LOS CABOS, Mexico — Is Luis Gerardo Méndez, star of blockbusting movie “The Noble Family,” doing a Diego? Certainly, he’s alternating nights in the same role as Diego Luna in the Mexico City stage play “Privacidad.”
He also looks poised to build his career in the U.S. while leveraging his fame to get movies made and seen from his native Mexico.
It’s the right move at the right time. Counting his voiceover in the stunning “Mountain,” Willem Defoe might have had one more movie – three – playing at last week’s Los Cabos, which closed Sunday. But this has been Luis Gerardo Méndez’s festival. On Wednesday, the actor, who is represented by Paradigm, appeared in a rough-cut of Kyzza Terrazas’ “Bayoneta,” playing a Mexican boxer seeking a comeback and redemption in the snowy woods and industrial sprawl of Finland. A buzz title in the Los Cabos’ Work in Progress, “Bayoneta” went on to share its Labo Award, adjudicated by one of the Mexico’s biggest service companies.
A few days later, a queue snaked out of Los Cabos Cinemex Puerto Paraíso down to the shopping mall’s escalators to catch Mendez in the world premiere of “Road To Mars,” a road movie come love story set in Baja California as a hurricane threatens the peninsula. Televisa’s big play for December, “Road to Mars” won Los Cabos’ Audience Award, its most important plaudit in industrial terms.
Meanwhile, buzz is building on dramedy “Tiempo compartido,” from Sebastian Hofmann (“Halley”) and cowriter Julio Chavesmontes, where Mendez portrays a control freak husband to a woman sunk in deep depression after the birth of a child. The film, he says, is “painfully funny.”
Mendez is already one of Mexico’s most famous faces after Gaz Alazraki’s “The Noble Family,” Mendez’s breakout movie, where he plays the feckless son of a millionaire who thinks his brood should be taught a life-lesson. “Club of Crows,” Netflix’s first Latin American original series, proved his consecration.
“I started as a dramatic theater actor. With ‘Club of Crows, ’ I realized I was going to spend a lot of time doing comedy, so I began searching for films that went in a different direction.”
But he suffered “huge crisis,” only receiving offers for “films that were good but always for the same role: the lead funny guy.” He didn’t shoot a film for nearly two years.
So “when ‘Road to Mars’ came along, I thought: ‘This is the beginning of the trip I want to take.’”
The challenges of “Road to Mars” and “Bayoneta” are diametrically opposite. In the first, Méndez plays a science-fiction writer who, hit by what might be freak lightning, comes to believe he is the emissary of an alien race. Or he might just be an alien. Either way, nobody seems to have told his character that humankind generally hides its emotions. His facial expressions are multiple and transparent.
In “Bayoneta,” by contrast, his boxer is “highly emotional.” It’s also an immensely physical role. Preparing for the role, Méndez trained with César Chavez’s sparring partner, didn’t drink for five months. Yet the characters’ deep sense of guilt, is caught more by flashbacks and scenes of hallucination. Facially, his pain is only seen in his soulful eyes.
Slim in real life, he’s effete in “The Noble Family,” ribbed in “Bayoneta,” bulked up in “Road to Mars.”
“Road to Mars” “is one of the most-challenging roles in his career. It’s a perfect amalgam,” said Maru Garzón, Los Cabos director of programming. She added: “Méndez goes on putting in excellent performances making commercial movies but he hasn’t given up on another riskier type of cinema either.”
Mendez’s career now looks set to cut various ways. Part will happen in the U.S., where Méndez has a studio film in English. He will also play a “really famous Latin American figure” in a Spanish-language TV series.
The former face of Pepsi who now works with Verizon for the U.S. Hispanic market, he will also help films get made. “I see myself ever less as an actor waiting for the phone to ring. I’m always searching for stories to tell and if I can help the producers or directors to make films I am really passionate about, then I will.” On “Bayoneta,” Méndez takes an executive producer credit.
Then there’s direction. He has already directed two episodes of Netflix’s “Club of Crows,” would like to direct more. “My favorite thing in the world is working with actors. I love my colleagues, especially theater. If you have a good cinematographer, as I did on ‘Club of Crows,’ then you trust him and directing is being with the actors.”
Modestly, he claims to be, as a director, “only 7% there.” As an actor, he certainly has his fans, however. Audiences at the Los Cabos’ world premiere were “fascinated” by his character, said Garzón.
“Luis Gerardo Méndez is a talent in capital letters, an unmitigated professional and a human being in the best sense of the phrase,” said Leonardo Zimbrón, his producer on “The Noble Family” and “Club of Crows.”
Méndez now aims to take his career to the next level.