The sky’s the limit for Mister Lonely’s rising Mexican star Diego Luna.
Text: Leigh Singer
He’s got the silver glove, the pelvic thrusts, the trademark “Hee-heees”. He’s even got the moonwalk. No, not Michael Jackson, self-styled King of Pop, but ‘Michael Jackson’, erstwhile impersonator and the Mister Lonely of Harmony Korine’s latest film. More than anything, he’s Diego Luna, the heartthrob Mexican actor who came to fame in Alfonso Cuaron’s modern classic Y Tu Mama Tambien, alongside his best pal and fellow object of desire Gael Garcia Bernal.
Impressive as Luna’s dance moves are, he claims, even with the salutary experience of the Dirty Dancing sequel on his resume, they didn’t come easily. “I trained for a month with a real impersonator in Mexico,” the 28-year old relates, “a guy called Stefan Jackson.” That’s surely not his real name?
“No, it’s not,” he laughs. “But I based a lot of my character on him because he’d always say ‘I don’t think I’m Michael Jackson, that would be crazy. It’s a new version of Michael - a better version.’ This is complex enough! For me it was crazy to understand why a guy would like to be Michael Jackson, you know? I was more into Led Zeppelin.”
Luna’s ‘Michael’, is adopted on the streets of Paris, by a Marilyn Monroe look-alike (Samantha Morton), who persuades him to join a commune of celebrity impersonators in a castle retreat in rural Scotland. It sounds like a typically skewed Korine conceit, but for Luna, its contemporary relevance is obvious.
“It’s happening more often in a way because people are not living the lives they want,” he explains of the look-alike boom. “The world is pushing you somewhere else, to serve a machinery but not to serve yourself, your needs. Talking about these characters is a great metaphor to talk about what’s going on in the world. The film is saying, you can create your own world - that’s what the characters are doing.”
A true cinephile (his father is Mexico’s most acclaimed theatre and film set designer), Luna was already a Korine fan. “Gummo was very important for me,” he recounts. “At the time I felt I was looking at something different from everything else, very special and also very honest.” So when he read the Mister Lonely script, there was no hesitation, despite its wilder flights of fancy including skydiving nuns.
“To me, it’s a film where a little bit of all the characters happens to be Harmony Korine,” insists Luna. “When I read it the first time, I told my agent I was hearing a little piece of Harmony’s soul in a way. It’s a film about living again, giving yourself another chance. I thought it was someone shouting for life.”
Korine’s unorthodox methodology meant the entire cast holed up in their remote Scottish highland castle location, effectively mirroring their characters’ situation. “I enjoyed it for the first two weeks and then I started to feel really, really lonely,” Luna admits. “Then I thought, OK, this is good for the character, I’m not going to fight this.” Not easy when his beloved Mexican national team were then competing in the World Cup. “Obviously nobody wanted to see Mexico play, the pub was empty, it was just me and my beer,” he laments.
What making Mister Lonely did achieve for Luna, however, was to re-energise his commitment to his craft. “I was kind of sick of acting,” he confesses. “I was directing a documentary [J.C Chavez on the legendary Mexican boxer], it was eighteen months editing and I was feeling really happy not being in front of a camera. But when I read this script, it was like OK, this is the one. I’m going get crazy and do this.”
Today, Luna is a regular renaissance man, having completed Rudo y Cursi, a brotherhood / football drama reuniting him with Gael Garcia Bernal, shooting Milk with Sean Penn for Gus Van Sant in San Francisco and producing and starring in a film in Mexico City for his production company Canana, co-founded with Bernal. Additionally, and presumably devastating his legion of lust-struck female (and male) admirers, he’s just married actress Camila Sodi.
Not that Luna sees the future as a choice between Mexico and Hollywood. “I think until today the film people know the most, it’s Y Tu Mama Tambien,” he says matter-of-factly. “That tells you a lot. I do what I like, I have a company, I produce films, I act, I have a chance to direct so I’m happy with where I am. I don’t need more.”