Celebrities & Pop Culture

How This Actor Went From Prison To Acting Alongside Clint Eastwood

This is an inspiring story.

Clint Eastwood has always been a hero to actor Daniel Moncada. So when the “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” actor was cast alongside Eastwood in the new American thriller “The Mule,” now in theaters, it was a major honor.

Moncada, who immigrated from Honduras as a child, had gotten caught up in the wrong crowd as a youth. At first, he was bullied for being the immigrant kid with broken English. Later, he was in gangs and did multiple stints in jail. He was even shot at, and he still has a scar from the time he was stabbed by a machete. This tumultuous past is what makes his journey to the Eastwood flick especially impressive.

“Clint Eastwood. He was directing me,” Moncada told us in an interview. “It’s like ‘Oh my God.’ I remember watching him from prison. I remember watching him when I was a little kid. I was working with a legend. I told him, ‘Sir, it’s a great honor to be here working with you. You directing me is one of my biggest accomplishments.’ He said, ‘Thank you for being here.’ He’s telling me ‘thank you.’ I’m thinking, ‘Am I dreaming?’ He said, ‘Thank you, you’re doing an amazing job.’ That’s powerful.”

the mule photo
Getty Images | Kevin Winter

At one point, Moncada had thought, “Nobody wants to hire me.” After all, he was tatted up and had a criminal record. Now, he’s surprising his mom with a personalized video that Clint Eastwood made for her while on set.

Moncada fell into acting after a “Breaking Bad” casting director asked his brother, Luis Moncada, if he could bring a brother to an audition. Together, the Moncada brothers played “The Cousins” on the hit show, starring as ruthless Mexican drug cartel members.

Photo courtesy of AMC

Now, Moncada is harnessing some of the grit from his own upbringing to star alongside Eastwood in “The Mule.” The crime drama, produced and directed by Eastwood, is based on the true story of a World War II veteran who became a drug dealer for the Sinaloa Cartel in the 1980s.

“The way I bring authenticity to the role is by tapping into the dark side,” Moncada says. “I remember the bad things I’ve gone through. I dig in.”

It’s the struggles he’s been through, Moncada says, that help him bring raw performances.

In addition to acting, Moncada — who counts boxing among his hobbies — also mentors kids in a boxing gym. While there, he openly shares his story with them, trying to impart the lessons he learned from the mistakes he made.

“I was joining gangs, doing the wrong things,” he said. “I’ve got to be man enough and say that.” Now, Moncada says his freedom, now that he’s not in jail, is a source of gratitude.

Photo courtesy of Steve Campinilli

“I’m evolving and being a better human being,” he says. “I want to help out whatever way I can.”

Speaking of evolving — a role he’d like to play in the future?

“I’ve always played the bad guy,” says Moncada. “I’d like a superhero role.”