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Mexican stars chasing the Hollywood dream

More actors from Mexico are working on both sides of the border in English- and Spanish-language productions, a trend sparked largely by the surging Latino population in the U.S.

July 10, 2011|Reed Johnson

A few years ago, Eugenio Derbez, Mexico's most popular comic actor, got some well-meaning advice from a Hollywood executive that still makes him smile.

Derbez was playing a key secondary role in Patricia Riggen's "Under the Same Moon," a Fox Searchlight drama about a Mexican mother, played by Kate del Castillo, forced to leave her young son in her native village while she searches for work in Los Angeles. Derbez's otherwise serious character had a couple of lighthearted moments in the movie, and the studio honcho was impressed.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, July 12, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Mexican actors: An article in the July 10 Calendar section about Mexican actors working in Hollywood translated the film title "No Eres Tu, Soy Yo" as "I'm Not You, I'm Me." The correct translation is "It's Not You, It's Me."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, July 17, 2011 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 3 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Mexican actors: A July 10 article about Mexican actors working in Hollywood translated the film title "No Eres Tu, Soy Yo" as "I'm Not You, I'm Me." The correct translation is "It's Not You, It's Me."

"He told me, 'You should try comedy, because I think you have a lot of potential,' " recalled Derbez, now 48, who by that point had written, produced or starred in many Mexican TV shows, including the long-running sitcom "Vecinos" (Neighbors). He was also well known to U.S. Latinos for numerous TV and movie roles, notably as the goofy patriarch of the comically dysfunctional "La Familia P. Luche" (The Plush Family), which originated on Mexican TV and became a hit for the Miami-based, Spanish-language Univision Network.

"It was so funny," Derbez said good-naturedly. "It was like if somebody in Mexico said to Jim Carrey, 'You ought to be a comedian!' "

These days, Hollywood is getting better acquainted with the varied talents of Derbez and other prominent actors from Mexico who increasingly are turning up in U.S.-made movies and high-rated TV shows such as Telemundo's "La Reina del Sur" and the Venevision-Univision co-produced "Eva Luna" as well as in advertisements, award ceremonies and on theater stages.

Derbez, for example, cohosted last fall's Latin Grammy Awards in Las Vegas, appears in the upcoming film "Jack and Jill" with Adam Sandler and Katie Holmes, and recently visited Los Angeles to film a CBS comedy pilot starring Rob Schneider as a lifelong bachelor who marries into a close-knit Mexican American family. He also starred in last year's romantic comedy "No Eres Tu, Soy Yo" (I'm Not You, I'm Me), a huge hit in Mexico.

If the unnamed CBS comedy gets green-lighted, Derbez plans to uproot his family this summer and move to the United States, joining a growing number of L.A.-based, brand-name Mexican actors working in Spanish and English on both sides of the border. "For me it would be a big change but worth it," Derbez said.

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Many reasons why

A number of factors are driving the influx to Hollywood of bilingual Mexican actors, whose ranks include Demian Bichir ("Weeds," "A Better Life"), Adriana Barraza ("Babel," "Thor"), Ana de la Reguera (costarring in this summer's sci-fi western "Cowboys & Aliens" with Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford), Blanca Soto (a former Miss Mexico who appeared in "Dinner for Schmucks"), Ana Claudia Talancon ("One Missed Call") and "Under the Same Moon's" Del Castillo ("Weeds," "La Reina del Sur").

Most obviously, there's the surging number of Latinos in the U.S. -- about 50 million, or some 16% of the total population. According to the Motion Picture Assn. of America, Latinos bought more movie tickets per capita in 2009 than any other ethnic group.

Such numbers have led to a flourishing Spanish-language and bilingual entertainment market, creating opportunities not only for U.S.-born Latinos but also for bilingual Latin American actors, particularly those with proven box-office power and built-in fan bases across the hemisphere.

Moctesuma Esparza, a film producer and chief executive of the L.A.-based Maya Cinemas movie theater chain, which caters to Latino audiences, said the burgeoning Latino youth population makes it "inevitable" that more Latin American actors will be drawn to find work in Hollywood.

Esparza sees that trend as a boon for Latino audiences. "You want to be able as an American Latino to see anybody who at least looks like you, has a last name like you, who you can identify with," he said. "At the same time," Esparza continued, the success of Latin American actors in Hollywood "does not satisfy the aspirations of American Latinos, nor do I believe it satisfies the need for diversity of the industry in this country."

Mexican acting talent also is being driven to Hollywood by Mexico's creatively limited television market, which serves up a steady diet of telenovelas (soap operas), sports and comedy programs but little else in the way of original programming.

Meanwhile, the Mexican movie industry, after hitting an artistic peak in the late 1990s and early 2000s with such films as "Amores Perros" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien," went into a production slump, generating only 25 feature films in 2005. That number rebounded last year to 68, according to the Camara Nacional de la Industria Cinematografica. But no recent Mexican film has enjoyed the international critical impact of those earlier movies.

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