INTERVIEW: Netflix’s Narcos: Mexico Star Alberto Zeni

Pic by Bobby Quillard

How were you drawn into the world of acting?

Originally, I started in music. I wanted to be an R&B singer. I had a few groups and played in events; I even released an album that was on the radio for a couple of weeks. That was the full extent of my professional singing career. LOL. But then I got invited to audition for The Sound of Music, the musical. And then I fell in love with the theater. Shortly after I got a scholarship to move to Mexico City and train under some of the best teachers in all of Mexico, and it was there that acting became my first everything.

Was it easy for you to jump into this world or did you have any second thoughts throughout the journey?

Well, since I started when I was 14 years old, it wasn’t much of a struggle to continue on this line. I did give myself a year, after finishing my engineering degree, to go into entertainment and see if it was really what I wanted to do with my life. Before that year, I had already moved cities and being on television a handful of times, so… I guess it stuck.

What would you say the biggest lesson your learned was, while on the set of the telenovelas such as “Hoy Soy Nadie,” “Trillizas de Colores,” “Bajo el Alma,” “XY. La Revista”?

The biggest lesson I have had from working all of these projects is, if you don’t have fun, what the heck are you doing. All of these, independently, gave me incredible experiences and lifelong friendships. I love them all.

We know Telenovelas have a very specific brand, so was it easy to jump from this to the much natural nature of Hollywood?

It was not, as an actor we have to understand the media we are working on. Each network has a different tone and feel, each medium has a different approach, tv vs. film, multi-cam comedy vs single-cam, ABC vs Netflix. They all have something interesting to add and a specific way to work, and it is our job as actors to know where we are and how to approach it. That is not a given, you either train for it, or you learn by doing it if you are lucky enough to have that diversity of work. So, I learned.

Let’s talk about Narcos: Mexico – what was the audition process like?

Oh, man. That was something. It only took me… let’s see, FIVE YEARS! to get the role. I auditioned 7 times for the show. I obviously liked the show and I admired the way they were doing things and the quality of the production. It was something I truly wanted to do. So, I kept coming back until I got it. It has been quite a trip.

As part of the DEA squad did you get to do some research on real people, or did you have to come up with inspiration from what you were given by the writers?

Absolutely. I did tons of research. I read a lot of things of what the DEA was doing in those initial days. I read on what happened after Agent Camarena got murdered. I watched documentaries, films and anything I could get my hands on. Everything was important to create someone three-dimensional.

With a precedent made on the seasons of Narcos leading up to the first season of Narcos: Mexico – how much and what did you get to focus on during the research process?

I read a lot about the operations happening in those days. How agents would operate, talk and develop strategies. It was more about the overall feel, that any particulars at that point.

What would you say was the benefit of growing up in Mexico that might have helped prepare you for this role?

As a kid, I got to hear many of these stories from people in the city. It was a very loud secret. Everybody knew of someone, but no one knew really. I never saw any violence, or any of the facts portrayed on the show. That was not my childhood at all. Nevertheless, there was an aura of the underworld between the government and these organizations one could perceive from our parent’s conversations.

What was the most challenging aspect of playing Amat?

In the end, I didn’t have to portray anybody based on a historic person, which gave me a lot of freedom to create what I wanted in regard to Amat (my character). One of the main things I thought of was how people physically moved back then. I thought of my dad and how he dressed and moved, and to be honest, I look a lot like him on the show. The biggest challenge I will say was to be an inherently violent man. That is the farthest you can get from who I am as a person.

What else is happening next in Alberto Zeni’s world?

Well, Jesse Garcia (also on Narcos) and myself are developing an action comedy tv show that we’ll be pitching to different outlets soon. With another group we are prepping the launch of a crowdfunding social media platform to help fund independent projects in different industries, that is called MeThere. And there is a couple feature films for the middle of 2020 in the works.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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