Celebrating 20+ years of The Jorge Show

Celebrating 20+ years of The Jorge Show

In 1998, the great Hilary Clark encouraged me to step into the role of content producer/interviewer. To be honest, it felt more like a dare. I thought our publicity content was rather dated at the time, colorless and flavorless. This was during my tenure as a studio publicist at 20th Century Fox under her invaluable guidance. I took her up on the challenge, hired a crew and went to the Virgin Megastore on Sunset Blvd. to interview composer Mark Snow and television icon Chris Carter about their collaboration for “The X-Files” movie soundtrack. I never looked back. By 1999, I was responsible for the writing, producing, and interviewing of all content created by Fox International Theatrical Publicity. It was an unusual role as most publicity departments didn’t handle this task. They’d hire an agency and that was it. No, this enterprise was the result of vision and it changed my life in the process.

Much has changed over the last two decades, especially in this industry.  I’ve changed, too.  I used to be caught up in the false notion that I had to be a James Lipton-type. When I finally found my true voice, it was as natural as just saying, “Hi, I’m Jorge.” No adornment or overstating things, just simplicity and honesty. I gush, sure. I’m first and foremost a fanboy for all things motion picture. I was also raised on Regis Philbin, Merv Griffin, and Mike Douglas. I was also nurtured by Linda Ellerbee, Diane Sawyer, and especially, Charles Kuralt. It is a winning combination, where I end up getting hugs more often than annoyance or indifference from the people I interview. I take great pride in that ability.

IMG_5928Sure, I still make the mistake of giving a person the answer in my question. It is true, I never really mean, “Last question.” And, I can’t do a 20-minute BTS interview, not really. It usually ends up going over 40 minutes or more. In fact, the fearless crew on my recent project in New York coined the phrase, “The Jorge 20.”  (I’m not offended, I swear.) Even this posting was just supposed to be a “Happy Anniversary” Instagram moment! But nooooo, I had to write a novel about “What it all means!”

I don’t always think I’m the best person for EPK because I have “big emotions” that fight against the rule of this job, which is not being visible. I’m not sitting at video village trying to butter up film producers for that next gig. Yet, I know I am visible when I sit in the chair and begin that next interview.

As BTS producers, we have 30 seconds to let talent know we’re not going to be looking for a “gotcha” moment or engage in any of the other bad behaviors that have been unceremoniously attached to this role. No one likes facing someone who just reads questions off a page. It also enrages me how still others make this process about themselves and NOT the movie or television show. The flip side is no better, where it is obvious the client or studio executives could care less about nuance and humanity. Their only focus is making sure we hit what’s been listed on a marketing brief or remain oblivious to interview at and keep their eyes on the ticking of an iPhone stopwatch.

Still, during these last 20 years, I’ve achieved more than even I imagined in this role. I continue to roam this country and world in search of stories that complement the profiles of some of the best and not-so-best films and TV series. The artists and cultural figures I’ve had the privilege to sit and interview over the years are as diverse and fascinating as I’d hoped, even surprising, too. My journeys have not just been about chatting with actors and filmmakers, either. Nobel Prize winners, best selling authors, pop stars, families seeking asylum, entrepreneurs, and public figures venturing into a different spotlight are all part of this story. Y ahora la narrativa también se cuenta en español.

IMG_5927Red carpets, rooms built out of black duvetyne, junkets at five-star hotel suites on several continents, storerooms, warehouses, falling lights, hurricane-induced blackouts on set, museum offices, desert gateways, hutongs, a Mexican prison with Mel Gibson, legendary and still vital film festivals, jungle spa retreats, jazz festivals, screaming fans, stern publicists pointing at a watch, colleagues bitching over why I have more time, planes, train rides, bus rides, a police ride-along with an armed consultant, noisy soundmen, diva DoP’s, recording studios, snowy man-made villages, busy city streets, country backroads, and everything in between. It’s been the good, the bad, the ugly, and the redemptive. As for my collaborators? They’ve been or become great friends, war buddies, some frenemies, but the numbers of role models, muses, and mentors are greater. Oh, the madness of this town defies anything you think you know or read. You cannot be part of this circus without having some sort of tale to tell.

I always wanted my own talk show and in many ways, this is like having one without people knowing who I am.  (Although that dream still lingers.) What still excites me is knowing when I’ve connected with someone and they reveal more than just “the perfect soundbite.” It is when real emotion is present, whether laughter or tears, that I find the ability to want to keep doing this job. These moments of revealed humanity give me hope that we are all not living just for “the show.” These connections DO matter in this job, no matter how we continue to water down all the messages into a square box for 60 seconds or less.

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Being a storyteller has been my goal since childhood. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between writing and producing for most of my adult life. It is rather telling that I am now grappling with the effects of a changing media landscape, which has even impacted the entire BTS/EPK medium. In this era of influencers and similar constructs, I worry about my true fate. Ageism is rampant everywhere. I went from Young Turk to Establishment in the blink of an eye. Maturity and experience are viewed by too many people in this industry as being expensive and even irrelevant. It strikes real fear in my heart some days. I do take great pride in knowing what looks and sounds real, though, and I know how to make people not fear the question or the conversation. It doesn’t matter if it’s in English or Spanish, either. It all has to count for something, even in a world where people think “fake news” is a real construct.

When I was recently sent the lead photo of this piece by Dave Nolte of Scratch Creative from a marketing shoot completed last June, I was at a low point. Losing Dad to Alzheimer’s in late February of this year left such a void in my life. I also found myself possessing a need for a second act. I felt so guilty and scared about this, which I’ve coupled with the tangible doubt as to whether I even want to continue this journey as a producer/interviewer. Then I saw the photo Dave sent me and I was instantly reminded of what I am capable of in this world.

Stories need telling by people who truly give a shit about an impactful and engaging narrative. Spin is not enough for some of us, nor is passing off HDR images and excessive font overlays as the “story.” The cynicism of thinking the audience doesn’t care is bullshit. We are in part responsible for feeding them this steady diet of lowest common denominator content instead of elevating them with material that nurtures the ability to pay attention and think!

IMG_5924I was taught and mentored by some amazing people to be a rebel in this town until the end, dammit. I am not the product of Affirmative Action or quotas. No one felt sorry for this gay Latino from Pico Rivera and said, “Aw, let’s give him a chance.” I didn’t complete my journalism degree, nor am I the most technically-savvy producer in the game. To be clear, I am here because I worked like hell to be in the room, even making some compromises that make me wince today. Dad always said the worst thing you can hear is “No.” I heard the negative and other choice words that did little to stop my trajectory.

The people that were a major part of my Hollywood career are no longer part of this industry or are facing an uncertain future, too. “The Jorge Show,” as I call it, has been a shared adventure. Period. I didn’t achieve this life alone. I carry their influence and teachings with me on every project, every interview. As long as people are willing to sit with me without reservation or fear, they will discover that they are in good hands and in the presence of a good heart.

And, yes, I’ll keep getting their attention first by sporting a great pair of shoes.

Here’s to 20 more years of “The Jorge Show” and conversations to remember.

**One of my most treasured moments, meeting Mexican icon Verónica Castro and the incomparable director/writer Manolo Caro for the Netflix series, “La Casa de las Flores” (House of Flowers). This was a true full-circle moment to treasure, the bridging of my American and Mexican selves as a content producer. Gracias a Netflix y Hari Sinn y su equipo por realizar este sueño.

Going ‘Overboard’ with Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris, and Eva Longoria

Going ‘Overboard’ with Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris, and Eva Longoria

 

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.

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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.

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Reuniting with the great Anna Faris in Los Angeles.

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.

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Standing pier side in Vancouver with the great Eva Longoria.

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.

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With the seriously talented Mariana Treviño (Club de Cuervos) on location in Vancouver. Mexico in the house!

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.

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Eugenio Derbez made a point to pull together the first-ever gathering of Mexico’s brightest comedic talents in this very American comedy: Adrian Uribe, Jesús Ochoa, and Omar Chaparro. This is my fourth film project with Omar and there is no stopping this man’s trajectory! Si se puede!

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. 

Generic: Alicia Keys (2008)

Generic: Alicia Keys (2008)

I spent quite a bit of time on the set of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s poignant adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s best selling novel, “The Secret Life of Boys.” Given the task to produce the behind the scenes footage and content for this high profile project was both enviable and fulfilling. Impeccably cast with such luminaries as Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson, and Dakota Fanning, I sat down with all of these formidable talents on set on some cold and rainy days in Wilmington, North Carolina in 2007, later following up with them at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival.

I’ll never forget that beautifully designed pink house, the centerpiece of Monk Kidd’s historical novel chronicling the life of a young white girl on the cusp of womanhood and the effect her housekeeper, and especially, a family of three beekeeping sisters have on her life. Projected against the canvas of the Civil Rights era in the Amercian South, the layers on which the narrative is told still resonate today, perhaps even more so. 

The interviews with the cast had to encompass a dialogue on racial and gender equality, a conversation that has lost none of its power or importance today. At the time of principal photography, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton were both seeking the Democratic Nomination for president. It was a time of great hope and wonder, at seeing history happen before our very eyes. It was an inspiring force, particularly for the cast who were essaying roles set in an era of great pain and suffering in a war for societal change. 

Grammy winner Alicia Keys was at the peak of her popularity when she signed on to star in “The Secret Life of Bees” in 2007. Still a vocal activist and philanthropist today, I chose this interview as the second installment of “Generic” as a means to bridge our conversation in 2008 with today’s dialogue on fighting to protect and promote gender and racial equality. Keys has not given up the fight in 2017, as heard through her artistry and public appearances. Neither should any of you.

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Alicia Keys as featured on Season 12 of the NBC music competition series, “The Voice.”

The Four Seasons Hotel, Toronto
September 8, 2008

Few recording artists today have the incredible staying – and selling — power like that of Alicia Keys.

Instantly setting herself apart from her rump-shaking contemporaries upon her 2001 debut, Keys’ smooth blend of old school soul and rhythm & blues continues to court global favor. With 11 Grammy awards on her shelf, as well as more than 20 million albums sold worldwide, the musical life of Ms. Keys is without compare. So, why the eagerness to extend her artistic reach into acting where so many others have been met with deaf ears? The answers were direct and simple.

Performance for Keys comes from the same place and she is more than up for the challenge of voicing new words without music. However, what matters for this artistic hyphenate – which continues to extend with new titles – is that what she is saying is something of worth. And in 2008, Keys proved she had quite a bit to say through several mediums, beginning with her most challenging motion picture effort to date, an acclaimed role in the hit screen adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Secret Life of Bees.”

Citing the novel as one of her favorite books, Keys was eager to portray “June Boatwright,” the strong protector of a trio of beekeeping sisters living in 1960s era rural American south. What drew Keys to the project was that the character of “June” more than understands the racial strife of the outside world and its threat to the idyllic Eden of her family home. It is no coincidence that the character’s ability to express a softer emotion is through playing the cello, something Keys, already trained musician in her own right, sought to learn to give realism to the role. It is a scene-stealing performance, in spite of formidable work from co-stars Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, and Jennifer Hudson. Yet, it was the experience of making her third film, in advance of the most historic moment in African-American history that offered Keys the most gratifying and educational experience of her career.

In discussing this latest chapter in her life, the 27-year-old native New Yorker proved as passionate and focused as she sounds in such hits as “No One” and “Fallin’.” Those smoky tones are no studio-enhanced trick, something I commented to her during our chat at the Toronto Film Festival for “The Secret Life of Bees” earlier in September. Shamelessly, I said it was a “drop-drawers” kind of voice. I got a flash of that amazing smile and a husky laugh.

It is encouraging to know that film will continue a role in her life, whether on screen or by contributing music. In addition to “Doncha Know (Sky is Blue), the end credits song from “The Secret Life of Bees,” Keys can also be heard with Jack White (of The White Stripes) tearing through “Another Way to Die,” the theme to the new James Bond film “Quantum of Solace.” Even with just being nominated for a few more Grammy Awards for several tracks off her recent “As I Am” album, art will have to share space with her most serious endeavor, working tirelessly as a global ambassador for Keep A Child Alive, a non-profit organization that provides life-saving AIDS medicines directly to children and families living with HIV/AIDS in Africa. Yes, this Julliard-trained hyphenate knows no bounds this year, one of the 2008’s most important personalities.

Without further delay, a confession that is truly in the key of Alicia.

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(L-R) Sophie Okonedo, Alicia Keys, Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Tristan Wilds, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, producer Lauren Shuler Donner and Nate Parker from the film “The Secret Life Of Bees”, pose for a portrait during the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival at The Sutton Place Hotel on September 6, 2008 in Toronto, Canada.

JORGE CARREON: It can be said that each of the woman in “The Secret Life of Bees” represents a different facet of what it is to be a woman. Would you agree with that?

ALICIA KEYS: I would. I really do see the many variations of beautiful women in this film. They come in all styles, shapes, sizes, colors and all types of pasts; things that we’re recovering from and going through and embracing. So I do agree.

CARREON: Regardless of the film’s time frame and issues, is it really hard to be a woman?

KEYS: I think it is. It’s the most beautiful thing to be on the planet, so that’s first. But secondly, it is difficult to be a woman because we carry a lot on our shoulders and we are very, very strong. Sometimes we make it look really easy, but it’s not always easy. I think another thing we do as women is we hold things inside of us because we have to keep on pushing and keep going. Keep going for our family, our kids, for the ones that we love, you know? Sometimes that does weigh heavily on us. But I think that we are the most resilient and we are definitely just beautiful creatures. I love being a woman. I love it very much.

CARREON: Do you think such gender driven a story like “The Secret Life of Bees” has a place in contemporary entertainment that extends beyond a female audience?

KEYS: There are so many wonderful women in the world and we have to be represented properly. So, yes! It is time to tell more interesting stories about the many variations of women.

CARREON: Men are thinking, “How does this relate to me?”

KEYS: I think ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ is something that will relate to a lot of men. In fact, all the men that I spoke to were like, “I’ll tell you what. I thought it was a ‘chick flick,’ but I really loved it.” They can see in the women their mothers, their sisters, lovers they know. They can see all the women that they know and they can see their own experience being a young person displaced and trying to find their way through it all. It’s not really about color and it’s not about gender. It’s about the experience of finding your place in this world and I think that’s something that everyone can relate to. It’s a story about the human condition. We can all relate to love, family, defeat, and fear. And, we can all relate inspiration, hope, and faith. These are all the themes that are inside the movie.

CARREON As you continue to evolve as an artist, what made this filmmaking experience important to you?

KEYS: This experience is what I expected it to be and more! I learned that it’s just incredible to be around such fascinating women. I learned that it’s amazing to be directed by a woman like Gina (Prince-Bythewood), who was the screenwriter as well. I learned that when you put a whole lot of great women in one space, it’s a wonderful outcome.

CARREON: Faith continues to be a buzzword in the media of late. It seems entertainment is not shying away from addressing such themes, either. Why do you think faith and family have to go hand in hand?

KEYS: Faith brings the family together. And through all of the things that families go through, it’s the faith that we keep that allows us to know that we’ll make it through everything. You can’t do it on your own, even if it’s just one person; you need someone that has that faith with you.

CARREON: Do you find yourself thinking about your life’s journey after being part of a project like a film as opposed to music?

KEYS: Very much so. Always. Especially now, I am definitely searching for my place, my stability, what I’d like for myself. It’s a good journey because sometimes I just dig and find and figure it out. That’s what I think they’ve all done in “The Secret Life of Bees” and I’m doing it, too.

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Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys in Fox Searchlight Pictures’ The Secret Life of Bees (2008)

CARREON: Is there any coincidence that three of the film’s leads are actually musicians in their own right?

ALICIA KEYS: No! (Laughs)

CARREON: As your career continues to evolve, do you feel different about music and acting in a movie? Is it exercising the same muscle or is it nice to switch it up a little bit?

KEYS: Well, for me, acting and music do come from the same muscle in regards to tapping into something that’s honest and pure. You’re expressing it with abandonment, and in that way, it’s very much the same. The difference is, obviously, you are in a film. You’re becoming a different person from yourself, so you’re expressing another person’s story. With music, I’m expressing my story but it’s so similar because you’re empathetic, you understand it and you can connect. What I find about “June,” I can connect with every part of her. I understand her from a woman’s perspective, from a transitional perspective, from growing from one kind of part of your self into the next. There’s so much of me in her.

CARREON: “Bees” director/writer Gina Prince-Bythewood gave the cast an amazing amount of resources to feel connected to the period of the film. Why is it important then, Alicia, to continue to look back to honor the struggles of one time and how they parallel to our own contemporary experience?

KEYS: That’s something that we discussed a lot. Gina has been phenomenal in providing us with a multitude of ways to dig out who our characters are and where they sit amongst society and what’s happening in the society at this time. The NAACP and SNCC and all of these organizations that were coming up were really fighting powerfully for a major change with the opportunity for Black people to be able to vote. It’s an incredible history. Sometimes we go on in life and don’t realize the amount of struggle that it took to just get to the point of where we are. You know how many people say, “Oh, I’m not voting, it’s rigged anyway.” How many people struggled, fought and died for that and you take it for granted as if it’s not important to utilize your voice when that’s all we wanted? To have a voice? It’s important to remember and understand things like that. To understand where we have come from and to realize that we, honestly, haven’t even come that far, which is the sad part. You know what I mean? Because you think about the state of the world today and I think about where we are in this film, and it’s almost parallel. Major change, radical change, much struggle and fighting needed to just demand something different.

CARREON: The film offers your first of two new songs bearing your voice this year. What was the inspiration for the song featured in “The Secret Life of Bees?”

KEYS: I love the song in the film and it really represents it perfectly. Just the fact that sometimes you might feel down, you might feel like the world is on your shoulders, but have a little faith in you because the sky is blue.

** My interview with Alicia Keys was conducted on September 8, 2008, at the Toronto Film Festival for 20th Century Fox International. It has been edited from the original transcript.

Generic: Vin Diesel (2008)

Generic: Vin Diesel (2008)

 

Fun fact: Since 1999, I’ve been hailed around Hollywood as “The Generic Guy.”

Now, in entertainment industry parlance, that means I’m the one studios call to handle their “generic interviews.” These were either fashioned into featurettes or similar “behind the scenes” programming, as well as feature stories planted in specifically chosen print or digital sites. Such a job did have an enviable quality as I would usually get a lot more time than most journalists, as well as travel wherever the talent was best available. Junkets, film festivals, film sets, these interviews were never boring and the best part? It was always an adventure. 

This is no longer the case in 2017 since my focus is strictly placed on creating original content for broadcast, home entertainment and, mostly, online platforms. But those early, palmier years had me interviewing more celebrities than Barbara Walters at her peak. It was like having the jet setting talk show of my dreams, without an audience knowing who the hell was asking the questions.

Being a producer in this capacity fulfilled my biggest dream of becoming a journalist, despite its also being an extension of my career as a publicist. That I was firmly embedded with the International film publicity teams was just one of the many blessings. They were fantastic colleagues and collaborators, all of whom treated me with great respect, care and trusted my ability to do the best job for their films and tv series. Why I was able to last as long as a “generic interviewer” was because I aimed to avoid asking generic or gossipy questions.

I believed then and now in the power of conversation, even in a junket setting, which was can be as in depth as speed dating. The rewards are so much greater when you just relate to the person in front of you. It takes about 30 seconds for most people to either be engaged or write you off. We all get a few talent who prefer to be in lock down mode or rip the mic right off, or just sit there taking up oxygen. Fear of libel prevents me from naming names. I’d rather focus on the positive anyway.

A lot of candid and entertaining chatter has happened over the years and I’ve often thought about collecting the best interview transcripts into a book. I even have a title: Generic. Envision a brown paper cover on the outside, a Hollywood life chronicled on the inside. 

So, why not test run a chapter?

Thanks to Facebook, I was reminded of an August afternoon in 2008 when I went face to face with Vin Diesel. He was promoting the infamous futuristic thriller “Babylon A.D.” What makes this interview interesting was knowing he was about to return to “The Fast and the Furious” after a run of flops that slowed down his momentum as a box office draw. The swagger that was hallmark was tempered a bit, most likely from his also being a new father at that time. Regardless, the ensuing conversation was one I won’t forget as it was referred as a “fireside chat” by the studio’s publicist. Adding, “All that’s missing are the brandy snifters and the velvet smoking jackets.” 

If only.

Yet, we did talk about the fear of building walls at our borders, a key theme in “Babylon, A.D.”  Funny what can happen in nine years. Here’s more of what happened that August afternoon at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City

No matter the generation, when a film star is launched, audiences can’t wait for a second helping of what sated their hunger in the first place. But, pop culture is notoriously fickle, and people will move on to their next craving without mercy. It is a wonder why anyone wants to be an actor in the first place, but yet, the temptation is too great for some to ignore. And — which one of us can’t resist a delicious fantasy to post on our walls, computer screen – or beam down on us from a big screen at the multiplex?

Enter Vin Diesel.

Since hitting the box office lotto with THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, Diesel has become the ultimate representation of not only macho cool, but the face of a multi-cultural generation finally seeing itself on screen.

Born in 1967 as Mark Sinclair Vincent, Diesel was a product of the Love Generation. Raised in an artist commune in New York, Diesel was determined from a young age to express himself through the arts. Acting since he was 7 years old, he would encounter adult rejection because of his mixed heritage. Deemed either too black or too white or sometimes not enough of either, it was his supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s award-winning SAVING PRIVATE RYAN that would prove to be more than a lucky break.

As a counterpoint to his sensitive voice performance as the robot in THE IRON GIANT, it was Diesel’s brash confidence that proved the “Nos” to fuel such films as PITCH BLACK and XXX. With the box office returns to prove it, Diesel was being hailed as the arrival of a new kind of action hero.

And then the banquet became something less enticing.

For Hollywood pundits, his refusal to return for the FAST AND FURIOUS and XXX sequels was on par with career suicide. Then, the head scratching decision to star anew as PITCH BLACK’S Riddick in the epic CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK with mild success. Perhaps in a bid to stave off further disappointments, Diesel went the route of The Rock in playing rock hard and cuddly with THE PACIFIER. While a surprise hit, Diesel seemed to be enduring an identity crisis on screen.

Seeking real challenges and opportunities to add new ingredients to his own screen recipe, Diesel showed great dramatic prowess as real-life mobster Jack DiNorscio in Sidney Lumet’s FIND ME GUILTY. Despite receiving acclaim for his performance, the film offered disappointing returns – and an uncertain future for Diesel himself.

I sat down with the actor for a one-on-one interview during a press tour for his latest film effort — French director Mathieu Kassovitz’s wildly controversial BABYLON A.D. A bold take on the dystopian future personified by such films as BLADE RUNNER and THE FIFTH ELEMENT, Diesel anchors the film as a soulless mercenary for hire named Toorop. Engaged by a crime lord to escort a mysterious young woman to New York, their danger-filled journey reveals the girl actually harbors the power to save a desperate world from itself.

After serving as executive producer on last year’s HITMAN, it appears Diesel enjoyed the chance to engage in the aesthetics of another French auteur. To hear him discuss BABYLON A.D., however, it comes as no surprise that Diesel is a real Showman, as brash and confident as the anti-heroes he’s played over the last decade.

However, I was surprised to find that Diesel is less concerned about trying to replicate any kind of prefab formula. He just doesn’t give a shit as to any labels the industry/media have, as he is content with his life:

He’s a new father.

He’s got a new film that sated both his comfort zones in action and drama.

He knows success and failure and he’s fine if either strike at any time.

I often wonder why every comic wants to be a serious actor, and why action stars want to be more than just brute muscle. I also don’t know why audiences can’t seem to want to see their favorite star recipes tampered with. What I enjoyed in our conversation was that Diesel is determined to give people what they want, but on his terms.

He’s a man of action for a reason.

JORGE CARREON:

You seem to be content with following your own path, despite people wanting to keep you locked into a certain type. Why return to this particular genre now?

VIN DIESEL:

I was talking to my father last night, who was in the screening. I always act like I don’t know what movie he’s talking about when he talks about a movie, ‘cause I want to get as much as I can. I said, “So it was packed with action?’ and he said, “Yes, it was.” I said, “So, Dad, so this other studio wants to move forward on this action film. Would it be too soon? Should I go back to the dramatic thing right now, and then do an action after?” He said, “Vin, your action film audience can’t get enough. “ There’s something about the action film genre. When you’re a fan of action films, you can’t get enough. It doesn’t matter how old you are. And he then went on to tell me a story about the guard that lived in our building. And he said, “Yeah, Vin’s got another movie coming out.” This is a guy that knew me as a child. And he goes, “Is it action?” And my father said, “Yeah,” he said “GOOD! And I’m there!” I probably never considered it as much as I did just last night talking to my father, how loyal and almost fanatic we are about action movies. We need to have them and expect to see them and make an event out of them. When I go to see an action movie, I get that charge, you know? I was raised to study the craft intensely from a very young age. You’d almost think well action movies are action movies. First of all, “action movie” is a new term, okay? Films like THE WILD ONE, GONE WITH THE WIND could be called “action movies” since they were made with the best effects that technology could provide at that time. It wasn’t until the Arnold generation that this title of action movies even came about. So every movie that I approach, every character I approach, I approach with the same conviction and the same attention to the craft, whether it’s a dramatic piece by Sidney Lumet or whether it’s an action piece.

CARREON:

What’s your take on Mathieu Kassovitz’s vision of the future in BABYLON A.D.?

DIESEL:

The thought of this was taking something that had the action component and then string it together if you will all these sequences with this real French auteur style, you know? That’s what the fun of doing this film was and the challenge of doing this film and what was attractive about doing it. I had just come off this incredible experience with working with Sidney Lumet. I was hungry for different kinds of directors. The fact that it was an action piece was a comfort zone. That was the easy part, so to speak. And I was going to go. What was attractive was having a visceral take on an action movie.

CARREON:

Do you have faith? Do you have faith in humanity?

DIESEL:

Yes, I do have faith in humanity. And I will guard that faith against any cynicism to my dying day. But, I’m the son of an idealist. I’m the son of artists. I am an artist! I think by being an artist, you have to have some kind of faith in humanity otherwise you wouldn’t be an artist. You wouldn’t expect anyone to get what you are saying in your art.

CARREON:

Do you have a spiritual faith, or a faith in yourself?

DIESEL:

I have a spiritual faith.

MJ:

That’s interesting in the context of the film because you are a man of blank morality.

DIESEL:

You are so right, you are so right. Fascinating and interesting about playing that role, but the real me? Very strong on the spiritual faith. It’s interesting because part of the subtlety of the Michelle Yeoh character was that representation of that kind of spiritual faith.

CARREON:

Mélanie (Thierry, Diesel’s co-star in the film) was saying, in her mind we are not too far away from the world that is presented in BABYLON A.D. Do you share the same belief?

DIESEL:

I don’t know. I know that when we were making this movie, we were making this movie about a character having to export somebody through borders around Russia. I would pick up the New York Times and you’ve got borders increasing around Russia. Specifically Russia and Georgia and all that. And you see the seeds of something that is scary.

CARREON:

I guess we’re not too far after all, Vin you’re scaring the shit out of me!

DIESEL:

No, I’m just saying in the general sense. I have my own philosophy about how the border thing is working and how it’s…

CARREON:

And how it’s not.

CARREON:

And how it’s not and where we’re going to be in a few years with borders. But everyone might think I’m crazy.

CARREON:

We’ll have to look at this ten years from now and see if you’re right. I hope not.

DIESEL:

It’s a tricky thing because the borders will be increased and strengthened in a way no one will recognize. No one will ever see them being built. The walls of China, so to speak, that are going to divide our world are going to be constructed while we’re not paying attention. What we’ll be focused on is the virtual world where there are no borders. So the physical world is going to build its borders while we indulge further into the Internet, into a world where there are no borders. When you are locked in front of that screen you’ll never see the wall being built.

CARREON:

And they’ll be surprised.

CARREON:

And they’re going to be surprised.

CARREON:

Which did you find more challenging, the physical or the emotional aspects your role in BABYLON A.D.?

DIESEL:

Both are challenging in different ways. I become the character. As crazy as that sounds, live in that character and I don’t think of anything as being more challenging than the other. Might not be the smartest thing because when I’m in character I jump off the roof, I jump off the roof. It’s less of a specific thing that’s more challenging. The more you delve deep into a character, the more exhausting it is on you, right? You know, you hear all the time about actors that go and do these really deep performances and than need a year to try and detox and cleanse. Because, if it is done right and done with integrity, becoming a character is a heavy deal.

CARREON:

It ain’t easy.

DIESEL:

It ain’t easy. You live in that space. That’s if you are striving to do something significant in your craft. You end up living in a space and that space ain’t always a comfortable space.

CARREON:

Why do you think the multi-cultural face enhances this move?

DIESEL:

For me, any film that has a multi-cultural face is enhanced, personally. But I think it plays to this movie in a really good way. You know, Michelle Yeoh was originally written in the book as an old French kind of typical nun. And I think by casting Michelle Yeoh in that role, as opposed to the traditional, she was able to bring an unspoken spirituality. A spirituality that you didn’t have to really talk about too much, but she brought it to the screen, she brought it to the role and it helped the overall picture.

CARREON:

And Mélanie is interesting as well.

DIESEL:

So exciting! She’s one of our big finds in the movie. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Mélanie.

CARREON:

You have a huge vested interest in this. Why?

DIESEL:

I’ve done enough movies now. You reach a place where you realize dreams which is surreal. It’s a surreal experience. I want my work to be significant. I take great pride in the art. I come from artist housing. It was government subsidized in New York, which were basically projects for artists that made less than ten thousand dollars a year. That’s the environment in which I was raised. That’s kind of affected me in Hollywood because sometimes I don’t take the big Hollywood picture payday thing and that causes a ripple because the studio needs that thing and I’m too idealistic. And the script isn’t good! And no one really gives a shit whether I think the script is good or not, but they care when they know I care, that I’m invested in a movie. I’ve had my challenges with that because sometimes I can be too precious and too involved, but I stand by the work that I do and I stand by the films that I do. And my philosophy about making movies is that everybody included in that process of making a movie should feel that way. I feel like the third wardrobe assistant should feel just as accountable for the movie as the director. That’s my own thing.

** This interview with Vin Diesel was conducted on August 20, 2008, at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City for 20th Century Fox International. It has been edited from the original transcript.

“Ugly”

“Ugly”
And now for the news…

Leading media outlets reported that for the second time in a week, nooses have appeared on the Smithsonian grounds in Washington, D.C. For the second time in a week. Let that marinate for a moment.

One was found on hanging off a tree, which was located outside of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The second noose was found inside the National Museum of African American History, purposefully left in an exhibit area illustrating the era of segregation in the U.S.

This pissed me off to no end, to say the very least. It is a defiling and cowardly act.  I spoke to the great men and women of the National Museum of African American History last summer. It was inspiring and heartening to discuss the purpose and direction of this new museum. It is hateful what has happened here. More, it is hateful to see what we keep discovering happening on the daily in terms of racially motivated crimes in this country.

It doesn’t end there, either.

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Given our current media cycle, I can’t help but wonder:

So, Kathy Griffin offended you? Hmmm. Granted, I’ve never been a fan of her “shock and awww it’s funny at your expense” humor. Yes, the photo of her holding Trump’s bloody head did go too far. But, if we’re going to denounce tasteless opportunism and cry “Foul play,” I ask that you take time think about what it feels like to be Barack Obama or LeBron James right now. Dare to remember some of the shitty and menacing things Ted Nugent would spout when President Obama was in office.

Don’t let the double standard hit you in the ass on your way to pontificating how it isn’t the same thing.

When current press secretary Sean Spicer was asked to comment on the Nugent tangent, Spicer just deflected the question and moved. Meanwhile, CNN has opted to disassociate itself from Griffin. Nugent, however, gets to pose for pics inside the Oval Office with glee.

Sorry, not sorry, Snowflakes for the above pic. But politics have never NOT been an ugly business. Yet, somehow, the ugliness could be tempered in the past by leaders who have given their lives to promote civility, truth and equality for all. That’s the pain of progress and many have benefited from their legacies.

But today?

Screaming pundits are elbowing for attention in the same, bizarre way as our president. Yet, we decry “fake news” or whatever hashtagged rallying cry set to undermine those people and institutions who rightfully stand tall as a beacon of truth by pointing out the insanity and troubling reality of the Trump Era. The tragedy is Trumpism stands firm and is not abating in the way it should. If anything, it is getting worse.

We stand to lose so much under #45! Why isn’t this getting through to people?  I have to be certain that many Americans are not like the monsters of the GOP and alt-right who have sold out this country’s best interests for their own greed. We all can’t go down that stoney end because some loud-mouthed, drunk on power fool sold you a falsehood that immigrants, Muslims, gays or whoever just doesn’t fit in your archaic vision of what it means to be an American! These Bogeymen, women and children are NOT the root of all your problems!

If you think Obama left this country a burning wasteland of trash, devoid of “greatness,” then I pity you. With the reversing of anything and everything that our former president dared to accomplish in the face of some bullshit partisanship, we will see a wasteland alright. The greatest threat is not ISIS or even the Russians. It turns out the homegrown “patriots” who are now ramped up on Trump Juice are our biggest enemy. Make no mistake. They are the very definition of terrorism, lethal and devastating because they are one of our own! It is time to call these criminals exactly that: Terrorists.

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We can continue to hide in our safe bubble worlds of artificial reality and escapism, making fun when #45 has another bout of Twitter diarrhea. But, do you think none of the viral videos illustrating the rampant racial hatred in this country affect the rest of us in the least? (And that’s just one example of the hatred that is spilling over into all walks of life.) You’re wrong. It does affect us. More than you know.

Some folks on my social media feeds have voiced to me that my negativity is just “bumming them out.”

Well, too bad.

I don’t want to be anyone’s gay court jester anymore, giggling over the red carpet reportage, celebrity driven gossip, film industry bullshit or keep those snappy retorts flowing just to make people feel good. This ain’t “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and I refuse to play the role of Rupert Everett.

Shit is getting real and I am determined to contribute to this dialogue of “What is wrong with us?” until something or someone starts steering this ship in a direction that benefits us all as great Americans, not only the ones #45 chooses to lead because they look or sound like his ignorant ass. Only when we restore our good standing in the world as a moral and just country, that is when joy will return to our lives. I’ll be the first to lead that dance.

As for the incidents at the Smithsonian, which are being investigated by the U.S. Parks police, this final word:

In the article written by Sebastian Murdock for Huffington Post, Secretary of the Smithsonian David Skorton issued this missive via internal E-mail to museum staff:

“The Smithsonian family stands together in condemning this act of hatred and intolerance, especially repugnant in a museum that affirms and celebrates the American values of inclusion and diversity…We will not be intimidated. With new urgency, we will tell the story of our nation and all its people. We will continue to fight this sort of ignorance with knowledge. Cowardly acts like these will not, for one moment, prevent us from the vital work we do. We will remain vigilant and, in spite of these deplorable acts, we will become a stronger institution for all Americans.”

Mr. Skorton, I stand with you and other citizens who firmly believe in this fight to restore the moral fortitude and decency that all Americans — and the world — deserve.

#resist

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Eugenio & Salma”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Eugenio & Salma”

 

 

“Every man carries a bit of the personality of the Latin lover inside. If you have the energy, if you have the inner self-confidence, you can be a Latin lover. It’s not a stereotype. It’s a way of living!”

— Eugenio Derbez on his role as Maximo in “How to Be a Latin Lover”

¡Viva Mexico!

It was a sensational opening weekend for HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER at the box office. The bilingual comedy lead by Mexican comedy titan Eugenio Derbez, Salma Hayek, Rob Lowe, Kristen Bell and a multi-cultural/multi-generational ensemble cast debuted in second place with $12 million from just 1,118 theaters. With Latinos comprising an overwhelming 89% of the audience and a “A” CinemaScore grade, this “Latin Lover” has plenty of seduction power and swagger to fuel its momentum.  

My colleagues at Monkey Deux, Inc. and I had the distinct privilege of working on the campaign for HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER, crafting the broadcast and online publicity materials that began during production last Spring 2016 in Los Angeles. It is by far the most entertaining film that Pantelion Films, the Latino division of Lionsgate (with Televisa) has produced and perhaps the most enjoyable project we’ve collaborated on to date.

 As an American-born Latino in Hollywood, the opportunities to work on films that reflected my Mexican heritage were far and few in between. Since my association with Pantelion began in 2013, the door that opened into this world of Latino entertainment has been one of the best things to ever happen in the near 25 years of my career. Meeting and working with some of the most formidable Latino artists working today continues to add an exciting layer to my role as a producer/interviewer. More, the chance to express myself in two languages has allowed for opportunities I never thought possible.

I had to share a little of the memorable experience in speaking with Derbez and Hayek about the making of HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER, interviews which were used to create the featurette that is running online and the production notes given to the press covering the film. I’d like to see how any wall would dare to keep out the unbridled creativity and cultural pride shared by Derbez and Hayek. If anything, their recent appearances on several leading morning and late night shows translated into something for everyone to enjoy at the movies.

 As we venture through a divisive time, where isolating those who are deemed not like “us” is acceptable, we need to continue to support diversity, especially in the arts. We all have stories to tell, stories that reflect our true face as a nation. You may not make films like HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER your priority. However, sooner or later, all of our experiences and perspectives will grace the silver screen without being listed as a “special episode,” a “woman’s picture” or crafted for a “niche audience.” That’s how we can stop the walls and project a saner future for us all.

An excerpt from my production story on the making of HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER with Derbez and Hayek below:

Following up the global success of Instructions Not Included in 2013 was no easy task for Mexican comedy superstar Eugenio Derbez, who wrote, directed and starred in what remains the highest grossing Spanish film in US movie history. Capturing that sort of lightning in a bottle twice can be elusive. Still, the timing of Instructions Not Included proved fortuitous, playing a role in further illustrating the importance of diversity in Hollywood-produced entertainment. Derbez opted to flex other creative muscles while patiently searching for the right project to tackle as a filmmaker, securing roles in such features as the recent hit Miracles From Heaven and the upcoming action drama Geostorm. Being able to choose the project that best fit his established comedy brand was a serious task, so when Derbez and his 3Pas Productions partner Benjamin Odell heard the pitch about an aging gigolo, they knew they hit pay dirt.

“I was looking for a script for me that could fit my accent, my audience, my age, my everything,” Derbez recalled with a smile. “What I loved about HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER was the fact that we could play with this image of someone who is beautiful and handsome like Julio Iglesias or Enrique Iglesias or Ricky Martin. Maximo is really aging, probably in the worst years of his life, and I think that’s the funny thing about this character.”

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Despite sharing a friendship that spans more than 30 years, Derbez and Oscar®-nominated actor/filmmaker and paisana Salma Hayek had often regretted that they’ve never had the chance to work together. That lifelong promise made good proved a formidable “get” for the film that all the filmmakers hoped would happen. As Sara, Maximo’s headstrong, burgeoning architect sister, Hayek said establishing that familial bond was hardly a stretch given her history with Derbez. (Fun fact: they share the same birthday of September 2.)

“I’ve been friends with Eugenio for a long time,” Hayek explained. “When I started my production company, one of the first ideas that I had was to do a show for Eugenio. But America was not ready yet, this was before Ugly Betty, to understand the power of the Latino market. We are very similar in many ways. I cannot think of a better fit for the characters than to be brother and sister. For me it’s a great opportunity to act in Spanish and to play a Mexican woman and to have fun, reliving a little bit our childhood. I got to relive my childhood in Mexico with a brother that in real life feels like a brother to me.”

For Derbez, other practical realites existed in wanting Hayek to join the cast, extending beyond the chance to work together. The duo even took to the recording studio later in the film’s post-production to capture their upbeat salsa version of the classic ballad “El Triste” for the soundtrack.

“It was an amazing good time because she’s lovable. She’s crazy. And she’s very creative. She’s always bringing new stuff. When we were acting in Spanish, we felt really good. It was like we weren’t even acting. We were like just playing around, like brother and sister. It’s not easy to find something like that sort of chemistry. It’s just so good to have two real Mexicans playing Mexicans because I’ve seen a lot of Hollywood films with supposed Mexicans that aren’t Mexicans. Another producer would have hired an actress from another place and probably some audiences wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. But for us you can absolutely tell when somebody has an accent from Colombia or Argentina or Spain. It was really important for us to have two real Mexicans portraying two Mexicans.”

Hayek further extolled the benefits of having a film populated by an ensemble of contrasts, which further enhances the humor found from the clashes of cultures and generations that are the film’s core.

“What’s great about the movie is that I think there’s going to be a lot of different audiences for this film,” Hayek said, “I liked the idea that in some ways Maximo also enjoys his job. It’s important to him to make these women feel special. It gives him joy. The minute they get older, they are abandoned or overlooked by society. I think that it’s a lovely quality of the character that is original in the film. Everybody gets to laugh about themselves in the way we laugh about the concept of the Latin lover. It has a lot of heart and that is extremely important. It’s a little naughty but it’s done in a clever way so that it can go over the kids’ heads, but there are still things they l get to enjoy.”

Shot on location throughout Los Angeles, Marino is proud that the film reflects more than just the iconic, glittering parts of the city audiences have come to enjoy on screen time and time again. Despite the often-raucous events that occur throughout the film, he wanted to make sure the face of the city was also a key player that was grounded in reality. The multi-cultural and bilingual sights and sounds of the city are also complimented by a soundtrack that includes a new recording from Grammy®-nominated star Carla Morrison.

“It was a blessing to shoot in L.A.,” Derbez added. “In this case, we could afford the luxury of shooting here. And it’s so good to see L.A. like it is.”

Timing again looks to be on the side of Derbez with the release of HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER. In this era of exaggerated luxury and status symbolism, Maximo would feel right at home in the Instagram-documented age of certain reality TV “stars.” Derbez has worked hard to curate a comedy brand that’s ranks him as one of the top artists working in Mexico and Latin America today. While he’s made some inroads in the United States, HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER did provide him with his first ever leading role in English. The actor-filmmaker admitted that the process was “tricky” at times, even prompting him to wonder if his type of comedy would translate into a different language.

“I come from the Hispanic world and we are broad,” Derbez exclaimed. “We’re big! In this movie, I go to places that I’ve never been, but in a very contained way. It’s really been a learning curve. I feel so good about it.”

Upon seeing the finished film, Derbez is more confident than ever that the strengths of the material and its message will play to the widest audience possible. It is one more phase of an overall plan to continue bringing a unique slate of projects that will not only redefine his own brand of comedy, but do away with the labels associated with being a specific type of entertainment.

“It came from an original idea and it became funnier and funnier every single day,” Derbez concluded. “I’m so proud of it because it’s really different. We’re breaking all the stereotypes. Every time I work, whether it’s on my TV shows or my films, I love putting something for everyone. I like to work for the entire family. This feels really fresh and different. It also has such a nice and important message. Money’s not the only thing that’s important in life. Maximo had everything. Cars, yachts, helicopters, planes. He lived in huge mansions, but he does realize that life is about something else. Life is about family, about love, about taking care of each other. That’s one of the best things the movie has to offer.”

HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER is now playing citywide. 

 

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Cesar Chavez Day”

Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers. — Cesar Chavez

My family’s activism has never wavered since those first steps towards civic awareness, which took shape at home and in our classrooms at South Ranchito Elementary in Pico Rivera, California. I will never forget that moment in 1977, when those first uncertain steps led me to an encounter with the person who envisioned the path many Latinos remain on today: Cesar Chavez. As we honor this great man today, following is a remembrance piece I wrote for Desde Hollywood in 2014, which was timed to the release of director Diego Luna’s underrated “Cesar Chavez” film.

If you were a Latino (or Chicano) child of the 1970s in southern California, chances are you were part of a bilingual education program that was a glorious but short-lived experiment. Today, I can see it as a powerful opportunity to build a bilingual cultural identity. That wasn’t quite the image I had several decades ago. My parents, both Mexican immigrants, were unusual in the sense that they gave their first generation American children a choice. We could either learn Spanish or not. Sadly, I did not take advantage of becoming bilingual until many years later. Yet, I never lost sight that I was part of something bigger. The question became not just about learning the language, but understanding the importance of preserving a multi-cultural identity. Today, many of us face an additional challenge in terms of what role we should assume as Latinos and as Americans with a voice.

As the rising power of Latinos continues to amass in our contemporary culture, it is thrilling to discover the community at a real crossroads. We will dictate the next election. Immigration reform has never been a more prominent and important issue. The national narrative is being re-written, but how do we make sure we get a chance to contribute to these next chapters in American history? It is about taking those first steps forward to achieve awareness, to educate ourselves on the issues that affect us all.

The arrival of “Cesar Chavez” was a significant achievement for many reasons. Some have to do with the hope of a changing film industry that remains in play, but others are decidedly personal. Hollywood loves telling the stories of ordinary people who stare down adversity to become extraordinary figures in history. We’ve witnessed the return of the Great Emancipator; a king’s struggle with speech, the rise and fall of an “iron lady” and the harrowing 12 years lived by an American slave. Yet, something unusual happened when I viewed “Cesar Chavez” for the first time. This time, it wasn’t a performance or scene that stirred an emotional response. To coin a much clichéd tag line, this time the movie was personal.

In 1977, my entire family marched with Chavez and the United Farm Workers on a sunny April day in the Coachella Valley against the lettuce growers. We all knew the importance of Chavez’s actions would remain far-reaching. By today’s standards of political correctness, the teachers at South Ranchito Elementary could have been charged with imposing their own political agenda on their nine and 10 year-old students. Yet, today hindsight reveals a different scenario. These educators were trying to instill in us the value of community and responsibility we shared in preserving its ideals. We were being taught the power of being connected, very much how Chavez himself went out to speak with individuals face to face. It was that connectivity that created the UFW and changed the political future for Latinos in this country.

I am ashamed to admit that the impact of that April day faded too soon. I was living a suburban life of relative comfort by comparison to the young field workers I met that afternoon in the Coachella Valley. They saw the world a lot differently, but they didn’t shame us for not understanding. We were interlopers from classrooms miles away; fulfilling a teacher’s hope the experience would change us in some way. My adult journey did allow for a sense of community awareness, overreacting to hot button issues, as do most of us. But none of this happened in the way my idealistic teachers hoped. I’m an average American who votes, adhering to moderate political views. As I reach middle age, however, I find I am now questioning much in our modern life. And it is spilling into the contributions I am making as a member of the media.

It would be easy to go off on a tangent about how the industry still cannot understand that a multi-cultural audience wants to see itself on screen in roles that aren’t stereotypes. It is no coincidence that instead of watching films about dead rock stars, films like Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included” are playing favorably with more than just a Latino audience. But the Latino community showed its strength and they were heard. Now, “Cesar Chavez” the film needs that same grassroots support to sustain what should be viewed as a cultural movement.

After watching the marches and rallies depicted in “Cesar Chavez,” my mind went straight to the details of that hot April afternoon. The dusty walk of the countless supporters who joined la causa, their strong voices unified into a choir of peaceful civil disobedience, the annoying splinter in my right hand from the wood of the sign I held straight up into the sky. Even the hideous tartan pants I wore that day seem to take on a “Braveheart” glow. But most of all, I remember the walk to meet Chavez himself at the post-march rally.

My dad was with me, encouraging me not to be shy. We had been waiting for a break in the crowd, all wanting a moment to speak to him. Finally, we had our chance. I walked with the same purpose of my father, my shorter stride valiantly trying to mirror Dad’s more confident steps. Jorge Sr. spoke first, of course. Then, he introduced me to el señor Chavez. I was shaking the man’s hand, receiving that welcoming smile and a kind word of appreciation for being there that day. He went from being a photo in a textbook or news item into something out of a movie. Cesar Chavez was real and he was a real hero.

In early February (of 2014), I had the opportunity to sit down with Luna to conduct the interview that would be used for the “Cesar Chavez” broadcast press materials. He had just flown into Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., where he presented the film prior to moving on to its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. What should have been an easy 20-minute on-camera exchange for the electronic press kit became a 90-minute conversation that covered more than just the making of the film. The candor and sincerity revealed by Luna could not be tempered by exhaustion. Much is riding on the film and he is fully aware of what its success will dictate to him as he evolves from actor to director.

We are taught as journalists to never become part of the story, but this was a unique situation. It is hard to not see this as a full circle experience. Many people will be introduced to Cesar Chavez for the first time after viewing Luna’s film. It is an artistic risk for the Mexican-born artist, particularly with taking on this most American of subjects.

Still, the possibility of this cinematic meeting between Chavez and today’s audiences having the same resounding effect as it did with the hundreds of thousands of men and women who stood by Chavez, his family and the UFW is tangible. Therein lies the power of film. The greatest lesson to be learned is not reserved for the immigrants or American-born Latinos who continue to revere him. All of us must understand the meaning and power of Sí Se Puede. It does not belong to any one era or people. Its purpose applies to all those seeking to make change happen.

To illustrate the point further, here are excerpts from my conversation with Diego Luna on “Cesar Chavez,” exclusive to Desde Hollywood:

JORGE CARREÓN: Cesar Chavez was a truly humble man. How would he have viewed this entire process of making and promoting the film about his life?

DIEGO LUNA: He never wanted a film to be made about him. When people got to him and said, “We want to make a film about you,” He said, “No, no, no. I have a lot of work to do. I cannot sit down with you to talk about what I’ve done. I still have a lot to do. So, no films.” He hated the idea of being recognized. If you wanted to give him recognition, an award, he would ask you to do in the name of the union. He hated to be on the front page.

CARREÓN: Even with the industry’s fascination with biographical films, does his reticence explain why a film about his life has taken such a long time?

LUNA: There’s a reason why there’s not been a biopic about Cesar like the ones normally done in this country. If I were going to come and do a film, why would I try to repeat something that also doesn’t belong to me? To the way I see the world, to the kind of films we want to do? I wanted to make a film that for a moment you could say; “Oh is this going to end right or wrong? Is this going to have a happy ending where they win or not?” I hate films that when they start and you know how they’re going to end it. I’m pretty sure that in the course of these 10 years we cover of his life, he woke up many times saying, “This is not going to work.” I wanted that to be part of the film. If I would have shown a perfect man, making just the right decisions all the time, then you know the end. Why would you pay a ticket to see that? The other answer I have, which is not as beautiful as this one, is because you guys never made it.

CARREÓN: How do you hope the impact of “Instructions Not Included” will increase the marketability of “Cesar Chavez” with a mainstream audience?

LUNA: I hope this film works in that way. Before “Instructions Not Included,” every huge success in Mexico was like a niche success here. But that one was unbelievable. Suddenly on both sides of the border people were saying, “I want to see the same film.” That means something. Things are changing. So it makes sense there’s a Mexican telling the story of Cesar Chavez.

CARREÓN: Hard to believe, but you can see how certain sectors of the Latino American and Mexican film communities may have a polarized view of what you’ve done as director of “Cesar Chavez.”

LUNA: We are two different communities and I have to say there’s a lot of prejudice about Mexican-Americans in Mexico. And there’s also a lot of prejudice about the Mexican experience today from the Mexican-American community. Things have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. This film is an attempt to bring that wall down. It’s ridiculous that we’re not connected. That we are not working for each other, feeding each other. I come here and I go to my favorite two places near my house. One is a restaurant. There’s a family from Nayarit that does the best pescado a la plancha that you can get in California. It’s unbelievable that they’re not in touch with those who cook the exact same dish every day on the other side of the border. Why do we allow this world to really separate us? It’s ridiculous. I think we would be strong, really strong if we would be connected, if we would feel as part of the same thing. It’s like what the film says, “You can think it’s all about you and your life is miserable or you can open the door and say, ‘He probably thinks the same and if he thinks the same, if we all get together we might be able to change things.’” It’s time that we see each other as part of the same people. We would be stronger. We would be able to say we want these films to be made. We want more films like “Cesar Chavez” that would represent us, films that are about people like us.

CARREÓN: The reality is many audience members will be introduced to Chavez’s life for the first time. It is a thrilling prospect to see what they will take from this introduction.

LUNA: I think Chavez showed something very simple, but very difficult to actually believe in, which is even though you think that person doesn’t care about you, he does. He does. We have to work that muscle so we don’t lose that ability to actually care about what’s going on with our neighbors. We’re learning to be around so much violence and injustice and we shouldn’t get used to that.

CARREÓN: With the film now being seen by a mass audience, what impact are you hoping the film is able to make? This is a bold move, away from how the industry views you as an artist.

LUNA: I want to inspire people to say, “Why is there not another Cesar Chavez today in this community? What’s going on? We could be that man.” His life was very difficult. Eight kids. Imagine convincing that amount of people to go back to live in the worst conditions in the fields to bring change for a community that you’re not part of anymore? We should be celebrating that this happened and hope this is the first of many films not just about Cesar Chavez but the farmworker experience and the Mexican-American experience. I truly think we just have one chance. If this film doesn’t succeed in the box office, if people don’t actually go watch it, I’m going to have to rethink what I’m going to do in life or where I’m going to do it. This one shot has taken four years of my life. My son was born here. I opened a company in the States. But my heart, my stories, my father and my friends are in Mexico and I need to be able to keep both things happening. The film is about that in a way. I really hope this shows that cinema should be representing this community today with respect. It’s a very complex community and the need of content is huge. Films like “Cesar Chavez” need to exist and it’s just not happening. So let’s hope it starts to happen.

#SiSePuede #VivaLaCausa

From the MediaJor Vault: Rosario Dawson

From the MediaJor Vault: Rosario Dawson

 

Oscar winning director Danny Boyle earned his master status by never making the same film twice. In recent years, he’s been engaged by decidedly human tales with an edge of romance (“Slumdog Millionaire”) or harrowing survival (“127 Hours”). But what would audiences make of “Trance?” One word: Underrated.

Revisiting the moral grit that made “Shallow Grave” and “Trainspotting” two of his best films, “Trance” emerged as its own entity. An unforgettable, old school psychological thriller that is beautifully sleek and modern, “Trance,” at least to me solidified Boyle’s position as a filmmaker of great muscle and nerve. And, if any actor was born to be part of a Boyle Ensemble, it is the fearless Rosario Dawson.

While Dawson has been firing up the Marvel Cinematic Universe of late as Claire Temple in the Netflix series “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and the new “Luke Cage,” the bigger heat has been reserved for this year’s presidential election. A fervent supporter of Bernie Sanders, Dawson has garnered headlines for her commitment to Sanders’s “party of the people” agenda during the DNC. Earlier this year, she was among the protesters arrested in April during Democracy Spring in Washington, D.C. It is exactly this fervent desire for change and to continue the conversation of creating a civil and honest society that makes Dawson one of my favorite people to interview.

Whether it was on the set of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” in Vancouver or in a hotel ballroom in Santa Monica for “Unstoppable,” she has never wavered in terms of her candor, sense of humor, authenticity or grace. In this edition of “From the MediaJor Vault,” Dawson proved “entrancing” when she spoke about her role in the film during this interview from March, 2013 in Los Angeles.

(Interview produced by Jorge Carreon and edited by Sara Gordon Hilton.)

 

From the MediaJor Vault: Sarah Paulson

From the MediaJor Vault: Sarah Paulson

The groundbreaking vision of AMERICAN HORROR STORY may not be to everyone’s taste, nor has it remained consistent. But AHS has its legion of fans for very specific reasons and that loyalty was cemented with its dark and unsettling second season, “Asylum.”

No one can deny that AHS features one of the strongest ensemble casts assembled for any screen — silver or otherwise. With careful precision, filmmaker and television powerhouse Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Crime Story”) gathered a cast of players that not only committed themselves to the challenging, genre-driven material at hand, they elevated it to vertiginous heights. Next to the legendary Jessica Lange, no other AHS player proved themselves as fearless than Sarah Paulson.

As intrepid reporter Lana Winters in “Asylum,” Paulson brought a humanity and soul to the often soul crushing abuse she endures at the infamous Briarcliff asylum. What made Winters such an unforgettable character was Murphy and the series writers never allowing her to become a horror victim stereotype. Winters always has a plan, keeping her wits about her no matter how dire the circumstances. She may look like Mary Richards, but she possesses an edge and a survivor’s mettle that makes her all the more unique.

The contrast between Paulson’s contribution to the first season of AHS, where she played a moony psychic, to her role as a lesbian journalist in “Asylum” is a testament to her versatility and strength. While she also went full witch mode for “Coven,” she hasn’t been put on such vivid display in the subsequent installments of AHS. But, no fan will ever forget her steely control in the “Asylum” finale, when the last act of Ms. Winters’s harrowing journey proved to be appropriately mindblowing, indeed.

Being part of the Ryan Murphy Players has been quite good for Paulson, nabbing two Emmy nominations this year alone for her work on “AHS: Hotel” and for her searing turn as attorney Marcia Clark in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” The Emmy voters may need to be sent to an “asylum” if they don’t finally award Paulson with one of those darned statues already. In the meantime, take a look back and out what Paulson had to say to me in January 2013, right before the infamous series finale aired in this edition of “From the MediaJor Vault.”

UPDATE: Congratulations on your long-deserved Emmy win for your leading role on “ACS!” Ms. Paulson!

(Interview produced by Jorge Carreón; edited by Sara Gordon Hilton for The MediaJor Channel.)

Conversations about “The Clan” with the filmmakers and stars

Conversations about “The Clan” with the filmmakers and stars

When imagining Argentina, superficial references to the tango, polo playing and the pop culture legacy of Eva Perón may apply for some. But the reality is you cannot define Argentina in such limiting terms. Its place within Latin America is as complex and contradictory as its neighbors, existing as a country rife with history and invaluable contributions to world history. Yet, to take a closer look at Argentina is to gaze into a mirror that reflects the best and worst of human nature.

From award-winning director Pablo Trapero (“Carancho,” “White Elephant”), THE CLAN is an unflinching depiction of the consequences wrought by Argentina’s dictatorship through the prism of the incredible true story of the Puccio family. A narrative spun with equal parts suspense, action and intrigue, THE CLAN offers an unrelenting chronicle on the manner with which this seemingly normal middle class family afforded its comfortable lives through kidnapping, extortion and murder. With laser-like precision, Trapero carefully and without embellishment ensnares and provokes the audience to think about what they’ve witnessed long after the credits roll. At what point do we lose our sense of morality and ethics? How can people, especially those of a privileged status, allow themselves to be persuaded to commit such atrocious acts in the name of protecting the greater good, like a family’s well being?

Released in Argentina in August 2015 to great acclaim and record breaking box office success, THE CLAN not only reignited interest in the Puccios’ life story, it has been acclaimed for offering a potent cautionary tale for a new generation to process. For the second time in 30 years, the Puccio clan succeeded in rocking the nation with their secrets and lies.

Chronicling a series of abductions that occurred between 1982 and 1985, the film is at once a riveting drama to view in the present and a searing indictment of Argentina’s past. Viewing THE CLAN will lead many to ask the universal question asked whenever monsters are revealed to exist in the most unexpected sectors of society: Why?

It is not enough to say the family simply acted on the father’s wishes to protect their way of life. Sons, daughters, friends, all participated in these crimes willingly, despite the very real possibility of being caught. Even as their moral conscience would sometimes break through, they continued with these deeds without ever their neighbors’ awareness. The lack of a definitive answer as to why the Puccios’ resorted to such wicked deeds may frustrate those seeking a black and white closure to their narrative on screen. And, any clear answers remain with the late Arquímedes Puccio, who maintained his lack of culpability to the end.

Sometimes real life can truly be stranger than fiction. However, in the case of the infamous Puccios, the mind reels. In preparing for the North American release of THE CLAN, director Pablo Trapero, producer Matías Mosteirín, legendary Argentinian film star Guillermo Francella and rising star Peter Lanzani sat down to contemplate several questions about the legacy of the Puccio clan. It wasn’t enough to simply recreate the period details of the era. The filmmakers and cast were charged with a challenging task: to bring humanity and truth to the people and events that defy most sensibilities. In the conversation that follows, it is evident that the commitment shared by the entire production was resolute. EL CLAN may not be a documentary. However, if they learned one thing in bringing Trapero’s vision to life, it is that the reality of the Puccio family retains an all-too-tragic relevance to the time we are living today.

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JORGE CARREON: What do you remember of the Puccios’ era in Argentina? How did that color your efforts in creating THE CLAN? Did you start with wanting to make a statement about Argentina first or capture the essence of the Puccios’ extraordinary story?

PABLO TRAPERO: When I first heard the news of the Puccios, I was 13 or 14 years old. The Puccios were a family that seemed like any ordinary family. Even within their neighborhood, people could not believe they could have responsible for such crimes because the family seemed so normal. Many years later when I was preparing my film “Leonera” in 2007, I started thinking about making a film based on the actual Puccio case, but I only knew the superficial details about the family, nothing else. There wasn’t a lot of information, especially how it related to Arquímedes within the context of the time. During this research process, I began to realize this intimate story was absolutely universal. However, I would also be able to tell the story about an era in Argentina’s history that is not so well known. There have been many films about the dictatorship, those dark years that are part of Argentina, like “The Official Story,” which won an Academy Award® and spoke about the early years of the democracy. And there have been other films, too, that have depicted the years before and after, but not the transition. That step was very painful for the country. For many people, it represented the hope of something new, but also that hope was very weak. Because our past history was so hard, it felt like it was conspiring against it. That’s something I remember from when I was a kid. We felt so much euphoria over the arrival of democracy, but also the fear that it wouldn’t last. There’s even a line in the movie where a character is asked, “How long will this last?” and he responds, “Two years.” That best represents the era and the spirit of some people who were very skeptical about whether the democracy would work. At one point, late in the process, I decided to start with Alfonsín speaking about “Nunca Más,” a statement on how we as a country can never repeat the past again. The case of the Puccio family was a symptom of a sick society. The shift in government is also a symptom of that time. That shift is what brought the Puccios’ story to an end. Hence, there isn’t the role of an investigator in the film because it was not so much the will of someone in particular to catch the family. The political changes are what brought the era of the Puccios, and other people like them, to an end. They became known as “the hand of unemployed labor,” meaning they were individuals who worked for the military who lost their “jobs” once the democratic government was brought in. They began to improvise these privates businesses to continue what they had done for the previous regime. There were several cases like Puccio, but none so extreme because they did not involve their own family members. So, it all happened in reverse. I realized that the film could stand as a testimony to this era in Argentina’s history when I started to understand and investigate the intimate details of the family.

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CARREON: Given the fascinating psychology of the Puccio clan, why not make a documentary about the family? 

PT: I chose not to take the documentary route. The family’s story is incredible and it was tough even writing a script at that time. Would people even believe this story, much less accept them? They would have said, “Trapero has gone crazy and just wrote whatever he wanted.” It was something we talked a lot about with Matías. How much of this incredible story could be credible to the public. The simple truth is I’ve always believed in it as a narrative film and never as documentary. Still, to make this movie, we completed a lengthy period of investigation. The case was well known in niches, but it was not something that people talked about on the street. Those who would talk to you about the case were usually from the previous generations. A book has since been published, just before the premiere of the film. But we have a lot of research material, interviews, conversations, all of which had no place in fiction. Maybe some day we will use it for a documentary material again.

CARREON: Was it a challenge to distill the information you gathered to create a narrative script with impact, but without distorting the essence of the Puccios?

TRAPERO: It was a big challenge for me because it’s the first time I’ve made a film based on a true story. It’s the first time the characters in the film have the names of real people. That’s a major responsibility. The families of the victims will hear their real names. The question became how do we work with and process something that is based on their real lives? For most of the people who see this film, it may seem like a work of fiction but it is based on a true story. It was so helpful to speak with the families of the victims, especially with Rogelia Pozzi and Guillermo Manoukian. We also spoke to the judges on the case, journalists who investigated the story during that time. We also spoke to psychologists who could give us some idea as to the pathology of the case. We went to the neighbors that lived in the San Isidro district. Alejandro’s teammates at the rugby club gave us a perspective as to who he was. In reality and in the film, it was this group who remained the most skeptical that Alejandro could be guilty. They still think it was a gross error.

PETER LANZANI: It’s a really dark story. They did all of these things not only for money, but for power. I think the most sinister thing about them was that they would kidnap people they knew, their own friends or Alejandro’s friends that played rugby with him. It does reflect the decade that Argentina lived during the dictatorship. I didn’t live through it, but I studied it. I know too many people that lost family members or friends.

MATÍAS MOSTEIRÍN: Immediately after the Puccios were arrested and jailed, many people of their status felt they were falsely accused. It took a long time for people to accept that this family, which appeared to be a normal family, of good standing and social mobility, with great moral authority, could even be capable of creating this inferno of intimidation in their own home. Pablo is a very respected cineaste in Argentina and his films are greatly appreciated. Because no one had ever sought to review this story with a fresh perspective, I think his reputation helped in obtaining the cooperation of the people willing to offer their testimonies.

TRAPERO: They offered their most intimate knowledge, people who had been in the Puccios’ home for dinner while they had someone in captivity.

MOSTEIRÍN: The film then began to unfold for us. What usually happens with projects based on real stories, the adaptation process requires many changes. We clearly saw a visible pattern of what could be the movie. Pablo made the correct decision to respect the facts of the actual case and shape them naturally while building the narrative of the film. Because the script is based on court records and testimony from the relatives of victims, and the testimony of lawyers and judges, the film does not try to deny the truth. We did not have to resort to falsehoods.

TRAPERO: Of course we did not have transcripts of the conversations between Alejandro and his father. But we did have letters; we did have an idea as to how communicated. We did not have video, because these were the 80s, before we entered this culture of filming everything. However, we had access to lots of photographs, which were incredibly helpful, not only for the writing process but for the actors, too. They could study and analyze how they stood, how Arquímedes looked at his son. It was a great process, but in reconstructing these lives, we remained as respectful of the elements we had close to us.

CARREON: Why do you think the families and people involved in the research wanted to offer up such intimate details with you?

MOSTEIRÍN: I think for the pain, the need for this story to be recognized.

TRAPERO: They’ve carried many years of great loneliness. Behind this story are many people who sought justice in very difficult circumstances and it cost a lot to be heard. This is a case that eventually proved the criminal responsibility of these people. It was important to have this testimonial. Some people were very uncomfortable with the film being made, which speaks to how difficult it remains for many people, like the rugby club and the San Isidro neighborhood, to face the facts.

CARREON: The Puccio family dynamic is frighteningly normal to view on screen. It certainly magnifies the intensity with how the characters of Arquímedes and Alejandro interact with each other on screen. If one was the monster of the family, the other is depicted as something decided more human, certainly conflicted, but possessing a conscience.

MOSTEIRÍN: The kids had no real future, but Alejandro had a great future ahead. He had a great talent and the prospect of a successful career in the world of rugby. He was also an attractive guy, seductive, greatly loved by his peers. He was someone who had plenty of opportunities in life to develop, which made him privileged in that sense. Yet, instead of taking all these options before him, he chose or could not remove himself from the criminal path traced by his father. We were very interested in why he decided to be a part of what ultimately condemned him to ruining his life.

LANZANI: I think Alejandro knew what he was doing was wrong. No one with common sense would think that kidnapping your friends is a good idea. He was really ambitious. I think it was his decision to make. He was 24, 25 years old, which means he could make his own decision. He couldn’t stand up to his father. He didn’t have the ability to tell him that he didn’t want to continue. Alejandro carried this baggage for the rest of his life. When he tried look back at his past, he was really upset by the fact he betrayed what he wanted for himself.

MOSTEIRÍN: Despite all the information we had at our disposal, we were never going to know the minute-by-minute, day-to-day aspects of their family life. But they had a life of routine like any other, with the same relationships and feelings and moral commandments like all families. It was very important to Pablo to establish that the Puccios’ family dynamic was identifiable to any other. Another important character was the mother, Epifanía. The level of psychological manipulation, emotional and moral subjugation imposed by Arquímedes on his children is evident. However, the mother was much more subtle. She allowed for her children to fall under the mandate of the father. There is a sacrifice here, which makes the mother such a tragic figure in the classic sense. However, if one wants to think today as to how this story is inevitable, you need to think about the double standards of this family. How far can we sustain appearances while living with a secret? All societies create monsters, which appear from one day to the other. And we will always say, “How could this happen?”

TRAPERO: There is a saying in Argentina, “You can not cover the sun with your hands.” There is a time when reality is so strong it is very difficult to pretend that things do not happen.

MOSTEIRÍN: Or maintain all is normal.

TRAPERO: I think the film allows the general public, both inside and outside Argentina, to attend an allegory. When a society does not face or covers up the problem, the problem goes somewhere else. Audiences in other countries will confront a shared reality it depicts that has nothing to do with the Argentina of 30 years ago or the Argentina of today. But there is something in the relationship between the context and this phenomenon that generates these events, which unfortunately keep repeating in various societies.

CARREON: Once THE CLAN went before cameras, how did the knowledge of having the survivors of the Puccio clan’s abductions relive such painful events affect the manner in which the film was crafted? The film has a noir-ish aesthetic, but remains quite emotionally charged as an intimate family drama. And many already know the outcome.

TRAPERO: It was a great challenge, because at times the narrative was very extreme. However, if that intimacy is achieved on the scene, you accept it. Every family has a story it wants to hide. Stories exist behind closed doors. I think that also helps the audience feel a connection to the family because it is something we all share. Still, it was a challenge to make a thriller into a melodrama, or maybe it is a melodrama inside of a thriller. I only know that creating just a melodrama was not what I wanted. And there have been plenty of thrillers that are just about kidnappings. The challenge was this crossing of genres. Even at some point there are elements that might be identified as being from a horror film.  There is a lot at play here in relation to what the audience will feel. From getting the audience excited, to being entertained, to feeling anxiety and reflection. All of these things happen when you see a film and that is what motivates me to make them. When it came to THE CLAN, I did think about how I could surprise people start to finish, but not feel so disconnected from the family that they are not emotionally involved because what they do is so extreme. Finding that proximity was really a challenge, but I am glad people are having a strong emotional reaction to the film while being terrified by the history. People do identify with the victims and feel fear towards people who come across as real on screen. These are not actors simply acting. I wasn’t sure if the film would land right or not because of these contrasts, like seeing Arquímedes in an act of violence or being a dutiful father teaching mathematics to his daughter. These are very extreme situations that work to create these shocks of emotion contained throughout the film.

MOSTEIRÍN: It’s a proposition built for the senses. The film has staged scenes. Decisions were made on lighting and what type of lens to use. The production design, the sound, the specific style of editing was also a bit extreme in terms of what we’ve done before. However, I want to emphasize that when we started to make ​​the film, although it is about a very specific case, which happened during a very specific political context relating to our country, we always wanted the film to mean something to viewers around the world.  That was always a goal, and one of the things we had clear was that the narrative had to be as universal as possible. Audiences are able to have an emotional relationship with the film that goes beyond Argentina’s history, beyond the real case, so that people could feel like they are inside this family.  After seeing the finished film, the viewer is inside the home, in the car, they are very close to them. That was a nice challenge to meet.

CARREON: Actor Guillermo Francella delivers an unforgettable performance as Arquímedes Puccio. Audiences have seen him in dramatic turns, but he’s also one of the revered comedic talents of his generation. How did you gain his trust and confidence?

TRAPERO: Before I had a finished the script I needed to have confirmed actor. We had a meeting with Guillermo and I told him, “I want you to do this character. I do not have the finished script, but I want you to tell me if you want to do it. Not only will it be a dramatic character, but your first villain, a guy who terrifies people. Your fans will hate you.” Not all actors have that sort of relationship with the public because it is a difficult one. But that trust and bond with an actor is important to me. My wife is an actress and we have made ​​several films together. That relationship of trust and risk shared by an actor and director in creating a character is one thing I enjoy most about making a film. I knew I wanted Guillermo for the film and from there we established a bond. It was very demanding and very intense.

GUILLERMO FRANCELLA: I have a strong opinion because I also have lived during the time of the Puccios. I was very informed about their story. When Trapero offered me the role, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I lived in that area of San Isidro, I walked by their door of the hundreds of times, never knowing what was happening in there. We were able to construct bit by bit who Arquímedes was with all the information gathered from people who knew him, how we behaved, how he conducted himself, his manner of speaking, his posture, his physical being. It was a very interesting process.

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CARREON: Guillermo, what proved the main catalyst for your being able to inhabit the skin of such this polarizing father figure?

FRANCELLA: The rehearsal process was extremely useful. During pre-production, once the cast was in place, we had many meetings. It was very helpful to get to know each other because were had to generate a sense of chemistry beyond what was written in the script. The rehearsals were essential because there wasn’t much video research material on Arquímedes or the family to properly observe their behavior together. Still, once we were all together, it became very clear what each of us had to do. I worked closely with Trapero on Arquímedes’ calm manner, his cold stare. We tried to make sure he never blinked during a conversation. He had an intimidating stare. We crafted a certain attitude that was affable, sociable, educated and respectable. There wasn’t much in his transition from being the man who helped his daughters with their homework, helping them with their tasks to executing the most atrocious kidnappings. He was a very relaxed person. To find that contrast when he lost his composure, like the shooting in the car because Alejandro would not complete his task? Grabbing him by the collar and slamming him against the dressing room wall at his shop, as well as the argument in jail were the two hardest scenes to complete.

LANZANI: Guillermo had a look that was like from the Devil itself. Pablo understood Arquímedes as being the Devil, not the patriarch of a family.

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CARREON: Peter, this is your first major film role. What proved essential for you in building your understanding of Alejandro?

LANZANI: It wasn’t easy, but I really wanted to try. I love movies and this is my first one and it was difficult, but Guillermo and Pablo helped me a lot. I think the harder the challenge, the better for me so I can learn more. The psychology of Alejandro was the most difficult thing to create, you know? He’s must have been pre-occupied with so many things. The guilt he carried, of having his father always telling him what he had to do and never having the courage to stand up to him. He exposed his soul to do these terrible things and lost himself forever. The intensity this generates in some of the scenes was difficult. It’s a story with a lot of impact. We tried to do our best and work from the details we had at hand. These were clues we needed so people could see the movie like a documentary about the Puccio family.

CARREON: The final minutes of THE CLAN may surpass the violent crimes depicted earlier in the film in terms of impact. What proved the bigger challenge? Was it the climax of the final scene in court or the recreation of the Puccios’ crimes?

TRAPERO: The ending. But it was a challenge to write and it was also a challenge to stage. I worked again with (Julián Apezteguia) my director of photographer on “Carancho.” I proposed to the entire crew that we create a physical sensation for the audience, to bring them as close to the characters as possible. That is why when the camera is inside the car, you are also sitting in the car. When someone is in the bathroom one, you’re positioned right there next to them. In the script there were several long sequences written, like the kidnapping of Manoukian. All of kidnappings were envisioned as sequences that turn you into the victim. The film is primarily told from the perspective of either Alejandro or Arquímedes, except during the abduction scenes. But the final scene is about deciding who is the victim here? Is it Alejandro or Arquímedes?  It plays with that sensation, because you’ve seen the two sides of Alejandro. It was always written this way in the script, but it was a very difficult shot to create. It took many days of filming to complete and some FX work, too.

CARREON: Music plays a key element in THE CLAN, often functioning as a counterpoint to the action on the screen. In some moments, it even provides a layer of dark comedy. How were these classic rock songs of the era chosen?

TRAPERO: Many are songs are of the time, but not others, like Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Kinks. It was all music that was banned in Argentina during the period of the military. Interestingly, from the time of the Falklands, music in English was banned. But families of the middle class did not listen to music in Spanish. It was trendy to listen to music in English, so that speaks a lot of the time. Some tracks were chosen to represent the era, like David Lee Roth was big in 1985 and Serú Girán was a well-known band in Argentina around 1982. Virus was another Argentinian band that represents 1983. We also have Ella Fitzgerald, Creedence, The Kinks, especially with “Sunny Afternoon” (1966), because the lyrics were ironic.

CARREON: No one likes to have their dirty laundry aired, particularly within a fiercely protective community. Yet, THE CLAN was a massive hit in Argentina. Why do you think the film struck such a chord with audiences?

FRANCELLA: We are experiencing “Pucciomania” in Argentina at the moment. Everyone is talking about them. In the media, police investigators, everyone.

TRAPERO: It was great to see the film do so well in Argentina. This can mean that the public will accept movies that do not follow certain formulas. I am very pleased that the public is encouraged to look at these types of stories, to reflect and to leave the theater and discuss with their families what they’ve just seen, to talk about the history of Argentina. The film allows people to reflect on the present, on the internal lives of every family. It was heartening to see in Argentina that the public had the maturity to deal with issues that are disturbing. We all know that Argentina is known for the tango and its constant reflecting on the past. Interestingly, the country has one of the highest amounts of therapists per inhabitant, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. For me, the success of THE CLAN is a good sign for these types of films, because it means we can continue making more of this kind.

LANZANI: I think our movies should show the things that happened in our country. The dictatorship was the worst thing. We have moved on away from that period. At least, I hope so. I only want my country to be happy, to be at peace and for the world to be at peace. It’s not so easy, but we will try.

CARREON: What can be said of the surviving Puccio family members today? Were they part of the process? How have they reacted to THE CLAN?

TRAPERO: We tried to reach out to Epifanía, but she would not speak to us. We also tried to speak with Maguila via Skype because we were able to speak to friends of his and Alejandro’s. However, we were unsuccessful. An interesting thing did happen with Arquímedes. THE CLAN was first announced in 2012. I was working on another project at the time, but after the film was released, Arquímedes reached out to the media said he wanted to meet “Trapero because I’m going to tell him the real truth.” When I returned to Argentina to begin THE CLAN, he had died. If I could have spoken with him, I imagine he would have said what he said until the day he died: He was not guilty, that he had nothing to do with these crimes and that he was a victim. But the real question that I would have liked to have asked is why did he do this to his family? Because when you see the movie or even when we were doing research, one can understand that he loved his family in a very special and very crazy way. Everything he did was for his family. But at one point he makes a decision, as you see in the film, that affects them all.

CARREON: Guillermo, do you think you have a greater understanding of Arquímedes Puccio today?

FRANCELLA: No, I’ll never understand him. Never. Even after seeing his testimony. Before his death as an old man, he was already free and living in La Pampa, a province in Argentina. He remained with that arrogance, denying his role in the crimes without any remorse. I hate him more as a result. I’m sure if I were given a chance to speak with him, it would have been a very sterile conversation, without emotion because there is nothing that would make him want to reflect on the past. He worked for the secret service; he fought against progress. When the democracy came, he continued his “line of work” for personal ambition. These kidnappers were shitty people, if you pardon the expression. He spoke of divine justice, but he was already old and crazy. I don’t think I would want to cross paths with him today.

CARREON: How have the families of the victims reacted to THE CLAN?

MOSTEIRÍN: Several have come to the premiere.

TRAPERO: Matías insisted that many of them came to the premiere. A few said things that shocked me, like they felt they “saw” the real Arquímedes on film. That impacted me. But they also felt the film exists, in a silent way, as a tribute to the families and the victims. It is a different way of doing justice. The Puccios preyed on people, denying all reality in their behavior. There was never a moment to apologize to the families, which sometimes happens in these cases. So I think it helped the victims to have a sense of moral compensation, beyond the court. Everyone in Argentina, and throughout the world, can now speak of the cruelty of this family and how the victims suffered the madness of these people.

From 2oth Century Fox International, THE CLAN is now playing in select theaters.