English teacher gave actor Verastegui new focus in life

Catholic actor Eduardo Verastegui portrays Anacleto Gonzalez Flores in a scene from the movie "For Greater Glory." (CNS photo/ARC Entertainment)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — One might think actor Eduardo Verastegui would have fond memories of his first English-language movie, 2003’s “Chasing Papi,” because it gave him a chance to share the screen with Sofia Vergara, who has since become a breakout star thanks to her role in the ABC comedy “Modern Family.”

But Verastegui’s most cherished memories come not from the film, but from the fact that he had to learn English to make the movie. That led him to an English teacher who challenged him in more ways than learning English pronunciation and syntax.

“Her name was Jasmine,” Verastegui, a Catholic, told Catholic News Service during a May 4 interview in Washington to promote a new movie, “For Greater Glory.” “She really started questioning the important things.”

During his six months of tutoring, he said, Jasmine would ask him such questions as “What is the purpose of life? How are you using your talents? Are you trying to elevate human dignity, or are you not? Who do you live for? Who do you die for?”

From all of this, Verastegui said, “I realized I was not happy. Something inside was missing. I don’t know what.”

In time, he came to believe that he should use his talents only in life-affirming screen projects. Out went the “telenovelas” the Mexican-born actor cut his teeth on. In came Metanoia Films, which Verastegui created to bring his new vision to life. The first fruit was “Bella,” which found him starring and producing, in a tale about a young man’s efforts to convince a single pregnant woman to not go through with a planned abortion.

It later led to “Little Boy,” which started three years ago and is only now in post-production. Verastegui plays a priest in the film, but is also its producer and executive producer. The movie deals with a boy’s wish to have his father come back safely from World War II, so he engages in the corporal works of mercy in hopes of hastening the war’s end. It originally had a budget of $59 million, Verastegui said, but by filming in Mexico he was able to slash it to $25 million.

“You just can’t decide, ‘I’m going to make a movie,’ and tomorrow you start making the movie,” Verastegui told CNS.

Regarding “For Greater Glory,” he said he was intrigued about it but was first embarrassed. “It was an American person asking me about Mexican history, my own history. I was 30 years old. … It was embarrassing to me” to not know. There was no mention at home, at school or elsewhere about the Cristero War of the 1920s in which Catholics took up arms to contest the Mexican government’s systematic repression of religion, he said.

Verastegui said he wanted to tackle the story in a movie, but “I was a first-time producer. I was not ready to do the film.” About three years ago, he heard from Pablo Jose Barroso, the producer of “For Greater Glory,” saying he had a script and wanted Verastegui in the film.

But Verastegui was busy with “Little Boy,” and could not commit to a heavy filming schedule. Barroso offered him the part of Anacleto Gonzalez Flores, a lawyer and journalist. Verastegui took it, saying he was proud to portray the “Gandhi of Mexico” in the movie. He went to Mexico and filmed all his scenes in 10 days.

Gonzalez, who was well known in Mexico for his philosophy of nonviolent resistance, was tortured and murdered by army soldiers in April 1927 in Guadalajara. He was beatified in 2005.

In his review of “For Greater Glory,” CNS’ John Mulderig called it a “powerful historical drama” that “packs an emotional wallop. In fact, moviegoers of a more sensitive disposition will be unlikely to escape without tears.”

The movie was classified A-III — adults — by CNS for “considerable action violence with some gore, the torture of a child and at least one mildly vulgar term.”

— By Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service