6 Questions with “THE LAST PANTHERS” Co-Creator Jérôme Pierrat
THE LAST PANTHERS co-creator Jérôme Pierrat discusses where the idea for the miniseries originated, his fascination with the real-life Pink Panthers, and why he wants to understand the “bad guys.” SundanceTV’s limited series THE LAST PANTHERS premieres Wed., Apr. 13 at 10/9c.
Q: What is your background?
A: I’m a writer and journalist and I specialize in organized crime: The mafia, mob or whatever you want to call it. I’ve been writing about it and making documentaries for 20 years now. Usually, most of my colleagues who work on these topics speak to the police, lawyers, the judges — all the people who have to deal with organized crime. I try to go and see the bad guys themselves and understand them. It’s always been the human beings I’ve been interested in, and so it was a natural direction for me to go from telling stories as a journalist to telling stories in drama.
Q: How did the idea for the show originate?
A: I had been working on the Pink Panthers for a long time. The idea to look at them for a drama came about because they were the last group who were… not romantic or glamorous, but they did have a little bit of Robin Hood about them. They don’t use violence, they’re after diamonds and it was always quite clean. So I was thinking about making a story about them. I wrote a treatment for a feature and I took it to [French producers] Haut et Court. Very quickly they said, “But you’d have so many incredible characters and stories. It’s stupid to do a movie — this would be an incredible miniseries and we can put in it everything you have to say about the Panthers.”
Q: How much of the series is fiction?
A: It’s a mix. It’s fiction, but the base of it is true. The characters are all inspired by real people and everything in it has happened in real life at one time or another. The process, the criminal system, trafficking — everything is real, but we mixed it up to suit our story. There is nothing in it where you could say, “That is made up, that could never happen.”
Q: Are the Pink Panthers finished or are they still operational?
A: They’re finished. It started as 15 people, three groups of guys. I met them because I’m doing a book with their founder, which will come out with the series. His nickname was Center Forward because he was the frontman, the linchpin for this kind of criminality. The truth is, the original group are no longer active because they were always going to get caught. They did their robberies without balaclavas, they carried out their heists in the middle of the day in a public place, going after very high-value material — you cannot go unseen acting like that. Year after year, a lot of them were caught or identified, so they could not do it anymore. So now they are retired, in jail or waiting for trial. Some of them are dead — some were killed by the mobsters in Serbia. But those guys created a legend even in their countries. Now there is a new generation doing the same thing. They are doing the same job in Switzerland, Germany, a lot in Scandinavian countries — but you can see that they are not as good. So there are still Pink Panthers. There is still an Interpol task force dedicated to them, but it’s not the original guys. That’s why our story is called “The Last Panthers.”
Q: Do you worry at all that these people, some of whom are still at large, know you personally, and do you therefore have to be careful about what you put into a drama?
A: When you deal with this topic, you have to remember it’s the real world. These people are not in a movie. It’s a question of life or life imprisonment for them — you have to remember: They are serious. But then some gangsters are a bit like actors — they care about their image and have big egos. So they want you to tell their story; they just want you to do the true story of the Panthers, not fiction. The funny thing is, they know and respect my work and have watched my documentaries — some of them have called me from prison and said, “I like what you do and how you do it, I want you to tell my story.” So in many ways it’s a working relationship. I guess it’s a trust thing — it’s hard to explain.
Q: Do you think they will enjoy THE LAST PANTHERS?
A: Enjoy? Yes, I think they will. It’s unusual that they will see themselves not only as the bad Serbs, as the monsters. As I have said, they are not Robin Hood-like heroes, not at all, but we have tried to show both sides.
SundanceTV’s limited series THE LAST PANTHERS premieres Wed., Apr. 13 at 10/9c.