Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez (“Instructions Not Included”) isn’t a Latin lover, but he plays one on the big screen.
In his new comedy “How to Be a Latin Lover,” Derbez, 55, stars as Maximo, a lifelong playboy who is dumped by his much-older, wealthy wife and has no choice but to move in with his estranged sister Sara (Salma Hayek) and her young son Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). As he tries to find another rich nonagenarian to seduce into marriage, Maximo learns what it means to be part of a family and why money doesn’t always deliver happiness.
During an interview with me last week, Derbez, whose 2013 comedy “Instructions Not Included” became the highest-grossing Spanish-language film released in the U.S., talked about caricaturizing stereotypes, the types of roles he’s turned down recently and how stereotypes are seen differently in Mexico than they are in the U.S.
What attracted you to a character like Maximo? Are there any similarities between you two?
There aren’t many similarities between Máximo and I, thank God. I always wanted to do “Latin Lover.” I was always flirting with girls at school, but I’m kind of shy. When I was playing Máximo, I love the confidence he has. I was like, “I should’ve known this confidence when I was young!” I was very shy and I’m still shy. I hate that. On the other hand, that’s good because then I would’ve been married many times by now.
What would you say to critics who say that “How to Be a Latin Lover” perpetuates stereotypes of Latino men?
I was really curious about this cliché that everyone has in the U.S. Every time I wore a suit or a tuxedo, every single Anglo was like, “Oh, you look like a Latin lover!” I thought it was funny and that we should do something with that. I think the best way to break down a stereotype is to poke fun of it. I decided to make this movie to break down the stereotype of the Latin lover by making fun of the character. I think it’s very original.
As a comedy actor, do you find the comedy genre helps to do that with stereotypes? I mean, could you?
I use comedy for everything. For me, comedy is like therapy. Every time I want to heal something or criticize something or get rid of an idea, I use comedy. In this case, it was no exception. I thought it was the best way to tell people that this is just a stereotype. Latinos are not afraid of laughing, shouting, yelling, dancing, touching, and hugging. We all kiss each other. I notice that when I’m here in the U.S. and I meet someone and I go to kiss their cheek or get a hug, I can tell when people feel uncomfortable. They get stiff and it’s funny. But I like the way we are.
Can you give me an example of a role in a film you’ve turned down?
Since I came to the U.S. after “Instructions Not Included,” a lot of doors opened. I moved to the U.S. and they were offering me a lot of the same kind of roles—the criminal, the drug lord, the narco, the murderer. I decided not to go that way, at least for now. I’m not saying I’m never going to play [a role like that] in my life. One of the things people say they loved about “Instructions” was that they were watching a Latino on the big screen who was a good father and good human being and who was very successful. They were like, “Finally!” So, I decided not to go for those other roles for the last two and a half years. I declined a lot of offers in really great projects from really great directors because I wanted to try doing something different.
How are stereotypes viewed in TV and film in Mexico? In the U.S., it seems like audiences have become a lot more conscious of it nowadays.
It’s different because [Mexicans] are not that sensitive. I think in the U.S., at least before Mr. Trump, it was too much. I remember about two years ago, I went to a restaurant with some friends. All of us were Mexicans. We asked for some hot sauce. The waitress said, “It is kind of spicy.” And we said, “Ah, it doesn’t matter! We’re Mexicans!” And she was shocked. She was like, “You’re not offended by that word?!” We were like, “What?! We’re Mexicans! That’s what we are!” It’s like the people that say we’re not allowed to say “Latino” anymore. We have to say “Hispanic.” Apparently, that’s the correct word to describe people who speak Spanish in the U.S. I’m like, “Come on guys. We’re going too far.” In Mexico, we don’t care. We don’t care about being politically correct. We’re more open. In the U.S., everyone is so conscious about not offending anyone.
What kind of future do you see for Maximo? Does he go find true love or does he stay a playboy forever?
He’s not that romantic. When we were writing the character, we tried to be faithful to the character. I know guys like Máximo. They’re interested in having a great life and a good time. They don’t care about romance and love. They just care about having a good life. That’s Máximo. He would never go for love. He learns a lesson about the importance of family and that it’s more important than money. But very deep in his soul, the only thing that matters to him is to have a good time. I don’t think he’ll ever find his true love.