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HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER

About The Making
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."

Initially conceived as a television series for Derbez, producer Odell said the concept of a fallen gigolo trying to get back on his feet was irresistible for the duo. As the image of the Latin lover is shared the world over, it was an iconic screen image waiting to be subverted for film audiences today. More, it was a challenging role that would build on Derbez's momentum, one that could also appeal beyond his very loyal audience.

"I loved the idea of somebody who was so lazy and spoiled trying to live in the middle class world," Odell explained. "It's very 'fish out of water' in a funny way. You start with the stereotype of a Latin lover and then you break it into pieces. That was the thing we got most excited about. Eugenio's comedy comes from a very real and human place. I think he's one of those rare comedic forces that excels with the physical comedy. Maximo is a character that could easily be despicable, but Eugenio has this light in side of him. It makes him so loveable that you're able to really push character a lot further."

Hitting the right comedy beats in the awkward reentry of an aging, overly pampered gigolo into normal, family life does require a deft hand. While the audience will find themselves laughing at Maximo's often outrageous antics, it is important for them to also root for the character as he begins to acknowledge the error of his ways. For director Ken Marino, comedy of the awkward has been his strongest suit with acclaimed and inventive shows as Childrens Hospital and Burning Love. It was finding that balance between hilarity and the heart that proved to be the opportunity he sought to make his feature film debut as a director with HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER. Inspired by the tone of such classic comedies as The Jerk, The Big Lebowski and Tootsie, Marino wanted to show how extreme characters become endearing because of their being grounded in real emotion.

"I did everything I could to get the job," Marino said. "My hope and my goal in getting the job was to kind of create a movie tonally like the movies that have affected me. My writing partner (and wife) Erica Oyama and I wanted to give it more warmth and heart, so we punched up the relationship between Maximo and his sister Sara. We felt if we can find the balance between the heart and truth of their relationship, we can go extreme with the bigger broader jokes. Like the set pieces of arms being pulled off or Maximo jumping into the pool and all the hair dye coming off or having the two car wrap guys chasing him down and grabbing his balls. Eugenio playing this character was that perfect combination."

The image of the Latin Lover is an indelible one in terms of Hollywood history, yet it can also be viewed as somewhat anachronistic by 21st century standards. Marino credits Derbez in not wanting to avoid the past connected with this archetype, but pay homage to the great Latin lovers of Mexican cinema, like Mauricio Garces.

"When I met with Eugenio," Marino revealed, "we looked at some footage featuring Garces and we talked about it at length. It's a celebration of these great, iconic Latin lovers. Then you get Eugenio in there, kind of making fun of the tropes and the stereotypes. The hope was to embrace it all."

Even amongst the cast, the revamped image of the Latin lover proved a selling point for them, including Rob Lowe, who took a shine to the comic nuances of playing a character like Maximo's bronzed golddigging bestie, Rick.

"There are reasons why you don't hear 'WASP lover," Lowe laughed. "Nobody wants to see that! The Latin lover still rocks it. We're keeping the hope alive with this movie."

Added Derbez about creating the character of Maximo, "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!"

Audiences are sophisticated enough today to know that the best comedies work when the ensemble, along with the filmmaking team, let them in on the jokes. It's the classic definition of a unified front. If the people on screen are having a good time together and that feeling transcends off the screen, in theory, your audience will be along for the ride.

Director Marino has worked on enough ensemble pieces as a writer, actor and director to know what works and what doesn't when it comes forging that inclusive experience. As he prepared to start work on his first feature film effort as a director, Marino instinctually felt the experience would be that much better with a little help from his friends, all of whom had a history with him on previous projects.

"When I got this job," Marino said, "my first thought was, 'Okay, so who can I call? Who's super funny and super talented to just raise the material to another level?' I'm very blessed in having a lot of very talented friends. So I called them up and they said 'Yes.'"

Among those who answered the call were Kristen Bell, who took on the role of Cindy, the singing yogurt shop manager-slash-cat lady who hires Maximo for his first real job. Also eager to make it onto the production call sheet were what Marino likes to call the "infield of Robs," which included Rob Riggle & Rob Huebel as Nick & Scott, the nefarious owners of a car wrappering firm that Maximo tries to swindle; and Rob Corddry as Quincy, the gigolo blocking chaffeur for the wealthy Celeste, whom Maximo tries to seduce. Streaming TV fans will also see Michaela Watkins of the hit Hulu series Casual as Salma Hayek's career blocking boss at her architecture firm. And yes, that is theater and TV legend Linda Lavin as Millicent, Rob Lowe's scandalously adventurous sugar mama.

"For me," Marino continued, "and certainly for Eugenio, "it's important, especially in comedy, to bring in people that you trust and you feel safe with and feel safe with you. I think that's where you get those magical moments that might not be in the script, the rewards that happen in the moment."

Marino wasn't alone in engaging his circle of comedy friends for HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER. Derbez also turned the feature into a family affair by enlisting the aid of his own son Vadhir to portray young Maximo during his yellow Speedo clad glory days working pool side at a hedonistic spa resort.

"Vadhir was on a diet for four months," Derbez revealed. "He was exercising and was killing himself to try to get in shape. It was so curious. People would ask me, 'How did you cast someone that looks exactly like you, but young?' I was like, 'I planned this 25 years ago!' Even Salma said to me when she saw the film's trailer, 'What the hell did you do? You look amazing!' I told her that it wasn't me but my son. She replied, 'I thought it was you! I was going to ask about your plastic surgeon!'"

Despite sharing a friendship that spans more than 30 years, Derbez and 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."

Audiences will also be treated to an Oz-like experience while watching HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER thanks to a carefully chosen list of supporting players (and cameos) that add an element of surprise and joy to the proceedings. Chief among then is Emmy and Golden Globe- nominated star Rob Lowe, who continues to build up his canon of memorable comedic roles as Rick, whom he considers the "Yoda" of gigolos.

"Ken Marino was the reason I wanted to do the movie," Lowe explained. "Eugenio was a beautiful surprise, but he was an unknown quantity for me coming into it. I always wanted to work with Ken and I knew that he would take a movie that frankly has to hit the tone bull's eye. The one thing that I know Ken knows more than anything else is tone.

As for playing a character with a penchant known for having a randy demeanor? Lowe couldn't help but quip about the practical realities of playing a seduction artist at this stage of his life.

"I've been domesticated now for 25 years now with an anniversary coming up," Lowe laughed. "I still have a very foggy memory of what it was like to be single. It's very foggy. But playing this part? It's all coming back to me. It's fun to let that part of me out again!"

Marino and many of the male ensemble were thrilled to know that eternal sex symbol Raquel Welch would join the company, whose "disarming" performance as super rich widow Celeste is one of the unforgettable highpoints of the film. Same for Oscar-nominated actress and writer Renee Taylor, who delivers a "breathlessly" indelible turn as Maximo's former love Peggy. (Wait until you see whom she chooses for Maximo's replacement!) And then there's the breakout performance from Raphael Alejandro as Hugo, Sara's son and Maximo's nerdy, but earnest nephew, bridging the age gap in the most endearing way.

"Raphael Alejandro is one of cutest boys I've ever worked with," Derbez said about his scene-stealing co-star. "He's amazing!"

Marino concurred by adding, "We auditioned a bunch of kids. There was something special about him. He was just a larger than life personality and he was so much fun and smart. He wasn't trying to be something that he wasn't. That's who he is in the movie. That is a version of him. I think he speaks like six different languages! He's just fascinating."

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 mutli-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.

"We got to embrace all the beauty of Los Angeles because there is a lot of beauty here," Marino said. Our goal was to embrace the diversity, the different cultures and lifestyles of Los Angeles in a real way."

"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.

"Eugenio and I both were excited by the possibility of something that could be organically diverse," Producer Odell said. "What's great about organically diverse stories is that you don't have to call attention to it. Nobody's going to look at this movie and go, 'Oh, it's a Latino movie.' It's just a movie."

"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."

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