Luis Gerardo Méndez on Half Brothers, Narcos Mexico, and Extra
The dramedy Half Brothers tells the story of Renato Murguia (Luis Gerardo Méndez), a successful Mexican aviation executive who’s a workaholic that cannot tolerate laziness and excess. Upon learning that his estranged father is very ill, he also learns that he has an American half brother that he never knew about and is forced into a road trip with the free-spirited and flamboyant Asher (Connor Del Rio) that takes them on an unexpected journey of family discovery.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Mexican star Luis Gerardo Méndez (who’s also an executive producer on the film) talked about why this became his first English language project, playing a character that he’s never gotten to see in Hollywood, finding the dynamic between these very different half brothers, how much he related to Renato, gaining more confidence in his voice as a storyteller, and why they went with an American director. He also talked about what made him want to join Narcos: Mexico, and what most surprised him about the Netflix series.
Image via Focus Features
COLLIDER: How did this end up being the first English language project that was built around you and that you also were involved in developing? What was it that made this the right thing for you?
LUIS GERARDO MENDEZ: This project Half Brothers started five years ago. I live in Mexico City, but since five years ago, I live between Mexico City and L.A. Five years ago, I moved to L.A. for the first time, and I had a coffee with Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman, who are also writers and producers on the film. They told me that they wanted to work with me, and we started talking about ideas and about the relationship with our parents, or brothers and half brothers. Through all of those conversations and an idea that Eduardo had, one or two months after that meeting, they came back to me with this one-pager anecdote about these two half brothers, one Mexican and one from the States, that are forced to do this road trip together, to understand why their father never introduced them before and why the father never came back to Mexico. That was the moment that I knew this could be an interesting film.
I jumped on board and we developed the script for two years, and then we sold it to Focus Features, and here we are. We never imagined that we’d be releasing this film in the middle of a pandemic, in the States and in Mexico at the same time, but it’s good. It was perfect, in a sense, because it was a great opportunity to portray a Mexican leading character in a Hollywood film, with the completely opposite image that we see in stereotypes in Hollywood. This character is a really successful Mexican businessman who has this aviation company and he dresses in really expensive suits, but he also has a lot of baggage with his childhood. He’s really wounded because his father abandoned him when he was a kid and he cannot have real relationships. He’s really troubled.
I’ve never seen a Mexican character like this in Hollywood. So for me, it was a really, really interesting opportunity to portray this character and to see myself represented on screen the way I wanna see myself represented on the screen. Mexicans are also businessman, and we are writers, filmmakers, painters, and fathers and mothers. As Mexicans – Eduardo Cisneros, the writer and producer, and me – we really wanted to portray that and also have a different perspective on the immigration problem. We really wanted to treat that with a lot of respect and dignity, but also in a comedy because that’s what we do best.
How was it to find that dynamic between these half brothers and to have two characters that are so different from each other?
MENDEZ: I really believe in playing with contrasts more than conflict. In that sense, we had this successful Mexican businessman from Mexico, and we had this millennial kid from the States who’s never had a real job and his biggest talent is to post photos of his breakfasts on Instagram. When you put those characters in a car, you immediately have the comedy. We’re talking about the differences between Mexicans and people from the States, but we are also talking about what makes us half brothers and, at the end of the day, we’re not that different. Those contrasts really allowed Connor [Del Rio] and me to have fun on set. Connor, the actor who plays my brother, is really, really talented at improv. It was really easy for us, once we understood the characters and we were truthful and honest to them, just to goof around and play with these contrasts. It was really important to find the right actor to play Asher because the character says horrible things to my character, so we really needed a charming and charismatic actor who could say those words without being a pain in the ass. Yes, he’s a pain in the ass, but he’s a lovable pain in the ass.
And all of those lines are things that I’ve heard before, or that Eduardo has heard before. Lines like, “Oh, Mexico, drug cartels and shit,” I’ve heard thousands of times. For me, comedy is tragedy plus time. Now, I can laugh about that and put those things on the screen, of course, to make people laugh, but hopefully to also create a conversation. When we were shooting those scenes, a couple of times, American guys from the crew came to me and said, “Hey, Luis, does this really happen to you?” And I was like, “Yeah, all the time, man.” And they were like, “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry someone told you something like that.” You realize that, most of the time, these things don’t come from a mean place. They come from ignorance and for not knowing more about our country. I think it’s our responsibility, as Mexicans and as filmmakers, actors and producers, to portray our stories and a different version of us on the screen, so that people can understand more about who we are.
Image via Focus Features
One of my co-workers interviewed your director, Luke Greenfield, and he shared that you’re a classically trained stage actor who does not consider himself a movie star. Why don’t you see yourself that way, and what do you consider a movie star to be?
MENDEZ: Well, I don’t know if I agree with what Luke said. Yeah, I’m a theater actor. I studied theater, but I also love doing comedy. I’m not that focused on the movie star and celebrity aspect of my career. I’m a workaholic. I’m always thinking about what’s next. I think that’s a good thing and also a terrible nightmare that I’m still working on in therapy because I also wanna enjoy my life, my friends, and my relationships. I’m always thinking about what’s next. For me, it’s about finding those characters that are challenging for me. In the past five years, I’ve started producing my own TV shows and films in Mexico. Half Brothers is the first time I’ve done it in the States. I think I’m gaining more confidence in understanding that I have a voice as a storyteller. I don’t see myself as an actor anymore. I see myself as a storyteller, and I really trust that I have lots of stories and my inner life wants to speak about those stories. I’ve been an actor for 20 years and I’ve been telling someone else’s stories, which I love, but now I’m realizing that I have a lot of stories to tell and I really wanna focus my energy on that. Of course, if someone calls me for doing a great show — like right now I’m shooting Narcos, which is one of my favorite shows — I will jump in immediately, but I’m also interested in developing my own story.
What’s it like to join a show like Narcos: Mexico and to also make sure that you don’t cross over into or rely on any of the stereotypes that come with that kind of a world?
MENDEZ: Narcos is one of my favorite shows in the world. It has one of the best writing staffs in the business and I think they treat really important subjects for my country and for the world with a lot of respect. They do a lot of research. They take their job really seriously. It’s not just a show about making drug dealers look cool. It’s about explaining the social and political problems that we have in my country. I really wanna be a part of that conversation and I really believe that when someone in Germany or in New York is using cocaine and sees the show, they’re gonna think differently about the consequences of what they’re doing. Of course, it’s entertainment, but I really believe that Narcos portrays a different perspective and a much deeper perspective of the problem. I’m really happy to be a part of the show. And also, the directors that we have in the season are some of the most talented directors that we have in Latin America right now.
What most surprised you about being a part of the production?
MENDEZ: What surprised me the most about Narcos is the size of the production. I always knew it was a big show, but I never really understood how gigantic the production was and how many people are working on the show. I knew it was one of the biggest shows for Netflix, but when you’re working there, you understand everything in a different way. It was also very surprising for me, the quality of the research and investigation of the writers who were developing the scripts. I met them in L.A. and I had some conversations with them, and the amount of books, newspapers and information they had access to was so big. That’s the foundation for us, as actors, directors and the whole production, to really do an extraordinary show. I’ve been a fan of the show since the beginning, and I’m really happy to be a part of it.
Image via Focus Features
Wagner Moura did the first couple of seasons of the show as Pablo Escobar and now he’s back as a director. What’s it like to have him return and to work with him, in that capacity?
MENDEZ: Wagner is great. He’s an amazing guy. He’s a very, very talented director.
Between Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, is there one that you would be most eager to work with?
MENDEZ: All three of them. I know Alfonso. I’ve been with Alfonso at a couple of parties – at the Golden Globes and I think he came to a party at my house two years ago. I don’t know how, but suddenly, he was at my party and we were talking about movies and life. I would love to work with them. I think they are three of the most talented directors in the world, not just in Mexico. So, yeah, of course, I would love to work with them. I think they’ve done extraordinary work, not just with filmmaking, but with representing Mexico outside of our borders. I would love to work with them, for sure.
Had you ever considered hiring a Mexican filmmaker to direct Half Brothers? What was it about Luke Greenfield that made him the right guy?
MENDEZ: That’s a really good question and it’s the first step someone has asked that, so thank you. When we were developing the film with Focus, we had a lot of conversations about whether we needed a Mexican or an American director. Eduardo and me believed that we needed an American director because most of the film happens to be in the States. It’s a road trip in the States with all of these characters. With myself and Eduardo being Mexican, we felt the balance would be perfect if we found a director from the States that also understood the comedy that we were trying to find. We knew that Eduardo and myself were gonna be on set, trying to balance the political and social aspects of the film, just to cover Luke with that information. We’re talking about really sensitive issues like immigration and ICE, and all of that stuff, and we thought it was the best team that we could have.
Half Brothers is currently playing in theaters.
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About The Author
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Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.
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