Bella is not only an exceptional film, but the result of a long and emotional journey for Latin break-out star Eduardo Verastegui, in which he found his true calling in life.
Written By: Lisa Falcone
Latin break-out star Eduardo Verastegui is the one to watch at this years prestigious Toronto Film Festival. Verastegui proves he is not just a sultry heartthrob who landed himself as one of People En Espanol’s “50
Most Beautiful People”, but a multi-talented actor and producer, who has helped create one of the most outstanding independent films of 2006. Born the son of a sugar cane farmer in Xicotencatl, Tamaulipas, a small village in Northern Mexico, Verastegui came from humble beginnings. At the early age of 17, he knew he wanted to be a performer, and had heard of an acting school in Mexico City called Televisa. Taking his first leap of faith as a young and aspiring actor, he left home and set out to pursue his destiny. As fate would have it, he was easily accepted and enrolled in the school he had dreamed of, only to receive a tempting offer in the music industry just two years later. Verastegui not only had star-quality, but strong vocal skills as a singer, which set him apart from his peers. He was quickly singled out and given an opportunity to travel the world in the Latin-pop group “Kairo”, which he accepted. Kairo had a successful three year run, and gained Verastegui much of the recognition he had set out to achieve. However, he soon became disinterested, feeling that his personal goals far exceeded being part of a group, and made the bold decision to step out on his own. At age 22, he left the recording contract to pursue what he considered to be his own vision as a musician in the hopes of having more control over his future.
Times became difficult for Velastegui after he realized the music industry had typecast him as a “boy-band” singer, and he could not easily achieve the solo career goals he strived for. Falling back on his strong acting abilities, he accepted a nine month contract for a Latin soap opera, or “telenovela”, which quickly became five consecutive contracts in a row. His rapid climb to the top branded him a bona fide soap star, with fans in 19 countries and hundreds of international magazine covers. Yet, even after five strong years of television success, he remained unfulfilled. Determined to continue his search for happiness, he took his second leap of faith, leaving the security of his contract once again, and ventured out on his own… this time, to America.
Wanting to live in the U.S. and unable to speak any English, Verastegui chose Miami as his destination. He hoped he could ingrain himself in the Latin community and obtain a recording contract, which he successfully did through a lot of hard work and strategic networking. He found a home at Universal and began working on a solo record. This project began a chain of events that would ultimately land him an acting opportunity in America. While doing a promotional tour for the record’s release, he was spotted on a flight to Los Angeles by a casting executive for 20th Century Fox, who invited him to audition for a role in a new film. Hiding the fact that he could not speak proficient English, Verastegui bravely accepted. He obtained the sides and memorized them by using a tape recorder. He attended the audition while in L.A. despite the language barrier and with a little luck, landed a role in “Chasing Papi”, giving him his first break in an American movie.
Verastegui knew he needed to do two things in pursuit of his dream, move to Los Angeles, and learn English. He did both, and soon found himself alongside Jennifer Lopez in the music video for “Ain’t It Funny”, directed by the famed Herb Ritts. Because of the popularity of the track, Verastegui got noticed, and the offers began pouring in. Much to his dismay, he felt he was being typecast again by roles portraying characters of low morals, mostly criminals and playboys. He had no choice but to decline, causing him to hit another plateau in his progress. Verastegui decided to review his life, both professionally and personally, and regain focus.
It had been twelve years. He had traveled the world in a pop-group, become a soap opera star, performed as a solo artist for sold-out crowds, acted in an American movie, and danced with Jennifer Lopez. His personal life had been filled with beautiful women, money, and fame. Eduardo Verastegui tried hard to grasp his soul and continued to find it empty. He was unfulfilled and knew he wanted more. He thought of his father, a hard-working man with integrity who he had always admired; a man who had made sacrifices for his family, and treated his son and three daughters with love and respect. This was the life that he truly wanted. A life of purpose filled with meaning and esteem. This is what had been missing all along, and he was more determined than ever to get it.
The only thing that hadn’t changed was Verastegui’s love and passion for acting. He needed to find the right path while continuing to fine-tune his craft and express his God-given talents. Feeling like he had no creative control, he left his manager and agent. Verastegui decided to take matters into his own hands and transform his career into what he knew it could be. He wanted a project of substance, a film with heart, one he knew would touch people and make a difference. He needed his own film production company, and he needed some support.
Turning to his old friend from Mexico, Alejandro Monteverde, a graduate of the University of Texas film school, Verastegui had a plan. Monteverde had already been successful as a director, winning numerous awards at film festivals as a student filmmaker. His student demo reel was so impressive, that both Kodak and Panavision offered him sponsorship opportunities. More importantly to Verastegui, was Monteverde’s vision. He too wanted to produce quality films. They both knew that being like-minded and sharing a goal was a solid foundation for a business partnership. So, with two cell phones and an assistant, they began to read scripts, seeking out the project of a lifetime. Metanoia Films was born.
Columbian producer Leo Severino, a graduate of the University of Southern California Law School, was working at 20th Century Fox when he met Verastegui and Monteverde. The three felt an immediate kinship and decided to join forces. They became what others would later call, “the three amigos”, bonded together by a shared dream. Unable to find any scripts they felt worthy of their cause, they agreed to call upon their partner and visionary director, Alejandro, to write an original story. Never having written a script before, the three took a leap of faith together and put their trust in his abilities. Alejandro went to the mountains to write. He returned with Bella.
Sean Wolfington, a successful entrepreneur who had made a few contacts in Hollywood, was looking for a first-time investment opportunity to break into the film business. He came across the three amigos and invited them to pitch their project. After hearing a synopsis of the story, Wolfington knew he wanted to be a part of it. After committing and giving them the money, he called his friend Stephen McEveety (Braveheart, Passion of the Christ). He delivered what would be considered an appalling proposal. A director with no credits, an actor virtually unknown in the states, a writer who had never written anything, a very small budget, and minimal time frame for completion were all factors to be considered. Another leap of faith was needed, and miraculously McEveety agreed.
Production began in New York over a 24-day period with a harsh production schedule. The team was filming up to eight scenes per day, many times allotting only one take for each. Verastequi had added pressure, wearing both the hats of lead actor and producer. Knowing Bella was built on taking risks and trusting destiny, the three partners could not give up. Bella was a film that had overcome all obstacles. It was going to be completed, and its message was going to be heard.
The group decided collectively to submit the film to the Toronto Film Festival. Agreeing to have no expectations they would let the winds of fate that had carried them thus far act on their behalf. When they did in fact receive an invitation to the festival, they were overjoyed at the prospect of being able to share Bella with others, and touch their hearts. Their dream had finally come true.
Bella is a heartwarming story about friendship, family, and our capacity for love in the face of the unexpected. It’s a story of regaining lost faith, and the journeys life presents us with which help us grow in spirit. Bella is indeed a result of such faith, and shines as a true testament of what the human spirit can accomplish. This film is a gift, and is for a certainty the reward of three men pursuing an honest dream, one of purpose, meaning, and love.
Bella stars Eduardo Verastequi, Manuel Perez, Angelica Aragon, Jaime Terelli and Ali Landry. Alejandro Monteverde makes his feature film directorial debut from an original screenplay co-written with Patrick Million. Leo Severino and Denise Pinckley produced the film with Verastequi and Monteverde. Sean Wolfington, J. Eustace Wolfington, Ana Wolfington, and Stephen McEveety, executive producers. Andrew Cadalago, cinematographer, Fernando Villena, editor, and Stephan Altman, composer.