Is Diego Boneta Mexico’s Next Big Hollywood Star?


“Maybe I wasn’t the best singer, but I was a performer,” said Mr. Boneta, who was soon rocking stadiums and opening for Hilary Duff. “I loved performing for huge crowds. It’s like people jumping out of a plane to get that adrenaline rush.”

After the visit to the presidential palace, Mr. Boneta climbed back into an armored Chevrolet Suburban flanked by two bodyguards (a typical mode of travel for notables and the business elite in Mexico, he said) and headed for lunch at El Cardenal, a venerable restaurant nearby that offers traditional dishes like escamoles (fried ant larvae).

The actor smiled as he scooped a generous spoonful over guacamole to form a taco. “Mexican caviar,” he said. “Very buttery.”

Dangling around his neck was an escapulario (a gold religious medallion) that belonged to a grandfather he never met, Otto Boneta, who was a songwriter and a psychiatrist. (Pope Francis blessed the medallion, Mr. Boneta said, when he performed alongside others during a papal visit to Mexico City in 2016.)

The music gene, it seems, skipped generations. Mr. Boneta’s parents, Lauro González and Astrid Boneta, are engineers. (His younger siblings, Natalia and Santiago, are studying at Duke University.)

“I’m the black sheep,” he said.

Diego Boneta – The Hurt (Official Video) Video by DiegoBonetaVEVO

Indeed, Mr. Boneta left school in fifth grade, and starred in a string of youth-oriented telenovelas, including “Alegrijes y Rebujos” and “Rebelde,” a “Glee”-style drama about a group of anthem-belting private school students. During his tenure on that show, Mr. Boneta also cut his first album, “Diego,” which included the hit single “Responde.”

(Looking to capitalize on his rising profile from “Scream Queens,” he released a bilingual EP in 2015 that included a Gene Vincent-style roots rocker single, “The Hurt,” sung in English.)

“There are no child labor laws here,” he said. “I was working Monday through Sunday, probably 17 to 18 hours a day sometimes. Christmas was a half-day off.”

Hollywood Bound

When Mr. Boneta was 16, the family moved to Los Angeles, in part to be closer to Hollywood. While he found no shortage of work, he learned that there was not much of a pipeline for Mexican actors.

As the #OscarsSoWhite movement showed, many obstacles remain. While Latinos comprise 18 percent of the population of the United States, Latino actors account for only about 3 percent of the speaking roles in American films, according to a 2017 study released by the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg.

Photo

Mr. Boneta as Drew Boley in the hair-metal musical “Rock of Ages.”

Credit
David James/Warner Brothers Pictures

But Latino actors, he said, also lack a support network. “In Hollywood, I have a lot of Australian friends, and they’ll have their Aussie friends sleep on their couch,” he said. “I was in a movie with Sam Worthington, and he was telling me stories about how he had helped the Hemsworth brothers, and before that, Russell Crowe helped him. Same thing with the Brits — ‘the wider the door, the more we fit through.’ It’s a different mentality.”

On the positive side, three Mexican directors have won four out of five of the most recent Academy Awards for Best Picture: Alfonso Cuarón in 2013, Guillermo del Toro this year, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu two years in a row.

“The Mexican directors are killing it right now,” he said. “Mexican actors should be, too.”

It is an open question whether “Luis Miguel” will enhance Mr. Boneta’s Hollywood clout to the point that he brings along other Latino hopefuls in his wake.

Although the show is in Spanish, that is hardly a deal killer in the streaming landscape of 2018, where foreign shows like “Narcos” (bilingual, with subtitles) and “Dark,” (German, available with dubbed English or subtitles) have become binge-watch favorites for Americans on Netflix — a point likely not lost on the very Hollywood producer of “Luis Miguel,” Mark Burnett (“The Voice,” “Survivor”).

Mr. Miguel himself has global appeal in Spain, Italy and even China, Mr. Boneta said, in addition to the sizable market in the United States. And the story is familiar turf to fans of no-holds-barred music biopics like “Walk the Line” and “Ray.”

“On the one side, you’ve got the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ party scenes,” Mr. Boneta said. “The fame, sex and the excess, the drugs, mixed with a really dark family drama.”

If nothing else, the meaty role promises to vault Mr. Boneta far beyond the teen-idol trap.

Looking ahead in his own career, Mr. Boneta said, he looks to Tom Cruise, who remains a mentor, as an inspiration.

“One of the best pieces of advice he gave me is, ‘Set your goal and work backward,’” Mr. Boneta said. “If you want to be a big action star, you have to learn how to ride motorcycles, fly planes and learn to do your own stunts.”

Come to think of it, “Diego Boneta, action star” has a nice ring to it. “A short-term goal that I have, and I know this may sound cheesy, is being the first Latin Marvel superhero, whose character isn’t necessarily Latin,” he said.

“Black Panther,” after all, already proved that a nonwhite superhero movie can attain blockbuster status.

“How about ‘Pantera Negra’?” he said with a smile.

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