Javi Elizonndro, the cartel underboss in Netflix drama ‘Ozark’, has recently gatecrashed many TV fans’ lists of the greatest screen villains of all time. Alfonso Herrera serves up the drug kingpin with a lethal cocktail of serene cool and ruthless hotheadedness, along with a depth that allows you to connect with the man behind the menacing exterior.
We met Alfonso fresh from bingeing the fourth and final season of the show, not sure what to expect from this man we’d recently watched killing his rivals without a second thought. And while we knew the actor would be rather more personable than his intimidating on-screen persona, we were surprised about just how kind, gentle, and all-round low-maintenance he was.
“That’s the response that I get when people meet me for the first time,” he says, as we confess to our nerves at meeting TV’s scariest drug lord. “But actually, I don’t like violence. I don’t like any type of mechanism that produces violence. I always try to have a conversation.
“In Mexico, we say, ‘Se matan mas moscas con miel’, which means you kill more bees with honey than with acid. I think that there is a possibility to solve things, always, with a good conversation. Being empathic and being respectful. That’s it.”
Alfonso is fresh from his life-changing role, alongside the masterful Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in the Netflix show, which is a true global smash in a crowded field of quality TV drama. It earned endless plaudits and accolades during its four-season run, including hitting a two-year high in the streaming ratings earlier this year. During the week in late January when the final season was released, it topped more than four billion viewing minutes in the US, making ‘Ozark’ the No1 show on streaming throughout a competitive period of Covid lockdown binge-viewing.
The star, who is based in Mexico City, speaks about the show, and role, with a genuine warmth. He was keen to avoid the drug boss cliches in his portrayal of Javi, which is what helped make the character one of the most memorable screen antagonists in recent years. And he was, of course, given the foundation for excellence by the top-class scriptwriting and filmmaking, with the team richly deserving of success at the Emmys next month.
“Something that was very important for me, was to understand the tone of that show,” he says. “To really think about the human side of that person.
“You can read it as a villain, but at the same time, he’s just a man that wants to be accepted by his family. But every single place where he goes, he’s not accepted. He’s not accepted by the Byrdes. He’s not accepted by his family. So, there’s a point of survival for him to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to make fun of it. I’m just going to have fun.’
“The scripts are so well-written, they’re so elegant. They use the words in a very precise way. They don’t overuse words, and sometimes they solve things with actions. It’s a great job from Chris Mundy and from all the writers’ room.”
Alfonso says Bateman, an executive producer on the show as well as starring as Marty Byrde (and a bona fide national treasure), was central to the positive attitude of the team on set. “Since day one, season one, he took care of every single person,” he says. “Many people that started that show in 2017, finished it in 2021. It’s a large journey and you become family and you need to take care of one another.”
So as he embarks on his next chapter, the 38-year-old is filming ‘Rebel Moon’, an epic sci-fi directed by Zach Snyder which is tastily being called Netflix’s answer to ‘Star Wars’. It’s a huge, epic film with a nine-figure budget and hopes to be a game-changer in the sci-fi arena. Alfonso, a dad of two young boys, also lights up when he tells us about roles as Batman in the Spanish-language version of the ‘Batman Unearthed’ podcast, and in the ‘DC League of Super-pets’ movie, and said making his son proud when he took him and his friends to that premiere was a beautiful moment “that has no price.”
“I do this because of my kids,” he says. “I think that kids come to our life, no matter how selfish a person could be, in order for us to know what is to give. And it might sound corny or whatever, but I do everything for them. If life is good for me, it’s going to be good for them. They are the reason. And I hope one time they watch this and they understand that I’m here because of them.”
A family-focused man, he speaks of his mother Ruth as his greatest mentor, and says it was her who taught him to find peace if his life and work ever feels too intense. “I take a break and I try to be by myself for as long as I need,” he says. “And I try to just be grateful and say thank you. That gives you perspective no matter what problem you have.” However, he admits his mom hasn’t seen him in his most famous role of Javi. “She doesn’t like to watch me in those types of roles,” he laughs. “But if she does, I’ll give you her feedback!”
Check out the video version of our ‘Who the F*** Are You?’ profile with Alfonso below, answering the 20 questions that get to the heart of who we are. And keep scrolling for the print interview and photoshoot. We appreciate the humility, and wise words on gratitude, from the Smart car-driving star. And we love that he is a huge soccer fan, and this insight, likening his work and that of directors to professional footballers and their coaches, “We both live with a pressure, and that pressure is a privilege, and I love it.”
Who the f*** are you?
I’m a 38-year-old Mexican, that was born in Mexico City, then went to Guadalajara when he was four years old, when my parents divorced. I wanted to be a pilot and to study aviation, and all of a sudden life took me into art, and I felt that was my path. So here I am, still working on this, and trying to give something to my kids from what I do. Because if I do well, they do well. That’s it. Nothing is for me anymore.
How are you feeling right now?
I feel blessed with the projects that I have. I always say, ‘Try to say thank you.’ And when things are not going that well in my mind, I always take a break. I say, ‘Okay. Time to say thank you.’
It puts things in perspective. Because I come from a place where things can be a bit harsh. So, we need to be thankful for what we have. And I feel very thankful, specifically, for having a job. Not so long ago, two years ago with the pandemic, everything stopped. Not for one person, but for every single human being on this planet. That thing took away something from everybody: money, a family member, a friend. I think that’s why I feel blessed.
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in Guadalajara. I was born in Mexico City and I moved to Guadalajara when I was four. That’s where I remember my childhood, being in Guadalajara, in the neighborhood, playing soccer with a bunch of friends. I have the best memories of that.
What excites you?
A Sunday with a lot of soccer! I love football, I think it’s the best sport in the world. I wanted to be a soccer player when I was very little. I played at Atlas, and I started to play well, and the trainers asked my mom, ‘Hey, can he come for some games on Monday, 11am?’ My mom said, ‘Of course not. You’re going to go to school, and that’s it!’ And I thank her for that. A lot.
I find a lot of parallels between soccer and my work. I once heard a talk from Pep Guardiola, and saw the similarities between being on set and being on the bench, talking to players and talking to actors. We both live with a pressure, and that pressure is a privilege, and I love it.
What scares you?
Thinking that my kids could be in a risky situation. I once heard that your kid is a piece of you that is dancing around outside of you, and you cannot control it. To think that my kids could be in a dangerous situation scares me a lot.
What’s your proudest achievement?
I feel very happy with what I have achieved with my own work, with my own hands.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do?
Going to work and saying goodbye to my kids for weeks or for months. That is hard.
Who is your greatest mentor and what did they teach you?
My mom. She was a single mother raising two kids by herself. Working and raising us. We were a headache when we were kids, my brother and I. Oh my God. We were a headache. And I value so much all the effort that she put in.
Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?
Real-life, Lionel Messi. He has something unique. People say that, when you are a good football player, you can solve things in three different kinds of ways. Well, he can solve a play with nine different possibilities, and that is a genius. I would love to see things from his perspective. How he solves things. I find football and life are in conjunction, there’s an interesting link.
What’s your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
My tennis shoes and the shorts that I used to wear to play soccer.
What music did you love at age 13, and do you still love it now?
Salsa music. I love Latin American music. It puts me in a good mood. Salsa saved my life in the pandemic. I was shooting ‘Ozark’, studying, and Salsa brought a little bit of joy to my life.
What’s the most inspiring book you have read?
‘The Labyrinth of Solitude’ by Octavio Paz. It’s an essay that talks about Mexicans, and how we are as a society. He’s an amazing writer, rest in peace. He wrote that essay outside of Mexico, in France, to have perspective of who we are as a culture and who we are as a nation.
I just did a movie called ‘Viva Mexico’ with a director, Luis Estrada, that I love so much. He’s one of the best directors in Latin America, and that was our reference, so it was amazing.
What is a movie that left the lasting impression on you?
I would have to say the Godfather 1, 2, and 3, because of an emotional thing with family. We gathered together as a family and watched it on a Saturday. I watched that with my father, and it was a cool moment for us. He enjoyed it and he passed on to me the love of that film.
What is your favorite word or saying?
It’s actually a Spanish word. It’s almohada or omnipotente. I just love the sound of it. Almohada means ‘pillow’, and omnipotente means ‘omnipotent’.
What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?
He had fun and he left with a smile.
And finally, a quickfire five favorites…
My car. A Smart car. I have one in Mexico City.
Barcelona in Spain, Pumas in Mexico, and Manchester City in England.
I like Tom Ford, Vanilla Tobacco.
My Adidas shoes.
Grooming by Sonia Lee