Hailed as a fast-rising new talent from Mexico, actor Diego Calva has surfaced from small but notable Mexican and Argentine films to landing pivotal roles in Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” the Oscar-winning director’s follow-up to “La La Land,” and the third iteration of Netflix’s wildly popular “Narcos: Mexico.” He has studied directing and has shot a few shorts over the past few years.
What do you attribute to your being cast in “Babylon” and “Narcos: Mexico 3”? Do you think luck has anything to do with it apart from the previous work you have done?
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Of course, luck has something to do with it. That Damien [Chazelle] thought about the character and the story has nothing to do with me. I came into the equation much later. As an actor, at least when you start out, you don’t decide your characters. You decide whether to take it or leave it, but you can’t always choose. Luck and life have played their roles here. However, am not minimizing the value of the everyday work one puts into one’s craft, one’s career.
Tell us about your casting and audition experience with “Babylon.”
COVID had something to do with “Babylon’s” casting process. After my initial contact with the casting director and sending my first self-tapes, I was about to fly to Los Angeles for the in-person casting, but the start of the lockdown stopped us. For more than a year, I sent over videos of myself in different scenes. It was tiring but it helped me work on my patience and taught me not to speculate too much on the future. One can only do the best job possible and be satisfied with the result.
At the beginning of this year, everything changed. They called me to go do the in-person casting in California with Margot [Robbie] and Damien. I had been talking to Damien for several days, studying the character. In particular, I focused on studying Al Pacino, which Damien recommended to me.
I can only say that it’s a moment that I will always remember. As soon as he saw me, Damien played the “Godfather” soundtrack to help me get into character.
If it weren’t for the way they treated me, so wonderfully humane, I may have been more nervous. I can only thank them.
You’ve directed some shorts. Do you have plans to direct a feature film in the future? Do you already have something brewing?
It’s never been far from my mind. However, for now I don’t want to do anything but act. Acting has been my way of learning to direct. Observing the different processes of each director has been my way of learning the craft. I steal something from each director. For now, I am an actor. And a thief.
How are the opportunities for actors in Mexico today? I imagine that with the arrival of Netflix and other streaming services, there are more opportunities? Or is it just as difficult?
I wouldn’t know how it was before. I come from the generation where the streaming services have already exerted a lot of influence on our industry. I like to think that I’m at an interesting time to dedicate myself to film and acting. There are many projects; however, there is much of the same as well. It’s complicated but I think you have to know what to look for and not stay on the surface; see everything, not only what is there at hand. And in acting it’s the same for me. It is a matter of testing the waters.
Tell us about your experience in filming the role of drug trafficker Arturo Beltran-Leyva in “Narcos: Mexico 3.” How did you prepare to assume his character?
“Narcos” has been a full-on learning experience. At the beginning I wanted to know the real character and find out who he really was. I read everything about him in the news, in books, everything. However, I only learned about his actions, the things he did and the way he lived. Honestly, I did not find there what I needed to get inside his character. So I decided to humanize him, not understand him. People have many layers, many dimensions. I don’t mean to make a hero out of him but I won’t judge him either.