Interview: Alberto Zeni Talks Acting, ‘Narcos: Mexico’March 9, 2020
Recently we had the chance to talk with Alberto Zeni about his acting career, including his role on the Netflix show Narcos: Mexico.
So was acting something you always wanted to do or did that interest come later on?
Alberto: Actually, when I was a kid I wanted to be an inventor. It was one of those things in the late eighties where you saw a movie with kids in it and they had all these gadgets and I got inspired by that. I started fiddling around with things and ended up disarming my dad’s car stereo, he wasn’t very happy with that but he let me do it anyway. I was always curious about what was inside the equipment, how things worked, so that was what I wanted to do when I was a kid. Eventually, music became part of my life and I started singing, I released an album, I was dancing and doing all these shows and then I got invited to do musical theater and that’s where I fell in love with acting. From there it just snowballed, I got invited to Mexico City with a scholarship for school, I got training, started doing television, film, and acting became the number one thing in my life.
Do you think your background in music has helped your acting career?
Alberto: I think so, yeah. It gave me a certain ease to be on stage, to be heard and just to perform. It’s quite different to perform as a singer and dancer as opposed to an actor. The usage of elements around you is very different but being on stage gave me the confidence to be in front of a camera and do what I like to do.
You mentioned you’ve done work in film and television. Do you have a favorite medium to work in or do you simply go where the work takes you?
Alberto: I think I simply go where the work takes me. Everything is so enjoyable if you make it enjoyable and the fact that I have worked in so many different things, it enables me to do more of that fun stuff. Doing television in Mexico is not the same as here in the States, it’s different doing work for a streaming service as opposed to a studio, the styles and tones are simply different. That creates a whole array of opportunities and if you do film, some directors are more extroverted, they want things bigger and others, they want things internal, everything’s got to be through your eyes, so I guess every single time is an opportunity to have fun with something new or re-explore something that I’ve done before.
Television is enjoying a new golden age these days with all the streaming services such as Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, etc. As an actor, has this opened more doors for you or is it simply another avenue for you to explore?
Alberto: No, it’s definitely opening doors, for sure. There are so many more projects now and even though that means more competition, possibly competing with people you didn’t compete with before all over the world, there are simply so many more opportunities now, new platforms, new ways to tell stories. It’s a great opportunity for someone like me, who has been around for so long, to also put in the work as a producer and develop content. As an actor, it is a great time because of the kind of projects they are putting out, they are so diverse and it’s way more fun. Now I have all these different stories and all these different outlets, it’s just more to play with. Just take Narcos for example…I can tell you, the experience of being on set, where everything is practical on set, you are immersed in that world, it’s fascinating because it’s so real is so easy to fall into that fiction because I’m surrounded by it. It’s probably the best project I’ve worked on in my life.
How did you end up landing your role in Narcos: Mexico?
Alberto: I auditioned…many, many times. (laughs) I auditioned seven times, in fact, I’ve been auditioning for Narcos since the first season, all sorts of characters, from guest stars to regular roles to some of the tough people in the story and after the seventh time I got the gig. They said well, we were just waiting for the right role for you, we’ve watched you since the beginning and had you in mind but there were no possibilities, but finally, they had a role for me and I got the job. When I got the news I was so thrilled, I was out of my mind, I was so happy. I had been following the show for so long, auditioning for so long, and had seen some of my best friends get on the show and I see the quality of the show, I see how people react to it, that it’s so much fun, so finally getting on the show…it’s been one of the most incredible experiences of my career.
What did you enjoy the most about Narcos? Was it the script, the character or just the overall experience of being on the show?
Alberto: Oh, I’d have to say everything. One of the things I can say was the most challenging and rewarding was speaking English. This is my first TV show speaking English, although I had done one movie and one single show in English, this was my first time doing an entire TV show in English, well, I’d say ninety percent in English. I was a little intimidated, working with so many Americans, and the way I’m speaking right now to you in English, that’s been years in the making. I wasn’t sure if I was at the level I needed to be at in terms of my English but once I got to set and everyone was so welcoming, we became a family right from the get-go, it was very easy to just do what I do. I’ve been an actor for over twenty years so that’s what I needed to do, I needed to be myself, do what I needed to do and forget about the English part of it and once I did that it was very enjoyable and fascinating.
The talent involved in Narcos, both in front of and behind the camera, is outstanding. As an actor, did this help push you to another level?
Alberto: Oh yeah, absolutely. Once I got comfortable with these guys it was all about learning, growing and studying and I am someone who loves studying, I love to learn new things. I speak five languages, I’m learning a sixth right now, and I love to learn from someone who’s work I’ve admired, and that’s exactly what happened with Narcos. Everybody in front of and behind the camera, the writing, the running of the show, every single person was so dedicated, patient and focused on creating the best possible show. Obviously I learned a few things about acting but also producing a show that big, establishing connections between people because at the end of the day the heads of the departments are the ones who set the tone and they did an amazing job, I am a huge admirer of how that show was run.
You’ve done a bit of directing. Has working on a show like Narcos spurred your interest in terms of doing more work behind the camera?
Alberto: Yeah, I’ve been directing for a few years now. I’ve done a few commercials and a pilot I developed with a friend of mine. I’m always open to the possibility of directing something new, short films, features, whatever, that’s a lot of fun. Once I started doing that behind the scenes thing, producing, directing, for a few years now, that’s when I began to understand acting better. It was not only about the performance but the efficiency of how you do that performance, how prepared you are when you come to the set, how much you’ve been listening when directions are being given. Working on Narcos, watching how professional they were, how prepared and helpful…yeah, that definitely helps my interest in terms of wanting to direct more.
So what other projects do you have coming up?
Alberto: There is a feature film that I think is going to be released this week or next week on Amazon and all the VOD platforms, it’s called I Am Fear, it’s a horror movie. There’s another feature, an indie feature film, black and white, very artsy, and it’s out in the festivals now and it’s called Love is Not Love. I’m also developing a TV show with Jessie Garcia, it’s an action-comedy and we’re working on it right now. I also have another project I’m creating, a social media for a crowdfunding platform. The whole idea is people who do innovation, in whatever field, whatever industry, they’re going to be able to start creating content around their innovation and they are going to get funded by the community. We’re going to get into entertainment, gaming, sports, music, fashion, cooking, all the industries are going to be involved. The whole point is to start to empower people to do that innovation, get rid of the excuses of why not do something, just do it and live the life you want to live.
I want to thank Alberto for taking the time to talk with us.