OTTAWA, Canada (CCN) – If the story of the rich young man from the Gospel of Matthew had a sequel updated for modern times, it might resemble the life of actor Eduardo Verastegui, a Catholic who stars in the new film “Bella.”
In the gospel account, a rich young man asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to sell all he has and follow him, but the man goes away sorrowful because he had great wealth.
In the modern day sequel, the Verastegui, a rich young man, does sell all he has and is prepared to give up his budding acting career to follow Christ.
Verastegui had reached the zenith of Mexican celebrity as a soap opera star and singer who had toured at least 13 countries to sold-out concerts. He’d appeared as Jennifer Lopez’s love interest in her popular music video “Ain’t it Funny.” His growing Hollywood television and movie credits included the starring role in the 20th Century Fox movie “Chasing Papi” and a co-starring role in the independent film “Meet Me in Miami.” He’d been listed as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world in People en Español.
In Los Angeles, while studying English, he found himself drawn to a deeper faith in Christ through his devout Catholic teacher. He began to see all the reasons he had wanted to be an actor – fame, money and pleasure – as empty and vain.
He realized he’d been typecast into portraying the unfaithful, lying Latin lover and playing those parts promoted negative stereotypes. The media portrayal of Hispanics in general demeaned both men and women, resembling nothing like the dignity and beauty of his mother and sisters in Mexico.
He understood he had hurt people through the work he had done and the messages in his movies were “poisoning society.”
“It broke my heart,” the actor told the annual Rose Dinner in Ottawa May 10, following the 10th annual March for Life in Ottawa. “I realized I had offended God.” He said he spent “many months in tears.”
Deeply influenced by Scott and Kimberly Hahn’s Rome Sweet Home, Verastegui sold his possessions, wondering if God was calling him to be a priest, perhaps in the jungles of South America. His spiritual advisor, however, told him: “Hollywood is a bigger jungle.”
He vowed to refuse parts unless they affirmed life and human dignity. For three years, he went without work, because all the parts offered him involved the “same negative stereotypes.”
“We are not called to be successful, we are called to be faithful,” Verastegui said to the sold-out crowd of 1,000. “I wasn’t born to be famous, or rich, I was born to know and love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.
Then in 2004, he met movie producer Leo Severino while attending daily Mass.
Severino, who also spoke at the dinner, returned to the Catholic faith in 1999 through reading Christian apologetics. He began attending daily Mass, but he found most of the other churchgoers were “gray hairs cramming for their final exam.”
Younger Christians like himself were scarce in the mostly anti-religious world of Hollywood.
Then one day he noticed another young man who was standing next to a life-sized statue of Jesus, his hand on the sacred heart, his head bowed in prayer. Severino soon discovered: “This guy’s the Brad Pitt of Mexico.”
Not long after their providential meeting, Verastegui and Severino co-founded Metanoia films with some like-minded people who had also gained their movie-making and acting chops in Hollywood. They intend to produce movies that could change lives and hearts. “Bella” is Metanoia’s first.
Set for limited release in the United States in August, “Bella” won the coveted People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival last fall. This festival rivals Cannes in size and star power.
Severino said the award showed them, “God is bigger than Toronto.”
The award began opening doors for the film, though Metanoia still needs to find a distributor for wide release. Bella will open in selected U.S. cities in August.
Severino said the media, especially film and television, are “shaping our culture.” He noted how the movie “Million Dollar Baby” promoted euthanasia and “Cider House Rules” glorified abortion. Natural Born Killers influenced the Virginia Tech shooter, he said.
“Art and morality go hand in hand,” he said, urging the many young people present to guard their eyes and ears and their innocence. “God does not use evil means,” he said.
Rose Dinner attendees were invited to screen Bella. Many leapt to their feet, tears in their eyes, as the credits rolled. The lean script co-written by director and Metanoia co-founder Alejandro Monteverde contains nothing overtly religious or preachy. Beautifully acted, with especially strong performances from Verastegui and female lead Tammy Blanchard, the movie affirms life and family in ways Metanoia Films hopes will appeal to a general audience. Full of compassion, tenderness and love, the movie reveals the power of film when Catholics full of God’s love use their hard-earned skills to do something beautiful for God.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Canadian Catholic News Service.
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