While he might not be a household name in the US yet, Eugenio Derbez is probably one of the best-known and most influential actors in Mexico. Make no mistake this funny man has already been making his mark here in the US alongside Adam Sandler in Jack and Jill, Eva Mendes in Girl in Progress and as the scene stealing brother in-law to Rob Schneider in the sitcom Rob. Now he is taking his years of experience and talents to step behind the camera as well in his latest film Instructions Not Included aka No se Aceptan Devoluciones that he not only stars in, but also directs. I had the chance to sit down with Eugenio and discuss how he brought his passion project to life.
Bobby: You have done a lot of comedy and this film had that, but also went a more dramatic approach. Where did the project come from?
Eugenio: I am a huge fan of American films. When I was a kid my mom took me every weekend to the movies and we watched an average of 2 to 4 movies every day, so I was a huge fan. When I grew up I always wanted to do a film and started to do direction, but never did one in that way, this is my first direction. I was a little tired of doing my shows which are all comedy and nothing else and I really wanted to do something else. After seeing films like Life is Beautiful and Little Miss Sunshine I thought, I want to make a comedy but with a lot of heart. So I worked for 12 years to have this beautiful script, but it had to work for the audience. There are parts that were dangerous because it could be too serious and difficult to understand. So I took the risk in adding a bit of comedy. Then the scene with the midget was also difficult because everyone was telling me to cut that part out of the script and to rewrite because it was going to be too much. But I took the risk.
Bobby: Did your experience working with people like Adam Sandler help with you moving to directing?
Eugenio: Yeah, I think I am a mix of a lot of people. When you grow up you are absorbing a lot of information and I have a lot of influence from people like Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Adam Sandler, Mexican comedians and you throw that in a mixer and it creates. At the same time I wanted to direct because every time I was directed by someone else I was frustrated because I would have done it a different way. For example with Jack and Jill there are a lot of scenes I would have done different things and that is when I said I need to direct my own film. I need to trust my instincts and do my own comedy, my own style. I found that the only way to compete against the big blockbusters is to have a good touching story. We didn’t have budgets like Transformers or Spider-Man, so we need to do touching smart films and that is why I worked for so long on this script.
Bobby: Wasn’t the part of the young girl originally supposed to be a boy?
Eugenio: It was meant to be a boy, but it was hard to find a kid in Mexico or LA, who was blond, blue eyes, charismatic good actor that spoke perfect English and Spanish with perfect accents in both languages. After 3 or 4 months of looking everywhere for the boy and didn’t find it, we started looking for a boy or girl and we still didn’t find it. We were a week and a half away from shooting so I started tweeting “Please I beg you, somebody out there who knows a boy or girl call me”. She appeared that way and is a normal girl who never acted in anything before this film. It was really a blessing.
Bobby: How hard is it working with kids as opposed to adults?
Eugenio: It’s really hard in certain ways, but kids are amazing because they are so fresh and so natural. At the very beginning I was very afraid. I told her to make me a list of the 10 worst moments of your life, if you have cried for anything, please write it down because I need to know your saddest moments. So she wrote the list and number one was “I cried a lot when my mom changed the color of my room.” Really? That was the worst moment of your life? So I talked to her mom and she gave me a lot of information. She was really worried; she would say “do I need to cry?” I said if you need to cry then cry, just don’t push it. It was really funny, in our first scene when she needed to cry, I told her “this is going to end and we are not going to see each other anymore. So it’s going to be sad, because I love you, I really love you and have been really happy working with you.” She realized at that moment that everything, all these new friends were going to be finished with everything in two weeks and so she started crying naturally. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not. For example the baby was hard to work with. Walking with a 10 month old baby down the highways in Mexico in the sun, thank God its Mexico because in the US we would have been sued immediately. You’re only allowed to work 3 or 4 hours with a baby, in Mexico we don’t care and that’s a blessing.
Bobby: The movie was excellent, but with projects like this most filmmakers have something they are trying say or do with their films. What were you really trying to do with this film?
Eugenio: The object was to first of all entertain, but also to do something different with Mexican films. As a movie goer, I was tired of seeing the same thing portrayed is Mexican films, such as drugs, violence, and exploitation of the poor. It seems that all we see of Mexican films is the worse of Mexico. And I was tired of seeing this view of Mexico, because it’s not like that. Parts of it are, but that’s not all there is in Mexico. I wanted to make a film that is full of light, and life; a family movie. Something you could take your family too, not just something that’s Adults Only. No nudity, no sex, no decadence. I wanted to do something different and also to show a different Eugenio Derbez that no one knows. This is who I really am. This is more me than what you have ever seen in any of my other shows/movies. I’m very sensitive and emotional, and no one knows that, so I wanted to show that. This movie really is Eugenio Derbez.
Bobby: My wife and I were big fans of Rob and one of the ways we always talk about you is your line “Best Friend!”. Was that something you improved or was it written that way?
Eugenio: No, that was my idea. I was improvising that day, and I was trying to create a catch phrase. And I don’t know why, but it’s easy for me to do catch phrases. I did it once and everyone was like “oh I like that one!” And I realized that every time I went inside the set, all the staff was like “Best friend!, Best friend!”, and I was like ‘Wow’. And actually at the end, two or three guys told me “hey let’s start a business and make T-shirts that say ‘Best Friend!’” So it was an accident, but a happy accident. And I have two or three friends of mine, that every time they see me they say “hi best friend”. It was a great accident.
Bobby: Thanks for doing this. Good luck with the film it is amazing.
Eugenio: Thanks so much.
Be sure to check out Instructions Not Included in theaters now!!!