The man they call Mexico's Brad Pitt
Why Eduardo Verastegui sacrificed a glittering Hollywood career for the peace he found in God
They call him the Mexican Brad Pitt. But unlike his American counterpart, who famously rejected a Southern Baptist upbringing, Eduardo Verastegui chose to sacrifice a glittering film career after rediscovering his Catholic faith.
Once a Calvin Klein model who smouldered bare-chested opposite J-Lo in a music video, and starred in Hollywood movies, Verastegui's brooding looks and aquamarine eyes attracted thousands of (invariably screaming) female fans.
Today, the 35-year-old actor is a daily Mass-goer, committed to abstaining from sex before marriage, who flies to Darfur to help the starving, provides financial help for women considering abortions and organises house-building missions in Mexico.
“I wasn’t born to be famous, or to be a movie star, but to love and serve Jesus Christ,” the former model and singer once listed as among the top 50 “hottest” Hispanics by People magazine will tell a gathering of young Catholics on his first visit to England this weekend.
Up to 1,500 British teenagers at Youth 2000, a five-day festival of talks, Mass, prayer and dynamic worship similar in style to the World Youth Day encounters between young Roman Catholics and the Pope, will hear Verastegui's dramatic conversion story in the Norfolk shrine of Walsingham on Sunday.
It sounds, to be honest, almost like something out of a script from Metanoia, the production company Verastegui and two colleagues founded - Metanoia, a Greek word, means conversion.
A sensation throughout Latin America, where he first shot to fame aged 18, as a member of the Mexican boy band Kairo, he later starred in a string of telenovelas, the high-octane long running soap operas that command vast audiences throughout Russia, the Middle East and the Hispanic world.
After moving to Miami, to successfully pursue a career as a solo singer, Verastegui was offered the lead in the 2003 comedy Chasing Papi, the tale of a Latin love God pursued by a trio of vengeful girlfriends.
Flying between Miami and Los Angeles one day, Verastegui encountered a casting director from 20th Century Fox who invited him to audition for Chasing Papi. “I told him I barely spoke English” Verastegui recalls, “but he asked if I could memorise five pages of script and promised me a language coach should I get the part.”
The coach, a committed Catholic, prompted by dint of gentle grilling, Verastegui’s reversion to the practice of his Catholic faith. “She used a Socratic method, just asking me questions: why had I wanted to become an actor in the first place? What did I think the true meaning of life? Was I really making the best use of my God-given talents.” Initially, Verastegui resisted. The crunch moment came when the coach asked if he believed his body “was a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
“I replied “yes” he recalls, and she said “then why are you living in a way that breaks the Commandments and offends God? For the first time I saw how my lifestyle had insulted the Lord,” says the actor, who next sought out a Mexican priest and poured out, in a three-hour confession, past sins.
Filled with a “a sense of gratitude” at “the immense mercy of God” in forgiving his sins, Verastegui told his confessor he would give up Hollywood for life as a missionary in the Amazon jungles of Brazil.
“But my confessor said “Hollywood is your jungle, we already have people working in Brazil. So what had been my dream became a sacrifice,” Verastegui explains.
For four years, he renounced all roles that conflicted with his Catholic and his Latino values, eventually co-founding with two associates Metanoia films. Bella, Metanoia's first film, which stars Verastegui and is the story of an out-of-work waitress pondering an abortion won the People’s Choice prize at the 2007 Toronto film festival.