Nobody puts Diego in a corner – not when he’s making his American debut as a leading man. After earning Hollywood props in the Spanish-language film Y Tu Mama Tambien, Diego Luna, 24, is slinking across the dance floor (and making the girls swoon, thanks to a few samba lessons) in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, the retooled story of 1987’s Dirty Dancing. But Luna’s not exactly your older sister’s Patrick Swayze. The lanky Mexican actor with the seductive Latin accent has held his own against Salma Hayek (in Frida) and Tom Hanks (in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Terminal), and this time around he plays a character caught up in love and the Cuban revolution.
Luna took time to chat with reporters about learning the moves, breaking into Hollywood and pleasing the ladies.
Do you realize what you’ve started? Teenage girls around the world are going to want to lose their virginity to Latin waiters.
(Laughs) I’m sorry for them because they’ll have to wait until they are 18 years old. If not, there’s going to be a lot of Latin waiters in jail.
How was it working opposite Romola Garai, who plays your love interest in Havana Nights?
It was great. I think that everyone was really scared about the chemistry between us. We watched ourselves the first time and we said, ‘Oh my God, this is never going to happen.’ And then, we started to see changes, and we did everything together and it was great.
Were you body-conscious at all? How’d you get in shape for the role?
I want to see movies where I can relate to the guy. If I see the governor of California, I never relate to his characters because I would never spend four hours in the gym. I don’t think that’s human.
I wanted to do a real character, which is a guy who works at two different jobs a day and uses his body for his work. He doesn’t go to the gym. … (Although) I had to stand more straight, which was hard because I’m always like this, slouching. They always think that I’m 5’6″, and I’m 5’10”. This character is a bit straighter than me … well, not straighter. (Laughs)
What drew you to the movie? The dancing?
I’m a terrible dancer. I need to be really drunk and see a beautiful girl over there (to dance). I think that I did this movie because it was a good chance to have a lead in an English-language movie, (and) it was a chance to do a movie about smart young people.
Had you seen the original Dirty Dancing?
It was great. I saw the movie two weeks before we started shooting and I’d already made my choices about how my character was going to dance, who he was going to be. So it was good because I didn’t have the other movie as a reference.
As a Mexican actor, are you afraid of being stereotyped?
There are all (these) American actors that are my age that can’t do a Latin accent, and I can. So it’s not a problem, it’s great. Everyone is different, and, I don’t want to repeat anyone else’s career. I have to be proud of what I am.
You come from a family that’s been in the industry awhile. Is your father, set designer Alejandro, shocked that you’re more famous than he is now?
(Laughs) Yeah. He always says, “Damn it, I chose the wrong career.”
Do you feel like you’re becoming a Hollywood star?
I don’t want to come and conquer American films, or the American market. I just want to do movies that I care about, stories that I like.
You recently worked with Steven Spielberg on Terminal. What was that like?
He was great. He’s so clear about what he wants, and he goes straight for what he needs … you feel like part of the process.
Is it true that your Terminal costar Catherine-Zeta Jones said if she weren’t married to Michael Douglas that she’d date you?
(Laughs) She didn’t say that. I’m so sad, but she didn’t. I was waiting for that to happen, but it never happened.