Funnyman Eugenio Derbez is one of Mexico’s biggest stars. There, he’s a household name, recognized everywhere he goes from his extensive film and TV work.
Here, it’s a little different. He starred in 2013’s “Instructions Not Included,” which became the highest-grossing Spanish-language film in the States. In English, he has played supporting roles in films like “Miracles from Heaven” and “Jack and Jill.” He was the funniest thing in “Rob,” a 2012 sitcom on CBS designed for Rob Schneider.
So while he’s certainly famous here, he’s not exactly the superstar he is in the Spanish-speaking world.
That’s been changing since the release of “How to Be a Latin Lover,” in which he plays an aging gigolo seeking a new wife in Beverly Hills. But he’s not sure he wants it to.
“I kind of feel like I’m living my American dream,” says Derbez, 54, who moved full-time to Los Angeles in 2014. “You know what I really love here? Walking to the parks. Unfortunately, I can’t do that in Mexico, but here I love that I have this freedom.”
He talks about how he goes to studios for meetings.
“I arrive at valet parking, and all the guys are like, ‘Mr. Derbez, I’m going to leave your car right here at the front!’ I get this special treatment, and it’s so nice. Then I go inside the office. I’m no one, and they treat me sometimes not that well. Then I come back to the valet, and it’s, “Oh, you’re back, Mr. Derbez!” It’s like being in two different worlds at the same time.”
One imagines studio meetings have been going pretty well lately. The heavily promoted “How to Be a Latin Lover” is almost all in English and was last weekend’s top new release at the box office, outgrossing the Tom Hanks-Emma Watson drama “The Circle.”
The movie’s studio, Pantelion, hopes it will repeat the success of the winsome “Instructions Not Included.” Derbez wrote, directed, produced and starred in that film; in the new movie, he downplays his auteur tendencies and only produces and acts, while Ken Marino (TV’s “Childrens Hospital”) directs.
“Because this is my first movie starring in English, I thought it was going to be really risky and tough to do everything at the same time,” Derbez says. “Drama is more universal. Everyone cries or feels emotion for the same things. But comedy is really hard. People laugh at different things and I didn’t want to make any mistakes. I hired two American writers and an American director. In the future, I can direct again, but right now I’m learning the process of how to make people laugh in English.”
Still, given that he is a major star throughout the Spanish-speaking world — he’s got more than 9 million Twitter followers, which puts him ahead of both Melania Trump and Michelle Obama — it’s not always easy to relinquish control.
“You’re always directing in your head,” he says. “It’s not good to be so opinionated, because you can become a nightmare. I’ve learned that when I’m directing, I hate when people are always questioning everything and trying to give me directions. Here, I tried to really relax and not think too much. The minute I’d start thinking, ‘Why did he put the camera there?’ I’d start questioning everything. So, instead, when the director said, “Walk from here to here and sit down,” I’d just say, ‘OK, that’s good!’ And that was hard.”
Derbez began acting as a child; his mother, actress Silvia Derbez, had a long career in films and TV. He has four children; three so far have followed him into the business (that’s his son, Vadhir Derbez, playing a younger version of his character in “How to Be a Latin Lover”). Derbez essentially is an institution in Mexican entertainment, even though he’s somewhat neglected his Spanish-language film career for a couple of years. That’s changing; he’s signed to do a thriller called “El Complot Mongol” (“The Mongolian Conspiracy” ) that begins shooting in August by director Sebastian del Amo (“Cantinflas”).
“I’m just trying the American dream,” Derbez reiterates. “To work here in the U.S., you have to commit and be here. For many years, it was back and forth, back and forth, and it didn’t work. But I’m always open to working in Spanish.”
But first, he’ll start shooting in May a remake of the Goldie Hawn-Kurt Russell comedy “Overboard.” This time around, the guy is a spoiled millionaire and the woman a blue-collar worker who tries to dupe him into bankrolling her family. Anna Faris will co-star.
“I love breaking stereotypes,” Derbez says. “That was the natural thing: I’m going to be the carpenter and she’s going to be the rich millionaire with the yacht. The execs were like, ‘No, no, no, this is a classic!’ But I said, ‘No, I can’t do this.’ Really: Why can’t a Latino be the millionaire and the American girl be poor? Why not?”
Randy Cordova, USA TODAY Network