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Eugenio Derbez: “It has been very difficult to do comedy these days” | Culture

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Eugenio Derbez: “It has been very difficult to do comedy these days” | Culture | THE COUNTRYX-icon” href=”https://static.elpais.com/dist/resources/images/favicon.ico”/>

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After several decades dedicated to humor, the Mexican actor presents his latest film, ‘Radical’, about a marginal school in the north of the country. “They have made us believe that if you fail you are of no use. “We have to change it,” he says.

Eugenio Derbez in Los Angeles (California).
Eugenio Derbez in Los Angeles (California).Zaydee Sanchez

The comedies of Eugenio Derbez (Mexico City, 62 years old) have sneaked into the homes of millions of Mexicans for decades. From The P. Luche familya fiction from the beginning of the 21st century that was broadcast on Televisa, until On a trip with the Derbezand docurreality of 2019 in which the cameras intrude into the interpreter’s relationship with his four children. “It’s easier to do comedy: people prefer to laugh than cry,” she says. In the cinema, he has been that unexpected father in No refunds and has shown his (dubious) strategies to be a heartthrob in Instructions to be a Latin lover, along with Salma Hayek and Raquel Welch. After a life dedicated to humor, the most dramatic version of the actor came with his move to Los Angeles and his role in CODAwhich won the Oscar for best film in 2022. “In Mexico they didn’t give me that opportunity,” he asserts.

From his home in California, he attends EL PAÍS by videoconference to present Radical, a film that he stars in and produces and with which he continues down this more serious path. The film, which was released this Friday in Spanish theaters after being awarded at Sundance and at the Malaga festival, tells the true story of Sergio Juárez, a teacher from a marginal school in Matamoros, a dangerous city on the border with the United States. Joined. With an innovative method, this teacher tries to restore hope to a group of students, condemned to abandon their studies and whose lives are fractured by the violence exerted by organized crime.

A well-known face from Mexican television and cinema, the actor unexpectedly entered the political battle when a few weeks ago the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, assured that some groups considered him being his opponent in the last 2018 elections: “ They offered it to me and I was seriously evaluating it,” Derbez reveals.

Ask. How did you learn about the story of maestro Sergio Juárez from your latest film?

Answer. In 2013, it was published on the cover of Wired Magazine that the next Steve Jobs would be a 12-year-old girl from Matamoros who was literally born next to a garbage dump. Some time later, when I was already living in Los Angeles, I found out that behind the girl there was a teacher who was the one who started it all. That’s when I said, “We have to make this movie.”

P. What type of student were you in class?

R. He was the classroom clown (the class), the funny student. I was made to believe that he was a bad student because he didn’t interest me in physics or mathematics. I liked the creative part: he thought of jokes or word games. They have made us feel that by failing, we are of no use. It’s time to change that narrative.

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P. Does the current educational system break inequality or perpetuate it?

R. The current model has not helped at all. I asked Sergio (Juárez) what had happened after the results of his method were seen. He told me that, instead of people asking themselves how he did it? Or how could they imitate him?, they told him: “You showed us off, you made us look bad, like fools.” To this day, he continues to use his method secretly.

P. In Radical, organized crime gets in the way of students’ studies. To what extent does the violence in this area of ​​Mexico determine the future of children?

R. Very much. Some end up in organized crime and don’t really want to. They end up being forced by friends, a brother or the need itself derived from so much lack. Suddenly, they realize that if they join (these groups) they can eat, pay their rent and live better. Many do not even reach the age of 25 because they are killed.

P. After many years dedicated to comedy, he has participated in several dramatic films. Do you miss humor?

R. In Mexico they never gave me the opportunity (to do drama). I looked for him for years and they never let me. They believed that people would immediately remember (some characters like) Ludovico P. Luche or Lonje Moco and that that would take them out of the plot. I understood it and it wasn’t until I moved to the United States that they started giving me other types of roles.

P. His comedies have achieved high audience figures. What is it about this genre that causes so much interest?

R. We live in difficult times. We are saturated. We have grown tired of seeing violent deaths, murders, wars in the world on the news… Furthermore, on social networks we are exposed to atrocities and a half. So when you sit down, you want to watch something that entertains you. In this era it is more difficult to do drama than comedy. People would rather laugh than cry.

Humor is always evolving, but what worries me is that the ones who have changed, in an alarming way, are us.”

P. Has the mood of the new generations changed?

R. Humor is always evolving, but what worries me is that the ones who have changed, in an alarming way, are us. It is no longer understood that a joke is a joke. You can’t say anything because everyone gets offended by everything. If you think of making a joke about a little nun, they say, “Oh, you’re making fun of religion.” If it’s from a lame person: “Ah! You’re making fun of the disabled.” We are falling into exaggeration. If you make humor that they don’t like, they cancel you, censor you, and sometimes end your career. We can no longer laugh at ourselves.

P. And how has he done it? Have you censored yourself?

R. I have had bad experiences. I have stopped posting many humorous things on social networks because I always think I may offend someone. We are running out of laughter. I don’t censor myself in my films, but I always have the (film) studio tell me: “Wouldn’t it be better if you removed this joke?” They want to end up making lukewarm films in which nothing can be said. It’s getting very complicated to do comedy.

Eugenio Derbez in Los Angeles, on February 29.
Eugenio Derbez in Los Angeles, on February 29.Zaydee Sanchez

P. Are there still barriers for Latin American cinema to be seen abroad?

R. I am very pleased that, for example, Radical is released in Spain because I don’t understand how, speaking the same language in Mexico, we can’t share cinema. It is very difficult for a film from here to be seen there and vice versa. It is very sad. We have to end this.

P. It was recently published that his name was being considered as a candidate for the presidential elections. Did you consider it?

R. I had a confrontation with the president (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) over the Mayan Train (a new railway route through southwest Mexico). As a result of I began this fight to defend the Riviera Maya and the cenotes, I began to acquire political visibility, to the point that they did a survey (in 2022) in the newspaper Remodeling and I came out in fourth place (in the electoral race) without having done anything, without being a politician and without saying that I wanted to be a candidate. They contacted me to ask if I was interested and I took it very seriously. At this stage of my life I have everything I need and I asked myself how no one had come to power to say: “I already have everything, I don’t have to steal to live.”

P. What attracted you to the proposal?

R. What better gift can you give yourself than to help more than 120 million Mexicans? I would have loved to do it, I swear, especially because I don’t owe anyone favors, I don’t know anyone in politics, but the price to sit in that (presidential) chair was very high. So I decided to continue making people laugh for my own well-being and that of my family.

P. Will there be more opportunities in the future?

R. Possibly, one of those will inspire me one day, but, for the moment, I preferred to say no.

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Victor Uson

He has been an editor for EL PAÍS since 2015. He worked in the newspaper’s delegation in Mexico for four years and was previously in the Europa Press and DPA agencies. He has a degree in journalism from the Complutense University of Madrid.

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Eugenio Derbez in the role of teacher Sergio Juárez, in the film 'Radical' (dir. Zalla, 2023).
Eugenio Derbez

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