You might have to squint to find Eduardo Verástegui in his new movie, Little Boy. The actor, whose looks are proof of the existence of God, appears briefly as a bald, spectacle-wearing priest. His role in the film itself may be small, but it was just the opposite being the film’s co-executive producer. From Metanoia (Conversion) Films comes a story of a little boy who will do anything to bring his beloved father home from the Pacific front during World War II. Father Oliver, played by Golden Globe winner Tom Wilkinson, tells the little boy the secret to a faith that can move mountains. He gives the boy a list: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked… “Clothe the naked?” the boy interrupts. Yup. But first, befriend the town’s loathed Japanese citizen, Hashimoto. “Your faith won’t work if you have even the slightest bit of hatred in you.” Little Boy accepts this challenge with the single-minded faith of a child.
Why does Father Oliver want Little Boy to befriend Hashimoto?
Hashimoto has the face of the enemy. Father Oliver tells the boy to hang out with Hashimoto “until I don’t see any hate in you. I don’t only want you to hang out with him; I want you to see his dignity, to see him as your brother.” The little boy has to go against his family, especially his own brother, and the whole town so he can listen to what Father Oliver tells him. He doesn’t want to do this, but his love for his father is bigger than that.
What if his father dies anyway?
Father Oliver teaches him a lesson about how faith works. If you are faithful to God, he will bless you—not in the way you want, but in the way you need it. God is always there for us, no matter how painful the situation, if we trust in him. That gives us hope that whatever we are going through, it’s all for a reason.
How important is the role the father plays in his son’s life?
Little Boy is willing to do whatever it takes because he loves his dad so much. Why? Because his dad loved him first and spent time with him. One of my hopes as a filmmaker is that people will leave wanting to love their children more and spend more time with them. I have friends—actually investors who are very wealthy—who shared with me, “We gave everything to our children but not our time.” We need to change that. Parents are competing with schools, the media, and so many things out there that probably are not in line with what they are teaching their kids. Spending that time is going to determine how that kid will turn out when he’s older.
The town offers the Little Boy several other role models. There’s the priest, but on the flip side, there’s the self-seeking doctor, the volatile older brother, and the bigoted grown-up bully. There are lots of men who could step in for better or worse if the he loses his father.
You see the importance of the good influence. You see the boy when he was hanging out with the older brother. Even though the older brother comes from a good family, he’s wounded. For him to be rejected by the army was humiliating. So he started hanging out with the wrong guy, but that guy was wounded because his son was killed in war. There are all these wounds in these broken souls. They’re trying to heal themselves with alcohol. You can see how, when the Little Boy hangs out with the wrong role model, he ends up doing something stupid. When his mother brings him to the church, the priest realizes that this kid needs help. With lots of wisdom, compassion, and understanding, he starts directing this kid to do the right thing. He becomes his spiritual father. Little by little, he gives him a mission. He sees the opportunity to give the boy something big, which is the list. And by doing the list, the boy ends up changing the heart of the whole town, including the heart of Hashimoto. Father Oliver becomes the perfect image of a man who is only looking to help everyone.
I hear that seven-year-old Jakob Salvati’s performance has already generated some Oscar buzz.
It was amazing how mature he was. The arc of this character is really difficult for any actor, especially for a kid who is seven years old. It carries so much drama. He is in every scene from A to Z. The first day was really hard because he saw all these people screaming, and he started crying. He told his mother, “This is not fun. I don’t want to do the movie anymore.” We were like, “Oh no!” So we said, “Okay, let’s make this fun. Every time you obey the director, you tell your mom what toy you want and we’ll give it to you.” He said, “What about my brother?” We said, “Okay, we’ll give a toy to him, too.” Literally 20 toys later, he was like Marlon Brando. Every single tear that little kid put out was a real tear. That’s a gift.
Little Boy comes years after Metanoia made Bella. Why so long?
We are independent filmmakers. There are a lot of challenges from day one. Doing all that stuff independently is not easy. As you know, the movie is about a little kid who has to move a mountain. We ourselves had to move mountains. It’s almost like a miracle. My partner, Alejandro Monteverde, said to me, “Partner, do you believe we can do this?” I said, “Yes, Partner!”
Even though Bella won the Toronto Film Festival People’s Choice award, you said your real success was the many women who let you know they chose life because of the movie. What do you hope will be the real success of Little Boy?
The real success is what Mother Teresa said: We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful to God. If we are successful let’s use that for God. Let’s use that success to change the world. If success doesn’t come, we can never compromise. Success is becoming a better version of yourself—becoming a saint. We only achieve that goal through a sacramental life, a life of prayer, and a life of service. When you do that, God uses you as an instrument to bear fruit. Bella was a fruit. Little Boy is a fruit. All those women who kept their babies, all that is by the grace of God. My goal is to be faithful to God every day for the rest of my life. He does great things. I just watch. My biggest fear is not to do God’s will. It’s a challenge, an everyday challenge that doesn’t end until we die. My goal is to save my soul and bring as many as I can with me. It’s not a one-shot deal. It’s an everyday task. The goal of my life is not to be a movie star, not to produce films. My goal in life is to be faithful to God.
Reparation is a very Catholic concept. What are your thoughts about it?
Reparation is an opportunity God gives you when he changes your life. Eighty percent of media influence is poisoning. I was part of that. I was completely lost. I thought I had everything, but I was dying inside—so empty, so hungry for a purpose bigger than myself. Vanity and pride will kill your soul. Thank God I recognized and repented, and now I try to repair any damage I did in the past. There is nothing we can do to really repair such damage, but we can try our hardest. We can pray for God to do the rest. Otherwise we will lose hope, and the guilt will kill us. All the sins of the world are nothing but a drop of water in the ocean of God’s mercy when one repents. As much as you and I have been forgiven, we love.
What would you tell kids about pursuing their dreams?
The very wrong question I was asked when I was a kid was, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” The real question is, “What do you think God wants from you when you grow up?” We should invite kids to ask God, “What is the mission I was created for?” Our own personal dreams can be our worst enemies if they are not in line with what God wants from us. True freedom is not what you want; it’s doing God’s will.
Little Boy opens in theaters on April 24. Watch this trailer for a taste!