Appetite for Deception

WRITTEN BY
Dave Itzkoff


By his own admission, Diego Luna is a liar. The 24-year-old Mexico City native gleefully cons his friends and family, delights in lying to interviewers, and openly refers to acting as "the big lie." If he is to be believed at all, this compulsion may be innate; he was delivered into the world on December 29, the day after Mexico's observance of Innocents Day. "They say if you're born on that day, you're going to be a thief and spend half of your life in jail," Luna explains. "I was born two hours after that, so I still got a bit of it." Or it may be a trait he picked up at the age of two, when his mother was killed in a car accident. "It was horrible to tell the whole story to people," he says, "so I was always inventing new mothers for myself."

Luna began lying for a living--that is, acting--primarily as a way to stay close to his father, a noted set designer in Mexico's theater and opera communities. At just seven years old, he appeared in his first play, and by age 12 was working in a series of soap operas that, to his relief, have never aired on American TV. "In a movie," says Luna, "you work three months to tell a story that happens in two hours. In a Mexican soap opera, you work one day to make a story that's an hour and a half. So you can see the difference in the quality of the project."

Roles in several Mexican films soon followed, but Luna would not earn recognition in the States until he starred in director Alfonso Cuarón's international breakthrough Y Tu Mamà También in 2002, opposite childhood friend Gael García Bernal. Though the coming-of-age exploits of its two protagonists ultimately tear them apart, Luna says the experience of making the film with Bernal brought them closer together. "He had been studying in England for three years," Luna says, "and I only saw him two or three times [during that period], so it brought our friendship back in a way. We only get mad at each other when we play soccer. It doesn't matter who wins--we're always so pissed off that we need some space."

Following his supporting performance in The Terminal, Luna returns to center stage in this month's Criminal, from first-time director Gregory Jacobs. In this American remake of the Argentinean film Nueve Reinas (Nine Queens), Luna and John C. Reilly (Boogie Nights) play a pair of Los Angeles con men--Luna, a novice, and Reilly, a veteran--about to embark on the fraud of a lifetime without completely trusting each other. Criminal's elaborate action takes place within the span of a single day, creating a continuity nightmare for its actors, and making dishonesty a valuable skill on the set. "One day you wake up and you only slept three hours, or you lost your girlfriend, and you have to pretend you're the same guy you were the day before," says Luna. "But that's what they pay you for." He and Reilly also worked closely with the LAPD to learn basic rip-offs perpetrated by the city's scam artists--though Luna won't reveal what scams he was taught. "If you put that in a magazine," he claims, "then someone's going to read that and say, 'Fuck! I can't believe he pulled that on me!'"

With his ill-gotten gains, Luna has started work co-producing the film Solo Dios Sabe (God Only Knows), a romance in which he also stars. The actor says he felt artistically obligated to help finance the film--"otherwise I'm just an asshole. If I wanted to just do business, I'd sell food, or open bars." But if the movie does well, wouldn't he have enough money to start his own bar? "Actually," he says sheepishly, "I already have a bar. That's why I'm saying this." Once again, Diego Luna has conned us.

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