American audiences may not know it yet, but Eugenio Derbez is a comedy icon and his newest comedy, the gender switched reboot of the 80s film, Overboard (now in theaters) may finally get him the recognition he so deserves.
To the Latin community, Derbez is a legend. His television shows in Mexico have been wildly successful for decades, but when he moved to the United States in 2002, no one knew who he was. For ten years he struggled to find ongoing work, with minor roles in films like Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Jack and Jill and a TV series, Rob. Frustrated, he returned to Mexico in 2012, and decided if he was going to make it — he was going to have to become his own boss and created a production company 3Pas Studios and landed a first look deal with Lionsgate and Pantelion Films. There, he wrote, produced and starred in Instructions Not Included which became the highest grossing Spanish language film in the U.S. Six years later, he is co-starring with Anna Faris in the hilarious, gender switched reboot of the 80s film, Overboard.
We got a chance to speak to Eugenio while he was on the road doing promotion for the film. He discusses why he sticks to making family-friendly films, being on the Oscars stage to introduce Coco, and why he feels it’s a great time for Latinos in media.
HipLatina: Yesterday, I listened to Anna (Faris)’s podcast where you were her guest. You guys have this crazy, easy-going chemistry. Was that something you guys took time to work on? Or was it instant?
Eugenio Derbez: It was instant. There’s people that you meet and you instantly know that you have chemistry. Because it’s just like that, you have it or not. And with Anna, since day one, the first time we met, immediately we clicked. So it was amazing working with her. I had a blast. And she’s really funny, she’s really humble, down to earth and grounded. She’s really … she’s one of the nicest co-stars I’ve worked with.
HipLatina: I thought the interesting question you and Anna posed to each other was, what was your most difficult question to answer while doing press for Overboard so far. I found it kind of funny that both of you said it was questions about the gender bending aspect of the film. Do you think it’s because so many people still have this nostalgia for the ’80s film or is it something else?
Eugenio Derbez: First of all, I think it was a great, great decision to switch genders because everyone was asking us about why did we do that. And it was because, first of all, I was tired of watching Hollywood’s films where the Latinos are just the criminals, the drug lords, the gang members or the gardeners or the valet parkings; and I wanted to change that. That was a way to do it and I felt that for my audience it was gonna be really funny, relaxing and retreating to see for [the] first time a Latino playing a millionaire and the gringa being the one who’s cleaning the toilets. So it would be really, really poetic justice and also that way, you avoid a direct comparison between Anna and Goldie Hawn, and me and Kurt Russell.
HipLatina: The three films that you have produced for American audiences, starting with Instructions Not Included, are all comedies geared towards families. Even, How To Be A Latin Lover, which could have gone way raunchier if you wanted to, but you’ve made sure they’ve all been family friendly. Is there a reason behind that?
Eugenio Derbez: It’s part of my signature. It doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna ever do something different, but I try. Anytime I can do something for the entire family, I do it because that’s the way I like to work. I like to make comedies that can appeal with everyone. I’ve been working my entire life in my TV doing funny shows for the kids too. So, I have a lot of fans that are teenagers or kids and I want to do my movies for all my audience, not just for adults.
HipLatina: You have previously mentioned how you still feel insecure about your comedy in English, despite being here since 2002?
Eugenio Derbez: Absolutely, yes, yes, I feel a little bit insecure. When I was shooting, especially Latin Lover, my previous film, I was really worried because I was aware that I was funny in Spanish, but in English, I was not sure that I was gonna be able to be funny in English. But it seems that I’m getting there. I like it.
HipLatina: Yeah, no. You’re hilarious in both languages.
Eugenio Derbez: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
HipLatina: Have you gotten more recognition since being on the Oscar stage as a presenter? I remember the following day, Citizen Dame asked me to be on their podcast and they were all asking questions about you. And I filled them in immediately. I was like, “Oh, let me tell you about Eugenio.”
Eugenio Derbez: Thank you very much. Because you know, I am aware that I’m a new face for the Anglos here in this country, but I’m a very well known face for Latinos, so it’s funny. It’s like living in these two worlds at the same time. One where you are a very well known face and the other one where you’re a nobody. So it’s weird, it feels weird, but it’s funny. But the Oscars were a dream come true. I remember when I was kid, I was always watching the Oscars with my Mom by my side. I was seven, probably the first time I sat down to watch the Oscars and I fell in love with movies and with ceremony. So for me it was a dream. A dream to be someday there. I never imagined it was gonna happen, ever.
HipLatina: I want to go back to that Oscar moment, you introduced “Remember Me” the, now, Oscar winning song from Coco. For us here in the U.S., it was a huge moment. I was watching that stage fill with mariachis, ballet folklorico dancers, Spanish words being sung…on the Oscars stage! I got very emotional at home. What was that like for you to be there, and finally see the beauty of your home country in this place that you dreamed of for so long?
Eugenio Derbez: It’s … I can’t even describe it, honestly. Honestly, you can’t imagine how proud I was of being Mexican and being on that stage at the moment. I think those were the most Mexican Oscars ever. It was really, really, amazing, and I felt so proud of being Mexican, for the first time here. Because nowadays you know, you are kind of scared of saying ‘I’m Mexican’. I feel that among our community, every time I speak to valets or waiters in the restaurants, they’re afraid of saying ‘I’m Mexican.’ But that day, especially at the Oscars, we all felt really proud of being Latinos and especially of being Mexican.
HipLatina: You have been in this industry for a long time and your ‘crossing over’ has been gradual. But, obviously things in this country are crazy right now. I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about our political climate, especially the way it’s aimed at Latinos. Is it more difficult for you to get things green lit right now? Or are people finally waking up, to see that there’s a community to be served here?
Eugenio Derbez: Well, you know, let me tell you something. At least in Hollywood, a lot of actors [are] anti-Trump so that seems really helpful. But also, the box office is the only thing that rules in Hollywood. So every time my community, the Latinos, every time they go and fill the theaters, they are giving me weapons to fight, and they are giving me weapons to scale steps of equality. I think this is a great moment for Latinos, even though we’re going through a hard time with this administration, I feel that it’s a great place to be right now. I feel really strong about Latinos and I think this is gonna be something temporary. In three years, this guy is not gonna be anymore and we’re gonna be stronger than ever.