Hair-metal superstardom is the holy grail for Diego Boneta’s character in Rock of Ages, director Adam Shankman’s new big-screen adaptation of the Broadway jukebox musical co-starring Tom Cruise and Julianne Hough, which hits theaters next month. In the film, set in 1980s Los Angeles, Boneta plays Drew, an aspiring singer chasing his dreams on the Sunset Strip, who holds nothing back as he belts out old chestnuts by Foreigner and Twisted Sister clad in studded leather. But wardrobe aside, Boneta’s own rise has been equally dramatic. The Mexico City native jump-started his career at age 12, performing covers of tunes like “Greased Lightnin’ ” on a kids’ singing competition show on Mexican television. He went on to star in a string of fanatically adored telenovelas, secured a record deal, and received two Latin Grammy nominations—all while still in his teens. However, breaking into the U.S. market proved trickier. “It was starting from zero,” says Boneta, now 21, recalling his move to Los Angeles in 2007 as he struggled to balance the alternate realities of being a Justin Bieber at home and just another anonymous hopeful in Hollywood. “I felt like I was Bruce Wayne, auditioning during the day, and then at night I became Batman and would do my rock-star shows in the Latin world.” Boneta initially made the rounds on the American-teen TV circuit, scoring guest spots on 90210 and Pretty Little Liars, and a recast sequel to Mean Girls. But it was a video of Boneta auditioning for Glee that the actor posted online—he sang The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”—that caught the attention of Shankman, who quickly cast him in Rock of Ages. To prepare for the film, Boneta took guitar lessons with Cruise, who plays a frequently shirtless rock star named Stacee Jaxx, and got to record a song with Mary J. Blige for the soundtrack. “I would call my mom, and she would ask me how my day was, and I’d be like, ‘It was great. I had a scene with Tom, and I laid down a track with Mary J. at the studio,’ ” says Boneta. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
PHOTO: DIEGO BONETA IN LOS ANGELES ,DECEMBER 2011. TRENCH COAT, CARDIGAN, T-SHIRT, AND JEANS: DIESEL. HAIR PRODUCTS: ORIBE, INCLUDING DRY TEXTURIZING HAIR SPRAY. STYLING: DAVID THOMAS/OPUS BEAUTY. HAIR: TONY CHAVEZ FOR ORIBE HAIR CARE. MAKEUP: KRISTINA BROWN/JED ROOT LA, INC. SPECIAL THANKS: PIER59 STUDIOS WEST.