Cristina Costantini, who directed “Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado” with Kareem Tabsch, tells Variety that they asked Mercado who he wanted to play him. “I suggested Gael García Bernal and he said, ‘Too old,’” Costantini said. “So we said, ‘Well, who would you have play you?’ And he said, ‘Who is that boy from “Call Me by Your Name?”’ And we said, ‘Timothée Chalamet?’ And he said, ‘Yes, this would be a good opportunity for him.’ I just love that he picked this child.”
Producer Alex Fumero said, laughing, “There might be some representation issues but Walter will always choose youth and beauty over anything else, including Latino representation.”
Mercado’s career began in 1969 when he began reading horoscopes on television in his native Puerto Rico. He eventually became an international phenomenon, known as much for his astrology shows as he was for his coiffed look and Liberace-like wardrobe of colorful suits and jewelry and signature crystal-bedecked capes.
While one might assume he was gay, it wasn’t something Mercado ever discussed. He was an open book with the filmmakers, except with it came to his romantic life. “He didn’t like the labels and he didn’t kind of embrace them in any particular way,” Tabsch said. “But, he was a queer icon. If you were a Latino, Latin American, like myself as a young queer kid watching for the first time, I recognized that sense of otherness in him that I saw in me. I was a much less fabulous version, but I could tell he was different in a way that I was different. And if there was that possibility that he was so loved in the Latino community being so different, that as a young queer person, maybe I too could be loved.”
Mercado was in his 80s when Costantini, Tabsch and Fumero approached him about making the documentary. He agreed after they told him their astrological signs.
By then, Mercado’s life in the spotlight was long gone. His career stumbled during a seven-year legal battle that began in 2006 over the rights to his name and likeness with his former manager Bill Bakula.
Mercado was 87 when he died in November, not long after the doc had wrapped. “He’s our Mr. Rogers and our Oprah and our Liberace all combined into one,” Costantini said. “I think on a certain level we were shocked that he agreed to do the film. But he so badly wanted to be a public guy, so badly wanted attention and wanted to make this his comeback. We thought it was going to be a comeback but it ended up being a swan song, of course. He really loved the lights and the camera. They gave him energy. They gave him life.”
“Mucho Mucho Amor” includes footage of a teary-eyed Lin Manuel Miranda meeting Mercado for the first time during a trip to Puerto Rico, where Mercado lived outside San Juan. “He had that fan girl moment that we all had,” Costantini said. “Walter has a really profound effect on people. It’s hard to explain it if you haven’t gone through it, but the way he touches your hands, the way he makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the world, it is religious. Lin goes through it.”