His Career and Faith - Talking with Eduardo Verastegui
The actor from 'For Greater Glory' on life, faith and his latest film
Leticia Velasquez, of Catholic Media Review, is a contributing writer for Catholic Online, covering films, books and related media. She recently had the opportunity to interview Eduardo Verastegui about His career and his faith.
Velasquez: Eduardo, when I interviewed you in 2009 in Connecticut, you mentioned wanting to do a film about the Cristeros. Tell me how you got involved in "For Greater Glory."
Verastegui: It was because of a friend of mine, Pablo Jose Barroso, the producer, I talked to him a long time ago, about the idea of making a film about the Cristeros war, I had an idea in mind, then he had an idea, and I read a script, he read a script, there were four or five scripts batting around, next thing you know he said "I think I've found it, I'm going to send it to you, let me know if you want to be involved, " and at that time I was involved in "Little Boy" and it was hard to be doing two parts at the same time.
I said, "You know what, let me read the script, I would love to participate, and I agreed to do the part of Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, because it required only about two weeks of my time an actor. I ran off to Mexico for only a few weeks, did my part, and I came back to finish "Little Boy."
This is a powerful film, it's a very emotional film, that not only entertains you, but helps you learn about Mexican history, how in the 1920's Plutarco Calles, the President of Mexico, started this religious persecution, and created a war on the Catholic Church in which thousands of people died, and we want to focus on the Mexican martyrs, who were not afraid to give their lives to defend something bigger than themselves; religious liberty and their families and their faith.
No only were they not afraid, but some of them actually died as martyrs and the last words which came out of their mouths were words of love and forgiveness, and that inspired me, and touched my heart and made me want to live like them. That's what I tried to do, every day in my work, to try and imitate these Mexican heroes who gave their very lives to defend their faith.
Velasquez: What impact did the film have in Mexico where you mentioned that this part of history was never taught in public schools?
Verastegui: The government, after the war ended, considered it an embarrassment and so they tried to bury that wound and move forward, and that's why they took all that information out of public schools, because they didn't' want people to know. I never learned it in school.
I asked my friends, "was I absent that day, when they taught this?" but it wasn't taught. Calles was the guy who founded the party which took over Mexico for more than seventy years. They wanted to protect the founder and bury the wound so no one would know.
But I think it's the opposite they should bring that would out of the hole, and heal it, from the past, that is what history is for, so you can learn from the mistakes we did in the past not to do them again in the present. It seems like we don't understand, we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over and over. That's why we were involved in this film, to show what happened in Mexico, so we can learn from history, at the same time to be entertained, to be moved and to be inspired. And that's what this film is trying to do.
Hopefully, many people will watch it, see it, and take the video home. On September 11th, its going to come in a combo packages where you are going to see scenes which weren't in the movie, there will be a documentary which is going to show you more of the history of Mexico in the 1920's so you can get the whole picture.
Velasquez: Are they talking more about this in Mexico now that this film was so wildly popular there?
Verastegui: I don't know if it's in the educational history program, but they have a documentary, a feature film, lots of articles, and because of the globalization of the Internet and the media, it's very easy just to explore these things and you will find the truth, right there on your computer. I think we should go in and reveal more, so we don't repeat past mistakes, such as the government is trying to bring God out of our culture, the values and everything, sooner or later, we will collapse.
Velasquez: What impact did making the film have on the other actors in the film, like Andy Garcia, and Eva Longoria?
Verastegui: I don't know, I only know about the kid, (Mauricio Kuri who played the 13 year old Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio). I spent some time with him and his family, and he was very touched and moved by the film. I only worked for two weeks, I was in and out and didn't have time to know the other actors, but I am sure, that sooner or later, seeds were planted in our hearts, and it's just a matter of time.
Velasquez: Why did the filmmakers change the circumstances of Blessed Anacleto Gonzales Flores' death?
Verastegui: If you were faithful to every detail like that, it would be a very hard film to watch. If you showed too much, it would be like "The Passion of the Christ" with blood all over the place. You don't want to show a man stripped naked, hung by his thumbs, having his feet slashed, being tortured for hours.
It was important to show that he died for his faith on the camera, in a very dramatic way. If it is too violent people will not watch it, they'll say, "I can't watch this, it's too violent". The way the film is right now, people are saying it's too violent, but its nothing compared to the reality.
A lot of people were complaining because "The Passion" was too violent, actually if you read the book of the Prophet Isaiah, it describes the death of Jesus, it says, you can count His bones. What we saw in "The Passion" was nothing.
So, the director and the producer, the reason they did that was to make it more watchable for the people who are more sensitive to violence, they wanted to reach them too, and they wanted to bring the volume a little bit down so you can still see the essence of the film, and the message and the heroes.
Velasquez: What so you think is the lesson of the witness of Bl. Anacleto Gonzalez Flores?
Verastegui: Its how a simple man who is a lawyer, who loves his family who is living a beautiful life in Mexico, working hard, a man of faith, a man of character, loyal to his faith, to his family, a man who wants to be a saint, and who loves God very much, he is trying to allow the love of God to enter into his heart so he can love people with the love of God.
How, a simple man is living his life in the middle of peaceful Mexico, and boom, everything is threatened, so he has three choices, do I leave for a country where I can continue to live my life with my family try to live my Catholic faith where I am not going to be persecuted, or do I join the army of the Cristeros and start killing people, justified by defending my faith, since it was the government who started it, or take the opportunity of being a martyr, being a saint, of trying to defend my faith with peaceful means?
And he chose that one, which is the hardest one, the first one is 'let's just leave' the second one, 'let's get a gun and defend my faith, but the third one, 'I'm going to try and defend my faith with peaceful means', it doesn't mean that you are going to be left alone; it means that you are going to really work hard, but, you say, 'if, in the process it means that they will get me, they will torture me, I will offer it up to God'. That example changed many people, things like that, impact more people after his life than before. A lot of people were saying, "let's join the war, and he said 'no'" and he was right.
Velasquez: This film engendered a lot of thoughtful discussion about violent vs. non-violent approaches to injustice in the blogosphere, and on Facebook. When we can expect to see "Little Boy" in theatres?
Verastegui: 2013, I don't know exactly when, maybe around Father's Day as it is about the love between a father and a son, and how the kid is willing to do anything, even sacrifice his life to bring him back home from war, from World War II. So it would be a perfect date, but we are still finishing post-production, it will be finished in November.
Velasquez: Tell me are you working on a feature film version of "The Butterfly Circus"?
Verastegui: That one I don't know either. I only helped the producer and the director as an actor. I heard they ordered the script and its ready and they want to make the film.
Velasquez: My pastor is showing this film to our parish youth group; the kids love it.
Verastegui: It is showing all over the world, in universities and colleges and conferences. It has a universal message of hope and love, and vocation and dignity of life. I think that working with Nick Vuijic is another blessing, I was talking to him a few days ago, he's unbelievable, he is married, his wife is pregnant, I think this guy is amazing, one of the best speakers in the world.
Velasquez: I have some questions from Facebook. These mothers want you to know how much they appreciate your witness to a life of faith and chastity out in the world. They want to know how to talk to teenagers who are obsessed with Hollywood. What advice would you give to parents?
Verastegui: Wow! It's a hard question! (laughs)
Velasquez: I know. You're not even a parent and you get this tough question!
Verastegui: Well, I said the other day that this generation needs more testimony than teachers. The best thing thing the parents can give to their children is lead by example. For example, if my father tells me, "Get a job" and he doesn't get a job, why in the world am I going to be listening to him if I am a teenager?
Who is God for you at that time, but your parents? Everything you are going to learn about God is going to come from the love and the actions and the examples of your Papa and Mama. And if they behave well and if they raise you well, by example, you are 90% out of the gate.
If you are telling them "go watch TV" and you are watching TV, you are doing this and you are doing that, you are not really loving them and spending a lot of time with your kids. Because if you have a father who works all day and a mother who works all day and the house is completely abandoned, they are going to feel like they are not important, because you are not spending time with them.
Many parents to justify that; they say we have to work hard to give them the right education but when you are thinking like that, right here you are not giving the right education because you're not spending time with them, all they need is the love of Papa and Mama. So, I don't have all the answers...
Velasquez: You understand what the Holy Father has said about the importance of parents as primary educators in the Domestic Church.
Verastegui: That's the most important thing; a lot of people work so hard to invest in their education at these universities outside of town, and they are going to send them to different cities and they are in a very different world.
First of all, you sacrifice your life by not spending time with them, and now you send them somewhere else, far away from you, they are educated by people who could care less, they really don't care about them, and next thing you know you have an engineer, or a lawyer, who is strictly an atheist, who doesn't know who God is, that's why society is the way it is right now.
They like Hollywood because they think that Hollywood people are happy and they have peace, but no, it is the opposite. This is the capital of temptation where they have emptiness. So that's why I think if you give them true love at home they will know what is the right thing to do with their own dreams.
Asking them "what are you going to do when you grow up?" I don't think this is the right question; it should be "What do you think God wants you to do when you grow up?" You start involving God in their lives since the beginning. You must realize that your own personal dreams can become your worst enemy.
You need to start asking the right questions, challenging them, "What do you think God wants from you?" "Have you ever thought about what is the mission which God has created you for?" If you keep asking that instead of "what do you want to do?" how different everything would be.
Velasquez: That's beautiful; did your mother and dad do that with you?
Verastegui: No! (laughs)
Velasquez: But they prayed for you!
Verastegui: Well, maybe that's why it took me a little time to realize that. I am Catholic, by the grace of God, because of them, but because my family was not practicing, our faith was not the center of our lives, not because we didn't want it to be, but we didn't know our faith well.
It was later on, when I talked to my English teacher here in Los Angeles, and through a series of friends, and a series of priests that I met, I finally realized that something was missing in my life, and what was missing was that I didn't know my faith well, and, after that I started to get to know my faith well, then, after that, I fell in love with it, and I put it in the center of my life, and all I do is part of my faith.
Velasquez: Do you have a support group there in Hollywood?
Verastegui: Yes, I have friends and a big group here; a lot of people who want to do acting, a lot of people who share the same values, its important to have a community otherwise, it's really hard. We meet in different friend's houses for Bible study, for fellowship, to get to know our faith. We study the Catechism, encyclicals, apostolic letters, the lives of the saints and now, thanks be to God, my parents and my family, they are all transformed as well.
Velasquez: Thank you for sharing this, my readers will be excited to read this.
Verastegui: Thank you for the opportunity, we need to realize, as Mother Teresa says, "We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful to God." That is our real success, being faithful to God. Now, if by, being faithful to God, success comes, it's a blessing, but if it doesn't come, you can't compromise your faith, your values in order to obtain what the world thinks success is, because that doesn't come from God. Sooner or later you are going to be completely empty; you obtained that success by compromise.
At the end of the day, it's just about being faithful to God and that's the only way we can obtain true happiness and internal peace; we need to have that desire in our hearts. Every day we need to beg God to help us to be saints, what Blessed John Paul II said, "do not be afraid to be saints of the New Millennium" that's the call, that's the vocation, that's the power we have.
It's only possible to be a saint through the sacramental life, by the grace of God, through the sacraments, prayerful life, contemplative and meditative life, the life of service, is going to help us to achieve our goal which is to be a saint. The only way we can do that is by asking God to help us.
Velasquez: Thank for this beautiful testimony. Do you have a place where people can get in touch with you and attend your appearances?
Verastegui: No, right now, we're working on that, there's a lot of Facebooks out there that are not mine, that I don't have any control over; I don't even know what is there sometimes. I am working on a website that is going to be my official website, it will be EduardoVerastegui.me.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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