We recently sat down and chatted with international sensation Eugenio Derbez as part of the press tour for Dora and the Lost City of Gold, which is in theaters now. Derbez is a writer, actor, director, and producer from Mexico, and is a man Variety once called the most influential Hispanic man in the world of entertainment. But we weren’t intimidated, as Derbez is also one of the nicest, most down-to-earth stars we’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to.
Eugenio Derbez is mostly known for his comedic turns in films like the remake of Overboard, How to Be A Latin Lover, and Instructions Not Included, the latter of which he also wrote and directed, and is the most successful Mexican movie ever made. Our conversation began on the topic of comedians branching out into new roles, such as drama or even playing a villain. Does he see himself leaving the world of comedy for more dramatic roles in the future?
“Yes. I don’t know if it’s something that happens with all comedians. But every time a comedian reaches a certain point, we go to drama,” he explained. “I don’t know why, but it’s exhausting, because doing comedy is so hard. They say its harder to make people laugh than it is to make people cry. But, for some reason, people think comedy is lighter than drama and it’s easier.
“You can look at the Academy Awards. They never nominate a comedy as best film. I think that’s why, after so many years and after a comedian is successful, they want to go to drama because we want to be taken seriously. We feel its very exhausting to do comedy and not being recognized. That’s why Tom Hanks and Robin Williams — everyone. That’s why we switch from comedy to drama.
“I would like to do the same,” he admitted. “Especially in this country, where I have this stamp where I’m a comedian. In Mexico its impossible, I can’t do anything that is not comedy. Everyone is like, ‘C’mon, you’re the funny guy,’ but here (in the U.S.) I think it’s possible to do something different.”
Eugenio Derbez, in addition to starring as Alejandro in Dora and the Lost City of Gold, is also an executive producer on the film. We asked him how much say he had in the production, and about wearing that particular hat.
“[I had say] in certain points and in certain things, like especially in the Latino side,” he explained about his “power” on set. “I was in charge of supervising everything related to the Latino culture, in order to not make mistakes about our culture.
“It’s happens many times when you are watching a Hollywood movie and you see a Mexican restaurant and in the background someone is dancing the flamenco, which is from Spain, so that’s confusing,” he said.
“So I was in charge supervising everything related to the Latino culture. And also the script in Spanish. What I did and what I do in my films, there are some jokes that you can’t translate literally, because they don’t understand the joke in Latin America. Because its something local (to America). So we find something similar that will appeal with the same kind of humor or the idea, but it’s not a big difference.”
Dora the Explorer is a cultural icon the world over. We asked Eugenio why he thinks Dora and her backpack, map, and monkey, Boots, are so popular, then and now.
“It’s funny, because honestly I had the same question many, many years ago,” he admitted. “Why is this cartoon so powerful, because the storyline is so simple? I think it’s because it’s basically entertaining, but it’s teaching you at the same time: Another language, and how to survive in the jungle. So you can learn stuff here and there.
“As a parent, you love that your kids are watching something fun and are learning things here and there, but also survival stuff.”
“The rest of the world is the same,” he explained further. “In Mexico, Dora speaks Spanish and teaches English. In France, same thing; she speaks French and teaches English to the french kids. So that’s the way it works in every country.”
Eugenio Derbez has had a long and amazing career in both Mexico and in the U.S. His credits list is filled with acting roles, both in live action and in Spanish language voice-over work. He’s worked in both TV and in film, and it still feels like we are just now getting to know this talented man. We asked him if he had a favorite role from his career and the answer was not too surprising.
“In movies, my favorite movie that I’ve done is Instructions Not Included,” he said matter-of-factly. We reminded him that he also wrote and directed that particular film and he laughed.
“I think that’s why! That’s kind of a personal project, that’s why. I’m a new face here in America, but in Latin America, I’ve been working for more than 25 years doing all kinds of stuff and I think my TV series — I’ve done many many interesting characters that probably for me are my favorites. But now that I’m starting this new era in movies, I would say Instructions Not Included as an actor and director also.”
As a man who wears many hats in the entertainment field, we asked Eugenio if he had a preference between acting or directing.
“Directing, because you have the control of everything,” he said. “I don’t know, for some reason, you can really — when you just write something, the actors or the directors or somebody along the way can change your point of view.
“Same as an actor. Many times I make a film as an actor and at the end, the scenes are too edited and it’s not what you were expecting. So, when you are a director, you are able to really translate what you want to say. That’s why I love directing because nobody changes your point of view.”
After so many great roles in comedies as the hero, or at worst, the funny sidekick, we asked Eugenio if he would like to play a juicy villain in the future.
“I would love to play a villain,” he admitted with a mischievous glint in his eye. “It’s very hard to play a bad guy in a kids movie. You can’t be really bad. You can’t kill anyone. You can’t hit anyone. You can’t curse. All you can do is shout, ‘Shut up!'”
Switching gears, we talked about the differences between the entertainment industry in the U.S. vs. the industry in Latin America. Does he have a preference in where he works?
“That’s a great question, because my dream was always to end up in Hollywood,” he explained. “I mean, who doesn’t. I’m thrilled about doing movies here. But, on the other hand, working in Spanish is more myself. I feel confident and I feel free. English is not my first language. So it’s very hard for me to improvise.
“In Spanish, I can be creative and have a lot of freedom to improvise and do crazy stuff. Actually, I’m well known for doing crazy stuff and improvising, and here in the U.S., it’s different because English is not my first language. So, I feel better when I’m acting in Mexico, but I feel blessed that I’m able to do movies in Hollywood.”
As our time begin to wane, I asked Eugenio about his heroes; the people he admired in the industry.
“Peter sellers,” he answered emphatically. “I love Peter Sellars and Woody Allen at his beginning on his first movies. He was really funny.” His eyes glassed over as he thought more about the magic that Peter Sellers brought to audiences during his long and amazing film career.
“Peter Sellers, he was amazing. I love the way — he was too elegant. He was very, very elegant and very classy. But at the same time very funny, but not broad. He was grounded. It’s very interesting to me how he made people laugh with a straight face.”
If you are familiar with Eugenio Derbez, you know he wears his influences on his sleeve. He is a master of playing the straight guy who dips into comedy as easily as a race car driver does laps on a track. Eugenio is also adept at bang-bang physical comedy, and to hear him explain his admiration of Peter Sellers, it all started to make sense.
With our time up, we thanked Eugenio for his time and he was as gracious at the end as he was throughout the sit-down. Like his idol, Eugenio is classy, elegant, and can make you laugh. He’s built an entire career out of making the world smile, and having met the man face-to-face and after our brief talk, I now know why. He chooses his heroes — and his roles — very wisely.
You can see Eugenio Derbez in Dora and the Lost City of Gold, which is in theaters now