Latin-American superstar Eugenio Derbez discusses new film and the challenges of multicultural comedy

Justin Jones

Eugenio Derbez, named the most influential Latin-American star by Variety, is hugely popular in Spanish-speaking countries, and this week he begins his attempt to make it in America.

He produced and stared in “How to Be a Latin Lover,” a funny and surprisingly sweet tale of a washed-up Hollywood gigolo who moves in with his sister, played by Salma Hayek. The Daily Texan sat down with him to hear about the struggles of transitioning to English and the advice he has for student actors.

The Daily Texan: What was the hardest part about making an English-language film?

Eugenio Derbez: Probably the language and the culture. Let me tell you why: Drama is universal. We all cry for the same stuff: love, death, lust. But comedy depends on where you were born. You go to Argentina and you watch a show, you’re not gonna laugh at the same things. So it depends on where you were born, if you are young, if you are old. Your grandma doesn’t laugh at the same stuff as you, you know?

It’s so hard to make a movie for two different countries, for two different cultures. So it was an experiment, kind of. Our hope was to make (two different cultures) laugh: the Hispanic culture and the Anglos. And I think we found a great mix between the two senses of humor.

Having a director like Ken Marino—and I am a director myself, I direct all of my TV shows—so I brought my style into the American comedy, and I think we found the perfect balance between the cultures. And we have some tricks. There are some scenes that are funny, in the few scenes that I’m in Spanish, we cheated. The subtitles say something different that appeals more to the general market than the Hispanics. If you try to translate every single joke it doesn’t work.

DT: What advice do you have for an actor who is trying to make it today?

ED: I spent many years of my life knocking at the door of all producers. This happened to me in Mexico and, of course, here. I never got anything. There’s a lot of people around, so how can you compete in a market like this?

Everything changed my life the day I decided, instead of asking for a job, to bring something to the table. So what I did then is the same as what I did here. They are like “How did you get a starring role in a movie in Hollywood?” Well, I did it myself.

In Mexico I did the same thing. When I was starting, I worked a lot as a waiter. Then I hired two writers that could develop a script for me. That’s what I did here too. I hired two American writers, they wrote the script and then I went to the studios.

The best way to open the door, even if it’s Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, Will Smith whoever you want, is having a good script. A good script is the best key, the best weapon. So I got the script, it was really funny. So I came with everything: a production company and a great script. They said yes and that’s how I got here.

So instead of just waiting and knocking at the door and asking for something, I brought the idea, I put the team together, and that’s it. That’s the best way to do it.