Friday, October 19, 2007

Chance meeting after Mass leads to 'Bella'

~from Tidings Online
The back story of Metanoia Films, opening its first feature film, "Bella," nationwide Oct. 26, could be called The Miracle on Bedford Drive.

That's where former 20th Century Fox entertainment lawyer Leo Severino met Mexican pop singer/telenovela soap opera star Eduardo Verastegui --- outside Good Shepherd Church in Beverly Hills after attending mid-week Mass in 2004.

Severino, 35, couldn't help but notice Verastegui, 33. Besides being the only other young person at church, he was unabashedly devout, praying after Mass with head bowed and raised hand touching the church's indoor statue of Christ near a side exit.

"I was really moved by that," said Severino, who was struggling to reconcile his Catholic faith and new job responsibilities requiring that he draw up contracts for programs "not exactly what the Blessed Mother would be watching on her television.

"I was going to daily Mass just praying for deliverance and guidance from the Lord. I didn't know it was going to come in the shape of a 6-foot-1-inch, ridiculously good-looking Mexican superstar," said Severino. Not wanting to interrupt Verastegui during his private devotions after Mass, he passed by without saying a word on his way out to the parking lot.

He did the same thing a couple of weeks later, but rolled down his car window to exchange introductions with the mystery man as he walked in front of Severino's car. Even though Severino is the U.S.-born child of Colombian parents, and a fluent Spanish speaker, he didn't recognize the actor because he never watched Spanish television.

It wasn't until he returned to work and looked Verastegui's name up on the Internet that he discovered he had just met the "Brad Pitt of Latin America" --- a former Mexican pop singing sensation and a Spanish soap opera star on the verge of making it big in American films. At this seemingly storied time in this life, however, Verastegui was also at a personal crossroads.

"He had been going through a lot in his life," said Severino. "After 12 years of a career, he found himself empty and broken. He had achieved everything that most people would want: fame, money, power, all the women in the world, selling out soccer stadiums with screaming girls. That sort of thing."

While studying English for a part in the American film, "Chasing Papi," Verastegui was challenged by his tutor, a devout Catholic woman, who asked, "If you love God, why do you still offend him?" It was a defining, "St. Paul-getting- knocked-down-moment," according to Severino.

Soon after, Verastegui went to confession to a priest in Los Angeles, Legionarie of Christ Father Juan Rivas, and started daily Mass attendance. He was thinking about giving up his career and making a mission trip to the jungles of Brazil.

Father Rivas pointed out that Hollywood is an even bigger jungle that needed Verastegui in it. The priest assured the actor that God would send him like-minded people. "When he and I met, it was like two pieces of a puzzle," said Severino.

Stunning family and friends, Severino quit his lucrative corporate job soon after meeting Verastegui, who had already decided to form a film company with award-winning filmmaker, Alejandro Monteverde, 30, a Mexican native and graduate from the University of Texas film school. Severino became a third partner and producer, in charge of business affairs, for the fledgling film.

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