There are plenty of actors who will do anything to make it in Hollywood. There are far fewer who are defined by what they won’t do — and Eduardo Verastegui is one of them.
The devoutly Catholic actor, model, singer and movie producer is known best to audiences as the star of and producer of the 2006 film “Bella,” and is currently one of the producers of the new movie “Little Boy,” which opened last Friday. The story of an 8-year-old boy who learns the power of faith through a series of improbable events, and the boy’s attempts to bring his father home from a WWII Japanese POW camp through that faith, “Little Boy” rises above many Christian-based films by making sure it tells an entertaining story while it evangelizes to viewers.
Verastegui plays a small role in the film as a fellow priest to the father who tells protagonist Pepper to befriend a misunderstood Japanese man, but he knew that the movie fell in line with his professed career goal of only making films that reflect his values, and he was determined to shepherd it to success.
Those goals — which forced him to step back from the fast track to success in secular movies and really think about every move he made in show business — may have made his earthly career more difficult, but they allow him to sleep with a clean conscience each night.
“I realized, after my career took off, that I was not living a way that fully reflected my faith. I made a promise to God that I would never again use my talents for something that would offend my faith, family or Latino culture,” says Versategui, 40, who reached that decision a decade ago, after starring in the hit Latino film “Chasing Papi.”
“That decision completely changed how I worked. I didn’t work for several years after that and ended up creating the production company, Metanoia Films, where we could control the message and stories being put out. Movies like ‘Bella’ and now ‘Little Boy,’ where we are able to share family friendly messages that stay with you long after seeing the movie.”
The 2006 film “Bella” marked a turning point for Verastegui, who was born in Mexico and raised in a practicing Catholic family. He first pursued a career in music and as a star of telenovela soap operas on Mexican television before moving to Hollywood and striving to make it as a movie star.
He seemed to be on his way when he landed the role of a playboy who’s secretly dating three different women in the sexy comedy “Chasing Papi,” with costars including a pre-“Modern Family” Sofia Vergara. But soon he was regretting the very role that could break him into stardom, because the vocal coach working with him to improve his English pronunciation was a devout Catholic who inspired Verastegui to rediscover his faith and change the jet-set lifestyle he was developing.
Soon, the young star was turning down roles that conflicted with his beliefs, and was attending Mass and saying the rosary daily in addition to going to confession weekly. When he found that his high standards led to a reduced number of acting offers, Verastegui took the bold leap of creating his own production company, Metanoia Films, and creating the right projects for himself.
The first big payoff came with “Bella,” the story of a single waitress who decides against having an abortion after a male friend talks her out of it. Verastegui played that man, reflecting his own staunch pro-life beliefs, and saw his efforts pay off in a big way when “Bella” not only was accepted by the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival, but won its top honor, the Audience Award, as the favorite movie of attendees.
The movie went on to become an art house hit, tripling its small production budget by earning over $8 million in the U.S. alone. Yet it also prepared him for the bigger task of producing “Little Boy,” which was blessed with a much bigger $20 million budget.
“The biggest challenge with this movie was actually creating it as an independent filmmaker. What I mean by that is, you have to do many things outside of the system — without the support of a big studio,” says Verastegui. “You have to raise the money and produce the movie, find distribution, get publicity and marketing, all of that takes a lot of time and patience.
“Five years later, I’m excited to share our hard work and hope everyone enjoys it as much as we do,” Verastegui continues. “This story came to me already written by Alejandro Monteverde and Pepe Portillo and when I got to read it, I was touched and moved and inspired. I knew this would have to be the next project I produced.”
“Little Boy” is an impressively complex children’s movie with a faith-based angle, avoiding easy answers and over-the-top proselytizing for a subtle yet strongly told story that deals head-on with issues of racism, prejudice, war and death while showing that God invests each person — even the young — with a powerful faith that can change the world.
“The message of the film is universal, no matter where you are from, what language you speak, what race you are, what religion — anyone can relate to the story. The love that a boy has for his father, the bond of family is something that speaks to everyone. It’s very powerful,” says Verastegui.
“I hope that this movie awakens the little boy or little girl in everyone. That they find the innocence and the purity that often gets lost as we grow up and that they are inspired to love big, dream big, forgive big and to do great things with their life. Movies are designed to entertain but also to make this world a better place and I hope that they leave the theater with that fire.”
“Little Boy” is now playing in theatres citywide.