Diego Boneta

Leigh Kelly
Leigh Kelly

Boneta in Luis Miguel

Fill 1
Fill 1
September 15, 2021
Online Originals

Crossing the Divide

Expertly navigating his cross-cultural heritage is Diego Boneta’s superpower

Hillary Atkin

From child singing star in Mexico to working alongside Tom Cruise and taking pointers from Jamie Foxx for a headlining role, Diego Boneta is now making his mark as a Hollywood producer.

Very few performers have a backstory as unique as Diego Andrés González Boneta, currently in production on an all-Latinx version of Father of the Bride with Andy Garcia and Gloria Estefan and star of Luis Miguel: La Serie, the popular Netflix series based on the life of Mexican singing superstar Luis Miguel.

Born in Mexico City to an American mother from Detroit with Puerto Rican and Spanish bloodlines and a Mexican father, both of whom were engineers, Boneta found early success singing in one of the country's reality competition television shows for kids, Código F.A.M.A.

In 2005, he was cast in a teen-oriented telenovela, Rebelde, centered on a band that he played in, which enabled him to perform his original songs on the show. During the show's run, he released a popular solo album, Diego, which spawned a Top 10 single, "Responde."

But when Rebelde ended, the teen idol found himself at a crossroads — unable to get cast in Mexican projects because he was considered to be too "gringo."

After his family moved to Los Angeles seeking a better future when he was 16, Boneta ran into the opposite problem — being considered too Mexican to play mainstream roles.

Circumstances changed when he began booking recurring roles on television shows like 90210 and Pretty Little Liars.

In 2012, Boneta won the role of Detroit-bred rocker Drew Boley in Rock of Ages, starring alongside Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta Jones and Paul Giamatti. He performed nearly a dozen songs in the big screen adaptation of the Broadway hit.

Less than a decade later, he took on the mantle of portraying Luis Miguel — a Grammy-winning musical icon and vocal legend regarded by many as Mexico's latter-day equivalent of Frank Sinatra — a singer now in his early 50s who has sold millions of albums and is actively touring.

Produced not simply with Miguel's authorization but with his active participation, Luis Miguel: La Serie premiered in April 2018 on Telemundo and Netflix. The series dropped its second season on Netflix this past spring. A third and final multi-episode installment will premiere next year.

Young actors Izan Llunas and Luis de la Rosa portray Miguel as a child and young teenager; Boneta takes over in the singer's late teens, when he was already famous throughout Latin America as El Sol de Mexico — the Sun of Mexico.

Most crucially for the series, Boneta sings all of Miguel's songs, which required months of studying his technique, learning from the performer himself and working intensely with a vocal coach.

We spoke to Boneta by phone from the Atlanta location shoot of Father of the Bride.

Congratulations on Season 2 of Luis Miguel: La Serie. Tell us the backstory of how this show came to fruition.

One of my producing partners was listening to Luis Miguel and said we should do a movie about his life. We started working on a movie in 2016, but someone had beat us — Mark Burnett, whom I had worked with on The Dovekeepers.

About four months later, I got a call from Mark and [his wife and producing partner] Roma [Downey] asking if I knew Luis. It was a crazy coincidence. I start telling them how I wanted to do the movie, and had access to people who worked with him and knew him. Mark said, "I want you play him, and we don't have a script, but let's do this together." He introduced me to the whole team, and I was essentially part of it just months after having acquired Luis's life rights.

Once I became attached, they invited me to produce, which was flattering. One of the biggest questions was should I sing the songs or not? "I'm not sure if I can," I thought. Luis Miguel is known to be one of the best singers of all time, with a vocal range equivalent to Freddie Mercury, able to sing high notes with levels of potency. I said, "I want to try."

How did you prepare to sing Luis Miguel's songs?

I went back to vocal coach Ron Anderson, who worked on Rock of Ages and also with Journey and Foreigner — he's been doing it for decades. I said I wanted to sound like Luis Miguel. He said, "Never in my life have I had to coach a singer to sound like someone else." I knew it was the biggest risk. This singer is alive, relevant, touring, and it's so easy to go on YouTube and see that.

I had started vocal lessons when I was eight years old. I just loved it, and I wasn't great, but I wanted to improve. Ron was key in learning how to change the vibrato, cadence, rhythm and placement. We had to go song by song, phrase by phrase in getting it as close as possible. Meanwhile, on the acting side, I hadn't done anything in Spanish in 10 years.

What were the biggest challenges of stepping into Luis's shoes and performing as he did?

It was the first time I was playing someone alive. I knew the most important part of everything was the preparation and to be in the moment, but 100 percent prepared.

I worked with an acting coach, Juan Carlos Corazza, who lives in Madrid. I went to Spain for a couple months and worked on becoming Luis Miguel. "It's not an imitation," he said. "You have to become him."

Jamie Foxx also helped me a lot. His work in Ray is an inspiration. "My advice is do everything," he said. Every set decoration picture, it was of me. We would re-create everything so it doesn't snap you out of it.

The relationships in this series are dramatic, starting with Luis's father, Luis Rey, played by Óscar Jaenada — who was also an executive producer in the first season. Every time he was on screen you knew something crazy was going to happen.

You know it. Season 1 was the story of the father and son, and we had to explain it. It was a tragic childhood for Luis — Micky, as he was known in his family. He has a love-hate relationship with his father, the dad who killed the human being who birthed him.

Óscar and I have become super close, and I had been following him since [the 2014 film] Cantinflas. We both wanted the best quality — not a novela — and to have this feel of an American format. Working with him was a learning experience.

Talk about Micky's relationship with his mother, whose disappearance in 1986 becomes the focus of the story as time goes on. Do you have a theory of what happened to her?

It's suggested that she was killed. It's weird to talk about, because he's kept it so private for decades. The tragedy shapes what he becomes throughout the series. That's the catalyst. Season 2 is how he managed after he found out what happened to his mom. It's a very hard pill to swallow.

What happened is very tragic. How he managed and what he did with that information — having his managers and the record company not say the truth because the fans wouldn't be able to accept that "the sun of Mexico" could also be the son of a murderer. That's really messed up.

I applaud and I empathize with his bravery in telling the story. He had the Mossad and the CIA looking for her and called in favors with the president of Mexico to help find her. It's powerful stuff, and I had to carry that.

The third and final season is on the way in 2022. What can you say about it?

My favorite part of Season 3 is that we tried to base it on Raging Bull — seeing Luis Miguel at his highest and lowest point, and from there how he managed to get of out that funk. It's darker. Season 3 was definitely the hardest. It is a key part of my process of creating two different characters in 2 and 3, with different body language.

I can't emphasize enough the best part of whole process was working with the whole dream team, working every week, polishing. That's why I love doing what I do.

You started performing as a kid and were on television at the age of 12 singing in front of 140,000 people. Then your family moved to the U.S. when you were a teenager. How did you get started in show business, and what were your biggest challenges?

I'm the oldest of three, and my parents were engineers. I started as a professional at 11, and my parents said I had to get good grades and that I had to have a backup plan. I was working Monday through Sunday with long hours, and a tutor was with me on set 24/7. I knew if I failed, it was over for me.

I started on a reality competition show, like an American Idol for kids, and sang a Luis Miguel song. The producer said, "If you want to be a star, you have sing, dance and act." I was in fifth place, so he put me in an acting workshop to sink or swim. I had no desire to act, but it was fun, and I fell in love with it and did a couple of kid telenovelas. It was me paying dues to release my first album at the age of 13.

Then, [producer] Pedro Damián wanted me to star in Rebelde, kind of like a Glee-meets-90210, and it broke all records. He said he needed a singer in this show. I said that all I want to do is promote my album. He said I could sing my songs on that show. I went on tour with RBD, the band from the show, and played the biggest venues in the world, including the L.A. Coliseum and soccer stadiums.

After that show, I really wanted to keep acting. But I couldn't get a single audition. My mom is American, and they said I was too gringo. Although I wanted to do Mexican films to cross over, instead it became, "Why don't I just move here [to Los Angeles]?" We did in the summer of 2007.

And then you got your first big movie role in 2012's Rock of Ages alongside Tom Cruise, whom you've said is a mentor to you.

I love Tom, and working with and learning from him was the highlight of the whole experience. He took me under his wings in a way no one's done. The second I started with him he was so humble, down-to-earth and nice. He suggested we should take lessons together with the same teacher and that it would be more fun.

We hung out and talked movies and everything, and he just really helped me so much. It was so generous of him to share what he's learned from previous experiences. He's just a class act and mentored me while we were shooting and I still consider him a mentor and hold deep respect and appreciation toward him.

Something else I learned during Rock of Ages is that humility is really engraved in him. He said something I've never forgotten: "People will remember how you made them feel." He remembered everyone's names on the crew, leading by example by being the hardest working person and thus upping everyone's game.

And not only Tom. It was a brilliant master class in acting with Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Each one is so talented and different and that was the coolest part — learning from all these actors I grew up idolizing and being able to work with them. I still can't believe it. That shoot was a blast in Miami during the summer of 2011. We all stayed in South Beach for six months. It was the best time of my life.

I owe thanks to [director] Adam Shankman for casting me. What was special was my character wasn't Latin, he was a white kid from Detroit. I had a lot of auditions. The whole process was nerve-wracking, but Adam just championed me the entire way through, and I'm so grateful. He was the one who fought for and believed in me.

Mexican directors like Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu have been riding a huge wave of success in Hollywood, but what about Mexican actors?

I'm in a weird positon because when I wanted to do Mexican movies to cross over [to the U.S. market], no casting director would audition me because I looked too American. After I moved to L.A., and for a very long time, I was told I was too Latin to play white and too white to play Latino. I was in this limbo.

My last name is González Boneta, and one casting director thought González was my middle name and called me in as Diego Boneta. It was the first audition where they didn't ask me how long I'd been in the States, because they assumed I was Italian American.

The industry has definitely changed for the better. There are more Latin characters and more attention paid to the Latin audience. Narcos was a landmark in Spanish, because they kept the language authentic. It was a huge game-changer.

What is the landscape like now?

There's definitely more opportunity. It's a great time to be a Latin actor today, although there's room to grow and improve, and I feel a huge difference. A big reason there's not more Latin and Mexican actors is they tend not to celebrate one another. The Australians helped and supported each other. With Mexican actors, that's not the case at all, and it comes from our culture.

I always said when I'm in a position to support other colleagues, I never want to be treated like I was. I'd like to form a community that will help each other out, and it will generate more work because there's so much talent in the Latin community in Hollywood, including writers, directors and showrunners.

For actors, the ultimate holy grail is you don't have to play Latin. Does anyone say, "The Australian Chris Hemsworth?" No, you should not have to explain it, and that's when I think there's going to be change.

You are in production now on Father of the Bride with Andy Garcia, Adria Arjona, Isabela Merced and Gloria Estefan. What can audiences expect from this all-Latin version?

What I love most is it's not just a remake with Latin talent. As [producer] Jeremy Kleiner said, this has to be a movie that stands on its own. It's not the same story. We're not in a Steve Martin movie.

I'm playing the groom. Adria's dad is Andy. As a Latin actor, he paved the road for a lot of us, and it's great to work with him. I love Gloria and have known her since Miami and Rock of Ages, when I also met Emilio, her husband. Adria has been incredible as well. Everyone is so involved and passionate. Isabela Merced is so talented, and we really had a blast.

The wedding centers on a Mexican family and a Cuban family. A lot of people think it's all the same, but that's such a huge misunderstanding. Yes, there are similarities with languages, but culturally it's very different. There's hasn't been a movie that addresses that, and that's something so cool and different, and it shines. It's a bold move because it's very clever.

The movie is very heartfelt and grounded and will make you laugh and cry. Gary Alazraki is directing this, and he's the best captain and it's been so much fun.

Your production company is called Three Amigos Productions. Who are the other two, and what do you have coming up?

My manager Josh Glick and Dave Bernon [are the other two "amigos"]. We started the company right after I got Luis Miguel. We had a meeting with Netflix, and they asked what's next in the pipeline — we said we have this great rom-com. They said, "Great, send the script," and Josh said, "What?"

We were literally up until 5 a.m. writing an outline for it.

We have other projects at Amazon, HBO and Apple, everything from an animated series to a limited series to a show with Robert Rodriguez. It took off in a very organic way. My sister Natalia just joined the company.

All of a sudden things are happening, thanks to success of Luis Miguel and the timing of the Latin market — which is perfect.

For more stories celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, click HERE

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