Jaime Camil Wasn’t Afraid to Play Vicente Fernandez on Netflix’s ‘El Rey’

Jaime Camil did not hesitate to play the ranchera legend Vicente Fernández in Netflix’s bio-series El Rey, Vicente Fernández. The Mexican actor and singer, best known for his comedic roles in shows like Jane the Virgin and Qué pobres tan ricos, tackled the portrayal of the late cultural icon the same way he would do with any other project.

“If you let the weight and magnitude of Vicente Fernández sit on your shoulders — we who live from our emotions and from connect with the public with our emotions — imagine if the first emotion I register for a role is fear or uncertainty, well, I’d be setting myself up for failure,” Camil tells Billboard Español in a phone interview from Los Angeles.

“I’ve been doing this for 27 years, and […] although the butterflies in your stomach never go away, you process them in a different way, with desire, with impetus, with the eagerness to do things, to be on the set,” he says. “Instead of getting stage fright and running away, you process it as, ‘Wow, what a thrill, how cool it’s going to be to do this.'” 

Produced by Caracol TV in Colombia, where it premiered on August 3 before arriving to Netflix on September 14 for broadcast worldwide, El Rey, Vicente Fernández was in development for over two years — with the blessing of the late singer and his family. Fernández, in fact, appeared in a brief promo for the series in April 2021, saying, “My story, my songs, my feelings, and how much I love you, very soon on Netflix,” eight months before he passed away in December at the age of 81.

Camil, who told Billboard that he is a “very good friend” of two of Fernández’s sons, Alejandro and Gerardo, has stressed in the past that the wishes of the family were respected with his performance.

The 36-episode drama is currently among the top 10 most-watched productions on Netflix in the U.S. and various Latin American countries. It also reached No. 1 worldwide for non-English-language content soon after its debut. It follows the artist over several decades, in a non-linear fashion, from his humble origins in his hometown of Huentitán El Alto, in Jalisco, Mexico, to his rise to stardom. Fernández is played by four actors in the different stages of his life: Kaled Acab as a child, Sebastián García as a teenager, Sebastian Dante as a young man, and Camil as an adult.

To do so, Camil not only had to gain a little weight and grow his sideburns and a mustache, but also “watch hours and hours and hours of unlimited footage of Vicente in interviews” in search of Fernández’s essence, he recalls. “Then we did a lot of emotional connection and energetic connection exercises with the other three Vicentes, with our acting coaches. That’s how we were able to give it a homogeneity… [so] that people would eventually see not four different actors, but the same person at different ages”.

Likewise, the Mexican actor — who in the early 2000s released the albums Para Estar Contigo and Una Vez Más (the latter with two songs that made Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs chart), had to learn to sing as close as possible to Fernández, whose anthems he performs in the series, including “Volver, Volver,” “Por Tu Maldito Amor” and, of course, “El Rey.” The series’ soundtrack — released by Caracol TV and Sony Music on August 3 in Colombia, and September 14 worldwide — includes 20 titles, 14 of them performed by Camil. 

“Singing the songs was a very important challenge, because I took on the task of singing them in the original key in which Vicente recorded them,” the actor says — explaining that in the 1970s and ‘80s, artists used to record two keys higher “so that they would shine more, as they say,” and then they would perform them in a more comfortable key at concerts. “That was a very nice challenge in the recording studio. The challenge was to find certain gestures or certain ways he had of speaking. That ended up being just the brushstrokes of the character, or the icing on the cake, because the mixture was to connect emotionally with the audience and portray a human character.”

When asked which is his favorite song by the man known as “El Charro de Huentitán,” Camil says that answering that question is now “impossible” for him. “If I hadn’t been on this project and I was just another fan you asked, I’d probably say ‘Volver, Volver’ or ‘El Rey,’ the classics,” he says, admitting that Fernández’s was more the music of his parents than his own. “But having been part of such an intimate process that connected me in such a special, magical and profound way with Vicente Fernández, I can’t answer that.” 

Over the course of his career, Fernández recorded more than 100 albums and had 40 entries on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart, 26 of them in the Top 10 and six No. 1. On Hot Latin Songs he had 65 total entries, including 20 Top 10 and one No. 1 (“El Último Beso” from 2009, which led for a week). He also holds the records for most entries in Hot Latin Songs for a regional Mexican solo artist, with 65; most entries on Regional Mexican Albums for a solo artist with 54, and most No. 1 for a Regional Mexican solo artist in that same list, with 17.

Regarding the legacy of “Chente” and what his preparation for this series left him, Camil emphasizes that Fernández “single-handedly put charro or mariachi music on the global map, because of his persistence, his perseverance, his stubbornness,” says Camil.

“He was very decisive, very honorable. When he gave you his word, he wasn’t at peace until he fulfilled it,” the actor adds. “There are traits of his personality that I admire and identify with a lot. Just imagine! Vicente Fernández was to mariachi music what Elvis Presley was to rock ‘n’ roll.”

El Rey Vicente Fernandez

Sigal Ratner-Arias