Is Diego Boneta Mexico’s Next Big Hollywood Star?

Diego Boneta, a rising Hollywood star, in Mexico City. Mr. Boneta is wearing Ermenegildo Zegna Couture.

The art tour kept getting interrupted. Diego Boneta, the sleepy-eyed charmer from shows including “Scream Queens” and “Pretty Little Liars,” was padding through the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, expounding on the sweeping murals by Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Well, he was trying to. Every 100 feet or so, a female fan — some were in their teens, others in their 50s — would cut in, diffidently asking for a selfie with this former teen idol from Mexico City.

“Diego, me regalas una foto?”

Each time, the stubble-faced singer and actor, looking Los Angeles casual in a rust-colored Ermenegildo Zegna sweater, jeans and Tom Ford sneakers, would amiably toss his arm around their shoulders, strike a cover-boy smile and punctuate the encounter with a gentle hug, looking every bit the conquering hero in his hometown.

After a decade in Hollywood, Mr. Boneta, a former telenovela star and Mexican pop singer, has ridden his hazel-eyed looks and star-spangled accent to a new status: an all-American heartthrob to watch.

After his Hollywood film debut as a Michigan-bred headbanger in the 2012 hair-metal musical “Rock of Ages,” alongside Tom Cruise, Mr. Boneta, 27, has three movies in the pipeline for this year, including “The Titan,” a science fiction thriller starring Sam Worthington.

And he just completed a nine-month shoot for his weightiest role yet, playing the title role in the highly anticipated big-budget mini-series “Luis Miguel, the Series,” from Telemundo and Netflix, which debuts on April 22.

The 13-episode show, an authorized biography of the Mexican superstar Luis Miguel (Latin America’s latter-day equivalent to Frank Sinatra), is an unflinching tell-all that serves up a series of bombshells from the tangled past of the fiercely private singer known as “El Sol de México.”

So is Mr. Boneta a Hollywood star in Mexico, or a Mexican star in Hollywood? And how does it still even matter?

“I don’t consider myself 50-50,” Mr. Boneta said. “I’m 100 percent Mexican and 100 percent American.”


On this balmy spring afternoon when the city was a sea of purple jacaranda blossoms, Mr. Boneta was still trying to decompress after an exhausting shoot in which, among other things, he was tasked with performing Luis Miguel’s famous vocal pyrotechnics himself. (“He’s belting high Cs in almost every single song,” Mr. Boneta said. “High Cs are what Pavarotti used to do.”)

To reacquaint himself with a city he moved away from at 16, Mr. Boneta decided to spend the day as a tourist, checking out the famous murals festooning the grand buildings of the Centro Histórico.

“I love, love, love, love history, and art,” Mr. Boneta said, pausing at top of the main staircase of the Palacio Nacional, the seat of Mexico’s federal executive branch, to ruminate on the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs in the 16th century, as depicted in the massive Diego Rivera mural “The History of Mexico,” which soared above him.

“When the Spaniards came to conquer Mexico, there were only 550 Spaniards,” Mr. Boneta said. “The Aztec city was the most populated city in the world back then, almost a million people. Five hundred fifty Spaniards did not conquer Mexico. It was because they allied with the other tribes that hated the Aztecs.”

“That’s how they conquered Mexico,” he said. “Mexicans conquered Mexico.”

In his own way, Mr. Boneta is hoping to do the same with “Luis Miguel.”

He’s mindful of how Mexico has been portrayed abroad. “Right now in the papers, you just read the negative stuff about Mexico,” Mr. Boneta said, of the country’s drug violence. “It really upsets me, because that’s not everything Mexico is.”

“That’s actually one of my favorite things about the show,” he said. “It’s the first big Latin show that doesn’t have anything to do with narcos. It’s a success story of the biggest Latin singer of all time.”

Taking a moment to reflect, Mr. Boneta said that it seemed vaguely cosmic to be talking about Luis Miguel at the palace. A short stroll away, Mr. Boneta said, he had first tasted fame at age 12, performing Luis Miguel’s “La Chica Del Bikini Azul” in front of 140,000 people in the vast public square known as El Zócalo for a Mexican equivalent of “Star Search.”

“Maybe I wasn’t the best singer, but I was a performer,” said Mr. Boneta, who was soon rocking stadiums and opening for Hilary Duff. “I loved performing for huge crowds. It’s like people jumping out of a plane to get that adrenaline rush.”

After the visit to the presidential palace, Mr. Boneta climbed back into an armored Chevrolet Suburban flanked by two bodyguards (a typical mode of travel for notables and the business elite in Mexico, he said) and headed for lunch at El Cardenal, a venerable restaurant nearby that offers traditional dishes like escamoles (fried ant larvae).

The actor smiled as he scooped a generous spoonful over guacamole to form a taco. “Mexican caviar,” he said. “Very buttery.”

Dangling around his neck was an escapulario (a gold religious medallion) that belonged to a grandfather he never met, Otto Boneta, who was a songwriter and a psychiatrist. (Pope Francis blessed the medallion, Mr. Boneta said, when he performed alongside others during a papal visit to Mexico City in 2016.)

The music gene, it seems, skipped generations. Mr. Boneta’s parents, Lauro González and Astrid Boneta, are engineers. (His younger siblings, Natalia and Santiago, are studying at Duke University.)

“I’m the black sheep,” he said.

Indeed, Mr. Boneta left school in fifth grade, and starred in a string of youth-oriented telenovelas, including “Alegrijes y Rebujos” and “Rebelde,” a “Glee”-style drama about a group of anthem-belting private school students. During his tenure on that show, Mr. Boneta also cut his first album, “Diego,” which included the hit single “Responde.”

(Looking to capitalize on his rising profile from “Scream Queens,” he released a bilingual EP in 2015 that included a Gene Vincent-style roots rocker single, “The Hurt,” sung in English.)

“There are no child labor laws here,” he said. “I was working Monday through Sunday, probably 17 to 18 hours a day sometimes. Christmas was a half-day off.”

When Mr. Boneta was 16, the family moved to Los Angeles, in part to be closer to Hollywood. While he found no shortage of work, he learned that there was not much of a pipeline for Mexican actors.

As the #OscarsSoWhite movement showed, many obstacles remain. While Latinos comprise 18 percent of the population of the United States, Latino actors account for only about 3 percent of the speaking roles in American films, according to a 2017 study released by the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg.

But Latino actors, he said, also lack a support network. “In Hollywood, I have a lot of Australian friends, and they’ll have their Aussie friends sleep on their couch,” he said. “I was in a movie with Sam Worthington, and he was telling me stories about how he had helped the Hemsworth brothers, and before that, Russell Crowe helped him. Same thing with the Brits — ‘the wider the door, the more we fit through.’ It’s a different mentality.”

On the positive side, three Mexican directors have won four out of five of the most recent Academy Awards for Best Picture: Alfonso Cuarón in 2013, Guillermo del Toro this year, and Alejandro G. Iñárritu two years in a row.

“The Mexican directors are killing it right now,” he said. “Mexican actors should be, too.”

It is an open question whether “Luis Miguel” will enhance Mr. Boneta’s Hollywood clout to the point that he brings along other Latino hopefuls in his wake.

Although the show is in Spanish, that is hardly a deal killer in the streaming landscape of 2018, where foreign shows like “Narcos” (bilingual, with subtitles) and “Dark,” (German, available with dubbed English or subtitles) have become binge-watch favorites for Americans on Netflix — a point likely not lost on the very Hollywood producer of “Luis Miguel,” Mark Burnett (“The Voice,” “Survivor”).

Luis Miguel himself has global appeal in Spain, Italy and even China, Mr. Boneta said, in addition to the sizable market in the United States. And the story is familiar turf to fans of no-holds-barred music biopics like “Walk the Line” and “Ray.”

“On the one side, you’ve got the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ party scenes,” Mr. Boneta said. “The fame, sex and the excess, the drugs, mixed with a really dark family drama.”

If nothing else, the meaty role promises to vault Mr. Boneta far beyond the teen-idol trap.

Looking ahead in his own career, Mr. Boneta said, he looks to Tom Cruise, who remains a mentor, as an inspiration.

“One of the best pieces of advice he gave me is, ‘Set your goal and work backward,’” Mr. Boneta said. “If you want to be a big action star, you have to learn how to ride motorcycles, fly planes and learn to do your own stunts.”

Come to think of it, “Diego Boneta, action star” has a nice ring to it. “A short-term goal that I have, and I know this may sound cheesy, is being the first Latin Marvel superhero, whose character isn’t necessarily Latin,” he said.

“Black Panther,” after all, already proved that a nonwhite superhero movie can attain blockbuster status.

“How about ‘Pantera Negra’?” he said with a smile.

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