Mello made his name on screen in Brazil in films like “Lisbela and the Prisoner” and “To the Left of the Father,” and then moved into writing, directing and producing his own projects. His second directorial feature, “The Clown,” Brazil’s Oscar submission, earned one of highest grosses for an art film in recent years in Brazil. His third directorial outing, the well-reviewed “The Movie of My Life,” starred “Black Swan’s” Vincent Cassel.
His U.S. debut will be behind the camera, for a story he says he fell in love with on his first read, more than four years ago. “Cathedral City,” penned by John Newman is about a musician who discovers his late father’s secret life. It will be produced by Paul Schiff and his company Paul Schiff Productions, and Tai Duncan at Zero Gravity, the company behind Netflix originals “Ozark” and “Beasts of No Nation.”
As an actor, Mello is also starring in the upcoming Netflix series “The Mechanism,” from “Narcos” creator José Padilha. Mello plays retired federal police deputy Marco Ruffo in a fictional drama loosely based on the investigation of allegations of major political corruption involving state and privately owned oil and construction companies in Brazil.
The series is produced by Padilha’s award-winning Zazen Productions. The company previously produced one of Brazil’s record holders in ticket sales and revenues, “Elite Squad.”
Mello’s film “Soundtrack,” which also features “City of God” alum Seu Jorge and Ralph Ineson from “The Witch,” will screen at Guadalajara, Panama and the Brazilian Film Festival of Paris. “The Mechanism” premieres on Netflix worldwide on March 23; work on “Cathedral City” is underway.
In addition to the announcement of “Cathedral City,” Mello also talked with Variety about working with Netflix, making the move to Hollywood, and how he fits it all into 24-hour days.
“Cathedral City” is your first move into American cinema, and you will be working behind the camera. How did your involvement come about?
I’m very excited that “Cathedral City” is going to be my first movie in the U.S. as a director! I had a meeting with Tai, and we were looking for something to do together. He gave me this script to read so I could see his films in development and I was enchanted with the story. But it never left my head. Recently Tai and Paul watched my latest film, “The Movie of My Life,” and they really liked my work so they offered me to direct.
Can you talk a bit about the story?
The film presents Glenn Kovelsky, a quick-witted but spectacularly self-destructive musician. One day, he finds out that he wasn’t invited to his father’s funeral and all hell breaks loose. But, after Glenn discovers the old man had a secret life in Cathedral City, a hilarious and moving journey begins in which the father’s past threatens to turn Glenn’s world upside down. In the middle of all this, he will find what was missing in his life: true love, through a lovely girl, Andy.
What particularly charmed you about the script?
All the elements I enjoy in a movie are there: the humanity of the characters, an amazing plot, fun but absolutely touching, and a chance to present on-screen characters you’d like to meet in person. At the end of the day, it’s a story of people like us, with their dreams, delusions and wishes.
Recently major stars from Latin America have made inroads into the American film and TV industries, while American companies like Netflix and Amazon have looked towards Central and South America for new content. You are now taking advantage of both these phenomena. Can you talk a bit about this increased globalization of these industries, and where you see yourself fitting into it?
I feel privileged to be part of a moment where people are interested in meeting talents from various parts of the world. I am represented in the U.S. by Danielle Robinson of Alan Siegel Entertainment, and Franklin Latt, Jack Wigham and Matt Martin of CAA. The idea of our group is to develop in the U.S. what I have already done in Brazil for more than 30 years: to act, direct and write, and to continue searching for stories that touch the audience, be it in the movies, on TV, or in streaming.
For “The Mechanism” the talent involved is world class. Can you talk about working with José Padilha and Elena Soarez?
Jose Padilha and I have been trying to do something together for a long time, and we finally combined our creative ideas. After “Narcos,” I’m sure the public is thirsty for something new from him. I’m a big fan of Netflix, too, a frequent watcher of all those fantastic series.
Elena is one of the biggest Brazilian screenwriters, and I knew she would write an incredible story. So then we create this lead character full of layers of understanding: Marco Ruffo, a retired police chief outraged by injustice. He’s a guy who does not settle for the state of things and tries to fight.
You’ve got two movies touring the world, you’re acting in a Netflix series, you are going to direct “Cathedral City” and you also write. How do you fit so much into the same 24 hours the rest of us have to work with?
Ha ha. Well, I sleep little, and during the day I’m always dreaming. I think that explains my creative energy.