With Netflix’s ‘Chosen One’ crash, Tijuana loses two pillars of its arts scene
Raymundo Garduño Cruz was an actor, director, producer and baseball fanatic who often placed bets on games between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Juan Francisco González Aguilar, also known as Paco Mufote, was an actor and musician who brought his guitar with him everywhere and never said a bad word unless it was scripted.
Both were beloved pillars of Tijuana’s entertainment community who cared deeply about cultivating a passion for the performing arts among the next generation in their home country of Mexico.
Both died on Thursday when a van carrying them and other cast and crew members of Netflix’s “The Chosen One” crashed in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.
Actors Raymundo Garduño Cruz and Juan Francisco González Aguilar of the Netflix series ‘The Chosen One’ are killed in car crash in Baja California.
According to local media, the vehicle flipped after running off the desert road near Mulege, on the Gulf of California coast southeast of the Santa Rosalia area, where creatives on the Mexican TV series had been working. Six other cast and crew members were injured in the crash.
Netflix has yet to release a statement on the tragedy, which has sparked conversations about safety and exploitation of drivers on film and TV sets.
In a statement, the Screen Actors Guild said it has been “in contact with Netflix and with the Mexican actors union ANDA about this incident and ... are investigating the circumstances with local production.”
‘The Chosen One’: What to know about the Netflix show with two actors killed in a Mexico crash
‘The Chosen One’ is part of Netflix’s Millarworld deal to bring more superhero excitement to the streaming platform.
Garduño was born in Mexico City but had been acting and helping put on theater productions in Tijuana for many years, according to Fernando Bonilla, a close friend and actor in Mexico City. The two met through the theater world.
Garduño directed plays where he strived to make serious topics, like migration to the United States, accessible to children. He was dedicated to creating platforms for theater outside of Mexico City, where much of the industry is focused.
“Mexico City is a center point for politics and culture, and with theater you see that at an extreme,” said Bonilla. “Ray was very focused on trying to transform that situation.” Behind his burly appearance was a “noble and tender heart,” he added.
Apart from the theater, Garduño loved baseball and to share his passion for food by recommending taco and seafood places in Baja California. He leaves behind two children, Marina, 14, and Daniel, 26.
“For people who knew Ray, the first thing that comes to mind is that he was a family man who profoundly loved his children and his parents,” said Bonilla. “They were his priority.”
Garduño sold paper for printers in Mexico City in the 1990s before moving to Tijuana. Once there, he directed several plays written by Enrique Olmos, a playwright who lives in the state of Hidalgo. Olmos said Garduño became “one of the most important stage directors in the country.”
Olmos said Garduño enjoyed going to cantinas, nightlife and the Mexican soccer club Cruz Azul. “No one knew Tijuana like him,” he added. “A good man, a good father, a good friend, and always restless. That’s how I remember him.”
In professional circles, González went by Paco Mufote, but indie filmmaker José Paredes knew him better by another nickname: Pacovich — a fusion of Paco and the last name of Argentine Mexican guitarist Alejandro Marcovich.
Paredes met González when he was 10 and González was about 19. Back in the 1990s, González would visit Paredes’ family home in Tijuana for jam sessions with his older brothers, who played the keyboard and drums.
“My house back then was the place where [the musicians would] all meet up,” Paredes told The Times. “They were older than me, but Paco was one of the few that actually spoke to me when I was a kid, and he was very nice.”
Paredes, a rare nonmusical member of the family who was more interested in film, serendipitously crossed paths again with González years later. By then, Paredes was directing short films and González had launched his acting career. Paredes was surprised. He’d always thought of González as a musician. Soon he learned that González was also a remarkably versatile actor.
“He was like a chameleon,” Paredes said. “He could play any role.”
Still, González’s love for music never disappeared.
In Paredes’ 2022 film, “Contratiempo,” González portrayed a musician similar to himself. While shooting the film in 2020, Paredes recounted, he had a song stuck in his head on set. Just when he finally stopped thinking about it, González began playing the melody on his guitar, smiling at him.
“Once he smiles, it’s over,” said actor Jose Yenque, who starred opposite González in “Contratiempo.”
“You see the heart right there. ... It’s a light that comes through.”
At the end of a private screening of “Contratiempo,” González — guitar in hand — “yelled at the top of his lungs, ‘Thank you, everyone! It was a great project, but I gotta go!’ ... and just ran out,” Paredes recalled.
González was constantly on the move, said Paredes, whose last communication with his longtime friend wasn’t a text but an audio message. González usually opted for audio over text “because he was always driving somewhere or walking somewhere.”
“I don’t think anything was a hobby for him,” Paredes said. “It was a way of life. ... He was always doing something. He was not stopping.”
Though he knew him for a much shorter period of time, Yenque immediately recognized González as a “rock star” — not because of his guitar skills but because of his commitment to spreading his love for the arts to Mexico’s youth.
After working with him on “Contratiempo,” González was planning to lead guitar and acting lessons for Yenque’s nonprofit organization, Arts for a Better Tomorrow, which partners with Tijuana orphanages to heal through art.
“I never knew Paco’s real name,” Yenque said. “It’s not like he was a long, many-years friend ... but it just goes to show you the impact that someone who is good can make — someone who has great intentions, someone who has a good heart. And I don’t meet many of those.”
González is survived by his parents.
“He was an actor with different dimensions,” Yenque said. “He’ll play a killer ... and in a moment, he can just flip it, and he can play someone that you trust and you would leave your kids with. ... That’s a great actor.”
Miller reported from Mexico City, Carras from Los Angeles.
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