Latin Lover No More
Not long ago, Eduardo Verástegui was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the world by the Spanish version of People magazine.
He was an impossibly handsome Latino soap star, and women around the globe threw themselves at him as a member of Mexican heartthrob pop group Kairo. He was a Calvin Klein underwear model. He played the leading role in the 2003 film Chasing Papi, where his character had three gorgeous girlfriends. He even was the requisite hunk of macho eye candy in a J-Lo music video.
Verástegui was not only playing the stereotypical Latin lover. He was living the role. Money. Cars. Girls. You name it, he had it.
And then he left it all behind. Why? He recommitted his life to God and vowed to make only wholesome entertainment for the rest of his days.
Now, five years after making that decision, his vision becomes reality as Bella, a wonderful independent film about the things in life that really matter, opens in theaters this week.
In the movie—the writing and directorial debut of his friend and business partner Alejandro Monteverde—Verástegui plays José, a pro soccer star whose life is changed in an instant. He ends up as a chef at his brother's Mexican restaurant in New York, where he befriends a waitress named Nina, whose own life is turned upside down when she learns she is pregnant — and decides she doesn't want to keep the baby. She confides in Jose, whose compassion for her plight plays out in unexpected, and life-affirming, ways.
The film, winner of the People's Choice Award at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival, has the tagline, "One day can change your life forever," and to say much more would be to give too much away. But suffice it to say that it's a warm, delightful movie that Christians can embrace— indeed, so can anyone who enjoys a good story packed with redemption.
The power of a praying woman
So, how did a loose-living, self-described Casanova get from there to here? Not surprisingly, women played a key role—starting with his mother.
"There is nothing more powerful than the prayers of a mother," says Verástegui, 33. "When I was pursuing fame, pleasure, and success, my mother started going to her prayer groups and saying, 'OK, if my words don't touch his heart, one day my prayers will.'"
His mother's prayers were answered through another female—a woman in Los Angeles who was teaching him English for the lead role in Chasing Papi, where he played the studly lover role for what would turn out to be the last time.
"She was a very wise lady who not only taught me English, but questioned a lot of things in my life," Verástegui says. "Like, 'How are you using your talent? Who is God in your life? Why are you playing the stereotype of Latinos instead of using your talents to do something positive?'"
Verástegui says that after six months of conversations, "I realized she was right and I was wrong. I realized that the reasons I went into this career were very superficial reasons, because I was superficial too. I had started out at 18, and I was just seduced by the entertainment environment, by the fame and the money.
"We [Latinos] have been stereotyped in movies as banditos, drunkards, prostitutes, criminals. And if you're good looking, then you're a Casanova, a womanizer, and a liar. And that's the person I had become. But this woman opened my eyes to the grace of God."
Verástegui clearly remembers the day that "God changed my heart and I had to repent of my past. And from that day on, I promised that I would never do anything that will offend God or my Latino heritage. I would never do anything to compromise my faith. That's the moment I realized that the purpose of my life was to know and to love God."