IN CONVERSATION WITH DIEGO BONETA
Interview by Jana Letonja
Diego Boneta is one of Hollywood’s brightest young talents, with his award-winning music, TV and film career reaching audiences around the world. Not taking the traditional path to Hollywood, Diego caught the audience’s eye on the Mexican series ‘Rebelde’, eventually working his way to American television with roles on ‘Beverly Hills 90210’, ‘Pretty Little Liars’ and the hit Netflix series ‘Luis Miguel: La Serie’, which was one of the most successful international shows on Netflix.
He will next be seen in the upcoming film ‘At Midnight’, which he stars in and executive produced. The film will be released on Paramount+ on 10 February.
Diego, a lot of your fans got to know you with your role as Rocco on ‘Rebelde’. How did this role and this worldwide popular series set the tone of your career?
Oh my God, you’re bringing back big flashbacks. I mean, ‘Rebelde’ was interesting for me cause I started singing in ‘Código F.A.M.A.’, then I did a couple of kid novellas, but really my passion was singing. And after doing those two kids novellas, I started working on my first album and I worked on it for a couple of years, songwriting a lot and working with different producers. And right when I was ready to launch it, Pedro Damián, the producer of ‘Rebelde’ approached me and said “Diego, I have a big problem. RBD is huge worldwide, but they’re actors pretending to sing. We never expected RBD to be that big of a phenomenon and I need singers on the show”.
First of all, I was 15 when everyone else was like 21, 22. And I was like “Pedro, thank you. What an honor. I’m flattered, but I’m really focused on my album right now”. And he said “Well, how about we do the following? I’ll play your songs on the show. You can sing your songs on the show, you’ll go on tour with us and you won’t really need to do any other promotion, because my show is the biggest thing out there”. So it was an offer I couldn’t refuse and I agreed to be a part of it. At first it was tough, cause I was playing a 17, 18 year old character in high school, when I was 15. And everyone else I was working with was a lot older than me, so I was the baby and I kind of felt like I didn’t fit in. But shortly after, it was a big hit for my music.
I had to record my album in Portuguese for the Brazilian market and ‘Responde’ and ‘Aquí Voy’, which were my first singles, went to number one throughout the region, in Latam. And then I went on tour with them worldwide, which was insane. We were playing at the biggest soccer stadiums in the world, like the Maracanã Stadium in Rio. I remember when we went to Romania, to Bucharest and we played there, it was the first time anyone had played in that stadium since communism left the country. It was kind of like a fast track for my music and it was a great learning experience.
Your path to Hollywood was not a traditional one, as you began your career on Spanish-language TV. How would you describe your path from Spanish-language projects to getting cast on American TV and Hollywood productions?
It was an interesting path, because when I was in Mexico my main priority was my music. And after ‘Rebelde’ and after the novellas I had done, I wanted to do Mexican film. I wanted to go into film, that was my goal. But they wouldn’t let me cast for Mexican films because they said that I didn’t look Mexican enough. My mom is from the US, my family’s from Spain and I don’t even know what that means till this day, the fact that I didn’t look Mexican enough. I mean, they wouldn’t even let me audition for films. And it wasn’t until ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian’ started auditioning in Mexico that I was called in to audition for the role of Prince Caspian. This was in February of 2007 and it was my first time auditioning for a feature film. They flew me to LA to test for the part and I was the first runner up for that role. My dream was to do things in Mexico, do Mexican film, to then be able to cross over and do things in the US. But when I almost got the role in ‘Prince Caspian’, I was like “Wait a second, maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree. Maybe I should just try my luck here”. And because I came so close to getting that role, I got signed to an agency and I started meeting a lot of people here. And that’s when I moved to LA, in summer of 2007, right after we were done with the RBD worldwide tour.
I wanted to focus on my music and if I did make acting work, I wanted to be in Hollywood, I wanted to be in the US. After ‘Prince Caspian’ I was like “This is gonna be easy. I almost got that part”. It was the first time that I ever auditioned for anything, but I was so wrong. It was two years of auditioning three to four times a week and it was my first time really dealing with rejection that way. It was starting again from ground zero. And even though you know who RBD was and how big they were, in Hollywood they really didn’t care. So it was like having gone to school, to university for six years in Mexico, doing my career there, but the credits wouldn’t transfer. And it wasn’t until I got my first role in ‘90210’ where I played a singer and I got to sing my own songs. And then ‘Pretty Little Liars’ came next and then ‘Rock of Ages’, which was the big game changer. That was the first big breakout role.
Like just mentioned, your breakout role came when you were cast in ‘Rock of Ages’ alongside Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Catherine Zeta-Jones. What were your first impressions of Hollywood and being on the set of ‘Rock of Ages’, your first big film role?
My impressions of Hollywood then were that it was way harder than what I thought it would be, because with ‘Prince Caspian’ I came so close and it was my first audition. And then after two and a half years of nothing and auditioning and acting classes and acting workshops and acting classes and acting workshops and, I was like “Man, I’m not sure if I’m gonna make it”. And then with ‘Rock of Ages’, it was a brutal, excruciating audition process. I don’t even remember how many auditions and callbacks I went on because it was the first time a Latin actor was playing a role of an American character, fully American from Detroit. And I remember the last auditions I did were only with my voice to make sure I could speak English with zero accents. It was really tough.
I think the fact that I was a singer helped a lot because these songs were really hard songs to sing. These eighties anthems, like ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’. They’re very high in pitch. And working on that set was I think one of the best experiences of my life. It was like going to college or doing an MBA. One day you’re doing scenes with Tom Cruise, another day you’re doing scenes with Alec Baldwin and another day you’re doing scenes with Paul Giamatti, then Catherine Zeta-Jones, then Russell Brand, Bryan Cranston. It was insane. I learned so much. Especially Tom really was very generous and took me under his wing and helped me understand what it meant to be the lead of a film and what you have to do. You have to take that film on your shoulders and he really taught me how to lead on set. He’s still like my mentor till this day. And ‘Rock of Ages’ was a life-changing experience.
Last year, we’ve been able to see you in the hit remake of ‘Father of The Bride’, alongside Andy Garcia, Gloria Estefan and Adria Arjona on HBO Max. This Latin remake of the film presented a modern and still hilarious version of the story of parents being hesistant of their daughter’s wedding. How fun was it filming this film and with this fabulous cast?
It was a lot of fun. Gaz Alazraki, who directed the film, is a director who I’ve been friends with for years and we’re trying to find something to work on together. When he called me to be a part of this film, I was very flattered and honored. And I loved what they did with the script, cause even though it’s a remake, it’s not a play-by-play of what the Steve Martin film was. They really adapted it to Latin culture. I don’t remember seeing another Hollywood film where it shows the differences between the Latin community. You have the Cuban family marrying a Mexican guy, not a Cuban family marrying an American family. It showcases the difference between different cultures within the Latin culture, which I think is very cool.
I loved being a part of it. Working with Jeremy Kleiner at Plan B, who’s a producer that I really admire, was great. Adria was delightful to work with. We became close friends. Andy Garcia is one of the pioneers who really opened the way for Latin actors. And Gloria I had known for many years, since ‘Rock of Ages’. Fun fact, when we did the ‘Rock of Ages’ table read, she played the Catherine Zeta-Jones part at the table read. So I’ve known her since then and she has been so great. What she’s done for the Latin community throughout the world is absolutely amazing. And she’s so generous and so nice. It was great to be a part of that movie, especially after doing ‘Luis Miguel’ for five years on Netflix. Doing the comedy was really fun.
Before acting, you also had incredible success in the music industry, beginning your career at the age of 12 when you participated in ‘Código F.A.M.A.’, a children’s singing reality show in Mexico, where you finished in Top 5. What made you love music so much in the first place?
Music will always be my first love. You know, you don’t necessarily end up marrying the first love, but we always remember. Everything with me started with music. I was eight years old and I remember going to a U2 concert and just being blown away. Getting out of the concert, the first thing I asked my dad was “Dad, are there any classes to become the next Bono? ” My dad was a big tennis player and I played tennis and I did Tae Kwon Do as a kid, so I was like if there’s classes to be the next Sampras, or my dad wanted it to be the next Laver, are there any classes to be the next Bono. Of course I was eight years old and my dad laughed.
I started taking singing lessons and then I went to ‘Código F.A.M.A.’. I auditioned for that when I was 12 and I came out in fifth place. Acting was never really on my mind. It was music. And then I stumbled with acting because the finalists of ‘Código F.A.M.A.’ were all put in a kid novella, a musical kid novella. I was kind of thrown into a pool and they’re like “Sink or swim with acting”. And while swimming, I thought this is actually really cool, I really enjoy this. I fell in love with acting. Then when I moved to the States and I was doing both at the same time, music and acting, the music business was in a very weird place. It was the MySpace days, labels were really suffering with streaming and YouTube. It wasn’t how it is today, where they can monetize all that now.
Acting took off in a more natural way, but music always happened to kind of find its way in with ‘Rock of Ages’, with ‘Luis Miguel’ where I had to record three soundtracks for the show. Musically that’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, cause Luis Miguel is considered to be one of the best singers of all time. I had to record all the songs on the original key and sound like someone who’s not me, learning to sing like someone else. And now that I’m producing and I have my own production company and I have a deal at Amazon, we’re working on a musical. Music finds a way in, but my career as a singer right now is on hold.
With your focus currently being more on acting, how hard do you find balancing both careers, as an actor and as a musician?
I tried doing both at the same time and it’s impossible. You can’t have an acting career and be focused on that 100 % and do music. For me at least, I’m very dedicated and very involved in what I do. I couldn’t do both at the same time and I found that one suffered. Acting was something that was happening in a more organic way. And then I started producing and that’s been a big focus of mine now, ever since I produced ‘Luis Miguel’ and ‘Nuevo orden’, which won the Silver Line at the Venice Film Festival. I started my own production company with my sister and with my manager and we have an overall deal at Amazon. We’re really busy developing a lot of different projects that I’m producing and starring in. So that’s taken up all my time.
So what would you say about the future of your music career?
There’s a musical that I’m working on that I’m really excited about. There’s a couple of musicals actually, so that’s where music will still be a part. But like I said, right now it’s more acting and producing that’s really been my focus.
This Valentine’s Day we’ll be seeing you in Paramount+ film ‘At Midnight’, which you also executive produced. Tell us more about this romantic comedy and what can we expect when it releases?
This is a very special project cause it’s the first project that I produced after ‘Luis Miguel’ under my production company. We started working on this in 2019 with Paramount, developed it for many years. We wanted ‘At Midnight’ to be an ode to nineties classic rom-coms and also a love letter to Mexico, cause we figured out that there hasn’t been a Hollywood rom-com that’s been shot in Mexico. You see all these rom-coms in New York, Seattle, LA and Paris and the city’s almost like a character in the film. You know, you see ‘Midnight in Paris’ and you wanna go to Paris the second you finish that movie. And we wanted to have that effect. But with Mexico, I’m very proud of being Mexican and I like showing the positive and beauty that my country has to offer.
It’s the story of a big movie star who goes to Mexico to finish shooting her big superhero movie and finds out her boyfriend and co-star is cheating on her. She has to fake to still be in that relationship because they’re like an it couple. And while she’s shooting, she meets the junior hotel manager of the hotel where she’s staying at, Alejandro, which is my character. Romance ensues and they have to meet each other at midnight cause it’s the only time where he’s off of work and the only time where she’s not gonna get caught, because she still has to pretend to be with her actor boyfriend or ex-boyfriend. It’s a very simple story, directed by Jonah Feingold, who’s a great director.
He did a movie called ‘Dating & New York’, which if you like rom-coms, you should check out. He did this movie for $200,000 in New York, in Manhattan and it’s amazing. He has kind of Woody Allen sensibility, which is exactly what we wanted for our film. And what’s so cool about ‘At Midnight’ is that it’s a fusion of the best of Mexico and the best of Hollywood. You have Fred Berger, who produced ‘La La Land’, producing it with Brian Kavanaugh-Jones. And I partnered up with Michel Franco who directed ‘Nuevo orden’, who’s an amazing Mexican filmmaker. So you have Michel Franco, you have Fred Berger and you have me and we produced this together. And my manager Josh Glick also produced it, and my sister Natalia as well. It was very special cause it was the first film that we produced under ‘Three Amigos’, which is our production company. And it was an amazing learning experience. We were in Mexico for six weeks. We have Monica Barbaro from ‘Top Gun’ playing the female lead, who’s great to work with. Anders Holm, Whitney Cummings, Casey Thomas Brown who was in ‘Father of the Bride’ with me as well. It’s a great cast.
In this film, your and Monica Barbaro’s characters make a ‘safe’ choice of not falling in love. Why do you think this is a perfect recipe for totally going the opposite way?
I think that in love, the second you say I can’t fall in love, that’s when you fall in love. You can’t will emotions like that and when something is forbidden, you want it even more. That’s just human nature.
With your career being in full bloom as an actor and as a producer, what’s next on your horizons?
Well, I’m shooting a TV show, a miniseries for Amazon about the assassination of Paco Stanley, who was a big TV show host. He was like Jay Leno of sorts and was assassinated in 1999 and it was very controversial. It’s the same team who did ‘Luis Miguel’ with me, the same director, the same producer who I love. And each episode is told from the point of view of a different character around the same chain of events, so it’s very cool. It’s another transformative role. Bill Corso who did all of my prosthetics for ‘Luis Miguel’, who’s a two-time academy award-winning makeup artist, is helping me out. And after that, I wish I could tell you what I’m doing next cause I’m so excited, but I still can’t. It’s a big surprise. It’s a huge challenge, which I love. And we’re working on a lot of different projects for Amazon as well. TV show, a miniseries, films, books, musicals. We are in full steam, there’s no more cylinders left. We’re firing on all cylinders, working our butts off developing all these projects. And they’re all so different, which is what I love.
I’m also launching my tequila in Mexico, called ‘Defrente’, which means straightforward and it’s a blanco tequila. We’re launching it in Mexico first and then we’ll be coming to the States. But that’s been something I’ve been working on for the past two years and it’s my passion. I’ve always loved tequila, that’s my drink of preference, but I wanted to create the smoothest silver tequila out there. The silver category is the purest. For true tequila lovers, we always go for silver, but it tends to be the strongest, tends to be the one that burns the most.
Talent Diego Boneta @diego
Photographer JuanKR @juankr_
Stylist Odile Iturraspe @odileiturraspe
Groomer Kristen Shaw @shawnesssss
Producer Rocio Valenzuela @roxivalenzuela
Assistant producer Brit Stine
Editor Timi Letonja @timiletonja
Cover design ArthurRoeloffzen @arthurroeloffzen