Varela started out as an actor at the age of sixteen before working for over fifteen years in theatre, film and television. In 2000, he made his theatre directing debut with his stage version of Irvine Welsh's
"Trainspotting". Years later, he would again direct another Welsh work, “Ecstasy”, in Los Angeles. In 2002, he represented Portugal at the Rio de Janeiro International Festival of Theatre directing the piece “A Barca do Inferno (The Boat of Hell)” with an entirely Brazilian cast. He returned to cinema as an actor in 2006 but with “Anesthesia”, his last short-length film, selected for the international competition at Fantasporto film festival in 2010, he moved definitively behind the camera and writing and directing everything that he has since filmed. In 2011, he adapted and directed the Fox television drama series "Tiempo Final".
He is also the creator, writer and director of the award winning and acclaimed television series “Os Filhos do Rock (The Children of Rock)”, which premiered in 2013 and has already taken on a cult status. The period series tells the story of the boom in Portuguese rock in the 1980s. “A Canção de Lisboa (The Song of Lisbon)”, a romantic comedy written and directed by Varela, came out in Portuguese cinemas this summer and became the most seen film of the year and the very first national production to get to the number one spot in its first week of release, beating all other national and international productions.
His latest original TV Series for a national television channel, about a homicide squad, is currently in production. Varela has also been directing commercials regularly over the last five years working both for leading brands and the top agencies and, among other awards won worldwide, he this year picked up his first Cannes silver lion. Soon will be directing his first dramatic feature.