Eugenio Derbez for HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER – An Interview by Cynthia Flores

 
Eugenio Derbez for How To Be A Latin Lover – An Interview by Cynthia Flores
   
I usually do my interviews one on one with a camera crew, so when the opportunity to do this internet interview for Selig Film News came along  I jumped at the chance. It was scheduled in the afternoon at the starkly styled  W hotel in downtown Dallas. I met with the PR person downstairs and the other print and internet media slated for the round table style interview.  Doesn’t that sound cool, round table interview, as in all of us at once sitting with the star as he fields our questions.  As our group sat there waiting and playing catch up about how much we liked this film and how most of us had just survived the DIFF 11 film festival, I watched the cadre of camera teams with their gruffy looking crews and smoking hot Latina reporters dressed in skin tight short dresses, that didn’t leave much to the imagination, sit staggered in the lobby getting ready.  All of us were waiting for our turn to be called up to Eugenios’ suite.
 
You have to understand, Eugenio Derbez is a superstar of enormous proportions in any Spanish speaking country. On top of directing, writing, producing, and starring in the highest grossing Spanish language film to date, No Instructions Included, he has spent the last few years, working in ensemble productions here in the states, stealing any scene he’s in away from his English speaking acting partners. So this English language film he’s here to promote, How To Be A Latin Lover, is a big deal.  It’s his first starring role in English. He has a whole new audience to conquer, all without alienating his loyal Spanish speaking fans – not an easy thing to do.  
           
At this point all of us non-Spanish speaking reporters are asking the columnist from the Spanish media to please tell us how to say his name correctly, again.  She’s told us slowly, over and over again, trying to break it down enough for our clumsy tongues to manage and not mangle. I even wrote it down phonetically, EAH-OO-HEN-YO, but I simply can’t do it.  So I smile at her and say sweetly, “I will just call him Sir,” to which everyone laughs.   At that point we’re given the news that he’s back from his interview with UNIVISION and ready to meet with us.
           
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got to the room. I have met and interviewed actors and actresses that were uptight and divas. With him being such a big shot I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised that as we took turns telling him our names, he greeted us all with a warm handshake and a European kiss on both cheeks. He has a sweet Latin tinge to his voice as he says each of our names. He spoke with the cadence that people have when English is their second language.  As we sat down we knew our time was limited so we just jumped right in.
           
Sir, you look great, and not as heavy as your character Maximo over there.
He points to the image of himself on the large poster in the room where his character is dressed in only a bright yellow speedo and clutching a rose between his teeth, “Yeah, I look good hugh? Do I look sexy there, I have a big belly!” he laughs and goes on to say, “I had to put on a lot of weight for that, about 22 pounds there. Actually that is an earlier picture of me because when we were shooting I gained even more weight. Towards the end I was really, really fat. Probably double that size.”
 
What about your son who plays you as a young man in that swimming pool scene?
He smiles and says, “Oh he had to do the opposite. He had to work hard to be super fit.  He trained as long a I did but to be thin. He worked out for about three or four months.” He giggles when he mentions, “He lives with me and it was so funny because he was on such a strict diet of lean protein and small portions and I was eating everything. So it was really hard for him watching me eat because he just couldn’t. He was really craving for pizza and cheese and quesadillas.”
 
Did you rub it in when you were pigging out in front of him. Teasing him like “yummm”?
Setting his face to look like an angel, “Eh, no, no I couldn’t.” then he began to show a sparkle in his eyes like a little kid does when they know they’re being naughty, “Ok, once, just once.” He started us all laughing as he admitted, “After that I promised I wouldn’t do that again. Because he was having to be so strict with his diet. Actually it was really hard for me to gain such a lot of weight because I had to do it healthy and not just eat junk food. So I was actually eating food that is good for you but huge amounts each day.” He sighed, “It was actually easier to lose the weight than to put it all on.”
 
Speaking of doing things for this part, how long did it take you to get so good on that hover board? You look like a pro.
He takes a pregnant pause and very seriously says, “A Lot. and let me tell you why, let me tell you the story. Pantaleon, the studio, gave me as a gift a hover board to practice. I received it at my office.  So I opened the hover board, and was really excited. My assistant was charging it when my studio partner Ben Odell came by and asked to try it first. Big mistake. He was saying how easy it was when he fell off and hit his head so hard that we ended up in the hospital. And when we arrived the doctor said you are the fifth patient that we have received today, just today that fell from a hover board. So I was so afraid of riding a hover board that I went and bought the ah, helmet, and pad for the elbows and everything I could find. Then I went to the park to practice in the grass in case I fell down. So I was really, really scared of the hover board and it took me awhile to get confident, because I was really scared.” He sat up straight and said,  “But by the end and for shooting the film I didn’t have an accident.”
 
You have directed a number of projects you have produced and starred in. Why didn’t you direct this one and was it hard just acting?
He smiled wide, ”Yes it is very hard not to direct it. I see things that I would want to do differently or want to add. But I decided not to direct because it’s my first project in English, and it’s a comedy.  And, ah, I am not that familiar with the humor in the U.S., and it’s different.  You need to be born here to know what the, ah , general market laughs at. So I didn’t want to make any mistakes. So I decided to hire Ken Marino to direct this but yes I have to switch off the director inside of me so I would not make Ken uncomfortable. So I had to relax, trust and ah, that’s all.  But it’s hard, but it’s possible.  You have to get rid of your ego.
 
What is your favorite part of this film?
There are so many, but I guess as an audience member my favorite part is the scene where I am diving into the pool in front of everyone at a party after using shoe polish to cover up my grey hairs on my chest and goatee wearing that tiny yellow speedo with my big belly sticking out.” He paused to add, “But, when I was shooting the film, it was one of the most embarrassing bits to shoot.” We all started to giggle as he went on, “ You can’t imagine how embarrassing it was to shoot that because Raquel Welch, who I had had a crush on since I was a kid, I mean I was in love with her. I was so excited to have booked her on this film and was really looking forward to finally meeting her.  So when I was in that costume I was told that she was going to be on set that day. I told them I was not going to meet Raquel in black gel and a yellow speedo!  Please don’t do this to me! Then they said we were running late so get out there and shoot it!” We were all laughing at his genuine embarrassment as he finished his story. “So in the movie when I walk up and take my rob off it was so embarrassing! It was my favorite scene on the one hand but on the other it was one of the most embarrassing.”
 
Speaking of your cast mates, who didn’t you get to be in this movie?  Was there anyone you asked and didn’t get?
“You know because this was my first time starring in an English language film I had a lot of luck. How do you say, (he says something quickly in Spanish here)  beginners luck! Because when we were writing the script we were like, this guy Rick it should be like Rob Lowe. And the sister should be someone like Salma Hayek, and this one someone like Kristen Bell.  And then when we went for them, it was like a dream come true. I’ve never been in a movie, not even in my country, where you want certain actors and you get them all. It was unbelievable. And someone like Raquel Welch,” he is still gushing, “I couldn’t believe it, how lucky we were to get such a great cast!”
 
How was it working with Selma Hayek as your sister?
“Well working with Selma was different. We have known each other for over 30 years when she was still in Mexico working in telenovelas. And we were born on the same day. We were both born on September 2nd. It’s really funny because we have wanted to work together forever. Then she moved to the US and we never got to.  This is our first time to work together and you can see the incredible chemistry we have on screen. I mean it was real. We did a lot of improvising together. We’re still in shock about how good we are on film and we’ve been talking that we should work together more often, and we are. So we’re planning on more things in the future.
 
Was it hard for you in the film to switch to doing comedy in English instead of in Spanish?
“Well of course it was hard to make the switch.  I have been working my entire life for the Hispanic market, always in Spanish.  So one of my questions was, am I going to be able to be as funny in English as I am in Spanish? I was curious and I was like, ah, scared but, ah, I started doing some tests and it works. So I’m happy that I am able to switch. Of course because of the language, it’s not as easy to improvise as well as in Spanish. So I feel more confident when I am acting in Spanish, especially when I’m doing comedy, than in English. But it was good, I mean, I’m getting there. In a couple of years I’m gonna be 100 percent.
 
Sir, my final question is a comment as well. I have been so impressed with your comedic style and I’ve found myself likening it to that of the late great Jackie Gleason. He also, did comedy that was more than just for laughs, there was always a pathos and bitter sweetness to most of his characters. Are you drawn to stories that have this type of comedy in them?
He looked truly touched to be compared to such an iconic comedic actor and replied, “Thank you for such a compliment. I haven’t heard that before, thank you.” He took a beat to put together his thoughts. “That’s what I want in every single movie that I make.  Ah, I feel that when you go watch a comedy, just a funny film, nothing happens after that.  I mean, you walk out of the theater empty. And I’ve seen that before. I’ve been with friends watching a film that has them really cracking up. They are laughing out loud. They are really having a good time.  And at the end, you walk out of the theater and you ask ‘How was the movie?’  And they just say nonchalantly, with a shrug, good. Just good I asked them?  I mean you were just laughing your heads off. I thought you were going to tell me, ‘It’s amazing, it’s amazing!’ And instead it’s nah, its ok, it was just good.  
 
I have discovered that when a movie lacks heart, it just does not last with you.  You, you ah, get rid of the movie as soon as you walk out of the theater. It’s like, ok next, what’s next. But when a movie touches your heart, when the story touches your heart, it changes a little bit of how you perceive the movie. So you take it home, you make it yours, and you share the experience with your friends. It can be very very funny, but it also has to touch my heart. That happened with my last movie Instructions Not Included. It was a comedy but at the end it really touched your heart. This new film is not as dramatic as the other one but still it’s touching, and I like that.  Because that way you have fun, but at the end you can take it with you because it’s a touching story. So I like that bittersweet taste in my movies.
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