Teenage dreams can, at times, turn into extraordinary adventures. EMILIE NG met with Eduardo Verástegui recently in the middle of his Australian tour, “From Fame to Faith” with Australian Catholic University, and discovered the incredible journey of a Hollywood success to a humble servant of God.
“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
TEN years ago, at 28, Mexican-born singer and actor Eduardo Verástegui found himself surrounded by a team of hustling managers, agents, publicists and lawyers, all bubbling with promises of a more than comfortable Hollywood life.
Finally, he had made it.
He had women, the parties, the Hollywood staff, the attention, the fame, the glory – he had his teenage dream.
The dream began at 18 years old, when Eduardo, a searching, opportunistic man, left his three younger sisters, parents, and his small home town in northern Mexico, to be an actor.
He took acting classes in Mexico City but, not satisfied with them, grabbed the opportunity to sing in an up-and-coming boy band, Kairo.
“I was always searching and seeking and trying to claim opportunities,” he said.
“Next thing, I was in Milan, recording our first album, and then in Egypt doing our music video, and then travelling all over Latin America and it was like, wow, this big dream coming true – from a small little town, and now to have stadiums of 50,000 people screaming, and so I lost it, I completely lost the floor,” he said.
The quick entry into fame transformed into an insatiable hunger for more.
There was a seven-month stint in New York, laden with parties and frivolous expenditures, before Eduardo returned to Mexico City, finding work as a soap-opera actor.
After a few years, he wanted more, and headed to Miami to start a new solo music career, and after a few years, at age 28, he relocated from Miami to Los Angeles to revive his acting career.
Change, it seems, was a big part of Eduardo’s past.
It was on the flight from Miami to Los Angeles that Eduardo met the casting director who asked Eduardo to do an audition for a new film.
The only problem was Eduardo did not speak English.
“But I thought, ‘I like challenges’,” he said.
“The bigger the challenge the happier I am.”
Eduardo got the part for the film, and he forced himself to speak only English for a year, a decision he said marked the beginning of his faith journey.
“My first meetings were torture,” he said.
“I had no idea what people were saying to me and I always had to pretend.
“That actually increased my faith because even though from the outside everything was okay, on the inside, I was so nervous, so scared, I was bleeding inside because it was very frustrating.
“Maybe that frustration allowed me to start thinking other stuff I never thought of before.
“At the time, I was just seduced by what the media bombarded and that’s why I was never fulfilled, I was never happy.
“Something was missing in my life, but I didn’t know what it was.
“I thought, ‘maybe it’s more fame, more money, or maybe I just need to date a more beautiful girl than the one I’m dating right now’.
“And then you achieve this, and achieve that and it’s the same feeling – maybe it’s something else, and you try just because you want to be free, but in your conscience something is screaming, ‘Move from here because it’s not it.’
“I was looking for something deeper, but I didn’t know what it was.”
It was at this stage that Eduardo was given an English teacher, whom he said, “came at the perfect moment”.
“She started asking me questions that I was not ready to answer, but I wanted to answer,” he said.
“She changed my life.”
His English teacher was a devout Catholic, and while Eduardo grew up Catholic, faith was never the centre of his family’s life.
“I was living in a Catholic country, where everyone is Catholic, and so Catholic for me was just another identity – I was Mexican, and I was Catholic,” he said.
“And then we were going to Mass at Christmas once a year, the whole family, so it was just a tradition of the whole town goes to Mass for Christmas, and to thank God for the whole year.”
Although Eduardo said he was not a practising, Catholic, he had always fostered a deep reverence for God.
“I always felt the love of God in my life, and I felt protected, and even though I was doing things, you know, working and pride and vanity and in a very superficial environment, I felt protected by God and I felt like I wanted to love him, and in the way I wanted to love him I thought I was doing the things that I needed to do,” he said.
However, the encounter with his English teacher gave him another perspective.
“She challenged me like nobody had challenged me before – with truth,” he said.
“So when she was telling me the Church was this and this, I didn’t even question it.
“It was a grace.”
Slowly, his English teacher “turned up the volume”, pointing out that Eduardo never really loved God with some of his actions as a Hollywood actor.
“She said, ‘You think that the real man is a Latino lover, a womaniser, and meanwhile here the Church is teaching that we are called to be saints, and you need to live a chaste life and you need to honour the commandments and you need to do this and this and that’,” he said.
“‘So you don’t really love God. You may think you love him, but you’re just compromising all the time and you’re just corrupting your body.’
“And I started crying and my heart was just broken in pieces, and I realised how, it was like God allowed me to see my own misery and my own sinful nature and how people I hurt in the past, and it was scary to see that it was all just about me and me and me.”
Eduardo considered ending his career and becoming a missionary, finding it difficult to land acting jobs that would not offend his faith, family or Latino culture, when his spiritual director advised him to remain in Hollywood.
He took the advice, and soon after he started a film production company called Metanoia Films with two other Latino friends he had met.
Eduardo found himself moving around the world again, but this time to receive a blessing from Pope John Paul II, and to begin producing and acting in Metanoia Film’s first movie, Bella.
Bella, which was shot in 24 days, went on to be a winning film at the Toronto International Film Festival.
It is also claimed that it has saved the lives of more than 1000 babies whose mothers had considered abortions before watching the film.
Today, Eduardo attends daily Mass, prays the Rosary in Latin, and offers Miraculous Medals attached to humble requests for Hail Marys.
His mission as a producer, director and actor is to promote beauty and dignity in his films.
His latest film production, Crescendo, was a combined effort with Pattie Mallette, the mother of Justin Beiber, and was considered in the Top 50 list for an Academy Award.
In September, he will be premiering his new film, Little Boy, starring Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings), Emily Watson (War Horse), Kevin James (The King of Queens) and David Henrie (Wizards of Waverly Place).
When he’s not making films, Eduardo looks after a not-for-profit medical centre which provides free medical assistance to women in Latino neighbourhoods within Los Angeles who do not have support during pregnancies.
“So we embrace them and help them instead of pushing them to have an abortion as their best exit,” her said.
“We do the opposite; we embrace them, we love them, we serve them, and we help them with whatever they need.”
Eduardo (who is, yes, a single man) is not sure what else God has planned for him, but in his 10 years as a “baby” Catholic, he’s learnt to stop humouring God: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans”.
Eduardo Verástegui was sponsored to give talks in Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne by Australian Catholic University out of the directorate of Identity and Mission.
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