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The Gotthard Event: Carlos Leal

The Gotthard Event: Carlos Leal

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Swiss actor Carlos Leal is one of the leads in Gotthard, the Prefestival film event. In the drama series he plays the historical figure of engineer Louis Favre, but he also identifies with all the nameless miners who risked their lives in order to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Emotions were running high on June 1st this year when, after 17 years in construction, the new Gotthard Base Tunnel was finally opened. The future became the present, without ever forgetting the connection with the past. To celebrate this significant step forward, on the second Prefestival Night on 2nd August in Piazza Grande, the public will be able to enjoy, free on the giant screen, the advance world premiere of the new film Gotthard from Berne-born director Urs Egger. The 2-part miniseries is the biggest production in the history of Swiss pubcaster SRG SSR. The project was managed by the SRF network, made in tandem with Zodiac Pictures (Switzerland) and co-produced with German and Austrian broadcasters ZDF and ORF.

For Carlos Leal – who in the film plays Louis Favre, the engineer who designed the first Gotthard rail tunnel – the value of that colossal feat necessarily includes the lives that were risked to achieve it.

The best thing about being in this film was learning about the dynamics which made possible that ambitious late 19th century scheme. Above all my thoughts went out to the stupendous dedication of the miners who dug the tunnel in horrific conditions. They were almost all immigrants – Italians, Germans, Austrians, Spaniards – and they took on the incredibly risky work, day after day, because they needed the money. In his own way, however, Louis Favre was also a brave man: he had his dream and he did everything in his power to make it come true, without ever knowing if he would succeed. So on the one side you have the workers, and on the other the engineers and the railroad financiers: only through the collaboration of these very different people was it possible to complete the tunnel.

Different roots at the origin of a true Swiss legend…

Yes, when you come down to it, that union of intent mirrors a typically Swiss characteristic. A country which lies right at the nerve center of Europe cannot help but draw strength from its neighbors. From this point of view the tunnel is highly symbolic, because it’s a project that fosters contacts, encounters and communications. That’s an aspect which I feel very close to, personally: my parents were Spanish immigrants to Switzerland and my forbears could have worked on the tunnel site.

And in what way did you feel close to the character of Louis Favre?

I identified with his strength of will, that enabled him never to stop and drove him ever onwards. That’s the kind of challenge – with the due difference of course – that I try to take on every day in my life as an artist. So for that reason it was a pleasure to immerse myself in his psychological trajectory, in his stubbornness. A constant struggle against his own limits, which led him to the brink of insanity and then to an early death.

A sense of challenge and a determination to “go places” which turn up in your own life story to date…

I grew up in Lausanne and, like many children of immigrants, to begin with I felt a need to find my own identity. Becoming a musician helped me, because the world of hip hop and rap taught me a lot. Then, through my first experiences with music videos I became more and more interested in images, until I ended up in film. And so I went to live in Paris, then Spain, and finally the next stage, where I am today, in the USA.

A journey that has had some important milestones: a part in the Bond movie Casino Royale, a film with Pedro Almodóvar…

There are always career breaks which stand out more than others. Apart from the ones you just mentioned, I won’t ever forget my first movie Snow White, presented right here in Locarno. And then in Spain there wasn’t just Almodóvar, I also had the experience of acting in major hit TV series. And now that I’ve ended up in Los Angeles I still appreciate TV series, as compared to the world of Hollywood movies. And of course Gotthard, over here in Europe, is a pointer to that preference. When television manages to put together an international co-production, the result can be truly high quality filmmaking. From the costumes to the production design, via the on-set skills of fine actors like Miriam Stein, Maxim Mehmet and Pasquale Aleardi, all of whom – I want to go on record about this – turned in really extraordinary performances.

Lorenzo Buccella
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