Alfonso Herrera is on top of the world these days. When the actor hops on Zoom on a Monday afternoon in April, he is inspired and focused — ready to talk about the exciting leaps his career has been taking in recent months. Of course, he already has a huge following in Mexico — he was born in Mexico City — but is now gaining a new audience of fans in America, as he currently stars as Javi Elizondro in the final season of the Netflix hit series Ozark.
Herrera, who took the interview from his home in Mexico City, remembers receiving a call from his agent about auditioning for the three-time Emmy-award winning drama, which debuted in 2017. He immediately jumped at the possibility. “It was a great opportunity, and four days later I did the audition via Zoom. I said to myself, ‘This is an amazing show. Alfonso, don’t f**k it up.’ A few days later I received the good news,” the 38-year-old exclusively told GRAZIA Gazette: F1 Miami about nabbing the coveted role.
From the get-go, Herrera — a “huge fan” of the series which centers on the Byrde family and its dealings with the Navarro drug empire — felt like his fellow castmates Jason Bateman, Laura Linney and Julia Garner were instantly family, despite him being the outsider. “They have such an amount of power in the industry, but they use their power in such a respectful and in a very caring way,” he noted. “Being part of that was incredible.”
Herrera’s character Javi, the nephew of drug cartel leader Omar Navarro, is dangerous and dark, and though many of the characters on the action series are similarly malicious, the Hollywood star understands Javi is seen as the main villain. Although, he does a soft spot for him — and so do many Ozark fans.
“I have to defend this guy, and I tried to defend him when I am on set as he’s had a rough life,” he explained. “Why? Because he is not accepted in his family; he is not accepted with the Byrdes; he is not accepted in any single space. So, there is a lot of rejection towards him. He understands that and he likes to, in a certain way, acknowledge that, and he likes to have fun with it. He is very straightforward. He never lies.”
Fortunately for the Queen of the South alum, the scripts are so well-written, all he has to do is dig in. “I have the possibility of constructing these little pieces that could make sense,” he said of forming the gritty character, who finds himself facing off against Marty and Wendy Bryde in Season 4.
Interestingly, Herrera has a unique way of preparing himself for challenging roles: watching soccer documentaries and Formula 1 races. Getting lost in the competition puts him in the right mindset to play complicated figures. While playing this type of character may be hard to escape, Herrera doesn’t have any problem disconnecting himself from Javi. “I think that is our job, and we need to understand that we need to put the mask on and then afterwards we have to take it off,” he explained. “That is how we need to do it, and I don’t struggle that much.”
Herrera has now arrived at a place where he’s earning accolades — but that wasn’t always the plan. In fact, he originally had a totally different vision of his future: aviation. Growing up, Herrera moved to Guadalajara, but he shuffled back and forth between there and Mexico City since his father lived in the bustling capital. After flying back and forth, he thought becoming a pilot could be his calling.
“I was going to study commercial aviation in a school in San Antonio, Texas, but when I was in high school, I acted in a number of plays,” he said, adding that he fell in love with the stage. “I became a huge fan and one of my friends — whose father is a very important movie director here in Mexico — invited me for an audition. I got the role and I said, ‘Great! After that, I am going to go study aviation.’ But I was invited to do an audition for a TV show here in Mexico, and I got the part.” Long story short: Herrera made it big.
A man of many talents, Herrera joined the cast of a telenovela called Rebelde, in which he and five others started a Mexican band called RBD. The series only last three seasons, but the group went on to tour off-screen and released six studio albums.
“What I loved about that time was going between acting and being on stage performing. I feel very proud of that project. People are so engaged with that telenovela still to this day. It’s something that I am going to be grateful for until I die,” he said.
“I will always feel grateful for the fans of the show,” he continued. “There are now people from all over Latin America and Mexico who know me, so that is something that I will always treasure.”
Unfortunately, Herrera is done with music for the foreseeable future, as he is “very happy with where I am going right now.” And, if you’re wondering, it sounds like piloting is out of the question. “I am 38 years old. I don’t have the sight of a 20-year-old,” he quipped. “I think that destiny in a certain way played its role, and I feel very fortunate with what I have right now. I feel very lucky and grateful.”
Now that Herrera, who has two sons, Daniel and Nicholás, is making headlines around the globe, he is proud to represent Latinos. “I have gotten amazing feedback,” he said. “I love working on the stage, and it means that you have more time to create the process and to be more specific with the character, and I would love to carry on doing that.”
As a Latino in Hollywood, Herrera has already had a unique path, and he admits that there are many others who have paved the way for him, so the “terrain is a bit more solid and less bumpy” for those wanting to break out in the industry. “The only thing I can do is try and be loyal to what I do, try to be respectful, try to be truthful and hopefully that will create an echo to many other Latinos to keep on working,” he said.
“What I can say is that there are more possibilities for working in the United States, and there are also many other possibilities for work here in Latin America and that is something that I am going to carry on doing. I love working in my country, and I love working in Latin America because you need to understand where your roots are. At the same time, it’s a huge gift to now have the possibility to work in many other places.”
From Ozark to Sense8 and Dance of the 41, the former singer feels blessed to be able to “walk the walk a little bit longer” in Hollywood and to take on more roles. Herrera has previously tackled biographies, and it’s something he absolutely loves diving into — so much so, he hopes to portray late Mexican boxer Salvador “Sal” Sánchez one day, as he has an affinity towards him and believes if he were still alive to this day, he “probably would have been one of the greatest boxers of all time.”
Clearly, Herrera is connecting with his audiences. Case in point: He won Best Actor at Mexico’s Ariel Awards (the equivalent of an Oscar) in 2021 for his role in Dance of the 41. When asked what he would do if he won an Oscar one day, he replied, “I have no idea, but I am very fortunate to just tell stories — that is my only goal.”
But, he added, “I will say that winning an Oscar would be a very interesting sign that things are going in the right way and obviously having the recognition of your colleagues is something important to me, and I treat with respect.”
Herrera doesn’t have any bucket list items, but he concludes our interview with one thought: “One time I was asked about what the best gift or the best award is that an actor could have, and I always said, ‘to keep on working and to keep on walking.’ In this profession, things can be a bit harsh. In Mexico, we say you go where the circus opens and you have to go from one circus to another. I feel very lucky to have a job right now, to have projects that I can talk about. So, that is my main goal: to have a long-lasting career. Additionally, to grow old and still be doing what I love the most and telling stories — that is my dream.”
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