Most people taking a 90-minute boat tour on a 90-degree afternoon in late May would wear shorts rather than pants for the excursion. Not Diego Boneta. The star of the upcoming “Rock of Ages” film wore jeans as he sat front row on the top deck of the boat, directly in front of the tour guide and directly under the sun.
“It is hot,” said Boneta, whose Spanish accent is almost non-existent, before the boat left the dock by the Michigan Avenue Bridge to take us on the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise.
The 21-year-old actor and Mexican pop star suggested five tourist attractions we could visit on this afternoon — including the Shedd Aquarium and Millennium Park — but ultimately left the final decision up to me.
Boneta began filming the MTV dramedy “Underemployed” in Chicago last month and said he, for the most part, didn’t know where to go in the city. He asked for recommendations on restaurants and bars within 10 minutes of meeting and asked again multiple times throughout the afternoon so he could jot them down in his phone.
Those destinations would have to wait, however, as Boneta was days away from a global press tour for “Rock of Ages.”
He called the tour his introduction to the U.S. media and clearly was looking to make a good first impression (he wore jeans because he felt they would be more appropriate). Boneta often seemed to think his responses through before answering questions and asked if we could go somewhere quieter on the boat because the tour guide’s routine was making it hard for him to concentrate.
Since competing on the Televisa children’s reality show “Codigo F.A.M.A.,” Boneta has appeared in multiple Spanish language TV shows, including the Televisa teen soap opera, “Rebelde,” and has been nominated for Latin Grammys.
Still, the son of a Mexican father and U.S.-born mother is mostly unknown in this country.
He initially struggled with auditions when he left Mexico City and moved to Los Angeles in 2007 and said it was a far cry from the way things worked in Latin America, where he feels the offers keep coming once you get your big break on TV.
“It was for sure the most humbling experience of my life,” said Boneta, now under shade on the lower deck and leaning up against the boat’s rails with bottled water in hand. “I had shot TV shows and been on a massive world-wide tour playing soccer stadiums (while opening for Mexican pop group RBD). Nobody cared. I had to start over.”
Boneta unsuccessfully auditioned for the role of Prince Caspian in 2008’s “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” and the role of the new student on Fox’s “Glee” that eventually went to Chord Overstreet. He called the latter rejection the most painful of his career and admitted there were times when he worried he would never make it in the U.S.
Just when it looked as if his plan to leave Mexico and conquer the U.S. market — which was because, he said, Latin America has a limit as to how far one can go — had back-fired, he got what seemed like his big break at the time, “Underemployed.” Little did he know he would land the role of wannabe rocker Drew Boley in the big screen adaptation of the Broadway musical “Rock of Ages” after that.
"Right after I got that ('Rock of Ages') call, I hung up the phone and yelled 'F yeaaah,'" said Boneta, whose only other U.S. film work at that point was the ABC Family TV movie "Mean Girls 2."
"Rock of Ages," which hits theaters Friday, is set in a rock ‘n’ roll club in LA in 1987 and features Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand,Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bryan Cranston. How did the unknown Boneta end up as a main character in one of the year’s most star-studded films? Ironically, he has one of his failed auditions to thank.
“The director (Adam Shankman) told me he hired me after seeing my ‘Glee’ audition on YouTube,” Boneta said. “I sang (the Rolling Stones’) ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want.’”
In addition to the film and TV show, Boneta is signed to Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine’s music label and has an album on the way this year. He wishes he could have released the album at the same time as the film for promotional reasons, but his schedule has been busy enough as it is. Not that he’s complaining. It’s what he came to this country for in the first place.
“I didn’t want to look back in a few years and think ‘What would have happened (if I had gone to the U.S.)?’” said Boneta as he looked out onto the river. “I put all my eggs in one basket.”