The epic film For Greater Glory opened in theaters this summer and told the largely unknown story of the Mexican Cristero war – the 1920’s fight for religious freedom against the oppressive Mexican government. The movie will be available on DVD from Ignatius Press beginning September 11. Mexican actor Mauricio Kuri portrayed Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio in the film. He spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake from his home in Mexico about the film, his role, and acting.
Did you know anything about Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio prior to playing him?
No, I didn’t know anything about the Cristero war. When I got the script, I was really speechless that I didn’t know about this, about Blessed Jose and the Cristeros. This story was hidden for so many years. Not even my teachers knew what happened. I did a lot of research on the Internet. When the film opened in Mexico, it blew everyone’s mind. People need to know what happened here. We know the history of so many other countries, but people don’t know about Mexican history.
Did you grow up Catholic? Tell me about where you’re from.
Yes, I’ve been Catholic since I was a little kid. I live about an hour away from Mexico City. I attend a musical theater academy. Doing theater gave me practice and inspired me to go into films. If you want to be an actor you have to start with theater because that’s the basis.
How did you prepare for the role?
I studied him and read a Spanish biography of him. The book told me a lot of his story. Before each scene I listened to a lot of dramatic music, like Coldplay.
Jose’s role is amazing. He was 14. I’m 14. He wanted to join the Cristero army to fight for God, for his freedom, and his liberty. That made me think if I would have done the same thing. At 14 he wanted to give his life for Christ.
There was also the opportunity to go to Mass every day on the set.
How did learning about Blessed Jose, and portraying him, affect your faith?
It affected my faith. Beforehand, I was a regular Catholic and attended Mass every Sunday, but I didn’t see religion the way I see it now. You need to live your faith with passion and give everything to God. You can be a “Cristero” now days too by being faithful and not being ashamed of being Catholic when you’re with your friends.
There are so many battles. The world is always at war. God is always the answer. He’s your friend. If you pray to him and give yourself to him, he will always help you. After the film, I went on mission here in Mexico. It was a wonderful and beautiful experience. I thank Blessed Jose because he was my inspiration to do all of this. I wear a medal of Blessed Jose around my neck daily.
How well did the film do overall?
I’m happy. Here in Mexico people didn’t know it happened, so I’m happy that people now know about this story about this beautiful boy. He’s a Mexican hero and needs to be recognized. The box office wasn’t as powerful in the U.S., but I’m glad it launched there, that people could see it and learn about our history. I don’t care so much about the box office, but about the film’s impact on people. It had a great impact.
Have any other film roles resulted from your role in the film?
There are some possible projects here for Mexican movies. I’m trying to get an agent in U.S.
I understand that you developed a close relationship with the actor Peter O’Toole during the filming?
The first time I saw him walking on stage I was speechless. He is such a theater legend. Lawrence of Arabia is one of my favorite movies. He’s the same wonderful actor and has that essence of life in his acting, and is a wonderful human being outside the set. He told me about his personal life and gave me acting tips. He went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and told me that it would be a good opportunity for me to attend there. It’s Shakespearean, and I love Shakespeare. He’s such a good person. I admire him a lot as a person and an actor and was glad to become his friend.