Alfonso Herrera, 38, who appears as cartel scion Javi Navarro in the fourth and final season of Netflix’s dark family drama “ozarktakes calls from Zoom lying in his beloved hammock. In mid-January, I interviewed Herrera, the acclaimed actor and musician, on the night of the premiere of the new season of “Ozark” on Netflix. The actor was comfortable in a swing hammock affixed to his home on the outskirts of Mexico City, surrounded by tall trees and clear skies. “It’s like the Latin American cliché of life, isn’t it?” he asks with a smile, relaxing in the embers of the setting sun as if his life depended on it. The truth is, he deserved it. Between living up to the Navarro family name on “Ozark,” his Ariel Award-winning performance in “The lease of los 41”, and alongside Paulina Gaitan (Netflix’s “Narcos“) in the next romantic comedy “Me Case con an Idiota“, Herrera kept busy constantly.
Herrera plays Javi, the ambitious nephew of Navarro cartel boss Omar. The character possesses an ominous coolness in relation to Omar’s relentless tactics. “Ozark” fans will find Javi charming, unpredictable, cultured and, as Herrera says, “I’d love to have a beer with him…but with no guns on the table.” As for the Byrde family, led by Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as Marty and Wendy, the new season has them working directly with the Navarro Cartel. Of course, fans won’t forget the explosive season three finale and the evolving dynamics left in its wake.
“The Byrdes, they’re trying to get back to their life in Chicago,” he reveals. “At the same time, Omar Navarro is trying to stay away from his responsibilities, the FBI, the police. And that’s where Javier comes in. To give Marty and Wendy a lot of headaches. Javi and Alfonso have several similarities, despite Javi’s position at the top echelon of an international drug cartel. “He’s a really funny guy. He likes to talk about art, he likes to talk about wine – the little things that are interesting in life. But, of course, the actor had to deal with Javi’s dark side. “He also doesn’t want people F- with him,” Herrera says, “and because he’s so unpredictable, the options on set were universal. Exploring that darkness and measuring it against what makes him human, Herrera speaks of his experience playing Javi as a release.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for the cast and crew of Ozark to connect ahead of filming. Still, Herrera insists everyone did their part to make him and the other “newbies” feel welcome. One thing he loves about his job is “to interact with the people who are going to be your family for the next nine months. Jason, Laura and Julia [Garner] were very aware of this, and they made us all very welcome.” He adds, “What I can say is that they are very powerful people in the entertainment business, but they use their power to help their team. It’s something I find very generous, and their generosity matches their talent.
Herrera’s experience on “Ozark” was made all the more rewarding not just because of his co-stars, but because he came on board as a lifelong fan of the show. He’s no stranger to the ubiquity of cartel-themed content; he played the lead role in the Donnie Brasco-inspired TV series “The Dandyfor 70 episodes in 2015. Still, the actor was drawn to the way “Ozark” contextualizes the Global South within the international drug trade. “I think there are a lot of subjective and objective points of view when you talk about these stories. These shows blame it on the South. But [‘Ozark’] creates a more global responsibility.
Now a rising star in the United States, Herrera’s success as an actor seemed, from the start, almost predetermined. Her screen debut, the 2002 romantic drama “Amarte duel“, earned him an MTV Movie Award in Mexico for favorite villain. Two years later he starred in the popular telenovela “rebelwhich followed an up-and-coming rock band and sent Herrera on tour around the world. His face lights up when he talks about the beginnings of his career and the aeronautical career he almost became. “I wanted to study aviation. So when I was 18, I applied to an aviation school in San Antonio, Texas. I was admitted, and then all of a sudden, I was doing a theater project [at the same time].”
Soon, Herrera had to choose one of two paths ahead of him. “One of the people involved in the project was a very famous artist and singer, and her father was a very famous filmmaker in Mexico City. And he was going to direct a film, and she said, ‘Hey, you want to do a reading for a role?” “Herrera got the part, hooked up with a TV producer working on the film, and found himself working steadily on the movies and TV shows ever since. “So after all that, maybe I’ll go back to San Antonio to study aviation,” he said, laughing. Looking back on those times, Herrera knows he made the right decision. “It was, like, what had to happen. I do not know. Destiny. Life. Serenity. I do not know!”
Fortunately, Herrera had the support of her family. “They saw that I was not wasting my money. I really cared about the profession and was responsible. In the wake of Herrera’s breakout role in “Amar te duela”, it didn’t take long for him to become a household name. When “Rebelde” premiered in 2004, the show was an instant hit, catapulting the show’s stars into the stratosphere seemingly overnight. “It was amazing,” he recalls. “Through this project, I had the opportunity to travel to – you name it.”
The band’s debut album sold over 1.2 million copies worldwide. Still, Herrera humbly admits he only remembers how amazing the experience was for him. “I don’t know the numbers. But, yes, it was a massive project, specifically for Latin American cultures and parts of Europe. I mean, we went to Romania, Croatia, Spain. It was great.” As for his involvement in the new Reboot “Rebelde” from Netflix, Herrera says he’ll be watching as a fan. “I will be in the front row cheering and supporting them.”
The original “Rebelde” aired as a telenovela, debuting with five new episodes each week, amounting to 300 episodes in three years. I asked him about the difference between working on this show and his more recent projects for streaming platforms, like “Ozark”, where fans are lucky to get 10 episodes a year. “When you have to deliver a lot of scenes in a day, you start to develop a skill which is, ‘I need to work things out.’ Because it’s not easy trying to shoot 20, 21 scenes in one day.
“Rebelde” gave Herrera a taste of stardom. Thereafter, his career was littered with projects propelled by their passionate fanbases. In particular, Netflix’s psychedelic ensemble series “Sense8allowed Herrera to see how influential a big fandom can be. “In Brazil, they were passionate about ‘Sense8’, and they were very passionate about ‘RBD.’ So the only thing we can say is thank you. Thanks to all of them.
Herrera fondly recalls his time on “Sense8” as one where he had the chance to work with the Wachowskis, two of his heroes, and learn more about the creative process. The actor recalled a day when co-creator Lana Wachowski came to the set with photos of Caravaggio in her hand. No storyboards, just images. “It was crazy, the creativity, the generosity. They had the story in their heads, and they cut their heads off. It’s like, how are you able to do this? They are geniuses,” he said.
While filming scenes for ‘Sense8’ in Mexico City, Herrera experienced more of that serenity which launched his acting career. During our conversation, he recalled a specific day when the show was filmed at a bus stop in Mexico City, in the middle of one of the city’s chaotic streets. Before becoming an actor, Herrera had found himself at this bus stop many times – sometimes on foot, other times in a taxi or driving past in his car. “And years later, being with Lana at that bus stop and doing a show with her while I was skipping school 20 years ago, trying to go see ‘Matrix’. It was crazy!”
Three years after “Sense8” premiered in 2018, Herrera accepted an Ariel Award for Best Actor for his performance in the 2020 LGBT historical drama “El baile de los 41.” The film made headlines in Mexico for its candid depiction of an infamous true story from the annals of Mexican history. However, when discussing the award, he avoids discussing what it means to him, personally, only mentioning that it is “important for the project itself as it gives visibility to the LGBT community in Mexico”.
The Dance of 41 is well known in Mexico, but many are still hesitant to mention it today. The film, set in 1901, recreates an infamous dance of 41 men, 19 of them dressed as women, being raided by Mexican President Porfirio Díaz. When it was revealed that her son-in-law was present, the story became a huge scandal across the country. Regarding the general public’s opinion — over a century later — of the Dance of the 41, Herrera says, “It’s something that here in Mexico they try to hide. It’s something they don’t want to talk about.
Herrera feels compelled to get involved in projects like “El baile de los 41” that prioritize diversity and the untold stories of marginalized groups. Like “El baile”, “Sense8″ deals with the idea of what it means to be human, with an international cast that has found diversity not only in culture, but in personality, orientation and ideology. “I think we can all benefit from it. Not just Latino actors and not just the Latino community. But everyone.”
As for what he is currently working on, Herrera is mainly focused on a project he is developing in Latin America. “I don’t mean to jinx it, but I’m really, really excited.” Reluctant to go into too much detail, Herrera explains, “It’s the story of this Mexican doctor who was connected to shamans, and it’s connected to that and Mexican politics. It’s a very interesting project, and it’s a story that happened in the late 1970s, early 1980s.” Herrera explains, “We can’t see things as just two-dimensional Where one-dimensional. I think there’s something more than what we can’t see, but what we can feel,” he says, searching for the right words. “I hope I was clear.”
Our existential detour is soon interrupted by the fact that what Herrera desires most is a quiet night at home when all is said and done. “When I hang up with you, maybe I’ll have a glass of wine. I like to stay at home. I like to cook, open a bottle of wine and listen to music. Then, as if it just came to him in mind, Herrera said, “That’s actually a really good plan. That’s what I’m going to do now.”