate connection, I wouldn’t be able to channel the right emotions.” By way of his method, Alonso finds some roles to be simply out of reach. “There are actors who play almost the same character every time, and I admire them. Then there are others who have the ability to play different characters, and I admire them too. For me, it’s important that there be an esoteric meaning in the opportunity to play a role. I don’t believe I can play all sorts of characters.
“But I prefer not to anticipate what’s going to happen in my career,” he interjects—not for the first time during our conversation. Alonso is enamoured by the idea of being present.
It’s a trait which he has picked up over his time spent in a red jumpsuit and a Dalí mask. “Berlin is in the pure present,” he says. “He’s in no rush to know what’s going to happen next. That has been a good lesson for me.” Alonso’s unexpected return for the third season of Money Heist (albeit in flashbacks) helped solidify his indifference towards the future. “I died, and then I continued playing the role,” he explains. “I’ve realised that it’s best not to anticipate.”
Each time that it’s brought up, Alonso speaks about Berlin’s death as if it were his own. “After my death,” he says, “I had a new opportunity to live the process on another level.” As it turns out, his close association with the character—which birthed his excellent portrayal in the first place—would now become his primary obstacle. In playing a younger version of Berlin, Alonso would have to strip him down of qualities which, so far, he had firmly committed to. “The best parts of the role disappear in flashbacks. I spoke about that with the writers. I told them, ‘I’m going to die and I don’t know if I’ll be able to sustain the role after that.’”
A jump into the unknown then—accompanied by a fear of critics, but balanced out by a relentless search for personal growth. “For me, the miracle is that I received the support of the public,” Alonso recalls the aftermath, yet again endorsing his thoughts on anticipating the future. “This difficulty, this handicap—it offered us the opportunity to uncover hidden parts of the role and paradoxically, these hidden parts were more luminous than the ones already known to us.” It takes a lot to elicit sympathy for an egocentric narcissist with a tendency for misogyny and murder, but as the story goes so far, Berlin’s set to bow out a fan favourite.
Coming up on the final season, Alonso says, “We’ve put together all the different aspects of the role here. I pray, in my way, to be able to offer the spectators an explanation which makes them perceive the entire journey of the character.”
As the curtains close, for good this time, Alonso isn’t one to seek comfort in familiarity. “I understand that in life there are cycles. Everything has a beginning and everything must have an end,” he reflects. “I feel like this is a good time to close off this amazing experience. What happens after this is going to be a new cycle and we’ll see what that entails.”
A Netflix project under wraps, a documentary about shamanism on hold, but most imminent is Alonso’s role in a movie by Oscar-nominated director Rodrigo Sorogoyen. “If Berlin is super sophisticated, the role that I’m playing next is the opposite,” he says. “[The character’s] rudimentary, irrational— almost a brute. It’s a very different role and I’m beginning to feel the fear creep in because I don’t know what’s going to happen with my process. I’m very thankful for the opportunity though.”
Contemplating the blank canvas ahead of him, Alonso draws parallels between acting and painting. “Many years ago, I discovered that when I read literature written for painters, I understood it better than the texts written about being an actor. I connect better with the sensibility of the painters. It aligns with the way I process information. This has allowed me to approach acting more intuitively,” he shares.
“I try to play my roles the way I’d paint. When you’re in front of a canvas, you can have a plan but the most incredible thing is to be open to accidents. When I paint, I mostly use my right hand. But I’ve discovered that when I do this, my brain forces me to be precise and controlled. It isn’t interesting. So I’ve started using my left [hand] to mess up the strokes, after which, I try to reconcile the painting. I like painting in an impulsive way and using these ‘mistakes’ as opportunities.
“The same goes for acting. If I’m playing a sequence and something unexpected happens, it can be a gift. It’s more mysterious. It’s more authentic. If you demand control, you’d see it as a problem. But if you’re open, it can be the best thing— you stop trying to anticipate moments and instead, find yourself connected with what’s happening right now.”
Further connecting the dots between his artistic endeavours, Alonso quotes Italian sculptor Ignazio Jacometti—“I paint so I can see better.” Through his sequences, musings, paintings and past lives, he discovers pieces of himself—each one helping him hone in on a greater puzzle. “I discovered these treasures in my adult life and it was a surprise for me. I began to paint when I was 33; I started writing, the way I do now, six years ago at 44. I’m not a professional painter or writer but I enjoy both. I recognise myself in my work. It’s difficult to be absolutely clear but these are the lenses that I try to regulate with more and more precision—to be open to the mystery, the infinite mystery.”
Though he stumbles upon contrast and conflict, across characters portrayed and disciplines pursued, Alonso views such qualities as being intrinsic to life. “I try to be the person that I am, with all my paradoxes.”
All of the original Money Heist series is now out on Netflix.
Photography: Monica Suarez De Tangil
Styling: Sara Fernandez Castro.
Originally published on 7 December, 2021.