Argentina, 1985: How Julio Strassera's Humor Inspired Ricardo Darín
Santiago Mitre and Ricardo Darin at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Argentinian actor Ricardo Darín had never played a real person before Santiago Mitre’s Argentina, 1985. But to be part of the historical drama about the true story of Argentina’s famous 1985 Trial of the Juntas, Darín couldn’t pass up the opportunity to play the late chief prosecutor Julio Strassera — and also bring a little bit of Strassera’s real-life sense of humor to the role.

Argentina, 1985 follows Strassera and fellow prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, who together investigated and prosecuted former commanders for war crimes committed during the country’s fallen military dictatorship. In 1985, nine men were put on trial for the torture and murders of thousands of Argentinian citizens who were punished as political dissidents during the seven-year-long “Dirty War” of the 1970s. The landmark trial was the first major war crimes trial since the Nüremberg Trials in Germany after WWII and is the only time in Argentina’s history that a democratic government has put a former dictatorial government on trial.

During the trial, Strassera and Ocampo were under tremendous pressure to stop their fight for justice, during which time they received daily threats. But even during such a stressful time, Strassera found a way to bring some humor into the situation.

“I would love to share this anecdote that we found during our research of Straserra,” Darín said during a Q&A at the Santa Barbara Film Festival’s Cinema Society event. “When Strassera was working in the prosecution office, they would constantly receive threats and telephone calls threatening to try to stop the trials. Something that is very funny and I would love to share is that he would pick up the phone, and he would respond, ‘If this is about the threats, please call tomorrow from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. and that’s when we will take care of you.'”

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Although the real Strassera died in 2015, understanding the man’s sense of humor gave Darín some levity to play with.

“During the journey of that research, we found out that Strassera had this very unique sense of humor. And in fact, he was called ‘the crazy one’ in Argentina — that was his nickname. In Argentina, to be called like that is not a respective thing — it’s actually a term of endearment, like ‘crazy cute’ or something like that. The reason why he had this nickname is because he had this very unique sense of humor. When we found that out, that opened a window for us to access that humor and, again, give more layers to the character, and I think it worked wonderfully,” Darín said.

“It’s very important to point out that in this case, Santiago and I didn’t want to mimic a real historical character, we didn’t want to copy anything. But what we did is, we found details and nuances that would help us create a more layered character. So we gave the freedom to our imagination, and that’s how we could create, both from reality and our imagination, a deeper, more layered character.”

Argentina, 1985 is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Main Image: Santiago Mitre and Ricardo Darín at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.