Alberto Zeni – “Narcos: Mexico” and Living in LA

There has been some fantastic reading and viewing about the drug wars. The books of Don Winslow are incredibly detailed and compelling. The Netflix “Narcos” series are equally insightful. On the heels of the fourth season I had a chat with Alberto Zeni, who plays the pivotal role of Amat Palacios.

“Narcos: Mexico” is the second season set right below the border, and tells the tale of the various plazas vying for power and influence after their start as disparate cannabis purveyors.

Alberto Zeni

Zeni was born in Monterrey, Mexico and started acting at a young age. After earning an engineering degree, he ambitiously moved to LA to further his career. He taught himself English, and is fluent in Spanish, English, Italian, and can speak some French, Hebrew, Arabic and Mandarin. “That gives me opportunities to listen better, and work in different roles and places,” Zeni confirmed.

I asked Zeni his opinion about whether the depiction of characters in the Mexican drug cartels could affect people’s perspectives on the greater Mexican population. We agreed that it is not much different than Italians and depictions of the Mafia.

“Everyone has the option and choice to choose their lifestyle,” said Zeni. “There are lots of conditions and influences, and at the end of the day it is an individual’s choice to go into path of destruction or productivity.”

After ten years in Los Angeles with a growing list of screen credits, Zeni felt compelled to do more for his newfound community. He discovered different organizations, especially those trying to alleviate the strains on the homeless. “The homeless population is huge. These organizations aren’t enough.”

Being musically inclined and a multi-instrumentalist, Zeni enjoys his free time playing the violin, piano, flute and guitar and is in a jam group called “Jamnation.” He combined his talents and works with the nonprofit Homeward LA, which puts on theatrical productions that showcase the real-life experiences of people who have become homeless, thus humanizing their stories.

“We tell the stories about how people have gotten off the streets, and improved their situation. We have raised $130,000 to help with housing and food,” Zeni proudly reports. He also spends time feeding homeless at LA Mission, “to improve the situation of those who don’t think they have options. It gives you perspective on how you could be up or down.”

Shifting gears back to his acting career, Zeni laughed when I asked whether he likes playing the good guy or the bad guy. If it is a comedy, he likes playing the good guy. “It is more intriguing playing the bad guy,” Zeni admits. “I’ll need to create a new persona. Any villain is hurt somehow, and that pain creates the chaos for the role. The villain has more room and need to evolve, adapt. The good guy probably not as much.”

As to his favorite actors, he looks up to Daniel Day Lewis, Gary Oldman and Leonardo DeCaprio. “But the reason I am in the United States is Brad Dourif. He is an amazing chameleon, very present every time. He totally becomes the person he needs to become.” We concurred that a couple of Dourif’s best roles were in “One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Midnight Express.”

Zeni mentioned that he continues his giving back by empowering a new generation through his organization Me There.

Look for more of Zeni in “I Am Fear,” “Love is Not Love” and an action comedy with another actor from Narcos.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.