When most telenovelas complete their convoluted storyline in a single season, the Telemundo series El Señor de los Cielos (The Lord of the Skies) has been renewed for an unprecedented fourth go-round. A large part of the show's appeal is main character Aurelio Casillas, an amoral and charismatic drug lord compared by bloggers to other complex protagonists like Tony Soprano or Walter White. But, much to the relief of his fans, humble and understated actor Rafael Amaya has little in common with the murderous Casillas beyond sharing an authentic Northern Mexican accent and the same handsome face.
Born in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, Amaya's interest in performing manifested early. Like many Spanish-speaking TV stars, he's an alumni of Televisa's Center for Arts Education (CEA) in Mexico City, but he's also performed in the Baja California ska band Almalafa and the Mexican pop group Garibaldi, even though he later confessed his good looks and dancing ability mattered more in that band than his voice. While performing with Garibaldi, he was invited to audition for the role of Romualdo Reyes in the TV series La Casa en la Playa (The Beach House). After winning the part, other TV appearances on Mujer, casos de la vida real, Blameless Love and Salomé soon followed.
Amaya has since been in many telenovelas including Amar Otra Vez (Loving Again), Las Dos Caras de Ana (The Two Faces of Ana) and Sin Pecado Concebido (Concieved Without Sin), for which he was nominated for several awards including an El Heraldo award for Male Revelation of the Year. However, his movie career has included daring chances such as playing a serial killer in 24 Cuandras de Terror, a gay man in Así del Precipicio and having a full-frontal nude scene in Desnudos.
But Amaya undertook much homework to portray Aurelio Casillas, a character based on imagining what would have happened if former cocaine trafficker Amado Carrillo Fuentes had not died during a cosmetic surgery procedure intended to disguise him. For three months, Amaya lived in the Mexican state of Sinaloa to research local cuisine, fashion and speech patterns. The end result informed a character so beloved in Mexican television that Casillas made a cameo appearance on the premiere episode of the unrelated telenovela Señora Acero.