Bella Star Reveals Difficult Personal Journey From Soap Opera Star to Producer of Ethical Films
TORONTO, October 24, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - LifeSiteNews managing director Steve Jalsevac interviewed the producer, Leo Severino, and producer/star, Eduardo Verastegui, of the movie "Bella" in Dec. 2006, just before the movie’s world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival. The interview has been held until the movie found a distributor. We publish excerpts from this fascinating interview now as "Bella" nears its official release in the US this coming weekend.
Leo Severino: Eduardo is like the Brad Pitt of Mexico, he is huge - he was part of a rock band, pop band - which made him a huge astronomical success. And then he started doing - all there is, is really telenovelas - so that is what people see, it’s like the Mexican soap operas and they get huge ratings every single night and he was the star of the series of those and that made him even bigger. Then, Eduardo - he crossed over to the US. He did a film - Chasing Papi - popular in the US - 20th Century Fox. It was a big deal - he didn’t speak a lick of English but he got the part anyways because that is how talented he is. In that process, once you cross over from Latin America to the US - you become a mega star in Latin America. So, he had everything that everyone could really want - he had the fame, all the money, the power. At that moment, his English teacher who was a very devout Catholic - started questioning him and the next thing you know - he can tell the story from here.
Eduardo Verastegui: Well, the next thing you know - I always felt empty but when you are working so much you don’t have really time to think about why you feel empty and there is a lot of distraction. But emptiness is filled by another job, another job, another job - you get to a point where it is too much where you really need silence. You really need to take time to reset everything.
In that time, when I was like, uh "what is missing" and "what is going on" and, like Leo said, right on the top of the mountain with 15 people working for you - managers, agents, publicists, the whole thing - but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t miserable either saying "oh yes, I need to change" because I was having fun but I was empty and I was not happy.
But I thought it was maybe because I needed to do a bigger film or maybe I needed more money - I never thought it was only because I was doing the wrong stuff. It wasn’t until this lady came and, in a very subtle way, she started questioning a lot of important things and in the beginning I was too proud to let her in but she persisted in a very loving way and then she hit the right buttons and that was the beginning of me realizing that OK, I need to change and I need time alone.
In that time, I met Leo and Leo is the guy who teaches Theology and Philosophy - all the questions that I was looking for. Even though I opened to her a lot of things, she was a woman and everything. I needed to have a friend too, who I could ask certain things that you don’t want to tell a lady, you know. Especially how I was treating women, you know. I was really living a very impure life and everything. So, between her and Leo it really helped me a lot in all my questions and doubts to the point where I left everything - the manager, the agents.
In the beginning, I wanted to just live in a monastery and live as a monk - just give my life…So, next thing you know I went to talk to a priest and I told my family that I was going to take two years of missionary work. They thought I went crazy so I said, "I made my decision." I sold everything. That was even before I met Leo and then Leo was after that.
And then the priest told me, "No, no - you are not going anywhere." So, he was the one who really convinced me not to leave because I thought that he was going to support me and say, "That’s it - Bravo, bravo - go to these places." But he said, "No, you stay here - I think you are running away. I think you are escaping. I think if God opened your eyes in Hollywood, I think it is because He wanted you to be there doing something - I don’t know what - but lets figure it out - meanwhile, stay there."
He gave me a few books and I started going to mass everyday and that is how I met Leo in mass, in church and we became friends and brothers in Christ and opened this production company and - Metanoia films. That is how we started everything two years ago. We were a little business and that was our office and Alejandro, who is a director from Mexico, was coming from Austin, TX to move to LA to open a company with us and that is how everything started - the three amigos in the little living room with a cell phone, with our assistant who was one of Leo’s best friend. She was the one who was helping us with everything - and I remember we called her right after she bought the cell phone for the company just to hear how it feels to own a company when she was saying "Metanoia Films, can I help you." We would say, "Hi, it’s me Eduardo" or "It’s me, Leo". I did that a couple of times because after three years of not working and after three years of just really being in the journey of following these new paths.
Leo: Turning down literally millions of dollars and everything else.
LifeSiteNews: So, it sounds to me, what you decided to do and what you were helped to do was to engage the culture rather than just run away from the culture.
Eduardo: I didn’t think that I was running away in the beginning - I just thought that it was too much. Can you imagine leaving 12 years in a career - and now you see everything clearer and you say, "Oh my gosh, what did I just do." So, you just want to be kneeling and ask for forgiveness and just be protected - I was thinking "I don’t want to go there - I don’t know anybody."
The people that I was hanging out with were the wrong people so it was a lot of impatience too. It seemed that it was not help for me to stay there anymore. But then he told me, "You know what - I know that it is very important to meet other people but trust in God - and God, plus one is an army. Just stay there - pray and go to Mass. You will see."
I felt like I was there with a little knife in a big ocean with a lot of sharks. And yes, you can handle one, two or three but when twenty come - they will eat you. So, he said, "How about we build a submarine." So, he was giving all these answers and I didn’t like it because I wanted someone to support me and say "Go away" but he was really breaking everything… But, I am grateful, thank God, that he did that because now it is clear to me but in that time, I was in pain.
So, we stayed there and now, we have a community and we have a lot of people who are on the same mission and we have met other directors and other producers and lawyers. So, now we feel like we are not the only crazy one who prays to the Lord. Now, we have met other ones. It was just amazing - all by the grace of God because I can’t take any credit in any of this.
LifeSiteNews: So, what is the purpose of Metanoia productions?
Leo: We want to make great films. Films that were timeless and that engage and inspire people. Films that have that capacity to change peoples’ hearts and minds. Really simple ones - and inspire them. Well, that is what led to Metanoia Films and two years ago, it was just a dream and a cell phone. Now, we have our first production that is done, Bella - and we are just pleased beyond belief because the response has been phenomenal, especially from audiences.
Eduardo: The other thing, as you know very well, the huge influence of the media. Especially young people, how they behave according to the standards that they see in the media, music, television, film. I remember - I did a soap opera in Mexico. In Mexico, we don’t have so many options - either you do telenovelas - which are soap operas or you do telenovelas - soap operas. If you want to make a living as an actor that is what you have to do.
One day, I did this soap opera where I was playing a drug addict and the consequences and then at the end, let’s show the guy goes to rehab. OK, but the first three or four months of that story was really attractive - I am riding in this convertible car with two beautiful girls and guys doing drugs and I remember after that show, I was in Miami one day and this guy from Venezuela came and approached me and said, "I love your show - it was amazing. I was watching every day. I can’t believe that I am meeting you - and I have to tell you, my favorite scenes were when you were getting high to the point where I started doing drugs because of your show."
That was the first pin right into my heart. Can you imagine someone telling you, "Thank you - because of you, I started doing drugs." That was when I really realized the power of the media. How, one guy is changing his life only because of what he saw - so either for good or for bad. Then, as an actor, producer or writer, sometime we don’t assume responsibility. Sometime we just do it for the career, for the fame, for the opportunity, but we forget that whatever we are doing - we are going to be affecting somebody out there.
Knowing all these things, the purpose of the company is to make films. We want to be able to make a difference in society - we want to be able to touch people’s hearts - and make a good influence - no matter how tiny. We know that people are going to be imitating art - well then, lets create the right art so that whatever they are imitating is going to be the right thing, you know.
LifeSiteNews: You say there has been a good response - how often have you shown this so far?
Leo: We haven’t even gone public at all. We did some test screenings and then Steve McEveety came on board, from the Passion and we are following the same process that the Passion did - like going to all these different grassroots entities and showing it to them.
LifeSiteNews: So what is Steve’s roll?
Leo: He is executive producer.
LifeSiteNews: And you are the producer?
Leo: Yes, Eduardo produced as well and Alejandro, our director.
LifeSiteNews: And who are the stars in the actual production?
Leo: Eduardo is one. He is the lead actor and the lead actress - her name is Tammy Blanchard. The first thing she did on television was the life of Judy Garland and she got an Emmy for her performance there and then she did Gypsy on Broadway and got nominated for a Tony Award - she was also nominated for the Golden Globes. She is just a real up and coming amazing actress and with this character - she just takes it to the next level.
LifeSiteNews: Steve McEveety - he was involved in the Passion of the Christ.
Leo: He was the producer of the Passion and in Brave-Heart, We were Soldiers, The Patriot, tons of films.
LifeSiteNews: What have you been directing or involved in?
Leo: This is our first feature. I was an entertainment attorney at 20th Century Fox when I met Eduardo - I left all of that to form this company. The director was coming out of film school and has his first offer to write this feature film which had starred Eduardo and then when Eduardo had this change of heart - he pulled out of that film because it wasn’t exactly in line with what he wanted to do. The director for the same reason said, "I am out as well." And then we started doing this film Bella.
Eduardo: In New York - more than 24 days, more than 20 locations. Everybody said it would be impossible. Like SAG - screen actors guild - said there was no way you are going to do it. Normally, you shoot 1-3 pages a day - we were shooting 8 and some days 10 or 11. It was a lot of pressure but, by the grace of God, we did it.
Eduardo: The film is about a man who had everything and lost it all. And in losing it all - he found everything that matters in life which is family and love, true love - sacrificial love. It shows that there is a time in everyone’s life when a moment will change us forever and life will never be the same again, any more. I think it happens to everybody and it will happen to you - it will, no matter what, it is going to happen. We are always going to be in front of a situation where we are going to face a very critical moment in our lives and - what are you going to do? You have two options - what are you going to do? That is what this film shows. And at the same time - you show the family values. Everyone can relate to that.
Eduardo: Our mission statement really is work towards being a saint. We are not called to be successful - we are called to be faithful. We are called to be saints. If, by being faithful, God wants to bless art - we can have success so that we can be more effective then - thanks be to God but if, for whatever reasons, Bella doesn’t go anywhere tomorrow and our lives have to change - thanks be to God - let’s go.
So we are not attached to anything but we know that Bella has already saved more than one baby already and I think we have the potential to really touch a lot of ladies - young ladies who are struggling. It is not about touching the heart of someone who is already convinced - it is about touching the heart of somebody who may have a broken family and someone who is outside.