At 28, Eduardo Verástegui seemed to have it all: fame, fortune, success. The hard work, talent, and good looks of this son of a Mexican sugar cane farmer has won him the life he’d dreamed of at 18 when he set out to become an actor. In just over a decade years he had toured the world as a successful pop singer, starred in soap operas in Mexico, and won the leading role in the major motion picture Chasing Papi. His brooding profile and tousled black hair appeared on glossy magazine covers, in Calvin Klein clothing ads, and in a Jennifer Lopez video.
But in 2002, “the Brad Pitt of Mexico” walked away from it all for the sake of his Catholic faith. Unhappy with perpetuating what he felt was a harmful stereotype of the Latin lover, and feeling that he was compromising himself for superficial goals, Verástegui turned down role after role in Hollywood, wondering if he would ever act again.
Today, at 33, Verástegui is the co-owner of Metanoia Films and the leading male actor in the company’s first film, Bella, a story with a pro-life theme that won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and opens in select theaters nationwide October 26. In this sneak peek of a larger interview that will appear in Catholic Digest’s February 2008 issue, Verástegui speaks about filmmaking, faith, and how Bella is already saving lives.
CD: I hear that Bella has been quite a success so far. Congratulations!
VERÁSTEGUI: Thank you, thank you. This is a labor of love. It’s not just another film for us, it’s our life and it’s our mission. It’s a film that shows that there is a time in everyone’s life when a moment will change your life forever. It also shows the problem of pain — Is pain good or bad? I think it depends what pain does to you.
When I see my life, and I look back to all those moments of tragedy when I was suffering — either because of someone I love, or a member of my family, or whatever — I thought it was the end of the world. But when time passed, those tragedies became my greatest features; that’s how I grew up spiritually, personally, professionally. [Those tragedies] shaped me as a person and they helped me to be more mature. I think that all these elements are in Bella. It’s about a man who had everything — he was at the top of his career, he had money, success, fame, and how one moment changed his life forever. He lost it all, but in losing it all he found everything there is in life: family, and true friendship, and true love.
CD: One of the themes of the film is a pro-life one. You visited an abortion clinic as part of the research for your role. Can you talk about that?
VERÁSTEGUI: I thought it was going to be very simple — just stop two or three young ladies and ask them a few questions. When I got there I was in such shock when I saw all these girls — 16-, 17-year-old girls — that I forgot about the film. And then I saw a group of people outside trying to convince them not to [have an abortion], so I introduced myself, and I told them, “I’m here to help.” Next thing you know, they tell me, “One of these couples is from Mexico, and they don’t speak English. We don’t speak Spanish. You talk to them.”
Can you imagine: I mean, this is my first time ever in there. I didn’t know what to say, I was nervous, I was shaking. But [the couple] recognized me from the soap operas I used to do in Mexico. We ended up talking for like 45 minutes about everything — life, faith, food, Mexico. They were about 24. I gave [the woman] a little miraculous medal — one for her and one for the baby. And I gave her a teddy bear, I gave her a stroller, I showed her Dura Realidad, a very powerful video that shows what abortion really is. She didn’t go inside of the clinic.
[A few months after we finished filming Bella], I received a call from the man who was with her that day, and he tells me, “Eduardo. I have great news, man. My boy, my baby was born yesterday, and I want to ask your permission to name him Eduardo.”
I couldn’t even talk. I put my phone down. I mean, I can’t describe with words that feeling. A few days later, little Eduardito is in my arms, and he’s looking at me, and I’m looking at him, and you know, it was just beautiful, amazing. It changed my life. I was only doing my homework as an actor; I never thought that, by the grace of God, I was going to be used as an instrument to save this baby. I really thought, Even if this film never comes out, even if Bella disappears, and nobody sees it again, I rejoice in the Lord for the life of Eduardo.
CD: You left a successful career in Hollywood in 2002. Why did you feel you needed to make a change?
VERÁSTEGUI: The reasons why I wanted to be in this career when I was 18 were very superficial reasons — everything was the fame, the money, the success — and so I was in a way poisoning society by the projects I was involved with, because I was using my talents in a very selfish way.
My English teacher — I’ve only been speaking English for a few years — she’s the one who literally changed my life, because she started questioning everything, like, “Why are you doing what you’re doing? How are you using your talents? What kind of stories do you want to tell and why? Who is God in your life?” In the beginning I was too proud to let her in, but she persisted in a very loving way until I realized after six months of conversation that she was right in pretty much in everything, and I was wrong in pretty much everything.
That’s when I made a promise that I will never use my talents again for anything that will compromise me, anything that will offend my Latino community, anything that will offend God. And I knew [it might mean] I was never going to work again, and I was at peace with that, because I realized that I was not born to be a big movie star, I wasn’t born to be a producer, I was not born to be famous: I was born to know, to love, and to serve Jesus Christ, and that’s my goal. As Mother Teresa said, we are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful to God; that is our success. Now if, by being faithful to God, success comes, thanks be to God. If it doesn’t come, thanks be to God. I realized that sometimes our own dreams can be our worst enemies if those dreams are not in line with God’s will. I realized that you have to be willing to die to yourself so Christ can reign in your heart and guide your life.
CD: What do you hope audiences will take away from Bella?
VERÁSTEGUI: My hope is when people leave the theatre, they will want to love more and judge less, they will leave with hope, they will leave wanting to forgive more and complain less, they will leave with the spirit of Christ, and they will leave inspired to use their talents to serve others. That’s why I’m so passionate about this film, because it touched my heart, it moved me and it changed me, and my hope is that it will change people’s lives forever, for the better. CD
Eduardo’s favorites list
Books: The Bible, books on the lives of the saints, Rome Sweet Home by Scott and Kimberly Hahn
Movies: The Passion of the Christ, Cinderella Man, It’s a Wonderful Life
Foods: sushi, Mexican (his favorite dish is chiles en nogada)
Music: Classical (Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin)
Prayers: The Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours
Heroes: Jesus, Mary, his business partners, Catholic priests, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa, Benedict XVI
Find Bella online
To learn more about Bella, visit www.bellathemovie.com.