Alex Meraz of Anthem stops at the mirror, smoothes back his hair and, with exaggerated admiration, looks at himself and says, “Can you believe I’m one of People magazine’s sexiest men?” His wife, Kim, rolls her eyes and laughs.
Meraz is trying to live up to his hype.
The 24-year-old plays the hottest bad-boy wolf Paul in the second, sure-to-be-a-blockbuster “Twilight” movie, “New Moon,” which comes out in theaters Friday. He’s People’s “Sexiest Man of the Week” in its Oct. 28 issue, and jokes on Twitter: “I’m shirtless in a pool like a wet dog!”
His wife, a big fan of the “Twilight” books, by Arizona author Stephenie Meyer, pushed him to audition for the role.
Meraz thought it would be a long shot with more than 70,000 actors vying to be one of five young men who morph into wolves and hunt vampires. The “Twilight” franchise is wildly popular, with young girls swooning over the story of teenager Bella Swan and her love for vampire dreamboat Edward Cullen.
The audition call came at a time when money was tight, and Meraz was worried he might not be able to support his wife and new baby with dance. (He’s a founding member of the indigenous dance troupe Dancing Earth and has performed all over the world.)
It’s likely his dance background and his training in capoeira, a highly acrobatic Brazilian martial art, helped him land the part of hot-tempered Paul, who, like the rest of the wolf pack, goes shirtless through most of the movie.
Meraz couldn’t believe he got the part. His wife never doubted it.
Now Meraz is on tour, promoting the movie. He just wrapped up filming “Eclipse,” the third movie in the series and is waiting to hear if he’s in the final one. His character is in the final book, so it’s likely he will be in the movie, too. His life is a whirlwind of media interviews, photo shoots and screaming fans.
In Denver last week, a girl fainted when she met Meraz. He wrote on Twitter: “Thanks for making me feel like Miley Cyrus, and thanks to the cops for catching her.”
“It’s coming bigger and crazier and faster,” Meraz says, clearly still in awe of how his life has changed.
Becoming Mr. Nice Guy
Meraz is charming, apologizing profusely when he shows up late at the Axé Capoeira Arizona academy in Tempe, held up by an accident on Interstate 17. He may be famous now, but here he’s still called by his capoeira nickname “Gabiru,” which is Portuguese for a fast, sneaky rat.
“He’s the same – very cool, funny and fun loving,” says Alexander Abdur-Rahman, 21, of Phoenix, who has known Meraz through capoeira since 2001. Meraz and Abdur-Rahman greet each other with a hug and plan on In-N-Out Burger for lunch.
Meraz says his friends are important to him. He got where he is only because people helped him along the way.
“My measure of my success would not be that I got this great movie – it’s that I have always had really great people in my life,” Meraz says.
Growing up in Mesa, Alex was the youngest of five children. His childhood was difficult, with an absent father and a mom who worked three jobs. His brother, Jose Meraz, says a lot of the guys they used to know are in gangs, jail or dead.
Jose, who is seven years older than Alex, taught Meraz to be tough, strapping boxing gloves on him when he was just 5 and taking him along to martial-arts classes.
“Like a good big brother, I would try to influence him to do positive things,” says Jose, who is studying to be a paramedic in Phoenix. “If your surroundings are bad, you can be easily influenced unless you have an outlet that gives you a different outlook on life. I wanted to show my little brother that he doesn’t have to settle for what he has. He can go out there and reach for the stars.”
Alex Meraz practically lived at the home of Zarco and Carmen Guerrero. The Guerreros’ house was on Meraz’s way home from school, and the neighborhood kids were almost always there.
Zarco is a well-known mask maker, actor and musician; his wife is a jewelry maker, actress and dancer. Their sons, Queztal and Tezac, are musicians and performers.
Meraz hung out with the Guerrero boys and their friends and learned to break-dance in Zarco’s studio. Zarco also taught Meraz about mask making.
“Alex wanted to be a part of whatever was going on,” Carmen Guerrero says.
Meraz’s friends were a good influence: “We pushed each other to do positive things.”
Meraz was 15 when Jose took him to learn capoeira from Jay Spain, director of Axé Capoeira Arizona. Meraz trained with Spain for three years, learning that with hard work, he could do anything – from back flips and high-flying kicks to performing in public.
“He made you believe he could bring out the best in you,” Meraz says.
Meraz went to New School for the Arts in Tempe, taking the bus an hour each way to get there. He showed and sold his first paintings as a student. In his senior year, his mother died of breast cancer. Meraz was devastated.
“His pain was so visible,” Carmen Guerrero says. “I remember praying for him, thinking, ‘What will happen to this kid?’”
She is grateful her prayers seem to have been answered.
Becoming Mr. Bad Boy
In 2003, Meraz moved to San Francisco, thinking he would make his mark in dancing. He was bagging groceries at Whole Foods when he auditioned for – and got – the part of a warrior in his first movie, “New World” (2005).
“That’s where he really blossomed,” says dancer and actress Rulan Tangen, whom Meraz later helped create Dancing Earth.
For the role, Meraz trained 12 hours a day for three months, bulking up by 45 pounds in three months. Because of his dance and capoeira background, he learned the complex moves of the fight scenes easily, says Tangen, who also appears in the movie.
Alex says Tangen taught him to believe in himself.
“‘Why not try? Why live your life fear-based?’ She really encouraged me to step into the unknown,” Meraz says.
On the set of “New World,” Meraz also met actor Raoul Trujillo, who helped him prepare his audition tape for “New Moon.” Even though money was tight, Meraz drove to Trujillo’s house in New Mexico to tape his tryout in the kitchen. On the way, a full moon lit the way.
“It was magical,” Meraz says – and a good omen.
Meraz originally auditioned for the role of Sam, the leader of the wolf pack. Months later, after an audition in person, Meraz got the call that he would play Paul.
“I love bad boys,” Meraz says. “They’re the most fun to play.” (Meyer told him he was the perfect Paul, though a bit better looking than the Paul she imagined when writing the books.)
The “Twilight” movies are filmed in Vancouver, where Meraz was spotted shopping in frigid weather, wearing shorts, a tank top and flip-flops. He says he was trying to acclimate himself to the weather since his character wears just cutoffs most of the time.
His favorite scene in “New Moon” is when his character and his friends are cliff diving. The actors did their own stunts, jumping off a 60-foot scaffolding and landing on a mattress below.
“It was pretty intense,” Meraz says, but so much fun. (Brave for a guy who wouldn’t go off the high dive as a kid.)
The hardest part of Meraz’s newfound celebrity is being away from his wife and son, Somak, who is almost 2. He took his son trick-or-treating before heading to Los Angeles this month to start the tour.
Meraz says he’ll stay in Arizona. It’s the perfect escape from his new, fast-paced life. It’s home