A Conversation with Christian Ochoa Lavernia, the Multitalented Star of The Covenant
As a fan of Guy Ritchie and having watched The Covenant multiple times, I was extremely excited for the chance to meet Cuban American actor Christian Ochoa Lavernia, who portrays Eddie Lopez “Chow-chow” in the movie. What were my initial impressions? The instant he began speaking Portuguese, I could tell that our conversation was going to be truly remarkable.
Christian Ochoa Lavernia, affectionately known as “The Cuban Marlon Brando” by his mother-in-law, is a remarkable first-generation American of Cuban heritage. The intertwined stories of his maternal and paternal grandparents fleeing Cuba to Miami after the revolution in 1967, when his mother was just five years old, serve as a testament to the resilience and determination embedded in his family’s history.
Born on a military base in Georgia due to his father’s service in the army, Christian and his sister eventually settled in Miami, where they experienced the vibrant culture and challenges of growing up in a diverse city. From an early age, Christian’s exposure to cinema, fuelled by late-night movie sessions with his grandfather, ignited a flame of passion for acting that has burned brightly within him throughout his life.
SD – I know that you watched a lot of films, but did you ever imagine being in one of them?
COL – Every time I used to run or exercise, I would imagine myself in a movie. It was always on my mind, even before I started taking acting seriously. When I was growing up, I had many interests, and one of them was baseball. I loved playing baseball and even thought I could become a professional player. But there were some things that held me back, and I could not pursue it. Surprisingly, when I went to school, I did not study theatre or drama. Instead, I studied political science and got my degree in that. Later, I even got a masters in international business and started working in a decent job. But I was not happy because it was not my true passion. I got to travel to various places like Brazil because I knew Portuguese, and even though I moved around a lot, it still was not what I really loved. I remember living in a small town in Tennessee where there was not much to do except go to Walmart or the movie theatre. So, I spent a lot of time watching movies. One day, after watching Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, I could not help but think, “Why didn’t I pursue acting? That is what I always dreamed of!” That night, I called my mom and asked her what she thought I should have done with my life. She said, “You should have become an actor.” That is when I made up my mind. I quit my job, moved back to Miami, and started all over again. I began training, taking acting classes, finding an agent, and doing small acting gigs like commercials. Each step I took was a step closer to my dream. I was not making money, but I felt happy. When take a step like this, it is important to believe in yourself and have confidence in what you are doing. I am passionate about what I do, and it has never been about the money or being famous for me. When I was younger, I had a job that paid well, especially for someone my age. But I realized that money did not bring me true happiness. True happiness, for me, is waking up every morning and doing what I love, even if the roles I play are small. I feel like I am living my dream and it still makes me excited every single day.
SD – Can you share your experience working with director Guy Ritchie on “The Covenant”? How did he contribute to the intensity and realism of the film?
COL – Working with Guy was like a dream come true! I have admired him for as long as I can remember. You see, as an American, we have this amazing love and fascination for England. We grew up watching movies about castles, Queens, and Kings, so we have this incredible image in our minds. America is a young country, but England is ancient and stunning. Most Americans are really captivated by English culture. Movies like “Snatch” and “Lock Stock” are so much fun, especially with all that London swagger. Even before I became an actor, I would imagine myself in scenes from movies like “Rock n Rolla.” There is this cool quote from Tom Wilkinson who plays Lenny, that I loved: “There’s no school like the old school and I am the f*** headmaster.” I could not stop repeating it because it was just so awesome!
When you start acting, it can be tough. You must challenge yourself and go through auditions and stuff. But if you were to tell me then that whatever many years later, I would be working with Guy Ritchie face to face on a Guy Ritchie film, and not just a Guy Ritchie film, but “THE” Guy Ritchie film unlike any others; is not like “Snatch” or “Lock Stock.” This as you said is set in realism and intensity, and Guy Ritchie is an intelligent guy. He knows a lot about everything. He is also a sweetheart, but he can be intense too. He knows how to make the audience interested in the story. Sometimes he would tell me to change something mid scene, and at first, I did not get it. But when I saw it on screen, I understood why. It made the character’s purpose clearer. We also had an awesome team, like Max Keene and Ivan Atkinson, who have worked with Guy Ritchie for a long time. We even had military advisors who were part of the American military! It was a big collaboration, and we all worked hard because we knew we were telling an important story.
SD – What attracted you to the role of Eduardo in “The Covenant”? How did you prepare for the character and the setting of Afghanistan?
COL – Hey Sofia, guess what? One day, I hope I will have the chance to choose any character I want to play. But for now, luck played a crucial role in getting this opportunity. You see, if I still lived in America, I would not have gotten this role because they were looking for someone like me in the UK. But luckily, I am an American actor who is also Latino, just like Eddie Lopez. It was a mix of being prepared and being in the right place at the right time.
Originally, I auditioned for another character named Charlie Crowder, but someone else got that part (and Sean Sagar played it perfectly), when I did not hear anything for a while my team told me about a new character named Eddie. They said a few guys were interested in the role, but if I could send in an audition tape by the next morning, they would consider me too.
I was in Miami visiting my family and when my manager called me, I was out on a bike, I quickly left my bike ride, went home, and bought a tripod for my phone camera from a local store. I set up everything in my grandma’s room, which is like a games room with a purple-pink wall. It was not the best setup, but I had to make it work. I did the audition, sent it in, and waited anxiously.
And guess what? Just a few days before Christmas in 2021, I got the news that I got the role! It was such an exciting moment. So, you see, it was a combination of auditioning at the right time, being prepared, and a little bit of luck that made it all happen. But honestly, at the end of the day, I am super happy that I got to play that character because, like, I am American, and I have a lot of American friends in the military. There are so many Latino Americans in the military, which is awesome. You see a lot of American movies, when they show Latinos, they always talk with an accent like this, you know? But I am Latino from America and I speak with a perfect American accent. It is important to have Latino characters who are proud of their heritage. In the movie, I made sure to show off my Latino roots, like rocking a cool cigar in my mouth. So, I did what I could to portray that Eddie is this person, but it is the same time he is as hard as he is to be a Cuban. He is as proud as to be an American. I think when actors play these characters, they must bring a little bit of themselves into it too. It is like they become the character, but still show who they are. “There is a lot of Ochoa in Chow-chow”!
SD – Critics have praised “The Covenant” as a superbly crafted drama. Can you share any specific scenes or moments from the film that were particularly challenging or rewarding for you as an actor?
COL – Starting with the best parts, one of the most amazing moments was when I got to work with Jake. I have always looked up to him and his work. He has been acting for a long time, even though he is young. So, having the chance to be creative and artistic with someone I admire so much was incredibly rewarding. Another wonderful thing was getting to work with all the other actors. We became like a family, and it was cool to see how we all worked together to make the scenes feel real. We had to train hard to make it look like we were special forces. It was so exciting when we finished a scene and it felt like we were actually there. Now, let us talk about the challenging parts. One of the toughest things was doing some physical stuff. There was this one scene where I had to go up these steep stairs. They were so big and far apart, and I had to hold a gun and look out for danger. It was tricky because I could not even look at the stairs! Jake Gyllenhaal was in front of me and Dar Salim behind me, I kept thinking if I fall right now, we are all going to die… so I had to be incredibly careful. But overall, even the challenging parts were funny and made the experience even more memorable. But when it came to filming scenes and playing my character, it was a blast.
SD – In “The Covenant,” your character is the right-hand man to John Kinley, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. How did you approach the dynamic between Eduardo and John, and what did you enjoy most about working alongside Jake?
COL – Guy is flexible and does not make things too strict or rigid. He creates this cool atmosphere on set that is all about having fun. See, sometimes in other jobs, you have to say every single word in the script exactly as it is written. That can be hard because in real life, we do not always talk that way. We might want to say things differently based on how we feel in the moment. But with Guy, it is different. He is like, “Okay, let’s try it like this. Let’s try it like that.” He is always making changes and keeping things exciting. When he says “action,” it is like a rush of excitement. It is like real life, you know? We do not always know what we are going to say next, but we just go with the flow. And that’s how Guy is too.
John and Chow-chow are the older guys in the group, and they have been doing this for a long time together. They are always asking me how much I charge or making fun of me for always eating. But naturally, I always have John’s back no matter what because we have been doing this together for years and we trust each other. We have this unspoken understanding where we can read each other’s body language and know what the other person is thinking. Working with Jake was amazing because he is great at expressing his emotions through his eyes in the film. I learned a lot from watching him.
SD – “SILO” has been described as an absolutely thrilling sci-fi series. What can you tell us about your character ‘Amundsen’ and the overall premise of the show? How does it feel to be a part of such a highly acclaimed project?
COL – Wow, can you believe it? I never thought in a million years that I would get the chance to work with Rebecca Ferguson and Tim Robin! It is like a dream come true. But let me tell you, there is so much more to this experience than just the famous stars. The writing in this show is amazing. Every character is so well-developed and interesting. You cannot help but wonder what is going on with each one of them. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, eagerly waiting for the next episode. I used to binge-watch shows, but now I realize how exciting it is to have something to look forward to every week. It is like a little treat that makes the whole week more exciting. I cannot wait to see what happens next Friday!
SD – You have had the opportunity to work with an impressive cast in “SILO,” including Tim Robbins, Rebecca Ferguson, and David Oyelowo. What was it like collaborating with such talented actors, and how did that influence your performance?
COL – Having the amazing chance to work with Tim Robbins, who has done a ton of great movies. I am sure you have heard of “Shawshank Redemption,” right? It is one of the best movies ever made! But he has also been in “Mystic River” and “Bull Durham,” which is a baseball movie. Tim really loves baseball, and it shows in his work. When I watched him act, it was like he became the character, and it felt so real. It made me realize that sometimes when people are angry, they do not always show it in a big, obvious way. Tim is excellent at showing those emotions in a more subtle and powerful way. Oh, and working with Rashid Lynn aka Common was such an honour too! Music is so amazing because it can change your mood instantly. Have you ever had a difficult day and then listened to your favourite song? It can totally turn things around! Well, Rashid’s music has been a big part of my life, and now I get to act alongside him and hear his beautiful voice in person. It is like being transported to a different world. I feel so grateful for this opportunity, and I never take it for granted. Every day when I go to work, I cannot believe how lucky I am to be doing what I love with such talented people. It is always exciting, and I feel truly blessed.
SD – What can viewers expect from the second season of Silo in terms of character development, plot twists, and overall excitement? Are there any specific moments or episodes you are particularly excited for audiences to, see?
COL – I am sorry, but I cannot say much about it. I wish I could because I love talking about this stuff. But here is what I can tell you: Apple TV announced that there will be season two of the show we are talking about. The reason I cannot say more is because the show has not finished yet. So, we will just have to wait and see what happens. Sorry if that is not the answer you were hoping for.
SD – Out of all the characters you have played so far, who would you be excited to meet in real life?
COL – Wow, that is a cool question! I never thought about that before. Your question got me thinking about this one time I had a small role on a TV show called “Kevin Probably Saves the World.” It was so much fun because I got to play a silly and funny firefighter called Ben. Usually, I play intense and mean characters, but this one was different. He was hilarious and full of life! Even though it was not a big role, I got to be in three or four episodes. Sadly, the show only lasted for one season, but it was good. When I think about all the characters I usually play, they are mostly not nice people. I would not want to meet them in real life, but this firefighter character would be awesome to hang out with. He is super nice and would even treat me to coffee!
Christian’s journey as an actor has been marked by perseverance and determination. Before his breakthrough, he faced rejections and setbacks like any other actor perusing an acting career, however, he remained resilient, constantly refining his craft, and embracing each challenge with gratitude as an opportunity to grow. His tenacity serves as an inspiration to aspiring actors.
The Covenant, featuring actor Christian Ochoa Lavernia, can now be streamed on Prime Video