Eduardo Verástegui had everything and threw it away. Or at least it seemed that way.
After all, the lead actor of the new indie drama Bella, was once a huge worldwide pop-singing sensation, a magazine cover model and star of no less than five highly-rated Spanish soap operas. As Bella producer Leo Severino once proclaimed, “this guy’s the Brad Pitt of Mexico”.
So what would drive Verástegui to decide to walk away from all that fame, money and success?
“Even though I thought I loved what I was doing,” Verástegui told me during a recent trip through Toronto to promote Bella, “when I realized the effects of the projects that I was about to do in society, I was disgusted.”
Verástegui points out that after moving to Hollywood and starring in the popular film Chasing Papi, he had become typecast as a negative role model and that America didn’t have much to offer the Latino male actor.
“(Some people) think everything is just what they’re going to see in the movies, so I’m responsible for that,” says Verástegui.
“I can’t desire something that I know is going to affect my own culture (negatively).”
For three years, Verástegui turned down parts offered to him, refusing to play negative Latino roles. In the process, he would find spirituality, meet Severino and the pair would form Metanoia films.
“The mission is very simple.” says Verástegui.
“To produce films that will have the potential not only to entertain, but to make a difference elevating human dignity”.
And Metanoia’s maiden movie has done extremely well. Winner of the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, Bella has gone on to win several other awards and even set a box-office record in America.
In the movie, Verástegui plays an exuberant soccer star-turned-modest chef dealing with a tragic accident from his past.
When a pregnant waitress (played by Tammy Blanchard of The Good Shepherd) is fired, he follows her and lends a shoulder turning a bad day into one of redemption and hope.
It’s no accident that his character shadows the transformation Verástegui himself has made.
After several years of success in Mexico and sacrifice in Hollywood, Verástegui may have given up his “Brad Pitt” status but insists he’s found redemption in the end. “I wasted my life and my time for 20 years maybe and that’s why I’m not here to judge anybody,” says Verástegui.
“Who am I to judge when I’m the first one who was completely crazy?”