Interview'Being back here moves me in a physical way'

Nineties nostalgia sweeps Israel as Argentine heartthrob Felipe Colombo returns

In his latest performances in Tel Aviv on May 2 and 3, the actor and singer shows that even 20 years on, the love for a good telenovella is still very much alive

  • Felipe Colombo, left, performs with an Israeli bandmate in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
    Felipe Colombo, left, performs with an Israeli bandmate in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
  • Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
    Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
  • Felipe Colombo, right, performs with an Israeli band mate in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
    Felipe Colombo, right, performs with an Israeli band mate in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
  • Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
    Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
  • Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
    Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
  • Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
    Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
  • Felipe Colombo, left, performs with an Israeli band mate in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
    Felipe Colombo, left, performs with an Israeli band mate in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
  • Felipe Colombo, left, performs with an Israeli band mate in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
    Felipe Colombo, left, performs with an Israeli band mate in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
  • Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
    Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
  • Felipe Colombo, center, performs with Israeli band mates in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)
    Felipe Colombo, center, performs with Israeli band mates in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)

Last week, actor and singer Felipe Colombo came all the way from Argentina to perform two shows in Tel Aviv on May 2 and 3.

Best known for his role in the popular 2002 Argentine telenovela “Rebelde Way,” the 40-year-old Colombo was in Israel for the fifth time.

In his previous visits, Colombo either promoted the TV shows he was on or performed alongside other cast members in Erreway — the real-life pop group spawned from the fictional “Rebelde Way” — or its subsequent spinoff groups. Erreway played 19 shows at Tel Aviv’s Menorah Mivtachim Arena around Passover of 2003, and fans were so excited to see the teenage idols that some of them broke into the cast’s hotel.

This time, Colombo came by himself to sing tunes from the good old days and introduce some of his new material. The venue was more intimate than before and Colombo was backed by an Israeli band specially assembled for the occasion. But the fans’ passion was still alive and kicking.

“Being back here moves me in a physical way. I’m an overthinker, and when it comes to being on a stage, it’s the body that speaks — and I feel that my body is happy to be here,” Colombo said in an interview with The Times of Israel in a cafe near the Tel Aviv Port.

The conversation was interrupted by fans asking to take selfies with Colombo. This time around, there was no need to break into a hotel lobby — checking Instagram was enough to hunt down the heartthrob.

Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)

Back in the ’90s just after Israeli television expanded from its two state-operated channels to include private channels and cable, Argentine telenovelas became a cultural phenomenon in the Jewish state. Though the first shows to arrive were aimed at adults, the big hits came with the kids and teen musical dramas “Chiquititas” and “Rebelde Way.”

Colombo starred in both of these shows created by producer Cris Morena. And it was not just television — each program had its own line of merchandising including magazines, clothing, music albums, theater performances and films. The faces of Colombo and his colleagues Benjamín Rojas, Luisana Lopilato and Camila Bordonaba were all over the place: on television commercials, highway billboards — even on gas masks that kids took to school after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, during the height of the Second Intifada.

These cultural icons were at the heart of young Israelis’ childhoods, so it’s not surprising that they still feel a sentimental connection to them.

The following conversation had been edited.

Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)

The Times of Israel: How do you feel about being back in Israel?

Felipe Colombo: It’s a very intense experience, it’s thrilling to be back here after all this time. It’s this kind of thing that you think happens once in a lifetime, you know? Our careers are like a rollercoaster, sometimes we’re up and sometimes we’re down, and it’s part of the process. In my previous visits, I remember this feeling of wanting to cherish the moment because the kind of shows I was working on are short-lived. In teen dramas, it only lasts while you’re a teenager.

What do you remember of your previous visits?

I remember everything, literally everything, because it’s very moving to travel so far away and get such a warm welcome. On my previous visit in September last year when I came to do a show with my colleagues Florencia Bertotti and Rocío Igarzábal, I had like a flow of memories during the rehearsals. I hadn’t performed most of the songs in a very long time, and as I was singing them again I was remembering things of my trips. And when I arrived here, and I got up on the stage to open the show with a song called “Te soñé” (I Dreamed of You), I could see that something deeply emotional was going on.

Felipe Colombo, center, performs with Israeli bandmates in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)

Have you ever wondered why this has happened here in Israel more than in any other country?

I always ask myself that question, and we were talking about it with the producers of Stardust International who brought me here. Every time I come here I talk about this with the other actors from the show. They are eager to know what it was like, how everything went, and there’s a question that never fails to appear: “Is it still happening?” There are many theories about why this still happens, and for me it’s not clear even now, but there comes a time when you have to let your thoughts go and just enjoy.

“Rebelde Way” was clearly a historical landmark in Israeli culture…

Yes, and I can understand why. Everything that happens during your teenage years leaves a mark on you. Adolescence is a period of definitions, self-discoveries, and intense emotions — when you fall in love, you think that it’s something that will last forever, and when you go through a breakup you believe that it’s the most painful experience of your life. So, a telenovela like “Rebelde Way” that was made for teenagers, and that was talking about these things in their language, creates a bond that doesn’t go away so easily. And music helps to keep this alive as well.

Felipe Colombo, left, performs with an Israeli band mate in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)

The music of Erreway was a very important part of the phenomenon. Your music was closer to rock and pop than the previous tunes of “Chiquititas,” right?

True. Before recording our studio albums, the producers asked us to bring the 10 CDs we were listening to the most. Benjamín was into Pink Floyd and Argentine rock bands such as Los Redondos, Camila was into the rock heroes of the country like Charly García and Fito Páez, and Luisana was more into pop and Latin music. I, personally, was into more alternative music and I remember bringing CDs of Audioslave. And these influences were reflected in our own music. For instance, “Tiempo” sounds a lot like Oasis, “Memoria” has some U2 vibes… And “Bonita de Más” was the more Latin of our songs.

Actually, “Bonita de Más” is the one that resonated the most here. It was one of the most-played songs in bat mitzvahs at the time, and a few weeks ago, during Independence Day, it was played at parties all over the country.

Wow, it’s amazing the journey of that song. At some point, we had stopped doing it in Argentina and we went on a Latin American tour with the intention of not playing it anymore. But the fans were like, “You can’t leave the stage until you have performed Bonita de Más.”

Felipe Colombo performs in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2023. (Courtesy/ Photo by Ortal Dahan Ziv)

How would you summarize what happened in these past 20 years?

I changed my attitude to art, to music, to performing. And maybe nostalgia works here due to the fact that I have not been present in everyday culture and life. I mean, back home I did a play about Kurt Cobain, I worked in the local remake of “The Graduate,” and was involved in successful and not-so-successful projects. Distance makes you stay frozen in a moment, but of course, I and the rest of my colleagues changed in the last 20 years.

Have some Israelis followed these parts of your career path?

Totally, yes. First, I was able to maintain the connection when Twitter became popular. Later on, Instagram took over that role. And I remember that in 2019 I was doing an erotic play in Buenos Aires called “Sex.” Suddenly there was this Israeli group telling me that they had grown up watching me in “Chiquititas” and here they were, in this performance about sexual fantasies. Time flies, right?

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

I will release my EP with five songs later this month, present it in Argentina and talk about what happened here. I’m also rehearsing a French comedy about the author of “Cyrano de Bergerac.”

But the most important thing in my life, obviously, is being a father and taking care of my family. My 13-year-old daughter is playing handball and she’s very focused…

What you point out is important, because most of the actors that worked with Cris Morena have been able to find a life-work balance. I mean, you haven’t got blinded by the lights of fame…

For most of us, working with Cris gave us a very strong work ethic, you know? We learned to do our job the best way we can because it’s our responsibility and not because we want to be famous.

We learned that our responsibility is actually bigger if we are successful — we can’t fail the people who trusted us. We have the responsibility of being serious and grateful.

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