He’s com­ing to Amer­ica

Mexican star Eu­ge­nio Der­bez hits Hol­ly­wood with “How to Be a Latin Lover.”

Metro USA (New York) - - Film - MATT PRIGGE @mattprigge [email protected]

In late Au­gust of 2013, a lit­tle movie came out of nowhere and made a lot of money. It was “In­struc­tions Not In­cluded,” a com­edy from Mexico star­ring Eu­ge­nio Der­bez — a big star in his na­tive coun­try yet largely un­known in the States. And yet it went on to gross $44 mil­lion (and $66 mil­lion more abroad), mak­ing it the high­est-gross­ing Span­ish-lan­guage film of all time in the U.S. mar­ket.

“It opened a lot of doors for me,” Der­bez tells us. Not long af­ter, he de­cided to take a leap of faith: He closed down his pro­duc­tion of­fices in Mexico and re­lo­cated to Los An­ge­les. “I started ev­ery­thing from zero: a new com­pany, a new home, ev­ery­thing.”

It’s paid off. Der­bez scored a five-pic­ture deal with Lion­s­gate. First out of the gate: “How to Be a Latin Lover,” his first star­ring role in an English­language film. He plays Max­imo, a gold dig­ger whose rich, 80-some­thing wife of 25 years abruptly trades him for a younger model (in the form of Michael Cera). Rather than re-cre­ate him­self in mid­dle age, he squeezes his pot­belly into the same swanky clothes and tries to find an­other se­nior ci­ti­zen to fund his lav­ish life.

It may have been a no-brainer to pair Der­bez and Hol­ly­wood, but “Latin Lover” was no pic­nic. For one thing, com­edy doesn’t al­ways trans­late across na­tional borders.

“Drama is uni­ver­sal; we all cry for the same rea­sons. But com­edy is very par­tic­u­lar. It de­pends on each coun­try, each cul­ture,” Der­bez ex­plains. “It was hard to make a script that would ap­peal to the U.S. and also to my au­di­ence. Be­cause I didn’t want to for­get my au­di­ence.”

While “In­struc­tions Not In­cluded” was a Woody Allen-style au­teur project — writ­ten, di­rected and star­ring the same per­son — “Latin Lover” was helmed by Ken Marino, the pro­lific star of Amer­i­can come­dies like “The State” and “Party Down,” and writ­ten by Amer­i­cans Chris Spain and Jon Zack. The sup­port­ing cast is stocked with Amer­i­can com­edy names like Rob Corddry, Rob Rig­gle, Rob Lowe, plus Raquel Welch, as the wealthy lady he most wants to se­duce.

“At first I wanted to di­rect it, but then I de­cided it was too risky. It’s a new mar­ket. It’s not in my first lan­guage,” Der­bez re­calls.

Though he says he’ll di­rect again in the fu­ture, he thinks this was th e right de­ci­sion: Once he got on set, he re­al­ized he didn’t al­ways un­der­stand why the Amer­i­can jokes were funny. His­panic hu­mor gen­er­ally tends to be very dif­fer­ent.

“We’re prob­a­bly more broad,” Der­bez ex­plains. “If you watch any His­panic chan­nels, we’re re­ally big. The jokes are big, the laughs are big. In the U.S., ev­ery­thing’s very grounded, very cool. You don’t want the U.S. mar­ket to think, ‘This is too broad, too slap­stick.’”

So every­one worked at find­ing a bal­ance be­tween the two cul­tures. Der­bez him­self had to change his com­edy style a touch. “Usu­ally, I play a lot with words — mak­ing jokes play­ing with the Span­ish lan­guage,” he says. But he can’t do that with English yet. “I’m still learn­ing. I’m not confident enough to play with words in English. But I’m get­ting there.”

Der­bez also found him­self play­ing some­one who’s not like him at all.

“In real life, I’m very, very shy,” Der­bez ad­mits. Gain­ing weight helped. He put on 20 pounds, so that Max­imo’s gut pro­trudes out of his fancy duds. “He’s not aware that he’s al­ready old. He feels he’s still hot and sexy. But he’s not any­more.”

CLAUDETTE BARIUS, PANTALON FILMS

The “In­struc­tions Not In­cluded” star (with Rob Corddry) put on some weight to play an ag­ing gold dig­ger in “How to Be a Latin Lover,” in the­aters Fri­day.

GETTY

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