The Mexican star previously produced and starred in “Bella,” the emotional tale of an unmarried woman considering adoption. The 2006 movie connected with pro-life audiences, scoring an impressive $7.9 million.
Now, Verástegui is a producer and co-star of “Little Boy,” the story of a child wiling to do anything to see his father back home, safe, during World War II.
Young Jacob Salvati stars as a boy fearing his father will die while fighting Nazis during World War II. It’s a heart-tugging tale that touches on the bond between father and son as well as our ability to believe anything is possible.
Verástegui, who also graces theaters this spring in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” checked in with HollywoodInToto.com about why “Little Boy” offers a fresh look at World War II.
HollywoodInToto.com: Does the project have any personal echoes for you … ties to your own father, perhaps, or other family connections?
Eduardo Verástegui: Yes. there are personal echoes for me and my team. I wanted to honor that partnership and friendship between a father and a son because of my father who is my best friend and my partner and my role model. We wanted to honor our fathers. We wanted to honor the sacrifice our fathers made for all of us and the values and principles they taught us.
HiT: Talking about casting young Jakob in the title role. The film hinges on him carrying the film … did Jakob convince you right away he was up for the task?
EV: One of the hardest things for us was to find the boy. We saw 1,000 candidates. If we had cast the wrong boy this movie would have collapsed. It’s a very hard role to play. That’s why we were concerned about who was going to be Little Boy. Most 7-year-olds haven’t acted before, so we faced a big challenge. One day [director] Alejandro [Monteverde] saw this little boy among other kids, and when his audition finished he asked about him but was told he wasn’t an a actor -- he was there with his older brother. Alejandro saw something in him that was special. We were about to sign another actor, but Jakob was haunting Alejandro because there was something special. So he decided to give him a chance and sign Jakob.
HiT: Past films like “The Boy with the Striped Pajamas” drew criticism for seeing the horrors of war through the child’s innocent eyes. Did you consider that perspective during the creative process?
EV: The problem that some had with ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ wasn’t only that the boy was young, but that there would not have been a child of his age alive in a concentration camp. Our film is different, the struggles that the boy faces are those that many innocent children really do face during any war. We see many great epics of men fighting battles, but we want this film to have a different perspective; one of a young child with a good heart, who wants nothing more than to bring his father home. I think that this can resonate with everyone, no matter where they come from.
HiT: “Little Boy” deals with faith in a way that doesn’t fit into any preconceived boxes. Can you share your thoughts on this approach, and was this part of the project’s appeal for you?
EV: Many families during World War II – just like today – would turn to faith during times of crisis, so I think that leaving faith out of a story like this would be dishonest. But clergy in this film are not just there to give easy answers, but to wrestle with difficult situations right along side the young boy. I think it adds a very real, very honest perspective to dealing with loss and war.
HiT: Can you talk a little about the film’s look -- it has a wonderful glow to it, the sense that we’re looking at someone’s memories in a way that makes them bolder, more pronounced than reality…
EV: We wanted the whole film to look as if it’s a Norman Rockwell painting, and I think that’s what you were picking up on. Like Rockwell paintings, it creates a special view of the past, which is a very interesting juxtaposition, considering the setting of the film is during WWII. But like you said, it makes the film almost look like it is someone’s memories, which is exactly what the film is; Pepper’s memories of growing up in this little town during WWII. Rockwell’s paintings are warm and we wanted that warmth in this film.
HiT: As a culture, we’re endlessly intrigued by World War II — it continues to inspire artists across media. Does the war hold a special pull for you … and why do you think we keep going back to the war?
EV: As a society, how we deal with conflict says a lot about us, and I think that’s a reason we often go to World War II, one of the biggest challenges the world has faced. In the face of such conflict, we see how much people are willing to fight for what they love, something that can’t always be seen when the going is easy. In our case, we wanted to use some of the fear, racism, and grief from the war to show that love can overcome even the most terrible circumstances.
“Little Boy,” starring Michael Rapaport, Emily Watson, Eduardo Verástegui, Kevin James and Jakob Salvati, opens nationwide April 24.
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