Mexican movie star Gael Garcia Bernal became an instant hero with lepers on the set of acclaimed new movie The Motorcycle Diaries by ignoring advice and embracing them.

The actor, who plays a young ERNESTO 'CHE' GUEVARA in the film, shot scenes of the heroic Cuban revolutionary's visit to a Amazonian leper colony near the site of the real place, and insisted some of the lepers played themselves.

He says, "We were 13 kilometres up river from where the real leper colony was because the leper colony now is pretty modern, so we couldn't shoot there.

"They built up an inspired replica of what it was like and many patients came to work with us. It was incredible to share that experience with them; to have that opportunity to receive the immense gratitude that they gave us after you came and touched them and had contact with them.

"These are people who don't get touched. Imagine living your life without being touched; it's pretty horrible. You give them one gram of attention and they give you a ton of gratitude back.

"Five of them had actually met Ernesto when he travelled through the leper colony, so it was very moving."

17/10/2004 10:29