Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Alberto Zeni first caught the acting bug when he was 14 years old while working for Parque Plaza Sesamo in his hometown. In his mid-twenties, he decided to make a drastic change, packed up his bags and moved to Los Angeles, CA to continue his acting journey. While in LA, Alberto immersed himself in the craft – training in the Meisner Technique and teaching himself English. Now, he can be seen on season 2 of Narcos: Mexico, which returns to Netflix on February 13.
I got the chance to talk to him about his acting bucket list, his role as Amat Palacios on Narcos: Mexico, the research he did before filming started and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you got into acting originally.
Originally, my passion was music. I danced in shows, sang and released an album that had very little life. In the midst of that, I got invited to do musical theater and from then on, I fell for acting. Then I got a scholarship for a school in one of the biggest tv stations in Mexico and then my acting career began. The love for the stories, the emotional journeys and the different narratives kept growing over time. Now, it is part of my essence and who I am. It also taught me about myself as much as the human condition. In short, I LOVE IT.
Was there a specific person or experience that you would credit with helping you decide that acting is what you wanted to do for a living?
I think it was a combination of incredible people in my life. My father was very artistic and always would put on a show at any event; that’s how I got my curiosity for the stage. My mother was the dedicated one who took me to my initial auditions and empowered me to do what my heart wanted. That said, both asked me to study another thing, just in case. Since I loved electronics, I got a degree in Electronics Engineering.
After my parents, there is a sequence of different people who taught me important things in life and theater, one of which was an earlier acting teacher named Horacio Almada. He taught me one of the most important things I know to date. He said: “Out of everything and everyone you learn from, doubt it.” Meaning you should make your own conclusions and choose what you truly want and not what others tell you. Greatest advice of my life.
Do you have a personal acting “bucket list” of things you still want to accomplish in your career? If so, what are some of the things on it?
There are many things I would like to do. I have been at this for such a long time that now is when I feel comfortable enough to truly enjoy the process and really have fun. My take on acting is very much of an enjoyable journey, even when it is a very dramatic piece. A western would be an incredible experience that I haven’t yet had the chance to work on. Any sci-fi, fantasy, comic and/or physics-based projects are also something I would love to be a part of. The Nolans and the Wachowskis are revolutionary creators with deep insight and extraordinary stories on human development that go beyond the norm and I would love to work with them in the near future. Right now, for me, it’s time to have fun with life and craft. Bring it all on!
Let’s move on and talk about Narcos: Mexico. What was your audition process like?
I have known Carla Hool’s casting office for many years now, since we were all doing projects in Mexico City. For the second season in Mexico, Natalie Ballesteros called me up directly since I had just left my representation a couple weeks before the audition. I got invited to come in and read for a new unknown role in the new season. After several attempts at landing a role, I wasn’t sure what to expect anymore. So, in my mind I said, “I will enjoy this opportunity with everything I have and will have as much fun as I can.” The result was a series regular on the second season of Narcos: Mexico. Pretty great I will say.
Were you a fan of Narcos before you landed the role? If not, did you go back and watch any of the previous seasons?
Well, I auditioned 7 times for the show. So yes, definitely yes! I think I was a little infatuated with the idea of being a part of one of the biggest shows on the planet today. I auditioned for 5 years to book the role – it was completely worth it. As research, I binged watched all 4 seasons to get the tone and style of the show. That was important for me to do.
Tell me about the character you play on the show. What is he like? How does it fit in to the story?
I play Amat Palacios, a former Mexican cop that now enters as a liaison to the rogue DEA shock team that infiltrates the Mexican territory with the idea of breaking down the current criminal organization, as well as finding out who killed former agent Kiki Camarena, from the previous season. Amat has no scruples; he is there with a mission that is based in an arrangement he has with Walt Breslin (Scoot McNairy) where his brother will be released from prison in the States. This gives Amat liberty to act in whatever way he sees fit, having no issue in doing what he needs to do in order to succeed at his goal. That said, he is no fool; he takes care of himself and his team, he knows how things work, he covers his own behind when meeting new people or when he doesn’t want to be identified by voice or otherwise. He is a smart alley cat.
How much research did you do about the history of the cartels before you started filming?
I read many books about the DEA, operations and historic circumstances. I also watched documentaries and searched the internet to create the story that moves my character in this show. Adding to it, I grew up in the “Mexico” described in the show; those stories of Narcos were something everybody knew and there is a certain level of personal history with the whole subject matter.
Aside from Narcos: Mexico, what other projects are you working on?
Right now, both my agencies, in Mexico and the US, are in conversations to lock down a couple TV shows for 2020. Independently, my team and I are launching a new social media platform for crowdfunding by this summer. The idea is to empower more people to create innovation and involve the community to move forward.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently “nerding” out about?
Well, I just picked up the works of Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Neil deGrasse Tyson and other books about physics, relativity, astrophysics and quantum mechanics. Just a little bit of light reading!
Make sure you follow Alberto on Instagram.
Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard