Versatility. It is a quality describing a person’s ability to adapt to any situation and turn things around employing a variety of skills and talents. What better adjective can be used to describe Alfonso Herrera—the rising star from Mexico whose long list of acting roles has taken him to new heights landing him a lead role on FOX’s new series, The Exorcist ? Debuted on Friday, September 23, Alfonso, along with Academy Award winner Geena Davis, Alan Ruck, Ben Daniels, Kurt Egyiawan, Brianne Howey, and Hannah Kasulka, bring the story of priests battling demons for the soul of a young girl whose dire circumstances has kept her family on edge throughout the entire ordeal to the small screen in an ambitious new series honoring the original story from the 1973 film of the same name. Humbled from the experience of working alongside such gifted and generous co-stars, Alfonso’s resume has indeed solidified his place among his peers as an actor to look out for.
Foregoing aspirations of becoming a pilot, the Centro de Educacion Artistica alum pursued his dreams in entertainment dipping his hand on stage, film, television, and in music. Starting off in theatre, Alfonso performed in such productions as Las Brujas de Salem (2001), Como Matar A Un Ruisenor (2001) and Antigona (2001). He was then cast in his first film, Amarte Duele (2002) where he met his future RBD band mates with whom he later filmed a sitcom, RBD: La Familia (2007). The success of the show along with his other telenovela, Rebelde (2004-2006), helped launch his music career with RBD which had produced 9 studio albums with sales passing 15 million worldwide. Finishing up his last tour with the singing group in 2009, Alfonso concentrated on his acting career selecting substantive roles in projects like the Netflix series Sense 8, Science of the Absurd, The Chosen, Camaleones, Venezzia, Espectro, Obediencia Perfecta, El Dandy, El Capo, and La Dictadura Perfecta. He even took the time to play a role in the Minions movie and played commentary on the Copamerica 2015 straight from Chile.
Rare talent however doesn’t come without a certain degree of hard work and challenges especially when taking on projects that touch on sensitive social topics and political commentary that are considered taboo or controversial. His work in Sense 8 and La Dictatura Perfecta best exemplify this. In Sense 8, Alfonso’s character is a gay man who is in a loving relationship with another man whose intimacy on screen had raised eyebrows in both US and Mexican markets. The series itself is a sci-fi show centering on 8 strangers from around the world who are suddenly linked mentally and emotionally to each other covering themes from politics and identity to sexuality and gender including religion. During a time when gay rights became a hot political topic following the US legalization of gay marriage, the love story between Alfonso’s character and his partner seemed relevant and timely appealing to audiences while breaking down social barriers.
In La Dictadura Perfecta, Alfonso’s role was that of a television producer working towards helping a corrupt governor get elected to the office of President of Mexico. It was a political satire on the role media plays in Mexican politics and how individual players in the television industry manipulate the truth of current events to effect political, societal results. It poked fun at how politicians and media moguls interacted with each other and how the media plays an important role in society from both a political and social stand point. Given the criticisms of questionable Mexican government actions and calls for transparency in all dealings, local reception to such a film that comments on such issues had been quite positive and encouraging earning approximately US$14 million in Mexico alone. The film was a high point for Alfonso because it struck a nerve that he felt many in Mexico had also shared about what was happening in their country and how being silent about it wasn’t working anymore. “…What helps this movie is that people go and see it, that they question themselves, to later be able to question others. I believe that this is what we have to do. I believe that we have to lift the voice without fear and simply go forward, because in a lot of other occasions, we got tired. We have lowered the arms and simply let everything happen. I believe that in this situation it can’t be like that and I believe it will not be like that anymore (LatinoBuzz 2014).”
Such works of substantive quality still continue to find their way to Alfonso. Now with The Exorcist series well underway, themes on religion and faith are sure to strike a chord in today’s techno-generation of smart phones, tablets, social media and changing societal, normative paradigms. The Exorcist series was produced by Jeremy Slater (Fantastic Four), Emmy Award nominee Rolin Jones (“Friday Night Lights”, Weeds”)Rupert Wyatt, Roy Lee (Hidden”, “Run All Night”), James Robinson (“Dreamhouse”), David Robinson (“Dreamhouse”, “The Good Shepard”), and Barbara Wall (“Boss”). Like the plot in the 1973 film, the story revolves around an average American family who is being terrorized by a demonic presence that possesses one of the teenage daughters in the household. Alfonso plays one of the priests, Father Tomas Ortega, who must work with another seasoned exorcist, Father Marcus Keane (played by Ben Daniels) to free the troubled adolescent from the demon’s grip. Alfonso’s character is a younger, more progressive, compassionate priest whose point of view is more reflective of today’s generation’s point of view compared to Ben Daniels’s more hardened character whose stance reflects an old-world mentality toward the phenomenon of demonic possession and exorcism. He is a man who had seen so much and after a recent failure to save a young soul, his resolve had been shaken making him more bitter and less optimistic than Alfonso’s Ortega who still has a degree of optimism which will surely clash with the veteran exorcist throughout the run of the series.
The pilot itself sets up the events that will eventually lead to the actual ritual of the exorcism introducing the characters and revealing a little insight into each of them. There are some creepy moments in the first episode that borrow from some Hitchcockian influences, and it does refer to the original film and the events that took place in it. In fact, the events of the show take place 40 years after the 1st film setting up a mythology which hopefully will develop nicely throughout the course of the series. Geena Davis plays the role of the mother with a very subtle, subdued sense of foreshadowing as she tries to convince Father Ortega to help her. As for Alan Ruck, his character has the potential for a larger role in the story. He plays the father in the household whose affliction has left him in a nearly vegetative state, yet his interactions with his family appear to be the fulcrum to the family’s cohesiveness. Ortega sees this as well and tries to help the family understand this while visiting them for dinner. In a way, the heart of the story is really not in the supernatural battle that will take place per se. It appears to be more about the issues of redemption, acceptance of the decisions the characters made in each of their lives, and how faith or morality plays a role in coming to terms with them. When the pace begins to pick up by the end of the episode and the priests have made their introductions, the demonic shenanigans take a heightened level of spookiness setting up the tone for the rest of the series. It is these themes that attracted Alfonso to the project which has kept him busy working alongside such established talents.
Alfonso was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to talk to Gypset magazine about the series.
James Daza (James) – I understand you have a new series. Could you please tell me a little bit about the series? Does it follow closely to the original film?
Alfonso Herrera (Alfonso) – Yes. It’s an interesting hypothesis about what happened in the film which takes place 40 years after the events that happened in Washington DC….My character, Tomas Ortega, is a priest from Chicago who lives on the south side. He’s a Southey. One day he starts to have these dreams, images about exorcisms performed by one of the characters unto another character. And also the same thing starts to happen to one of his parishioners. Because of that he makes a decision that will change his life forever that will lead him to encounter the darkness and question what he believes in…..
James – How many episodes did you film? How much are you slated for?
Alfonso – I believe 17-22 episodes have been ordered.
James – How were you attached to the project?
Alfonso – I was invited to do a reading for Rubert, Rolin, and Jeremy, and Lee and they were kind enough to offer me to play the character of Tomas. So, I had these options and I am very happy to be part of this production and working with Jeremy Lee. Right now, we’re having a blast shooting in Chicago.
James – What’s it like working on the series with such stars as Geena Davis and Alan Ruck?
Alfonso – I have to say that they’re really good…Geena…She plays Angela. I like her. She’s just a delight. She’s known throughout all over the world and she’s very generous on stage, on set, and off set. I’m very happy. I feel much honored to be working with her.
James – Have you seen the original film recently? Do you recall the original film?
Alfonso He- I was talking about that too. I kind of watched the film and it was kind of so fine that the public just became interested once it got to Mexico. I’m in Mexico. I was born in Mexico. I adore Mexico. I have children in Mexico and…Yeah. The first time you experience it…I took a look at my younger self and remembered what it was like the first time.
James – What was your impression of it when you first saw it?
Alfonso – I was terrified. (Chuckles).
James – Do you believe in such stories about the exorcisms all over the world? Do you think there is degree of truth to them?
Alfonso – I believe in reason rather than fiction. That is light and darkness exists. I believe you have to experience each of the ways in both directions in order to appreciate one and the other. I’d like to believe that the battle exists in the mind. That happiness begins in the mind. I’m trying to portray that with my character by trying to help with one of the daughters in the story.
James – How did you prepare for the role?
Alfonso – I did really identify with this. I got to know the character really well. So, it’s not just about some guy exorcising demons or taking on a fight like Rambo. It’s about the search for the self. It’s about real issues. That element about the story kept me grounded. So that being said, it’s not like a comic book at all. It’s about real experiences. That’s how I like to see it.
James – Did the concept of the show have an impact on your own religious beliefs?
Alfonso – Well, what I felt in my mind was that it was about the individual story. I felt it was a very interesting and good idea because the first day they came to me they said “Please don’t touch the first day of Pluto”. They called it “heterogeneity”. When I started with the title, I understood what violence was used to explain the last 300-500 years of stories. Now there was nothing ritual or sexual about it. I felt that it was very point-based and I really accepted this as a regular reading.
Alfonso really does a great job of portraying Ortega’s optimism while still leaving room for something deeper that the story has yet to reveal completely. The audience is seeing the events unfold through his point of view subtly bringing them in closer to what Father Ortega (Alfonso Herrera) is experiencing. As the show will progress, the audience will soon learn that there is something happening with the young priest which would no doubt play an integral part in the story arc. There’s definitely enough in the pilot episode to set the foundation for a great show, the only pitfall to avoid though is the temptation to go for the quick scares and the horror cliché moments that usually follow in these possession stories. Luckily, the pilot did a decent job at minimizing such plot ploys concentrating mostly on the family dynamic of the Rance family who are the victims of this story and the internal conflicts/struggles of the priests.
The Exorcist is currently playing on FOX on Fridays from 9-10 pm. You can follow the series on Twitter @TheExorcistFOX and engage in live discussions using #TheExorcist. You can also follow the show on Instagram and Facebook where you can see photos and videos. To follow it on Instagram, go to @The ExorcistFOX.