UT student Emilio Mejia makes acting debut at SXSW in ‘Hail Mary’

Trisha Dasgupta, Senior Life & Arts Reporter

Emilio Mejia, a theatre and dance sophomore, made his film debut at SXSW in Rosemary Rodriguez’s film “Hail Mary,” a modern retelling of the biblical story of Mary and Joseph. 

The Daily Texan sat down with Mejia to talk about acting, speaking at SXSW, meeting “Hail Mary” executive producer Keanu Reeves and connecting with audiences through filmmaking. 

The Daily Texan: Can you tell me about the movie and the character you play?

Emilio Mejia: It’s a biblical retelling of Mary and Joseph, but there’s a bit more to it. In the movie, Mary is from Belize. She’s pregnant with a child, and she doesn’t know where it came from. She’s trying to cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. because there’s this virus that kills newborn babies. She’s also being chased by the right-hand man of the devil. She goes to Mexico, and she gets help from Jose, (who) is Joseph. She asks Jose if he knows anyone in the U.S. that can help them, which is where my character Hector comes in. 

DT: Was this your first time being on a film set?

EM: I’ve been on television sets before, so I wasn’t a complete newbie to it. But everyone was super nice. The director, Rosemary Rodriguez, made me feel really welcomed and at home like I was in a good environment. With her, I definitely got what the character wants and what my scene is gonna do for the whole movie. I feel like I did a good job portraying that.

DT: The film premiered at SXSW. What was that like? 

EM: It was really cool. I was able to see all my castmates again and meet the producers, including Keanu Reeves, which was pretty cool. He’s an executive producer on the movie, so it was a crazy experience. I’d never been to a film festival, and I got to talk on the panels, which were really fun. 

DT: What was it like meeting Keanu Reeves?

EM: He’s really nice. He’s very tall, so he’s intimidating — I mean, he is John Wick, after all. But yeah, he was a great guy.

DT: How has your education at UT helped you with the film? 

EM: It’s helped me with understanding that everyone plays a certain role. You’re not here specifically to make yourself look good, but you’re here to serve a purpose. UT really helped clarify that, and they help make you the best at what you’re doing because everyone has to be good at what they’re doing for it to be a nice process. If I had gone onto that set without all of the experience I’ve gained at UT, I would have been a lot more lost on set for sure.

DT: What is it about acting that speaks to you?

EM: I love entertaining, and I love being able to tell a story. Maybe it’s not a story that’s always true or maybe it’s really dramatic, but there’s a message behind it. For example, this movie has themes of immigration and the struggles that people go through. … I hope when people come out of the movie they can be like, “Oh my god, I was rooting for an immigrant woman that’s having a baby.” That’s not something that you always see. I like acting because it’s just entertaining people, making people happy and being able to get those messages across.