Alfonso Herrera on the Importance of Telling Latinx Stories in Hollywood (Exclusive)

Alfonso Herrera
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The 35-year-old Mexican actor makes an effort to choose projects that elevate him and communicate a message.

Alfonso Herrera is enjoying every part of his acting journey.

At 35 years old, the actor has been a teen heartthrob, an international pop star, a Latin GRAMMY nominee, and starred in his own primetime Fox series -- but you might not have known that.

That’s because Herrera, also known as Poncho, found fame at the age of 21 when he starred in the hit Mexican teen soap opera Rebelde from 2004 to 2006. The series led to the creation of the pop group RBD, which sold over 15 million records worldwide until they parted ways in 2009. Since then, Herrera has been selective of the roles he takes on and makes an effort to choose projects that elevate him as an actor.

“When I choose a story, when I choose a character, it has to be something that has to communicate a message,” Herrera tells ET over the phone. “[The role has to] either point out something that is positive, or is something that I don't necessarily agree with. But it has to communicate something. I am very much attracted to roles and stories that make me grow and that make me learn.”

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Widely known in Latin America, the Mexico native made his crossover to the U.S. starring as Father Tomas Ortega on The Exorcist, opposite Geena Davis for two seasons. While on the Fox show, he also appeared on Netflix’s Sense8 as Hernando Fuentes, all while continuing to work on projects in Mexico.

“[Working in the U.S. or Mexico], I think that the spirit is the same. It doesn’t matter the geographical area where you’re working,” Herrera stresses. “The important thing is to generate a passionate team that believes in the project and believes in the story. [A team] that defends the characters and story. I think that happens not only in Mexico and in the U.S., it happens in the whole industry. Projects that really break through audiences, and generate huge audiences, in a certain way are the ones that create magic. It’s a unity between the production and actors, and that’s why they believe in the project.”

Passionate about every single character that he’s portrayed -- from a priest fighting demon spirits to a compassionate and creative thinking art professor, to now, in his new role as Javier on Queen of the South, a ruthless mercenary -- Herrera has a special place for every role he’s played.

“Each and every single character has given me so much," he reflects. "Hernando on Sense8 was a lovable character that I really enjoyed playing. Also, playing Tomas Ortega on The Exorcist on a major network, even though it was a genre that was challenging, [was amazing]. And now, being here on Queen of the South, it’s a privilege to be able to work on different stories, different characters, generating a contrast between one another.”

On season three of Queen of the South (the season finale airs Thursday at 9 p.m. on USA Network), Herrera will have his work cut out as his character’s brash and untamed nature puts him at odds with his new boss, Teresa. Herrera was invited to be a part of the crime thriller by producers Judd Rea and Sarah J. Donohue, whom he worked with on season one of The Exorcist.  

“My first ‘yes’ to the project was [Rea and Donohue]. They create an amazing atmosphere on set and I wanted to repeat that experience,” he explains. “And my second ‘yes’ to the project was that I admire Hemky Madera and Alice Braga. I thought it was going to be an amazing experience working with them and when I arrived to set it was totally like I imagined. They were incredible actors and so generous to the whole cast and crew.”

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“Javier, he comes from a very aggressive environment,” Herrera says, going into detail about his role. “He comes from a different entourage from Teresa’s group. On my episodes, these two worlds, these two entourages are going to collide and something interesting is going to result from this collision."

While he and fans wait to see what his future is on Queen of the South, the actor teases that there is a "big possibility" that Javier will be part of the fourth season and a story arc may be created for him. Meanwhile, Herrera is currently starring as John Keating in the play La Sociedad de Poetas Muertos (Dead Poets Society) in Mexico City and has another project in the works with Netflix. So who has been a guiding light throughout his career?

“Most of the decisions we make, and I say ‘we’ because we are a team,” Herrera says of those surrounding him. “I am very lucky to be part of a team that has helped me create a career that I was looking forward to having. It’s part of a teamwork. There are many people in front of the camera in this industry whom you don’t necessarily learn from. There are a lot of people who I deeply admire that I’ve met on set, whether it’s a director or a sound engineer. There are a lot of people in the middle and behind the scenes that are very valuable.”

“I had the privilege of working with Damián Alcázar, an actor I admire and who I worked with on the movie La Dictadura Perfecta," he shares. “You learn a lot from the greats, and for me, he is one of the best actors in Latin America. Likewise, working with Jeremy Slater, the creator of The Exorcist, I learned a lot about creating a character and how you create stories. In the day-to-day, you keep meeting people, you keep learning and I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by many people who I admire.”

As for a return to music, Herrera doesn’t see himself singing anymore unless it’s “in the shower” or when he’s with “family and friends.” When asked if RBD fans will ever get a reunion tour he says, “No."

"Sorry about that,” he says with a laugh, adding that "social media has been a great asset to stay in touch" with his former groupmates.

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One thing that’s for certain is Herrera’s goal of continuing to portray meaningful characters and tell Latino stories.

“The most important thing, in my perspective, is to understand that our culture, our language, is very rich and that is something we have to share on a regular basis in the entertainment industry,” he stresses. “It’s our responsibility to share that. I think right now, the industry has grown so much that we have been able to portray different aspects of Latino culture, not just with stories but with characters. That is a huge thing that we need to take advantage of. We really need to keep working on that.”

"For me, it has been a privilege to portray different aspects of Latinos," he says.