Interview with Juan Frutos, director of ‘The emperor’s paths’

The director of The emperor’s paths highlights the work of this Network of Routes, Canal Extremadura and TVE so that this series has become a reality

We’ve talk with Juan Frutos, director of The emperor’s paths, a series that is reaping very good reviews and better audience results. A talk full of anecdotes and in which oozes satisfaction for a job well done.

Juan Frutos, director de Los Caminos del Emperador
Juan Frutos, director of ‘The paths of emperor’

The emperor’s paths is receiving great criticism, and all of them positive. Did you imagine a reception like that?

When you expect the premiere, what gives you more vertigo is not only the audience, whether the audience will respond or not. You’re on the line, without a network, everyone can say and say what they think; also the experts. Today, with social networks, what reaches you (good or bad) is multiplied by a thousand. But when after the first chapter you receive an email from Geoffrey Parker, the greatest expert in the House of the Austria of the world, the thing changes —he concludes with a broad smile—.

It’s something to be proud…

This congratulation came to me through Carlos Belloso, one of the historical coordinators of the series, in a private email. But a few days ago, Professor Parker complimented us again in an interview with El Español, this time in public. He said that he liked it and that «it was very well made». It is a real honor.

Audiencia is responding too…

In the first episode we got a share of 2.8%, exceeding the average of La 2; We were the «most outstanding premiere», according to Barlovento Comunicación. In the second chapter we went up on 3.2% and around 400.000 spectators. Also, I think we’re going to go for more, because the first two chapters are more complex, more academic, and between episodes 3 and 5 we’ll see more fiction and a more accessible narrative.

The only «negative» criticism is about its short duration. More than negative it could be said that it is very positive, because it denotes interest and desire that each episode lasts longer …

I knew we were making a risky product. In Spain, this genre isn’t cultivated. They say we are the first, because the channels usually buy «cans» (formats already produced from Germany or England). I wanted to get out of the comfort zone. Our other programs of La 2 of TVE as Trails of the World, Rural Tourism in the World or Roman Roads in Europe are safe formats that work very well, why risk? We could stay there, and at first the idea was to make a travel program, half an hour as usual, but putting some scenes of fiction, without dialogue. Definitively, we have to keep growing, and I needed to go back to the travel format, to get more historical content; what was most clear was to introduce fiction as a tool in the story. In the end it has resulted in a product that mixes travel notebook, docu-historical and pure fiction. All in one. The idea is that if we continue with the series on the House of the Austria (Felipe II, Felipe III, Felipe IV and Charles II) each chapter should lasts an hour.

The challenge of moving the life of Emperor Charles V to the screen

A huge challenge, without a doubt.

Indeed —he smile—. because of the difficulty of taking 58 years of the life of an emperor like Carlos I to the small screen, all in five chapters of 30 minutes. The truth is that people are left wanting, and this documentary is an excellent way to approach their figure and the history of Spain, Europe and the world in an entertaining way and with prestigious historians.

Twenty countries, more than fifty cities … The best way to reflect the life of an emperor as traveler as was Charles V. In what way was that travel structure worked to translate it as best as possible on the screen?

In the first place I spent months reading literature about emperor’s life and the time he lived in: Joseph Pérez, Manuel Fernández Álvarez, Geoffrey Parker, Giuseppe Galasso, Juan Antonio Villlar, Ricardo Sánchez, Hugh Thomas, Foronda … Not only in Spanish, but also in English, German or Italian to understand the different points of view that the authors give to such a complex figure. The meetings and conversations with the historians were fundamental, with Professor Belloso at the head.

It was also clear to me that we should present history from an international perspective, because Charles himself was a transnational king. The result is fifty cities such as Bologna, Venice, Valladolid, Melilla, Tangier, Augsburg, Innsbruck, Bogota… It’s impossible to talk about emperor Charles V without being a traveler as well as he was.

The interpretations, one of the great values ​​of The emperor’s paths

All of them are actors of category, that in many cases, with which we have spoken, praise this great interest of the spectators by historical series, or docu-series such as The emperor’s paths. Don’t you think that series like this are necessary to keep our story alive?

As I said before, it is a risky format that is giving us many joys, but the experiment could have gone differently, «he acknowledges with an open smile. It was also a difficult decision for the actors, when they launching, in this way, to make an unknown format in Spain. I’m grateful to all of them, because they trusted in me and in this document «with a point of madness», as the director of Culture of La 2 said a few days ago. It’s a privilege to have had the confidence of these enormous actors and best of all, they have seen the result and are happy for what we are experiencing these days. It is a prize.

Juan Gea Los caminos del emperador Carolus V Emperor

Although the presentation of the series in Madrid, on January 31th, was already a thermometer that the reaction was going to be very positive.

Fortunately, the reception has been very good. Almost 30 media were in the presentation in Madrid, more than 100 media echoed the premiere. I think we’re right choicing the appropiated actors, because in the documentary genre it’s not just about looking for a gallant, a pretty girl or a good interpreter. In the docu, you have to find not only the person who releases the text for you, very professional, yes, but it’s not just that. You have to go further, you have to be someone credible, who also contributes prestige, because this is HISTORY —he emphasizes this word—, and it is a responsibility what they are going to tell us. If we narrate historical events in the skin of the Grand Duke of Alba (Ramón Langa), the Count of Oropesa (Juan Gea) or Charles V himself (Mario Zorrilla), we must look for profiles that provide credibility, truthfulness, respect. We have achieved that. In conclusion, all the actors, all of them, have demonstrated a deep responsibility in the docu. They were also without a network, —he confides between laughs—.  They have left their comfort zone.

Reparto de 'Los caminos del Emperador' junto a su director, Juan Frutos
All the actors of ‘The emperor’s paths’ posing with Juan Frutos.

This is a series that open the route of Charles V, with all its people and wealth, to the general public, and that has counted on the advice of renowned historians. Or what is the same: multiply the interest in something that has always been there and a more than simple way…

Obviously, television reaches a lot of people. At last, the audience accumulated per year can be two million or more spectators in Spain; people who will be willing, to a great extent, to know the paths that the Emperor traveled. The Network does an excellent job for the dissemination of the historical and natural heritage of all the cities and towns that have something to do with Charles. For us, without their support, it would have been impossible. In the end this has been the sum of all, the Network, Canal Extremadura and RTVE. An exemplary teamwork.

There will be people wanting to know some anecdote related to the filming of the series. Could you tell any?

I remember the first day of filming with Mario Zorrilla, in Laredo. I had recorded fiction, but never with actors of this level, much less with 400 extras waiting, impatient. It was the first time I faced something like that. When the first filming on the beach ended, people began to applaud after Mario’s phrase. This one asks me: «Well Juan, how do you see it?», And I respond him, after the thunderous applause of 400 extras: «Mario … it’s spectacular!». Mario answered me, in a solemn tone: «Juan, you are the director. Tell me if you want me to do it again! «—He laughs. A laugh that infects—. I understood what it means to be a director. Also, Juan Gea, when we were filming in Extremadura, asked me for advice. What am I going to say? I was to Juan Gea! I was hallucinating with the credibility he came from his interpretation. It seems that he was before the same Count of Oropesa.

And you were the director of all of them…

Once, filming in the Manzanares El Real Castle (Madrid) with Ramón Langa, Antonio Salazar, Juan Gea, Mario Zorrilla and 25 other people from the technical team, my daughter, who was there, asks me loudly: «Dad, why do everyone do what you say? «, with the smile of accomplice of all those present. —He laughs again—. There I also understood what it means to be a director and how nice everything sounds, but when the problems comes, you have to eat it. —He ends without hiding a smile of satisfaction and a look full of pride.


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