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Playing soldado in timely, gritty ‘Sicario’ sequel

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The cast and crew of “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” endured frigid weather in December 2016 while filming in New Mexico.

They were there to capture conditions people endure to cross the border.

New Mexico native David Baca was one of the hundreds of New Mexicans on set.bright spot

The recent University of New Mexico grad plays a Mexican cartel soldier in the coming film, to be released nationwide on Friday. The film deals with timely subjects such as drug wars, immigration and trafficking – humans, firearms and drugs.

“In this movie, they are playing with the idea of children being involved with cartels at a young age,” Baca said. “I’m playing a 17-year-old who is one of the heads of the branches.”

Production took place on the sequel to the 2015 Oscar-nominated film for nearly three months in New Mexico.

According to the New Mexico Film Office, the movie employed 200 New Mexico crew members, 70 New Mexico actors and stunt performers and 1,500 New Mexico background talent.

The film opens with the U.S. government suspecting the Mexican cartels have started trafficking terrorists across the U.S. border. Federal agent Matt Graver, played by Josh Brolin, calls on the mysterious Alejandro, played by Benicio Del Toro, whose family was killed by a cartel kingpin, to escalate the drug war in nefarious ways.

 Benicio Del Toro and Isabela Moner in a scene from "Sicario: Day of the Soldado"

Benicio Del Toro and Isabela Moner in a scene from “Sicario: Day of the Soldado.” (Richard Foreman Jr./Sony Pictures)

Alejandro kidnaps the kingpin’s daughter to inflame the conflict – but when the girl is seen as collateral damage, her fate will come between the two men as they question everything they are fighting for.

During his time on set, Baca was able to meet cast members, including Del Toro, Brolin and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo.

Garcia-Rulfo, who plays cartel manager Gallo in the film, grew up in Guadalajara and says he saw events depicted in the film happen in real life.

“From what I’ve learned all my life, growing up in Mexico, and people I know who are in that kind of business, I think ‘Sicario’ was very real,” Garcia-Rulfo said. “It was very close to reality. And this script as well. From my point of view, there isn’t a bad side or a good side, the U.S. or Mexico. One consumes, one sells; one sells drugs, one sells guns. In both films in the ‘Sicario’ series, they portray the reality very well.”

Baca shared scenes with Garcia-Rulfo more than he did with other cast members.

“We had the chance to bond over acting,” Baca said. “I was treated very well on set and had a really good time. I took everything in as a learning experience.”

As audiences head to the theaters to see the second installment of “Sicario” this weekend, they will see plenty of New Mexico locations – mostly filling in for McAllen, Texas.

Production began at a ramshackle adobe house near Downtown Albuquerque.

Filming also occurred in To’hajiilee, Laguna Pueblo, Bernalillo, Santa Clara Pueblo, Belen and Algodones.

About 90 percent of the New Mexico locations featured rural exteriors, with shooting taking place on many frigid nights.

To shoot an early scene in the movie in which the Department of Homeland Security monitors migrants escaping across the border at night, the production company used the same thermal cameras as the U.S. government.

And military accouterments abounded, including Black Hawk helicopters, Humvee military vehicles, machine guns, bulletproof vests, surveillance cameras and combat uniforms.

The actors roamed north to Santa Clara Pueblo along the Rio Grande for two nights of river-crossing scenes in inky darkness, west to sparsely populated Indian reservations covered with tumbleweeds, south to sandy arroyos, and east to a big-box store doubling for a big-box store in Kansas.

The most common filming location was the To’hajiilee Indian Reservation, west of Albuquerque and home to the Cañoncito Band of Navajos. The community was settled during the “Long Walk,” when the U.S. government forced the Navajo people to relocate.

The terrain contains sagebrush, cactus, rocky dirt roads, desert mesas and red buttes, a landscape so remote that cattle and wild horses freely wander across roads.

“Whether it was a road, an arroyo, a house, there was always a focus on desolation and isolation in this movie,” location manager Shani Orona said. “It was about finding places that were gritty and impoverished or forgotten.”

“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” leads a New Mexico-heavy weekend at theaters. Also opening Friday in theaters and on video on demand is “Ideal Home,” starring Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan, and “Woman Walks Ahead,” starring Jessica Chastain. Both productions filmed in Santa Fe in 2016.

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