Hotel Cocaine: Is Agent Zulio Based on a Real DEA Agent?

MGM+’s crime drama series, ‘Hotel Cocaine,’ transports the audience to the late 70s, around the time cocaine came into the drug market and made a lot of people rich. The story revolves around the general manager of the Mutiny Hotel, who is pulled into the criminal enterprise of his estranged brother after a DEA agent named Zulio tasks him with infiltrating and informing on the cocaine smugglers. While Agent Zulio is on the side of the law, he does not shy away from using techniques that could be deemed immoral to get the job done. If blackmail gets a man to snitch on his brother, then Zulio has no problem with it. This is why, even though he is supposed to be the good guy, he comes off as a darker, more flawed character, which makes him even more believable in a story that is inspired by true events.

The Fictional Agent Zulio Represents Real Law Officers

‘Hotel Cocaine’ uses real people and events to craft an intriguing storyline about crime, drugs, family, and love. However, in bringing the story to the screen, the storytellers have taken creative liberties, which allows them to fictionalize the characters and their plots heavily for dramatic purposes. This is what we see with Agent Zulio, who remains a fictional addition to the story.

The idea for the story as depicted in ‘Hotel Cocaine’ came from Maurice Compte, whose father was Roman Compte, the protagonist of the story. The show was developed by Chris Brancato, known for co-creating shows like ‘Narcos,’ ‘Narcos: Mexico’ and ‘Godfather of Harlem.’ He was interested in making a show about a common man unwillingly drawn into the world of crime, and Roman Compte’s story provided a great background for that. However, he and Maurice Compte agreed they would have to take a fictional approach to the story and add more villains and heroes to up the stakes.

Where there is a crime, there is meant to be a law officer ready to give it his all to get his hands on the criminals at all costs. At first, Brancato had the idea of two characters who worked separately but towards the same goal. However, as the story develops, he realizes that instead of overcrowding the story, he can simply merge the characters into one, who ends up being Agent Zulio. Because he is such a critical part of the story, an actor of great caliber was needed to pull it off, which brought Michael Chiklis on board.

Brancato and Chiklis worked together to create Agent Zulio, adding several details and nuances to make him a complicated character who cannot entirely be put in the box of being the good guy. For authenticity, they drew upon the real work the DEA was doing at the time. The details about the law enforcement officers hanging out at Hotel Mutiny and even doing cocaine to blend in or gain the trust of notable criminals are similar to how things were in real life. The hotel staff had gotten used to the presence of notorious personalities among them, but they were also keenly aware of intelligence officers in the crowd. Reportedly, the criminals and the officers considered the hotel a common territory where it was a common understanding that each was aware of the other’s job and intentions, but no one actually made a move within the premises of the hotel, where they were more focused on gathering valuable intel.

The same approach is adopted by Agent Zulio, who discovers Roman Compte’s connection with Nestor Cabal and then contacts him about using his position to bring down the biggest cocaine dealer in Miami. Considering all this, we can say that the actor and the writers have created a fusion of historical facts and fiction to deliver a complex character in the form of Agent Zulio.

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