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BRIEF ENCOUNTER

A young player in the old crowd

A film veteran of tender years, Diego Luna hacks away -- on a computer, that is -- in a dark comedy.

August 22, 2004|Susan King

Though he's only 24, Diego Luna seems like an old soul. Perhaps it's because he likes to socialize with people twice his age -- his best friend is 48 -- or that he's a seasoned veteran of television, movies and theater. Whatever the reason, he is far more sophisticated and focused than most twentysomethings.

The Mexican heartthrob has been performing since he was just 7 years old, first starring in television soap operas before turning to features and the theater. Luna found international fame with Alfonso Cuaron's sexy 2001 film "Y Tu Mama Tambien." Since then he's been working nonstop in such American movies as "Open Range," "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal" and the upcoming George Clooney/Steven Soderbergh-produced "Criminal." He also hasn't abandoned his homeland, returning whenever possible to do movies and theater.

His latest film is the crime caper dark comedy "Nicotina," which opened Friday. Luna plays a nerdy Mexico City computer hacker who likes to spy on his beautiful next-door neighbor. But when the neighbor learns of his surveillance, her violent reaction to the discovery sets a chain of events in motion that causes a crime to go wrong.

There is a quirky perversity to "Nicotina."

It's a strange movie. It's always nice to do a movie that takes risks. It is about a crazy city that I love and about how neurotic people are in cities now. People don't take time for themselves anymore. We care about a lot of very stupid things, and we don't care about important stuff like who are you waking up with every morning. It is also about how much money can change you and how much you should really enjoy who you are and what you have.

And the film illustrates rather ironically the dangers of smoking.

My character doesn't get to smoke his cigarette until the very last second of the movie. But I wish people would react to war the way they react [to the dangers] of cigarettes. It's true. You open the newspapers and they say that this country bombed this other country and no one really goes out and [protests]. You see how many innocent people have died in the past year and a half and we still make a big thing about cigarettes.

Is the movie industry thriving in Mexico City?

There is no movie industry in Mexico. It's a shame because every actor has to do TV in Mexico to pay the rent. In Mexico, they care much more in television about quantity than quality. They prefer to do a lot, rather than good things. I haven't done a TV show in five years. I am so happy!

You still live in Mexico City. Did you ever contemplate moving to Los Angeles?

I want to have one foot in my country. I have lots of things to do there. I decided to be an actor in Mexico. It is great that I am having a chance to work here and in Spain, but I also want to go back and make my own things in Mexico and make projects happen. I think it's also a responsibility, if your career starts to go well, to bring things back to your own country. One thing I said to myself a few years ago is I don't want to work again for money -- ever. You choose to do something because of the story and the people who are going to tell the story, then money can come or not.

Have you ventured into producing?

I am producing the one I am doing now. It's a Mexican-Brazilian movie. I am smoking again because I am producing the movie. It is such an intense process, but I like it.

Your mother died in an auto accident when you were 2 and you were raised by your father, Alejandro, a well-respected theater, opera and movie set designer.

Everything was about my father. Acting was a chance to be close to him and be part of his world and then I found out I loved it more than anything else.

Have you two worked together?

We did a theater play to honor my mother's death when I was 16. She was a costume designer. We did this play called "The Broken Jar" with friends of my mother. It was fantastic. We traveled through Latin America with the play.

Are you and your good friend and "Y Tu Mama" costar Gael Garcia Bernal planning to do another project together soon?

He is a really good friend and definitely I am going to work with him. But he's shooting a movie and I'm shooting a movie, so it's not going to happen this year, but hopefully soon.

Did the international success of "Y Tu Mama" take you by surprise?

I was surprised. I was 20 or 21 and it was a lot to handle. That's when you need your friends to tell you that you are no one and to remind you of all your mistakes! I did 15 movies before "Y Tu Mama" that only my family got to see, so I wasn't expecting it. I was just doing another movie that I loved and learning from these people, and suddenly, all of this happened and my life started to change so fast.

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