The actor/producer shares how his faith inspired him to change the way the industry makes movies.
Posted in , Mar 12, 2015
Eduardo Verástegui’s time in Hollywood has been anything but usual. The actor first found success as a telenovela star in his native country of Mexico before heading to the states to pursue the American dream.
He’s done everything in the world of entertainment: from posing for Calvin Klein and starring as the smoldering love interest in a Jennifer Lopez music video, to lighting up the stage as a Latin pop star and the big screen in the 2003 romantic comedy Chasing Papi, alongside Sofia Vergara and Jaci Velasquez. But at 28 years-old, Verástegui walked away from all the fame and fortune he'd amassed while inhabiting the role of a Hollywood sex symbol.
His decision to leave Hollywood began with conversations he’d had with the English tutor he hired so he could audition for more roles.The tutor began gently encouraging him to rethink his career choices.
“In a very subtle way, she was asking me a lot of questions that were challenging me. ‘Are you a part of the problem or the solution?’ ‘You’re Latino. A lot of people think Latinos are what they see on film and television, how are you changing that?’ ‘Are you using your talents in a selfish way or are you using your talents to create things for your community?’ ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ ‘What’s the purpose of your life?’ Imagine six months of that. Simple conversations in the living room, after English class.”
Those conversations sparked a desire in Verástegui to have cohesiveness in his life. Raised Catholic, the actor realized he’d have to make a total life change in order to rededicate himself to his faith and to reshape the way he viewed his craft.
“Every role that I got called to audition for I had to say no to because it didn’t align with [my faith]." But his role in Hollywood was far from over.
Twelve years later, Verástegui is in the spotlight once more. The actor-turned-producer is pouring his renewed sense of faith into the films his company, Metanoia Films, creates. Named for the Greek word meaning “repentance,” Verástegui is atoning for Hollywood’s proclivity for making movies that merely entertain instead of inspire.
“I’m a different kind of actor,” he tells Guideposts.org. “I’m a storyteller. But in order for me to tell a good story that I believed would do good, I needed to produce it because I was tired of waiting for that story. I never got that story in my hands. God led me to open a production company so I can tell those stories that I believe can make this world a better place.”
His first film, an indie flick titled Bella, tackled the tough issue of abortion and was the winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. His follow-up, the drama Little Boy, is the actor’s love letter to the country that helped him achieve his dreams.
“The goal was, let’s make a movie where we can capture the heart and soul of this country,” Verástegui said. “When you come to this country, looking for work and the next thing you know, things are happening, it’s great. I came here without even speaking the language and with nothing other than a bag of dreams.”
Verástegui’s first step was to write a great script. He enlisted his friend, fellow producer and writer Alejandro Monteverde to pen a story that would do service to the country he now calls home. Monteverde along with writer Pepe Portillo found inspiration in isolation, though it didn’t come easily. The two signed up for a month-long writer’s retreat which cut them off from the outside world. After 20 days, the men had nothing to present to Verástegui, so they decided to bend the retreat's rules a little bit and make use of the single, black and white TV at the camp.
The one channel available was airing a documentary on World War II and when the men heard the name “Little Boy” and what it represented – the codename for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 – they knew they had their elusive beginning.
“They started writing this fairy tale with a very heavy theme and they were inspired by Life is Beautiful,” Verástegui said. “They thought, ‘Let’s do an experiment but from a different angle, so it’s not about the father but it’s about the kid left behind when a soldier has to go to war.’”
The result is a beautifully wrought look at small-town American life, friendship, faith, love, family and belief, not only in God but in one’s self. The fantastical film shows seven-year-old Pepper believing – much like his favorite magician Ben Eagle – that he can conjure up a way to bring his dad safely home from the front lines.
Shot in a small town in Mexico, the film boasts an all-star cast including two-time Oscar winners Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson, comedian Kevin James, David Henrie and newcomer Jakob Salvati, who scored the titular role of Little Boy after accompanying his big brother to the film’s auditions.
Veteran actors traveling half-way across the world in order to work on a low-budget indie with a second-time director are a rarity, but this movie has inspired not only its audience, but the cast as well. Henrie, who was struggling to find direction after his time as a Disney star had ended, decided to change his life, rededicate himself to his faith and make a vow to his family to pursue the kinds of films and projects they could watch with pride.
David Henrie in "Little Boy"
It’s a decision that mirrors Verástegui's own, so many years ago, and one Verástegui is also proud of. “David in real life, he was looking for something bigger than himself,” Verástegui said. “That’s very rare. You don’t see guys like that. At that age, they want the world. To see someone like David rejecting projects with a lot of money because of his values after his experience with Little Boy, for me, as a producer and as a friend, it motivates me to keep doing what we’re doing because I know that somehow, that makes a difference with people.”
Leaving a legacy behind is now what inspires some of Verástegui’s greatest storytelling, and the message behind everything he does is an elegantly simple one. “The reality is, you’re born and you die and what matters is what you do in between. I want to make sure that in my between, I do the right thing.”