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Interview: Eugenio Derbez Discovers ‘Instructions Not Included’

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CHICAGO – What does one of the biggest stars in Mexican television do when he needs another world to conquer, and a crossover to the American market? He directs his first feature film. Eugenio Derbez, often called a “One-Man Monty Python” in Mexico, debuts as a director in “Instructions Not Included.”

The film is a comic twist on “Kramer vs. Kramer.” The world of a flighty playboy (Derbez in the lead role) is turned upside down when his daughter is left by the birth mother on his doorstep. The character now has to navigate the rough roads of fatherhood and single parenting, while trying to maintain a standard of living in the jungles of Los Angeles.

Eugenio Derbez, Loreto Peralta
Eugenio Derbez and Loreto Peralta in ‘Instructions Not Included’
Photo credit: Pantelion Films

Eugenio Derbez is a force of show business in his native Mexico. On the various TV shows he has done, he is known for creating wacky and popular comic characters. A partial list – from Wikipedia – includes El Diablito, Doctor Porras, Eloy Gamenó, Giuseppe “Pepe” Roni, Haimer and Hans Pujenheimer. HollywoodChicago.com got the opportunity to interview this fascinating and passionate star, as he makes his way to the U.S. market.

HollywoodChicago.com: You’ve commented before that this film was based on your own life, and inability to make a commitment. What is the commitment that a man makes in fatherhood, and the steps toward it, that you most wanted to communicate in ‘Instructions Not Included’?

Eugenio Derbez: It is slightly based on my life, but mostly I wanted to produce a story that is fun but touching. I thought about what happened to me when I discovered fatherhood. I was afraid, I was panicked. I was only 22 years old, and didn’t want to be a father. But then there was a point that I fell in love with fatherhood, and now my daughter is my everything. I wanted to transmit this feeling to the audience – how a guy who wants no commitment and hates fatherhood – has suddenly fallen in love with being a Dad. In the sense that he gives his whole life to make her happy.

HollywoodChicago.com: You also have mentioned earlier that the script in its early stages was intended to be a father and son, but when couldn’t find the boy, you were able to alter the screenplay when you found a girl with the right qualities. What was the biggest shift you had to make in the story when you switched the child’s gender?

Derbez: There were a lot of qualities that the part needed. The child had to be six or seven years old, have a lot of charisma, speak perfect English and Spanish – with a perfect accent in both – and be blonde and blue-eyed.

HollywoodChicago.com: Oh, that’s all. [laughs]

Derbez: [Laughs] Everyone was like, ‘what?’ After months for looking for a boy, in both Mexico and Los Angeles, we didn’t find him. So we ended up opening the casting for boys and girls. We made the adjustments to the script, but still I wasn’t finding the right child. So I put the call out on Twitter, desperately.

A week and a half before filming was to begin, and I had to start because otherwise it would have been a mess, she [Loreto Peralta] suddenly appeared on my Twitter feed, and making the shift to a girl wasn’t that difficult for the story.

HollywoodChicago.com: What was the process of the bonding between Loreto and yourself? At what point in the audition and meeting process did you know she would be right as the child?

Derbez: The moment I said, ‘this is the girl,’ was after we had talked one on one. I had done that with every potential child we had auditioned throughout the process. I pushed all of them to the edge, always. I rehearsed them heavily to see if they could take the pressure. There were different reactions to that, these were very young kids. Some of them wanted to go home, or they became upset.

So after Loreto went through the first stage, I sat her down and told her if she was to do the film, she wasn’t going to have a schedule that was her own. I told her wasn’t going to be able to sleep or eat when she wanted to, for example. Her reply was, ‘I don’t care, I want to be famous, I want to be an actor!’ [laughs] No matter what I said, she said the same thing back to me. so I kept pushing, I told her she was not going to see your friends, and her Mom and Dad could only help her to a certain point. Again, ‘I don’t care. I want to be famous!’ I said to myself, ‘this is the girl.’

HollywoodChicago.com: What element of fatherhood did you want front and center in communicating the emotion of the film, and do you think fathers get a bad rap in society in general?

Eugenio Derbez
Eugenio Derbez in Chicago, August 13, 2013
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

Derbez: I think that Dads do get a bad rap sometimes, because usually you see the mother alone with the kids, especially in the Hispanic world – where we have a lot of ‘madres solteras,’ single Moms. I tried to put a twist on this, and it was really curious to play this character, when life puts me in front of this baby with ‘instructions not included.’ I really wanted to see how a father would take care of that situation, because it happened to me when I younger.

HollywoodChicago.com: You are one of the most popular and influential performers in Mexico, what do you find different about the entertainment tastes of American vs Mexican audiences? Is it easier or more difficult in your opinion to entertain a typical American over a typical Mexican?

Derbez: It’s a hard question, especially because Mexicans are really difficult to entertain, but of course right now I know them, I know how to make them laugh. Here, the challenge is that I don’t know the American market as well, and I’m trying to do the crossover. It’s harder because I don’t know them, and I have to push myself to conquer them. I did a TV series called ‘Rob!’ last year – with Rob Schneider – and I’ve also done Adam Sandler’s ‘Jack and Jill.’ Both of those projects were really fun, but I still don’t know what makes Americans laugh. I’m still working on that, but I like the pursuit.

HollywoodChicago.com:: In Mexico, you are also known for creating characters. Which character that you created gave you the most problems as you played it over and over, and how did you finally come to terms with the role, in continuing to do it?

Derbez: I have one character that is a crazy monk [El Lonje Moco], and it takes me three hours to do the make-up. But people love the guy, even when I’m in Chicago and I’m in a restaurant, the kitchen staff will come out and say ‘Fue horrible! Fue horrible!’ That’s the catchphrase of the character, meaning ‘it’s horrible.’ Even on my desserts, they’ll write with frosting or some other way, ‘Fue horrible!’ [laughs] It’s my blessing as a popular character, and my nightmare.

“Instructions Not Included” will have a limited release, including Chicago, on August 30th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Eugenio Derbez, Jessica Lindsey, Loreto Peralta, Daniel Raymont and Alessandra Rosaldo. Screenplay by Guillermo Rios and Leticia López Margalli. Directed by Eugenio Derbez. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2013 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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