An Interview with Alejandro Edda
Alejandro Edda is an actor known for his work on acclaimed series such as, Narcos: Mexico, Fear the Walking Dead, and The Bridge, as well as films including American Made and Cocaine Godmother. He also recently voiced Manny in The Last of Us video-game series. I spoke with Alejandro about his industry influences, the most challenging aspects of his work, working on American Made, and portraying El Chapo in Narcos: Mexico.
Did you always want to pursue a career in acting? I was that kid who would be dancing like Michael Jackson at weddings or family gatherings. I was always part of the school theater plays and festivities. I guess without thinking too much about it, I was always looking for a stage to be seen. I remember watching the movie "Chaplin" with Robert Downey Jr., where he plays Charlie Chaplin. I was probably 10 or 11 years old, I was in my grandmother’s bedroom and I watched it there. I think that movie made me understand a bit of the magic that goes into acting, to discover and create characters out of pure curiosity and imagination. That movie definitely planted something in me, as well as Downey’s performance. So, yes, pursuing a solid and healthy career I would consider my ultimate goal/dream.
Is there anyone in the industry who has really inspired you?
You can meet someone in person and be inspired or never meet them at all and also be moved by something they did or said. You and I for example have never met and perhaps after this interview there's some inspiration we can take from each other. I feel that my profession is filled with dreamers and achievers and there's inspiration everywhere. As an insecure actor, I'm always looking for moments or facts of inspiration, to help me grow and keep going. I've been blessed to have worked with outstanding professionals in every area, and I'm always inspired by every person who is present each day giving the best they can. My first TV credit was for the series "The Bridge" by FX, I remember meeting Thomas M. Wright. He kindly invited me to eat lunch at his trailer and we talked about movies and books, I was surprised by his down to earth persona, giving the fact that he was one of the 3 leads of the show, I was moved by the way he approached characters that were million miles away from who he is in real life. To play someone truthfully in the pages and be someone completely different in the real world it's a big inspiration for me as an actor.
Silverio Palacios, a wonderful Mexican actor, taught me the value of punctuality, the importance of resting your mind and body and to always come EXTRA prepared to set. I consider myself a passionate person and a passionate actor too, so when I see passion and love for the work, I'm all in. I never had the privilege to meet or work with Chadwick Boseman, but I saw all of his work and man! There's so much passion, love, and strength in every second of his work that is inspirational to watch and the same goes to my acting heroes, like Day Lewis, Mortensen, Pacino, Washington, Bardem, Hawkes, Blanchet, Moore, Hoffman, Shepard, Olmos etc etc etc...
What is the most challenging, and also most enjoyable aspect of your work?
Challenges are frankly too many. To begin with, you can't be an actor on your own, perhaps if you are a mime, but even then if you want to put up a little presentation on stage you need extra hands. So you need very, very, good people around you, who believe in the same causes as you. Who will fight endlessly for the project to be made and work day and night, fix problem after problem to try and offer a project audiences will love and remember, even though at the end, nothing is guaranteed. I don’t want to sound pessimistic, I’m not like that, it's just definitely a challenge to make it, to survive and to belong. But let me tell you that the view at the top of the mountain it's worth the climb. The moment you see all the work and dedication put into a project that it's well received and respected, it's a wonderful rewarding feeling.
There's definitely lots of enjoyable things this work offers. Learning new skills and traveling are on top of my list. Meeting new people inside and outside the industry. That moment when you start realizing how your acting heroes or new friends become part of your family it's an unmeasurable gift this profession offers. The endless learning of our human condition and the appreciation of others it's a beautiful joy to have, and I have to mention all the dances, the laughs, the jokes and the memories in every project, all those true emotions are simple beauties of this work.
I particularly like your performance as Jorge Ochoa in American Made. How did it come about? Thank you Oliver. It's an amazing honor to be part of that project, one of my personal favorites, what a crazy story right? Well, that came about as most of my other projects, the normal way, you get an email from your management team informing you of a new audition, then you prepare as much as you possible can, (in this particular case, I had an acting coach to help me prepare for the audition) then you go to the casting directors office and that's it, then you wait and wait and wait a little more for that phone to ring, and in this case I got that magical lucky call. A few years before that huge audition, I was traveling in Colombia with my family. My wife is from Medellin, so that was quite a coincidence, one day my father in-law, invited me to a "corrida de toros" (bullfighting event), while in the arena, he pointed at a man and said, "oh, that's Jorge Ochoa, in the VIP seats."
I replied, "Who? Jorge who?
He said, "Jorge Ochoa."
At that time I didn’t know much about "the Narco world", or even who Jorge Ochoa was, to be honest I wasn't really interested in that subject. During that week I read a bit of who Jorge Ochoa was and his important connection to the Medellin Cartel and Pablo Escobar. Since my father in law had season tickets, we went back the following Sunday, and there he was! I could not believe that after all his criminal history, the man was sitting freely in the best seats and waving happily at people. Just a few years after that I’m suddenly auditioning as that same guy. What a mind trip right? I did my audition scenes, felt good about it, and out of nowhere I don't know why, but I started telling that story to the casting Director, the wonderful Mindy Marin. After telling my story to Mindy, she said to me, ''Alejandro you mind telling me the story again, but this time, I'm gonna record it, so the Director (Doug Liman) can see/hear it too."
After I left the room she called my managers and told them: ‘Don’t tell Alejandro this, but he’s my first choice. However there's more filters, I don’t decide, Tom and Doug decide.’ In the end Doug Liman saw my tape and he wanted a skype session with me. So I was still an option between a few other actors, but at some magic moment when Doug was watching my tape in his New York office, I guess Tom was walking by or was by his side, he saw my tape and said, ‘That’s the kid.’ ‘That's our Jorge.’ I mean, talk about good FU*&% luck and perfect timing, probably if I have had the skype session with Doug, he might not like my performance or look, I don't know, but I'm a huge believer that the universe has bigger plans for us than those we plan for ourselves.
You portrayed El Chapo in Narcos: Mexico. What was the biggest challenge you faced taking on this role, and how did you prepare?
There's definitely a big responsibility that comes in portraying this kind of characters. Probably my biggest challenge was for me to believe I could play him and pull it off, then, the fact that I was gonna showcase this character in the biggest show about Narcos in the world. So yes, I was very nervous and I had many doubts circling my head. I was blessed to have a fantastic team of talented makeup and hair artists, who, with the vision of Eric Newman and Jesse Moore, (our producers and showrunners) decided on the final look of our young Chapo. Adding to the equation our amazing wardrobe department, I felt more and more the man in me. Challenges are good, they push you to places you didn't know existed, being nervous about my work keeps me awake and present, that makes me feel more alive and for this character all of that was pure gold. Ultimately the biggest challenge was to make the audience believe in my characterisation and my work and hopefully they will engage with him and follow his journey. For my preparation in this particular case, I think it started by looking at myself in the mirror and playing with my face and facial expressions, changing my jawline, finding his strange and unique voice plus the Sinaloan accent that he is very well known for, later I had to put on some weight to change my body shape. Finally I went back to my acting school notes and discover the kind of animal J.G.L would be. I decided to make him a friendly but fearless bulldog! jejejeje As of today it’s the most chameleonic character I've done, and for such a long period of time. We’ll see what happens and where this will lead. I don’t know about the future of Narcos: Mexico, but I am happy to keep giving it my whole commitment and professionalism. I hope the audience receives it well and that it connects with them throughout his story. It’s always a beautiful challenge every time I’m walking on to set, I'm always nervous and anxious, and after a long day my jaw hurts, my throat gets dry, etc... But I will never give up or change this for anything. I'm truly happy portraying this character and thankful for the tremendous growth this has given me as an actor.
Can you tell me about any projects you’re currently working on?
I have a dream to publish a book of poems I'm currently writing. Also I'm teaming up with a super talented Mexican photographer, to create a book about her photographs and photographic techniques. Her name is Diana Gracida from Guadalajara, Mexico. I have a few scripts that are ready to be shot, both Mexican Films. And lastly, I recently participated in a 14 episode feature-length anthology called COVID 19…Sins & Virtues. Each episode or short film is represented by a sin or virtue and had to be shot while under mandated lockdown with whatever equipment was at hand. The episodes were written and directed by different people, who had no knowledge of the others' work, then assembled as a feature-length film. My virtue was "Courage," and the episode's name is "Renegade," which was written and directed by Fidel Arizmendi.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve had, and would you give this piece of advice yourself to someone pursuing this line of work?
I was told to listen, yes, to listen in general, to the world, to nature, to my body, to listen to the people near you and around you. So the best piece of advice I would give, and I know I'm not the only actor who would tell you this, it's to try to always listen. To give someone your true attention it's a great value. When I used to watch a lot of interviews on Inside the Actors Studio, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Denzel, even Johnny Depp. They all said the best piece of advice for actors is to listen. I didn’t understood that at the time. But now I know how powerful that tool is. Epictetus, one of the founders of Stoicism has this amazing quote: "A good actor preserves his reputation not by speaking lines out of turn but by knowing when to talk and when to keep quiet."