Twenty years after he exited Cuba, actor William Levy had the opportunity to return to the streets that saw him grow up — this time as a consolidated star.
The last time he was in his native Havana was seven years ago.
“It's so beautiful to come back to your country, with your people that you know have been through so much, and have them tell you such beautiful things,” the 35-year-old told E! News recently.
“They told me things like, ‘You don't know how proud we are of you and we love to see a Cuban being so successful outside of Cuba, because you know how difficult it is for us to leave this country. Seeing you making it is like us making it too.’”
The “Dancing with the Stars” alum was joined by friends and producers Jeff Goldberg and Eric Brenner to scout out locations for their upcoming movie — a lifelong dream for Levy.
“There is a powerful connection between William and Cuba. I could see tears welling in William's eyes as he looked out of the airplane window,” Goldberg said. “And once he was there, everyone showed such an incredibly warm and genuine love for him.”
The actor left the Caribbean island for the United States when he was 15 with the hope of making it into the Major Leagues. After high school he received a baseball scholarship to play for St. Thomas University in Miami, but had to quit school (and baseball) after his mother and stepfather split.
“It was a devastating moment, baseball was my life,” he said. “But I became the man of the house and I needed to help support my family.”
However, he moved on to his other passion – acting – and it stuck.
Later this summer Levy plans to return to Cuba to start shooting the movie, which he will produce and star in.
“It's just beautiful to be able to film a movie in my land. When I was there and would walk the streets or play baseball without shoes, and I would look out into the endless sea I used to wish I could go to the United States and just do what I wanted to do. Now finding myself back in my country and filming a movie there … that's just something that's so surreal, I can't even begin to explain it.”
During the interview with E! Levy stayed away from politics, saying: “I just want what's best for my country and to see these people that have suffered so much, be able to decide what they want to do and when they want to travel. It's all I want. I want happiness and freedom for my people.”
He shared several of his pictures from his trip on Instagram, including one of an old woman smoking a cigar who wouldn't believe he was William Levy.
“Walking through Havana I found this woman smoking a Cuban cigar. I could not help but take a photo, because of the moment, the location, her expression and attitude said a million words,” he wrote in Spanish. “After I took the photo she looked at me with the same look in the photo without stopping her enjoyment of smell and aroma of the cigar she asked me, ‘what country are you from?’ With a smile I said, ‘from Cuba.’ She responded with the same attitude without a smile and at the same time still smoking, ‘Hey… I am not a little girl, I am an old woman.’”
He continued: “I laughed and said ‘I swear to you I am from Cuba’ to which she responded, ‘so why did you take a photo? To pass for a tourist?’”