Cover Photo: ©monicasdetangil / Netflix

It's impossible to imagine Netflix without Money Heist, but the hit Spanish series will come to an end with the upcoming fifth season. And there's no one better to discuss the end of an era with than Ursula Corbero, who plays the erratic Tokyo on the show

La Casa de Papel, otherwise known as Money Heist, is a thrilling, Alex Pina-created Spanish-language series that first made its debut on Spanish television in 2017. Jam-packed with action, twists, sexual tension, and drama, the show follows eight thieves taking hostages and locking themselves in the Royal Mint of Spain as the brilliant criminal mastermind Professor manipulates the police to carry out his plan.

The story, narrated in a real time complete with flashbacks, time-jumps, and hidden character motivations from the perspective of one of the sultry robbers, Tokyo (played by Ursula Corbero), became such a hit that it recorded an astounding 4.3 million views upon debut.

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While it was initially intended as a limited series to be told in two parts, it didn’t take long for streaming giant Netflix to swiftly acquire streaming rights, which thrust Money Heist into full view of the global audience. It was the adrenaline-fuelled entertainment the world needed. In 2018, the show bagged Best Drama Series at the 46th International Emmy Awards. It also became the most-watched non-English-language series and one of the most-watched series on Netflix.

Fans were hooked, devouring episode after episode, and the show went on to achieve superb success, copping 65 million households with its fourth season in its first month, and earning a cult following. Not only has it become a worldwide phenomenon, it also transcended into one of the largest pop culture phenomena of this generation i.e. the Salvador Dali mask and red overalls are instantly recognisable anywhere in the world.

Undoubtedly, the series will leave behind a legacy of being one of the most beloved international shows ever made and a beacon for more Spanish-language content to hit the global market. As it comes to a close this year with its fifth and final season, Tatler speaks to Money Heist actress Ursula Corbero as she prepares to say goodbye to the world's greatest heist and her character, Tokyo.

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Money Heist has undeniably opened the floodgates for more Spanish-language content. In your opinion, why do you think the global audience loves the show so much?

Ursula Corbero (UC): That’s the big question. We talked a lot about this with our colleagues, the cast, the crew, and each one has a different theory. I believe it’s not just one thing, it’s an amalgamation of a few different things that took place.

If I had to choose one, I would say that what the audience loves is that they feel like what they see could potentially happen to them. If you take a look at the characters, they're not powerful or special people. They're just vulnerable, regular people in difficult circumstances and they have the courage to stand up to the powerful people, to face them, and to confront them.

In a blink of an eye, four years of Money Heist have come and gone. In what ways has this global success impacted you both personally as well as professionally?

UC: Both are intertwined in the sense that my job's very much connected to my personal life. This is the kind of job that you have to be born for. Money Heist's unexpected success is such a big surprise, it’s something that has made me change things in my daily life. I remember when I worked a lot in Spain and mainly in Spain, I never had the opportunity to travel for work and now it’s the opposite. I feel so fortunate!

In the last three years, I’ve travelled more than I have in my entire life for work. It’s incredible being able to go to Japan, Vancouver, and Hong Kong–these crazy places that aren’t just around the corner. I never thought I would travel for work. Also, I've to say that people actually recognise me wherever I go, which is something that I’m still digesting. I consider myself to be an outgoing person and I like talking to people but it’s something that I’m still trying to process.

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What was it like watching Tokyo grow through the years? What are you proudest of in terms of her growth?

UC: Tokyo is very unpredictable and she’s always faithful to herself. I thank the writers for having maintained how faithful my character is to herself because, I mean, she’s a woman and she doesn’t always make the best choices. I think it’s a beautiful thing to give that opportunity to the women characters to make the bad choices and to mess up.

Sometimes, people want to kill Tokyo, I’ve been told, because of the choices that she makes, but I think it’s a beautiful thing to let her do that. I feel she has matured with time, from one season to another. She doesn’t go with her guts so much and she’s beginning to reflect more on what she does yet she still goes for what she believes.

Aside from shooting in Spain, filming also took place in other locations including Panama, Italy, and Thailand. Which has been the most memorable working trip for you?

UC: That’s very difficult! One of the craziest things was shooting in Thailand and Panama. It was the third season and we had just started shooting for Netflix and the international audience. We just finished shooting the first two seasons and we came back to shoot in the midst of its sudden international success. Imagine, just one month after seeing each other. I've to tell you that we came from a low budget production and everything was shot in Spain so reuniting with the team in Thailand, shooting together, was pretty crazy.

From a visual standpoint, Panama blew my mind. We were able to shoot at Guarana and I was actually able to see all the planktons light up at night in the sea and it was like being in the film Avatar.

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Imagine if you could just pack up Tokyo’s traits in a box and go home with them, which ones would you pick and why?

UC: If there’s something that I’d like to emphasise, it’s how brave she is and her boldness. I wish I was as bold as she is. The rest of them? (laughs) I’m not sure if I want them. It’s true that she’s deep down a good-hearted woman, but what I'd take with me and keep is how incredibly brave and bold she is.

Now that the series is coming to an end, what was it like for you on the last day on set? Can you describe that to us?

UC: No, I can't! (laughs) That was too much! In the last two weeks, I was crying non-stop. Actually, for most scenes, at some points, we had to stop shooting because I was crying. I’m a person who tends to grieve in advance in my life–I don’t know why! My mind is always ahead of what'll happen. Also, on the final days of shooting, we were exhausted from a physical and mental standpoint. I tend to cry a lot in my life but I was actually surprised at how much I was able to cry. The last two weeks were so, so sad, you can’t imagine. It's the end of an era. 

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Due to the nature of Netflix, Money Heist will continue gaining new legions of fans. So, without giving away too much, what do you think new fans will enjoy most about Money Heist? For the existing fans, what do you think they will enjoy most about Money Heist Season 5?

UC: For those who've never seen Money Heist, it’s very difficult to describe how they'll feel when they watch it. We’re already in the fifth season so what I’d like to emphasise is the adrenaline. People tend to start, like, "Oh, let’s watch one episode and see how it goes" and then they can't stop. They have to watch all the seasons. I think it’s an ‘at the edge of your seat’ type of show and you need to know what'll happen because you can’t stop watching it.

For the ones that have and are now waiting for the last season, I can tell you that it’s a totally different season. It’s much more war-like and much more epic. It’s an ending so it has to be this way but I think it'll surprise the fans. When you believe that something cannot be bigger and crazier, here, it can and it does, and this is our fifth season.

Premiering in two parts, Part 5: Vol. 1 of 'Money Heist' will air on Netflix on September 3, 2021.

  • PhotographyMonica Suarez de Tangil
  • StylingSara Fernandez Castro / Instagram @sarafernandezcastro_