At Brief Take, it’s important to us to champion female-driven films like Charlie’s Angels. Don’t sleep on the film – it’s fiercely empowering and a ton of fun to watch. As fans of the film, we were thrilled to speak to one of the breakout stars of the movie, Luis Gerardo Méndez (who plays the scene stealing Saint). We chatted Méndez the day after he appeared at the Latin Grammys, in a stretch in which he had the premiere of the film, appeared at the PCA’s, performed Coco live at the Hollywood Bowl and topped it all off by speaking exclusively to Brief Take.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our phone interview with the acting and producing powerhouse that is Luis Gerardo Méndez. *This interview originally ran on November 22, 2019.*
Brief Take: You’ve had such an eventful week! How have you been enjoying it?
Luis Gerardo Méndez: It’s been crazy, man. The life of an actor is such a roller coaster. The last two months I was not busy at all and the past week, I had the opportunity to perform at the Hollywood Bowl, the Coco Pixar show we did two days, for the Day of the Dead. It was pretty amazing. I have never sung before for 18,000 people, it was nerve-wracking [chuckles] but at the same time, it was a beautiful experience. I was grateful to see Adam (Sandler) and Jen(nifer Aniston) at the People’s Choice Awards – they’re really, really cool people. I”m super grateful to Adam for everything. It was great to be there to receive the award, my brother was here coming from Mexico, it was a lot of fun.
And yeah, very happy with the premiere. I was super happy to see the film. I saw the film for the first time a few weeks ago at Sony. Elizabeth (Banks) organized a screening for me because I don’t like going to my premieres without seeing the film myself first because I get super stressed. But I saw it and loved it. I really liked the script from the minute that I read it, but I was very, very surprised with the quality of the action, because you never can tell that. I was on set with them, I saw the acting was great. I saw that Elizabeth (Banks) was an amazing director, but you saw my scenes. You saw that I wasn’t playing in those action sequences and I had no idea how they were going to look, and I had my mind blown by that. I’m a huge fan of Bill Pope, who is the D.P., he did The Matrix and Baby Driver. I grew up watching The Matrix, so being on set with Bill Pope and having the opportunity to see him work was amazing. And it was really amazing and inspiring to work with Elizabeth Banks and watch her directing that huge orchestra, including Bill Pope and all these people- Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella (Balinska). Elizabeth is a beautiful, smart, funny, tiny woman. It’s very impressive to see her controlling that set in that way. I really admire her and I think that she is an extraordinary human being. Honestly, that was the best gift that Charlie’s Angels gave me – it was Elizabeth, for sure.
BT: It’s fantastic that Elizabeth Banks is leading this franchise.
LGM: I think that the smartest thing about Elizabeth and this franchise is that you cannot deliver the same Charlie’s Angels in 2019 with the social, cultural moment in which we are living. I saw that from the script but it was very moving to see that on the screen. I don’t want to spoil the film or anything, but I think that her vision about how to manage this idea of Charlie and the Bosleys and for whom are they working and the way that they work, it’s really relevant, I think it’s really relevant to see that in the movie theatre, especially for the audience to whom it is targeted, especially these young women and girls watching themselves on the screen represented like that and receiving this message. I think it’s cool.
BT: You were hilarious in your scenes. Was it difficult for you to keep from breaking?
LGM: [chuckles] I’m used to that. I think that I’ve been biting my cheek for the last 30 years, man. [laughs] I grew up in a household with a lot of funny uncles and funny aunts and my entire family has a pretty particular sense of humour. And yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of comedy. In Mexico, I did Club of Crows, which was the first Netflix Original in Spanish. It was not just the first Netflix Original show in Spanish, it was the first for local content, an international show. I did four seasons of that show and it was a comedy and we did improvise a lot in that show, I think that gave me a lot of confidence and I guess the skills to be playing and improvising. But in English, it’s a very different thing because English isn’t my first language. I enjoyed doing it but it’s twice as hard because I need to really really be there, to be present, to try to step up to the rhythm that they have. But yeah, we did a lot of improvisation in our scenes and Elizabeth gave me permission to fool around and bring these lines to life.
BT: How do you feel about the transition from Spanish into English language speaking projects?
LGM: It’s been really exciting. I’ve been acting for 20 years in Mexico and I get bored very fast. So not only having the opportunity to perform in a different language, I don’t know, man, it’s completely changed your range. You’re a different person, speaking a different language. There’s something about your personality when you’re speaking a different language. Doing these English-speaking roles, I discover a new range of possibilities with which I play and that’s very exciting now. But on the other hand, I have been super lucky, I have been pretty lucky to work with these amazing actors. They have been super generous with me, like Jennifer Aniston, Elizabeth (Banks), Naomi (Scott), they’re really very, very cool with me. And on the other hand, what I really like is the possibility of seeing myself represented on screen the way I want to see myself represented on the screen. I know that I am Mexican and Latin or whatever, and I know that we are hot in the industry right now, but just about that, I don’t get excited about a quota, like they must have a Latin character in the film, they must have a Latin girl in the show. For me, it’s not about that. It must be the right characters, the proper characters, because I think that’s my personal life. I just wrapped a film I produced with Focus Features, it’s the first film that I produced here in the States. It’s called Half Brothers, and I worked on that script for two years because I really wanted to see these kinds of characters on screen. My character is a Latin character but he’s a huge businessman, super successful, he owns an irrigation company, he’s a pain in the ass, he’s wearing expensive suits all the time, and I haven’t seen these kinds of characters on screen and that’s what I want to do, because as Mexicans, we are so many things. We are painters and writers and fathers and mothers and everything. I really want to see those characters on screen. And speaking about Charlie’s Angels, I was very excited to be doing this personal coach / Yogi / whatever [laughs] because I haven’t seen that and that’s what I am looking for all the time.
This possibility of working in both industries is fascinating. To be able to go to Mexico and play with amazing actors and then come to the U.S. and do a blockbuster like Charlie’s Angels and then a smaller film like Time Share, which I did years ago. I don’t know, I feel pretty lucky to have two grounds in which to play, that’s very special and not very common.
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Today is #LatinaEqualPay Day, when Latinas "catch up" to what white, non-hispanic men were paid in 2018. The gap is widest for Latina workers, who on average earn only 54 cents for every $1 a man is paid. Meaning, they must work nearly two years to earn what white men earn in one year. This is unacceptable, and we need to act now. Latinas are phenomenal, and they deserve equal pay! @phenomenal tee benefits @mujerxsrising, which protects the rights of migrant women.
BT: What will it mean to you when Half Brothers is ready to screen?
LGM: It’s been one of the best experiences in my life. One of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I had a lot of fun – I cried, I screamed. It’s very stressful, it’s very hard to film in a U.S. studio for the first time. Coming from Mexico, we work in very different ways. I learned a lot with them. I worked with amazing people in the studio, Focus (Features), Kiska (Higgs), Louis (Phillips), Udi (Nevini), the writers, the director Luke Greenfield, it was a beautiful team. But yeah, it was very challenging to start producing in this industry, it’s a completely different animal than the studio system that we have in Mexico, but I am very grateful to be experiencing that.
BT: The Saint has such a varied set of skills. If you were the Saint in real life, what would be in your bag of tricks?
LGM: I’m really a perfectionist, I’m really neurotic and I’m a control freak. But at the same time, I think that I’m a good friend and I’m a great host. I do amazing parties because we Mexicans do amazing parties and for seven or eight hours. We don’t do these L.A. parties like “You can come to my house from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and then you need to leave”. In Mexico, you’ll come to my house and you won’t leave until the next day. I really like those kinds of things. I don’t know, man, because in my films and my shows in the past five years in Mexico, I really like that other side. I love being an actor and I love acting, it’s my favourite thing in the word, but I also love putting together ideas and then to develop those ideas to create videos, film or even theatre. I think it’s not what you do that’s important, it’s what you do with that thing to help other people. I work a lot with PETA, I work with this scholarship called Habesha Project who bring Syrian students who lost everything that they have in the war to finish their studies and bring everything that they have to Mexico. To me, that is what is most important right now, trying to use that attention and trying to use my platform to help others.
BT: What do you enjoy most about working with Netflix?
LGM: I love working with them. It’s like we’re all friends, you know? We started together, I mean, the international department, when we did Club of Crows, the international department was two guys, was Erik Barmack and Diego Avalos and us doing these projects, and now they have about 200 people working there. It’s been very exciting. They’ve been super supportive of me all the time and yeah, I’m definitely thinking about new ideas or shows or projects to develop with them.
BT: Let’s bring it back to the Coco live performance. What was that experience like for you?
LGM: It was great, man. It was a super experience. I had the opportunity to meet Lee (Unkrich), the director of the film, being on stage performing with Alanna (Ubach), who did the actual voice for the film was very, very exciting. And I worked before with the director of the show, Felipe Fernandez del Paso, we worked together in Mexico, we did Avenue Q, the Broadway musical, we did it in Mexico like 12 years ago. We became friends, and he called me literally three weeks ago and he was like “Hey, I have this thing, would you be interested in singing at the Hollywood Bowl?” and I was like: “Uhhh, yeah!”. And it was pretty cool. It was very meaningful to see the Hollywood Bowl full with American people and Mexican people singing together, very close to the Day of the Dead, and in Los Angeles. It’s really meaningful for me to be a part of that because 50 per cent of the people who live in L.A. are Spanish or Latin, certainly seeing them singing in the Hollywood Bowl: “Viva Mexico”, it’s beautiful. It’s moving for sure because these people have been through a lot, they have fought a lot, and it’s really nice to give them a little bit of joy or emotion through our work.
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Un día Nacho Cano me dijo que cantaba bonito y le creí. Por eso me animo a hacer estas locuras. Ayer cantando frente a 18 mil vivos honrando a nuestros muertos en el @HollywoodBowl. Ser parte de esto y haber visto las caras de todos mis paisanos mexicanos cantando Cielito Lindo en el Bowl se queda en la memoria para siempre. Que anoche se escuchara Viva México tan fuerte en Los Angeles todavía me pone la piel chinita. Thanks so much @pixarcoco for letting me be your De La Cruz for 2 nights. @alannaubach is a privilege to be on stage with you. Gracias, gracias y felicidades @felipedirector, qué lindo volver a coincidir. Gracias por esto. Ah. Y gracias a mi hermano que hizo este bonito video. Sean generosos con lo que le dicen a la gente. Nunca saben el efecto que sus palabras pueden tener en los demás. Gracias Nacho. #COCO
BT: And your dog Tuba means so much to you.
LGM: Yeah, I really love Tuba, she’s one of my best friends for sure. I think that it’s very important to give voice to the causes and to the things that matter to you, and especially with animal cruelty and all that’s happening in the world right now, I think that it’s especially important to you to raise your voice and start with little actions in terms of what’s around your house and what you see every day. Don’t use as much plastic in your daily life and be nice with your pet, don’t leave her in the rooftop alone for eight hours while you’re working. Try to make different changes and little sacrifices to give them a better life and to change the world by small things.
BT: Do you have mentors in English and in Spanish?
LGM: I just arrived a couple of years ago. [laughs] I have a lot of friends of course that I ask for advice sometimes. But for sure Diego Luna is one of them. Diego Luna is a really good friend, we did a play together in Mexico City last year. And you know, he’s been around for a long time. He’s one of the reasons that I decided to become an actor, when I saw Y Tu Mamá También, in the movie theatre in Mexico. I was like 15 years old when I saw that film and I thought: “Wow, what is that? These characters talk like me”. That was the first time that I saw myself on the screen being like: “Wow, this is amazing, I want to be a part of this”. I was a huge fan and then we met and he came to see me in a play and we became friends and then we did a play together. Every time that I am at a crossroads about making a decision that is important, I always, always call him. He’s a great, great friend and he is such a smart guy, for sure.
Charlie’s Angels is available on Blu-ray combo pack on March 10