Variety : Natalia Oreiro, Ernesto Alterio Join Salma Hayek, Rodrigo García on Buena Vista’s ‘Santa Evita’ (EXCLUSIVE)

MIAMI — It’s official. Two of the Argentine industry’s biggest name actors, Natalia Oreiro (“Gilda”) and Ernesto Alterio (“Clandestine Childhood”), are attached to star in “Santa Evita,” produced by Salma Hayek and co-directed by Rodrigo García (“Nine Lives”), who will also produce.

Confirmed by Buena Vista Original Productions on the eve of this year’s NATPE conference in Miami, which kicks off Tuesday, Jan. 21, the seven-part drama series looks like the one of the biggest in the pipeline from Latin American – in terms of talent attached, expectation, and its central on-screen figure: Legendary Argentine First Lady Eva Perón.

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Eight years in the works, but now the first series to go into production at Disney’s new Buena Vista Original Productions label in Latin America, headed by Leonardo Aranguibel and Mariana Pérez –  and a passion project of Pérez’s when she drove original production at Fox Networks Group Latin America before the Disney-Fox merger –  “Santa Evita” narrates the sometimes near surreal and always significant fate of Eva Perón’s body after her death in 1952 as it awaited burial for decades.

Husband and Argentine president Juan Domingo Perón promised a mausoleum but hadn’t put through his plans by the time he was overthrown in 1955. After that, her corpse was hidden for 19 years by the military authorities, fearful any tomb would become a symbol of opposition to their dictatorship.

Portraying her body’s fate, “Santa Evita” brings an arresting contemporary feminist edge to the series.

Based on the celebrated multi-narrator best-seller of the same title by Tomás Eloy Martínez, the fascination of the “Santa Evita” is not just the charismatic Eva Perón but larger gender themes, said Pérez, Buena Vista Original Productions head of General Entertainment Production.

“I remember something Rodrigo García said when we first offered him the project: That the most incredible thing about the story was how the body of a woman – who was once called the spiritual leader of the nation, pushed for women’s vote, was the first woman to design a presidential candidate’s campaign – was used by men for their own political ends.”

She went on: “‘Santa Evita’ is an absolutely feminine story, beyond its historical context.”

“‘Santa Evita’ marks a fantastic beginning for Buena Vista Original Productions,” added Leonardo Aranguibel, its head of General Entertainment Productions. “It’s an extraordinary story, based on an incredible book, a milestone in how it tells a story, which is a modern classic of Latin American literature. We’re aiming high with a fantastic director and a great team behind him, as well.”

“Santa Evita” will go into production from May through August, in Buenos Aires.

Oreiro, who has moved from TV to ever more film work – notably “Clandestine Childhood,” “The German Doctor” – “made the most brilliant screen-test that any woman could playing Eva Perón,” said Pérez.

Alterio will play Coronel Moori Koenig, an Argentine Intelligence Service official and member of the military forces which overthrew Perón in 1955, whose strict surveillance is near unhinged. His relationship with Eva Perón, whom he begons to treat as if she were once more alive, supplies the main dramatic backbone of the series, Perez said.

Co-produced by Buena Vista Original Productions and Non Stop, “Santa Evita” also features Dario Grandinetti (“Talk to Her”) as husband Juan Domingo Perón, Spain’s Francesc Orella, star of Spanish series “Merli”  as Spanish anatomist Dr. Ara, who embalmed her corpse, and Diego Velázquez as a journalist.

Salma Hayek and fellow Ventanarosa executive Pepe Támez produce, along with Rodrigo Garcia.

García directs, along with Alejandro Maci, an Argentine cineaste, actor, theater director and screenwriter. The series is written by author-actresses Marcela Guerty and Pamela Rementería.

“When we bagan to out together the project, we turned to Salma Hayek, because we wanted a strong woman who would help us translate the women’s issues in the series,” said Pérez.

“Salma brought in Rodrigo, who said: “I’m a man, I like to talk about women’s issues but I need the screenwriters to be women, because the story will be told from a woman’s point of view.”

“Despite the huge power weighing on her, that her body is fought over by multiple men, Eva Perón finishing up dominating the scene,” Aranguibel added.