“Too many people in this room,” he thought. “Again.”
It was getting late. 6 pm to be exact, the hour where everything would shut down at the factory.
“Closing time,” he’d like to say.
The sun going down was the best alarm system ever devised for Dad. It meant quiet would be restored. It was the time when he felt most relaxed, when the world, his world, was in order. Dad sensed someone approaching. He prepared for impact.
“Hi, Uncle George!” the Person said excitedly.
Dad instinctually knew which of his smiles to engage.
He had quite the array of smiles in his arsenal; some were broad, others were veiled politeness. They were never fake or insincere. This one smile was one of his most appreciated because it had genuine warmth, even if he didn’t quite know the source of its heat.
Dad also learned a while ago that his speaking in Spanish was always the best way to keep contact with short.
“If you gave them too much,” he’d reasoned to himself, “they’ll stay too long.”
Communicating with people was never this hard, or maybe it was? How long had this been his “new normal?” Everything felt so hazy these days as if his mind was processing photocopies with very little ink.
Some times, the images before him (memories?) were shockingly bright, with each color pushing its vibrancy to the limit. It was then he couldn’t help but smile. He could see his world so clearly, shapes and figures that felt so familiar and real. Most of the time, he was a witness to an expanse of grey that threatened to dominate everything. Not today, though.
Dad used to miss the “beautiful noise,” as he’d called it before he got “sick.” It still happened from time to time, his recognizing it. That once beautiful din was often too loud now, and it scared him, something that never happened before. For Dad, this human tidal wave of sounds, letters, and languages pulled him under without a floatation device. He couldn’t begin to sort it all out, taking his breath away when a room full of people reached its audible peak.
Dad was well aware something was wrong with his brain. He’d known for some time that things were off. Mom was still a mental constant, as was Sis. They offered him two of the few respites from the long days waiting for “quitting time” to arrive.
“Oh my god! Uncle George looks so good!” said Another Figure.
“This one was more excitable than the other,” Dad thought to himself. Still, something in her face made him feel the need to offer more than one of his pre-fab smiles.
“Bien! Bien!” Dad offered as he excitedly patted this Person’s hand for extra measure.
Of all his Old World manners and gestures, the hand pat was his most friendly, the one he only used with people that meant a great deal to him. Perhaps the criteria had slipped a bit of late, but the importance of it hadn’t waned. Not yet, anyway.
More people arrived, breaking his repose. Suddenly, Dad’s leather lounge chair felt like a steel trap. He wanted to leave, but where?
“I know I’m still me,” he thought. A surge of emotion was making its way to his brain, a lava-like substance that took very little time to heat and explode forth.
“Dad’s eyes are looking tense,” Someone said.
“He’s going to start kicking people out!” Someone else added.
“I’m not angry!” Dad wanted to shout.
He didn’t feel sure about who everyone was in the room. His eyes darted furiously about the den, desperately trying to find the familiar faces of Mom and Sis, but they weren’t around. That made him panic ever so slightly, the color of his eyes shifting from their charming hazel shade to something foreboding and stormy.
“Hace mucho ruido! Tanto ruido. Chingados!” Dad said to no one in particular.
For the record, Dad NEVER swore. In any language. But a long-buried archive of Spanish language profanities had since been unearthed. All bets were off as to when Dad would decide to access it.
“It’s so much better when it’s quiet. Don’t these people know?” he heard from within his fussy and uncooperative mind.
It felt like these words were tumbling forth. Dad could feel his mouth moving, forming a declarative sentence that could restore order, but it was futile. Even if he did manage to say something, it would not have been discernable to anyone. All they would hear was a defeated sigh from the man they came to visit and love as he settled deeper into the isolating safety of his leather armchair.
In case you haven’t noticed, being in a reflective mood is a big part of who I am as a person.
I’ll pause for the rolling of your eyes, dear reader.
Yeah, I think too much. I think too much about stuff that is hardly ground shaking anymore. I, too, suffer from that illness of wanting to make myself seem so fucking interesting. So much effort has gone into curating a self that could be deemed “fabulous” or “fascinating” by others that I now question whether it was worth it. Losing Dad last month has allowed for a sense of clarity to take over. Revisiting all of our struggles together, the endless array of pendejadas I’d craft just to piss him off. And for what? He forgot them all due to his Alzheimer’s. However, what took over was something totally real and true. Each time he smiled, I knew we were in a good place. We laughed and lived out some of the best years of our lives together with respect. It will be a gift that will keep on giving.
These many years of trying on and shedding personas were exhausting, for me and everyone around me. The irony? Going back to my OG self now makes the most sense. Take out the chaos and “big feelings” and I have a nice rack of lamb to offer the world. That’s what brought me back to Dad. With him, I discovered that life doesn’t need an excess of adornment. It needs to be tended to with care and purpose. You nurture the best part of yourself and the people you love with sun and air, not artificial light, filters, and the prism of a stranger’s validation. Why it’s taken me so long to figure that out has more to do with what I thought I wanted to “see” in myself and the world.
Born a preemie, I guess I was determined not to fade into the background since day one. I had to see what lurked outside the safety of Mom’s womb! Haha. Once I started going to school, it became apparent that I had a voice and the power to be heard. Shyness be damned, the first person I made laugh in kindergarten was a revelation! I was aware of what made me different from the other kids. In the end, my early interests would dictate much of who I would be as an adult. It happened organically thanks to the people who remain my role models, at home, school, the library that was my second home. Then, I started to doubt my own singularity.
When I think about our mania to be noticed today by being considered an “influencer” or a “public figure” on social media, I can’t help but marvel over how it is also doing us such harm. It’s just a setting, for crying out loud. Creating a false persona took real skill in “my day” and we could not depend on a filter to cover the flaws. To bear witness to the elements of sameness projected by people all over the world today scares the shit out of me. We seem less inclined to break free from the pack to fervently embrace this culture of uniformity. Copycat beauty is not a celebration of individuality, which contradicts a generation’s determination to eschew the context of the past. Many parrot the importance of fluidity in their lives, but they swirl around the contained space of a very specific and packed fish tank.
This concept of curating an authentic life is also just another variation of “keeping up appearances.” And whoever coined the term, “adulting” should be ashamed. We live in an era that invents so many terms and slogans to validate confusion and insecurity. Most people can’t even commit to a simple meet and greet because of their lives being so “hectic.” Yet, they still want to be praised for doing the things you’re supposed to do as an adult! Argh. But yeah, planning and taking photos of yourself at brunch and Coachella will take it out of you. This doesn’t apply only to the millennials, either.
Sigh. I’m rambling here, I know. That I’ve grappled with the same insecurity of being ignored and feeling irrelevant for so long is one of my biggest failures. The trigger point from childhood, when I stopped letting my own true self exist for fear of being labeled “different,” cannot be allowed to be pulled. Opting to create an exaggerated self with the threads of what made me different wasn’t any better, either. Dad wasn’t always enamored of my colorful self, but he admired my voracious need to read, watch films, go to the theater, and articulate what I loved about what I was watching or reading. (Except “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” He tore a companion picture book in half and threw it in the trash.)
Dad believed in the power of words and I have found comfort and solace in recognizing that part of him. I know I won’t fade into the background anytime soon. My will to speak and write is too strong. However, the point is to allow our words to count. Empowerment and courage will forever exist in words, even in a fish tank.
Having the courage and will to express myself is what will get me through this next chapter without him. Nostalgia has also proven a great source of empowerment, lessons that were buried only to resurface as I contemplate my own future. For example, when I was a kid, visiting the family in Tampico, the tíos thought it would be great to get me on a horse. I was about 4 or 5. Tío Paul was so proud to see me ride. Instead, he saw me fall off, which wasn’t unusual for me. Graceful athleticism was left out of my DNA stew.
I didn’t get back on that horse. I often wonder what life would have been like if I just got back in the saddle again. No filter, either. It speaks volumes to me today. I don’t need a horse anymore, but I do know I won’t be staying down if I fall. I’ll just dust myself off and keep on moving forward as my singular self. Witnesses welcomed, but not required.
My sister Nancy coined the name “Poppadoodles” way back when. I instantly loved the sound of it, both frivolous and absurd, two words you’d never use when you wanted to describe Dad. He was Big George, Jorge Sr., Tío Jorge, but never Don Jorge, or Jefe. He represented many things to many people.
Dad passed away the morning of Tuesday, February 26 at the age of 94 at our home in Pico Rivera. It didn’t rain that day. The sun was out. He was surrounded by family and our closest friends. Alzheimer’s was also his nefarious companion during the last 12 years of his life. It finally left us alone, but it never fully took Dad away. Jorge Sr. knew where he was and who was the source of the love in that living room space that day.
Writing about him in the past tense makes me want to scream. Thinking about him in the past tense makes me want to cry. That is why I choose to focus my emotion on words these days. Words were my best friend as a chubby, eccentric kid. Words were what kept Dad entertained as he shuttled us all over Los Angeles to meet rock bands at record signings, shows, musicals, sports, everything. A carefully folded newspaper or magazine was also with him when he played chauffeur to the exciteable brood that was us.
I never did ask what he read about or what he even thought about what he read. I just know that when it was time to take us home, he carefully folded the material back up and we’d begin the journey. That slice of peace and quiet was always obliterated by our breathless stories about who or what we saw. He’d smile and listen as we cut through the city with caution because his precious cargo was aboard.
God, I wish I did ask him about those articles in the Herald-Examiner or Newsweek. One time, he even stood in line with my brother and me at Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. We wanted to meet the legendary child known as Boy George. Talk about your culture club. (Boom.) When we got up to meet George, we told him our Dad was a George, too. A huge smile stretched across the Brit crooner’s tastefully made-up face. Wouldn’t you know they launched into a nice little chat? Like neighbors stopping for tea. It was something George did not have time for with any of gallery of nightcrawlers and club kids that were desperate for a similar audience? Dad had no idea who Boy George even was, saying “That’s a nice young man” as we walked away. I wish Steve Jobs had already conquered the world for an iPhone! Imagine the photo, heck, the footage! Still, the memory remains a treasure, regardless, and unfiltered all these years later.
It is fitting that Dad made his living as a textile engineer. The yarn spun on the daily at the factory was no less important and as strong as the family ties he weaved at home. It never frayed. Even when it was pulled to maximum tautness, we didn’t break. Sometimes the words I exchanged with Dad were in anger, punctuated by the slam of a door or the start of a car engine. Even our silences carried the weight and text of our thoughts. That wasn’t the case once he began his travels with Alzheimer’s. I’d be damned if I’d let that bastard of a disease rob me of my time with Dad. I fought against the ALZ hard with smiles, laughter, and talks, real talks. It started out in English and then transferred to Dad’s native Spanish when his mind placed me in that category of awareness.
I have no regrets. I only possess this incredible want to have him here for a little while longer. I was able to say what I carried in my heart to him way before he left us. It is my most treasured moment with Dad. It happened at the Arboretum in Arcadia early last fall. Walking was tough for him, so I got him a wheelchair. We ventured around the gardens. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful day. In fact, it was grey and humid. The grounds were going through some pruning and renovations. The only added color that day was the famed peacocks, which were plentiful. I chose to tell Dad that I loved him and that he was right about so much. That I was sorry for all the hell I put him through. He was quiet for a moment, then, he asked if it was alright if he pushed me around the gardens, that I’d done enough. I said, “I don’t mind.” He answered, “Okay.” Then he started to comment on the peacocks, saying they don’t do anything. Just walk around and show off. I laughed. “Dad,” I said. I can’t believe you’re arguing with a peacock.” He just smiled and folded his hands on his lap. “I want to go home,” he said. So, we did.
Dad’s burial services were on a sunny Tuesday morning in Pico Rivera. I had the task of speaking, along with my brother. Writing his eulogy wasn’t easy, but when I started to write it, the words didn’t fail me. As my dear friend Ann said to me as my grief was in its upswing:
“He may be gone, but please know, as someone said to me when I lost my Dad, “The conversation continues.”
And it does…
A Eulogy for Dad by Jorge Carreón, Jr.
When you’ve been blessed to live a life as long, rich and vivid as Dad’s, the brevity of a eulogy seems cruel and unfair. Six paragraphs and out. I couldn’t do that. You only have to stop, pause, take a breath and take a look around a room like this and see the emotion and extent of the impact one life can make. You take comfort in knowing that this speaks volumes to the character and respect generated by Jorge Ramirez Carreón. Words were his power, and words are the inherited power we wield today.
I remember the day after my big performance in a high school play when I asked Dad what he thought of my “star” turn. He said, “Mijo, you’re a lot of things, but you’re not an actor. Write. It is what you do best.” He was “right,” for lack of a better word. He was pretty much always right about things.
I’ve been staring at a blank screen for days, crafting this message of remembrance and goodbye for Dad. All I could hear in my head are messages like, “Is this going to be enough?” followed by “I can’t do this.” When I finally sat down to put these words up on a laptop screen, it was surrounded by his spirit at our family home in Pico Rivera. Flowers, his favorite slice of nature, were everywhere. Music, the songs inspired by his varied tastes, provided the underscore. It made sense to me here. He made sense to me here, the house that raised my siblings and me.
My brother has composed a fitting testimony to his life, the details and achievements of a life less ordinary, but extraordinary. He ventured from the security of his home and living in Mexico to venture into the unknown territory of the US. He met Mom, married, had four children; he built the life of their dreams. The palm tree that graces the center of our home in Pico is that perfect symbol of our family history. It stands taller than ever before. It has bent with strong winds, never breaking, even when it felt like life was too much. It is the summation of who we are as his people, his family. You find a piece of who we are with each frond. Lil’s maturity and leadership as the firstborn. Nancy’s devotion and selfless protection of us all. Ernesto’s poetry and introspection. Mom’s love of life and strength. It is resilience incarnate.
With Dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s 12 years ago, the first impulse was to think life was over, that he’d forget us all quickly, that the damage to his mind and body would be relentless. We were scared he’d never be able to partake in our lives most crucial moments as adults. We were cursed and doomed. Yet, in the end, it was a gift. My father getting lost in the haze of this infernal disease allowed me to find him again. It is a personal detail that I will never let go.
My family mobilized upon the Doctor’s word. Nancy and Ernesto led the charge in researching every facet of treatment programs, medications, insurance allowances, anything, and everything to make sure Dad would live his best life with us beside him. That he was with us for as long as he was, glowing with color and filled with energy, is a testament to everyone’s role in keeping Dad healthy and alive. We involved him in all aspects of our lives. He wasn’t “sick” Dad. He was chingón Dad for us, for everyone he’d offer a smile. That’s the lesson of his life. Don’t fear the illness; make it fear YOU.
Like many Latino men, we like to live in our memories, tasked with the preservation of our family lore. Being Jorge is not just sharing the same name. Being Jorge means living as the chief chronicler of my family. You should see the epic collection of slides that remain encased and boxed, dutifully scanned by my sister Nancy with Smithsonian-like care. That is why I was compelled to record all that is Us before Dad’s mental files were purged entirely of data. My family and I will never forget the outpouring of emotion felt by many of you who never had a chance to meet Dad in person but were witnesses to his life in other manners.
My name now carries a stronger aura of poetry and romance. Yet, Dad is singular, the original creation. My task is never to let his memory fade, preserving that beautiful handprint in my heart, in all of our hearts.
Back to the power of words. Dad era creyente, a devout believer. He was a voracious reader, informed, an elegant debater who loved a good match of wits. I ask you all to take a moment at some point today to think of a word that personifies what Dad means to you. Share it with us today, tomorrow, whenever inspiration strikes.
As for us? Let me tell you: Dad is adventurous, sage, loyal, devoted, humorous, strict, careful, silly funny, lover of the song “Guantanamera,” classical music and Lerner & Lowe showtunes, Howard Stern-listener, admirer of Trini Lopez, Willie Nelson & Glen Campbell, damn good long haul driver, world-traveler, Christmas card address monitor, abstract pancake maker, mistaker of wasabi for guacamole, Nescafe drinker, eater of canned tuna fish in Italy, church leader, Eagle Scout motivator, industrious, a textile engineer, cultivated, Catholic, mustached, bald, native son of Celaya, Caballero, Mexicano, husband, father, tío, hero. He is forever our Poppadoodles.
We love you, Dad. Te queremos mucho, Pa.
**This is a video produced by my brother Ernesto for his Mateo & 8th line of home decor. We played it during the rosary services in honor of Dad. Hearing his voice sound so confident was shocking for a moment, then, restorative and calming. I hope you give it a view.
***Please consider making a donation to one of the following charities:
“I’m glad I cleaned the house today,” she thought in her best Lady Macbeth fashion. “Too many damn cobwebs. Out damn memories.”
She’d contemplated burning some sage but settled on removing old totems from the past as being enough. Finding the photos of “that other family” triggered this latest “limpiada,” a lesson taught by her mother.
“The best way to get rid of the past,” her Mamá Coraje once said, “is to believe it never happened at all.”
Rewriting history was a family skill so well-honed, even Orwell would blanch out of shame. For the Coraje women, lies were irradiated truths. Truths were best regarded as lies told by those who only wanted to destroy their gossamer veneer of perfection. The singular male Coraje — the son or brother — seemed to lack the focus required. He was a man-boy with feet of clay, desperate to be liked and loved, lacking integrity and grit.
Adept at creating her own reality since youth, this particular Coraje sister didn’t even break a sweat at the effort anymore. Ignoring events, people, the color of her skin, her family’s lower-middle-class reality, it didn’t faze her in the least. She chose to dance on the jagged edge, to remain a beautiful liar en pointe. Yet, the years were now revealing their own subtle truths, manifested in her stick-thin figure and the frozen look of bitter disappointment on her face. Whatever beauty or character was erased now.
It was seeing a photo of her mother with her American-born cousins that triggered this bolt of divine inspiration as she finished cleaning. She’d send the found photos to their original owners. It would be easier to simply place them in the trash.
“La basura se junta,” Mamá Coraje would say about people who had lost their use to her.
Another pair of trembling hands would soon hold the plain manila envelope she’d carefully filled with photos covering several years from what was now a different lifetime. The note? Benign in its phrasing, but packing a wallop that would reverberate beyond several area codes: “I thought you could use these.” Its simplicity was almost too perfect! Minimum effort for maximum damage, this bread & butter note written with the same intent as a “Thank you” card or a grocery list.
Would she know that sending this package would elicit feelings of anger and rage? Would she know that emptying her house of what was once treasure would be deemed callous and heartless? That the question of “Who does this?” would be muttered via texts and phone calls and several lunchtime conversations? The frozen smiles captured in these wrinkled black & whites and torn color images belied something she would never allow herself to acknowledge: her own feelings of malignant envy.
As la Hermana Coraje transported the sealed envelope to the post office, she reflected on the scorched earth demeanor of the Corajes. It was a cold feeling, cold and lonely and terrifying in its power. Was this too much? Had she gone too far? But she caught herself before any rationality or humanity could take root. Gripping the steering wheel of her sensible Japanese car, a trace of a smile revealed itself as she accelerating on the gas.
The rise of Trumpism has torn the veil off of 21st century America and what lies beneath is a roiling sea of hatred towards all non-white groups. It seems no one is immune from this cancer. Just view any of the iPhone videos of unbridled rage shot on location at hotel pools to Starbucks to any grocery store of late.
I can’t help but shake in rage when I think how mainstream media was complicit in giving Trump and his minions a platform that is part-revival tent and part- propaganda machine. By reporting and repeating his often wildly untrue statements designed for maximum collateral damage, the effect is not to inform the masses, but to give the Trump machine more steam and crucial validation.
Before the election, I found it unfathomable that we’d live in an era where a U.S. President would turn to social media to handle world affairs in the manner of an unhinged youth suffering from Twitter Tourette’s. The very thought of such a political figure leading the greatest nation on Earth as if he’s the oligarch of the Troll Nation churned my stomach. It couldn’t possibly happen here, right Sinclair Lewis?
Now we have the children of the undocumented living in detainment camps on American soil.
What we decide to do about Trump and his rabid fan base will define the next generations of our nation. But we have to start paying attention. We can’t turn away or tune it out, people. We can’t distract ourselves with cat videos, endless phone swiping through the digital swamps of clickbait nonsense, Beyoncé & Jay-Z’s new album or whatever it is we do to pretend our lives are hunky dory.
We are at war for the soul of this great nation. To avoid service is to call yourself a deserter. You do not warrant a place in this nation once we put down our arms to vanquish the Orange menace, the entitled, rich white men who’d rather see us corralled up like animals and treated like garbage. You are no better than them in thinking it is someone else’s problem.
We cannot be complicit in our silence. You see, it won’t stop here, this flouting of human and civil rights. If we allow these camps to continue, Trump will allow for them to grow in numbers and the parameters can only be broadened from here. Citizens may find themselves behind those gates just because they fit a government profile that can change at any given moment.
Camps have happened here before. Like all the evil that men do, a precedent exists. We have the power to look back in anger and do something with that emotion to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s the beauty of history. The clues. The answers. The best-laid plans are present for us to make our futures better. Yet, we are the fly in the ointment. Our apathy and divisiveness make us so.
Walls. Chainlink fences. Camps. These are devices engaged by the weak and cowardly to keep control and power. But these are also man-made constructs. And it is men and women of great courage and faith in the goodness of humankind that will take them down. Change cannot be contained. This is our chance. Make your voice heard. Speak your truth.
Here’s mine: I am the gay son of Mexican immigrants, people who chose to become citizens of this great nation. To witness the children of other Latinos in camps is a slap in the face of all immigrants who created America. We must become the change we want to see in the world before we are all on the other side of that fence wondering what the hell happened.
Being a child of the 80s, the message of having it all seemed so easy to process. You went to school. You received a degree. You landed that dream job. Life was set. Easy peasy. Right?
I went to three schools, no degree. I did land a dream job, several. Life has been rather complicated thanks to my lack of financial restraint and other demons I have yet to truly conquer. But I’m trying, dammit. I’m trying.
I made a comment to my boss about making it only to “the middle.” Of course, he was annoyed that I am inferring that all of my hard work as a producer since 1999 only carried me as far as his company. That’s not why I meant. Not in the least. I’ve never felt more creative or expressed myself as well as I do as an interviewer these days. Hell, I tend to get a hug after every interview these days. Even from the men.
So what the fuck? Why do I feel like the sky is falling every damn day?
I’m single. Who isn’t?
I’m fat. Who isn’t?
My dad is dying.
Is it too late to change careers? Am I lying to myself thinking I can set up shop at the Vogue offices of London or Mexico City?
Can I go back to school and finish that damned degree once and for all?
My dad is dying.
And no one in my family has been able to think about life after Dad yet. Not even me, but the task is something I am grappling with now. I have questions, too. Is it going to feel like a house of bricks crashing all over us? Will it be followed by a sense of relief? Will it be followed by the sound of siblings running to the four corners of the world? Will we finally be able to be civil with each other and not let our toxicity spoil the soup? Is it all too late for that to happen?
I hear their not so hidden anger in the constant stream of critiques and judgments that dominate our dinner table. I sit and marvel these days, thinking, “These are the people that have my back?” Still, how can we shield ourselves from any sort of attacks when most are happening from within our own house? Dad wouldn’t want to see us this way. Mom doesn’t like it either, but she’s ground zero at times.
Our entire narrative has been penned with our Dad as the central figure. We do our duty, giving Mom a much-needed break where we can. Yet, how is it possible that I feel guilty for not wanting to be around any of them, that I am kind of hanging on to a thread of sanity right now. I should go back into therapy, something to diffuse the atom bomb that I carry in my brain right now. I am eating to stay silent, but I feel my body is in full revolt right now. It is literally slowing down. Every move, every reaction, it’s life in forced perspective.
And that’s not supposed to be the Mexican way. Oh no, we’re supposed to that warm, united front of good humor and great food. Allow me to dispel that concept. It is total BULLSHIT. You had to be that group when the family lived in the hacienda, where great swaths of land dividing us from other families and communities. You know what makes the Mexican family survive? A lot of us drink and eat… to forget the lives we can’t seem to leave. While it feels great to see that sentence, yes, it is followed by a strong wave of guilt.
I think about putting such distance between me and my LA life a lot now. It seems like I want to pioneer a life that doesn’t require facing the past or a present that only makes me wince.
So, what’s going to be the narrative of my Act II? It starts when the lead character, Me, reaches out for help. That’s what I am doing, reaching out for help and guidance. I can’t do this alone. No one can. The time does arrive when you have to release the side of yourself that stops you from harming yourself and others in the wake of the blast of an emotional bomb.
After you’ve taught the world how to be a Latin lover, what do you do for a follow up? If you’re an international comedy star, you offer the world an unexpected new twist on one of the most beloved romantic comedies of the 1980s and go… “Overboard.”
Since his groundbreaking American film debut in 2013 with “Instructions Not Included,” Mexican actor and filmmaker Eugenio Derbez broadened his audience further with the 2017 box office hit “How to Be a Latin Lover.” Seeking a new challenge, Derbez and production partner Benjamin Odell knew they set the right course in taking on the famed 1987 romantic comedy “Overboard.”
Several industry heavy hitters had already tried to find the right combination that would take the film from being a mere remake to a filmed entertainment that spoke to a generation that, incredibly, may not be familiar with the original. Recasting the roles played by powerhouse duo Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell would not be enough. The basic premise of sweet, vengeful justice that happened to blossom into an unexpected romance also would need an update.
After much planning and discussion, this bold, new “Overboard” was ultimately set forth on a journey that would reflect the diversifying image of mainstream American cinema. Genders would be reversed, giving Derbez and blonde comic dynamo Anna Faris a chance to put their mark on the characters essayed by Hawn and Russell. More, the identity of the film would take on a multi-cultural one, mirroring the audience that continues to impact more than box office revenue. The end result can only create a splash of its own. Find out how this “Overboard” set sail in the following Q&A with stars Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris, and Eva Longoria.
“Overboard” opens citywide on Friday, May 4th.
JORGE CARREÓN: What is it about the original that makes people smile, even today?
EUGENIO DERBEZ: Goldie Hawn. I love her. She’s amazing. She’s adorable. She’s charming. She’s funny. She’s everything. And the story is interesting, you know? This clash of cultures is funny when you see the rich against the poor and then they switch, and they torture her.
ANNA FARIS: I love the original so much. I grew up watching “Overboard.” It was my sick day movie! It feels like I watched it every day. It was the movie that my friends and I could all quote.
EVA LONGORIA: It is such a classic film! I love the original. I love Goldie Hawn. I love their love story!
CARREÓN: What makes this take on “Overboard” special to you?
DERBEZ: Flipping the genders was fresh because we wanted to break stereotypes. The normal thing to do is I would play the carpenter and Anna (Faris) would play the billionaire in the yacht. But it’s a different world. When you want to do a remake, you do it because you love the movie. If you start changing too much it becomes another movie. We were careful in not losing the core of the original story.
FARIS: I’m thrilled to be a part of it. it’s also terrifying because When I was approached with the project, I was incredibly flattered but I also felt like these were huge shoes to fill. But, I couldn’t resist it, so we’ve reimagined it. The Kurt Russell character is played by my me and Goldie Hawn’s character is played by Eugenio. I think we’ve updated it and I hope that it satisfies fans of the original.
LONGORIA: There are movies that you go, “You cannot touch that!” I thought this was one of them. When I first read the script, I wanted to not like it. [LAUGHTER] It’s a reinvention more than a remake. The role reversal makes more sense now if you think back to the original. This role reversal is a little more accepting because it’s the guy who is going to do hard labor in the house. He should. [LAUGHTER]
CARREÓN: The gender reversal of roles is just one layer of this new imagining of “Overboard.” Eugenio, what did it mean for you to take on the role played by Goldie Hawn?
DERBEZ: It’s typical that in Hollywood you always see the Mexicans playing the gardener, the immigrant. But there are other kinds of Mexicans. Many Americans don’t know that one of the richest men in the world is Carlos Slim. That’s why I decided to play this Mexican billionaire as if he were a Carlos Slim type. What I loved the most is I got to play two Leonardos. The Leonardo who’s rich and the Leonardo who’s poor later. But, it was a real challenge playing the billionaire. When I watched the original movie, one of the things that I really loved from Goldie Hawn was that even though she portraying a mean and terrible human being, she was always charming. And I was like, “God, I need to find the way to do the same thing!”
I wanted this guy to be, even though he’s a jerk and he’s always mistreating people, I wanted him to be charming and lovable. That was the challenge. Although, I did love being the billionaire more than the other Leo because it had more room to play.
CARREÓN: How about you, Anna? How did you want to make your role as Kate resonate in this new context? Is she an extension of your real self?
FARIS: I think that every character that I play of course has a degree of me in it because I think that’s how you sort of attempt to embody a character. I love Kate because I could recognize her sort of desperation. She wanted to be able to do the right thing. And yet, there’s this temptation. She succumbs to it and takes Eugenio’s character out the local hospital when he’s suffering from amnesia and convinces him that he’s her husband and that he also has three jobs and must now support her family. [LAUGHTER] That sounds pretty horrendous! But, I like that Kate was very real to me. She’s funny and gritty and she’s working her ass off to raise these kids and to try to make ends meet. It makes me feel like a lot of the people that I grew up with. Hopefully, it’s honoring the idea of how just hard it is for working single women and people.
CARREÓN: It is important to be able to trade comedic dialogue with an actor who’s also adept at bringing the funny. How was it creating a bond as Leo and Kate?
DERBEZ: Anna and I clicked from the moment we met. There’s nothing better than having chemistry with your co-star. Anna was exactly as I imagined. She’s funny, she’s amazing, she’s full of energy, she’s always making jokes. It was easy to work with her because she’s always feeding you with funny stuff. During takes, I’d be enjoying her performance as if I was watching a film! I’m like, Sorry I wasn’t reacting! I was watching Anna!”[LAUGHTER] Besides it is a little bit freaky because she looks like Goldie Hawn. You can’t imagine how similar she is. There were a lot of takes where I was watching her and thinking, “Oh my God, it’s exactly like Goldie Hawn!” I loved that.
FARIS: I couldn’t adore Eugenio Derbez more. He’s got these big eyes. He’s innately charming. He’s hysterical. Our first day of shooting we were stuck in a car on a trailer together. And we hadn’t spent that much time together except for a couple of rehearsals and a couple of meetings before. And I was just like chatting his ear off. And I remember him looking over at me with like sort of this look of confusion. I’d like to think also he was charmed by my chatty Cathy business I was doing. [LAUGHTER] We both come from this comedic background. We both have though dramatic undercurrents in ourselves. We talked a lot about acting throughout the course of the movie. I admire him so much.
CARREÓN: One of the revelations from these interviews is that Eugenio admitted he and Anna are both insecure when it comes to performing. Why?
DERBEZ: Well, she’s so humble. Anna is one of the funniest comedians in Hollywood. English is not my first language. It’s hard for me to perform in English. I was always curious about whether I could be funny in English? People say I’m funny in Spanish, but I’m not so sure I’m going to be able to crossover in English. Every day I would ask Anna, “Was I funny?” She would say, “What are you talking about? You were really funny!” Then she’d be the opposite, “I think I wasn’t funny.” And then I’d say, “What are you talking about? You’re really funny! You’re Anna Faris!” I think all actors in the world are insecure, but probably more so if they’re comedians. [LAUGHTER]
FARIS: I don’t know how Eugenio does it. We were just talking about that just a sec ago. Like, I was like how do you do this. How do you, how do you, it’s just incredible to be able to speak and act in a language that’s not your first!
CARREÓN: Do you think a cross-cultural romance experienced by Leo and Kate is a risky move for a mainstream film today?
DERBEZ: Yes and no at the same time. We’re going through rough, tough times. But it’s time to make a statement. I think America is a great country and it’s built by many groups of people, not just one. I’m Latino and Latinos have been doing great things here in the U.S. In a certain way, we’re telling people that anything can happen. This is America. That’s life in America.
FARIS: I loved the idea. I hope that this movie can touch different cultures, different generations. It feels progressive in that way. I love it that we have these incredible Mexican actors in our movie. I love it that we speak Spanish. It feels like next generation as well and I feel to be a part of that. I think that is something that makes this movie stand out.
CARREÓN: The new “Overboard” also has a secret weapon that wasn’t part of the original film, which is the scene-stealing Eva Longoria as Kate’s best friend, Theresa.
FARIS: The first day Eva came to set she ran up to me, and mind you, I had never met her before. She gives me this massive bear hug and she’s just like, “You and I are going to be best friends.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh! You are a dream!” I loved acting with her. She’s just an incredible person and an amazing actress. I think that there can be a sense of competitiveness sometimes, which many of us have experienced in the past. It’s wonderful to be at a place in life where no one is bringing any of that to the table. I just love her so much. We should definitely play buddy cops or something in another movie! [LAUGHTER]
LONGORIA: It is just so fun being able to play off Anna. I’ve been such a huge fan of hers my entire life, from “The House Bunny” to the “Scary Movie” franchise to “Mom.” She’s just such a talented comedian. She has this natural instinct for comedy. She’s really great with physical comedy, so doing scenes with her has been a lot of fun. And to play her confidant and to be able to play off each other has been a dream for me.
CARREÓN: How important was it to have all roles not depict a cultural or gender stereotype?
FARIS: There’s been this wonderful sort of awakening, where we have brilliant writers and our directors and screenwriters creating material that’s multi-dimensional and doesn’t fall into a particular category. I love that Kate, my character, had dialogue could have easily been played by a guy. It feels great to have anything that sort of fits into a box that’s conforming in any way. Hopefully, we’ll see more roles played by all different kinds of people.
LONGORIA: We’re taking steps forward in the right direction with diversity in film. We have to do more and it starts behind the camera. Eugenio’s directing and producing. I’m directing and producing. When you have the viewpoint of a diverse person, what’s in front of the camera is bound to be diverse. We are taking small strides, day by day. The landscape of America is changing, and changing in a Latin way, I think that will eventually be reflected in television and film.
CARREÓN: What’s been the most compelling aspect of having creative control over a film project? A great example with “Overboard” is its diverse ensemble, particularly with the talents of such acclaimed Mexican actors as Cecilia Suárez, Mariana Treviño, and the great Fernando Luján as Leo’s family.
DERBEZ: I’m basically hiring myself for every project. And I like that because I have a voice. It’s important to have a voice nowadays. I wanted to introduce some of our great Mexican actors to a new audience. They’re amazing! I loved doing that. And if I can be a bridge for all this great talent we have in Mexico, then I’m happy.
LONGORIA: I applaud what Eugenio’s been doing with his films in Hollywood as a Mexican actor. What’s been so wonderful to see is that he brings his culture with him. He brings the actors from Mexico with him. He’s never turned his back on his origins. He’s doing these bi-cultural films really well. They’re funny. They have general themes. Universal themes that a general market can enjoy and I think that’s the key. That’s why “Desperate Housewives” was so successful worldwide because you deal with universal themes that everybody can relate to. If you do movies about love and romance and divorce and heartache and jobs and child raising and death. I mean, those are things everybody can relate to. And then you make it a comedy? [LAUGHTER] It’s enjoyable to watch. I’ve had these moments where I look around the set and I get chills because there are so many talented actors on the set, but there are also so many diverse talented actors on set. It’s very rare that you go onto a movie set and you see actors from Mexico City doing an American film. And that’s really what I applaud Eugenio for.
CARREÓN: Expectations versus reality. Which did you all enjoy more? The scenes on the yacht or the ones on land?
DERBEZ: We were all so happy the day they told us were going out into the open sea on a luxurious yacht. Then we had to reduce the crew because we all couldn’t go onboard for weight purposes. In the end, we couldn’t wait to finish shooting on the yacht. [LAUGHTER] It was so hard! The interiors of the yacht were covered in plastic to protect the walls, the furniture. We were standing up most of the time. We’re sitting on the floor. It was packed. You couldn’t walk around. You couldn’t bring food inside or drinks. All of us had to have lunch outside. It’s Vancouver. It’s Canada. It was freezing. It was so windy! The scenes on the jet with the beautiful women in bikinis? We were all shouting and yelling and laughing. When I came back to the yacht, and the crew said, “You all looked like you were having a lot of fun!” I said, “No! We were freezing. The water was cold! Those were shouts, not laughs!”
FARIS: I loved making “Overboard.” Just the thrill of getting to be a part of it is amazing to me, one I could never have imagined as a child. I also loved that our directors and Eugenio gave me a sense of freedom. There was a lot of improvisation, plus the idea that we’re telling a romantic journey in an unconventional way.
LONGORIA: We had a funny scene, Eugenio and I with the condoms. That’s all I’m going to say. I’m going to say is Eugenio Derbez, Eva Longoria, and condoms. Watch the movie. [LAUGHTER] I loved anything with Anna. I loved my screen husband Mel Rodriguez [who portrays Bobby]. You have no idea. Mel and I have known each other for 18 years. Every time we had a scene together, the director was like, “More of that!” Now we have to go do a show together. We’re that good together. It feels like we’ve been married 20 years. We’ve all had a lot of fun, but the water scenes were rough. It was raining, it was freezing. It’s probably some of the funniest stuff we’ve shot, the end of the movie, the little boat chasing the big boat. I think people are really going to enjoy it.
CARREÓN: What do you hope audiences take away from watching “Overboard?”
FARIS: It ultimately becomes a love story. What Kate and Leo bring out in each other is eventually the best in each other. Leo becomes a version of himself that he didn’t know he had in him. And I think Kate’s walls get broken down. There’s something really interesting in the idea that this man who has everything that the world could offer and he somehow finds reward in having a family and a simpler life. It’s the idea of what money can’t buy.
LONGORIA: People can expect a lot of fun out of this movie. They’re going to want to go on this journey with these characters, between Kate and Leo and their families. I feel like there’s a desire for a movie like this right now, especially in the world we’re living in. We want to escape into a beautiful place, a happy place. You want to experience someone else’s journey and not think about your own problems. [LAUGHTER] This movie’s going to do that for you.
DERBEZ: It was a challenge and a great responsibility to do a remake of this great film. When we hired writers Rob Greenberg and Bob Fisher and we read the final script, we were thrilled. We first talked to MGM about flipping roles and they were like, “No! This is an iconic movie. We don’t want to go that far!” They read the script, and they were like, “Oh my God. We love it!” We have a great movie. I think we have an amazing movie. Funny, interesting, and with a lot of heart. It has everything and it’s a roller coaster. It’s a family movie, too, which is a plus. I like doing movies for everyone.
**The interviews with Eugenio Derbez and Eva Longoria were completed on location in Vancouver during production in June 2018. The Anna Faris interview was completed in Los Angeles in January 2018. The transcripts have been edited for this piece.
The “Overboard” English and Spanish featurettes were produced by Jorge Carreón at Monkey Deux, Inc. for Pantelion Films.
Edited by Kate Ryan (English) and Steve Schmidt (Spanish), the featurettes are included courtesy of Pantelion Films.