Twelve years ago, Eugenio Derbez, one of Mexico's best-known actors, imagined something different. Not just for himself, but a story he felt was missing from Latin American cinema: A story about an unconditional love, pure and innocent, he love between a father and child.
“I wanted to make a beautiful movie full of light,” Derbez said recently at a Los Angeles screening, “I am tired of seeing Mexican movies full of blood, violence, drugs, poverty...I wanted to show the beautiful part of Mexico—of Latin America—and make a movie for the whole family.” Derbez wrote, directed and stars in “Instructions Not Included,” which opened August 30.
The film's success took many by surprise, raking in $10 million and coming in fifth at the box office. Despite being mostly in Spanish, with English subtitles, and shown in only 347 theaters nationwide during its opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, "Instructions Not Included" competed with blockbuster films in English. In fact, according to studio estimates Monday, the film had the biggest Spanish-language opening ever over the Labor Day holiday weekend in the U.S.
The film follows Valentin Bravo, a man terrified of commitment, who spends his days living leisurely in Acapulco and romancing different women until they ask for more—and he runs like the wind. One day, Julie, a former flame, shows up on his doorstep with a child she claims is his. A moment later, she’s gone, and he’s left to raise a daughter on his own.
He heads to Los Angeles, to try to find Julie to return Maggie to and while there, accidently finds a career as a stuntman, and falls in love with his daughter. Through the many challenges of raising a child, he creates a fantasy world for Maggie to live in so she never feels abandoned or unloved. When Julie returns six years later, their world is turned upside down, and Valentin must once again learn to face his fears to reclaim the only love he has know, the love of his daughter.
“It’s a beautiful story of love, of fatherhood and the beautiful experience that is being a parent,” Eugenio Derbez says. “This man changes his life drastically to give his little girl everything.” In “Instructions Not Included,” Derbez adds a new chapter to Latin American film. I sat down with Derbez recently to get some one-on-one insight into the making of the film.
Q&A with Eugenio Derbez, director, writer and star of "Instructions Not Included"
Q: What is the meaning of the title of the film?
Eugenio Derbez: The title of the movie, I think it is what happens to all us parents. The moment where you first have your baby in your arms and you ask, ‘Where are the instructions? Why are they crying? What do I do? How can I protect them? How do I change the diaper? How to I teach them?’ There is no school on how to parent; that happened to me with my kids. Now [that] I have more experience and I’m more mature, I think I enjoy [parenthood] more.
Q: Why did it take 12 years to make?
Eugenio Derbez: To compete in this market, against the huge American blockbusters where millions and millions of dollars are spent, where [we] as Hispanics don’t have that [kind of] money to make those films, the only way to compete against that is by having a good script...and good actors. The script, I think, is the star of every film. That’s why it took us so long.
Q: The original story was about a father and son, what made you change it to a father-daughter story?
Eugenio Derbez: The character of Maggie was Tommy, a boy. We looked and looked but there was no blonde, blue eyed boy who was a good actor and who spoke perfect Spanish and English without an accent in either [language]. We were panicking because we couldn’t find the boy, and filming was starting soon, so we opened up to boys and girls. And still, we couldn’t find anyone. Desperate, because I couldn’t find anyone and by then, we were filming the following week, I sent out a tweet asking if anyone knew a child with these characteristics, let me know and thank God, that’s how I met Loreto.
But I still came to Los Angeles because I was thinking, "no, it has to be a boy" because that’s how I imagined it, and I went to various casting agencies and saw many, many children. And it saddened me to see that all the children that live in the U.S. that are Loreto’s age don’t speak Spanish. Children of Latinos. And those that do speak Spanish, speak ... with terrible Spanish and terrible grammar. It was so sad.
It is important that we Latino parents don’t lose the language. In school they learn English, but at home it’s important to conserve and use Spanish, so that they are bilingual. Absolutely bilingual.
Q: What message do you hope people come away with?
Eugenio Derbez: Life doesn’t care if you’re ready. Sometimes life puts things in front of you. Obstacles, problems and you think, "Why me? Why did this have to happen to me? Why did I have to get this illness? Why did I have to lose my job? or Why did my marriage end? or… Why did I have a child unexpectedly?"
Suddenly life shows you that those obstacles are to make you grow and be a better human being. It’s tests that life gives you to make you a better person, so you have to take charge of life—even when it doesn’t come with instructions.
Q: You found Loreto, your young co-star, thanks to Twitter. What is the importance of social media for Latinos?
Eugenio Derbez: It’s really important. But it’s important to use it for things that are actually important. Often times we use it for gossip, nonsense, “Hi, how are you?” [Or things such as] “sitting in a restaurant,” “entering a store to buy clothes,”—the important thing is to use social media to help, to communicate, to inform, for things that do good, not for gossip or things to pass time.
I reprimand my kids because they are on social media all day. I ask them, "what are you doing?" They are never on when we eat, at breakfast, at family events… it’s somewhere else because they aren’t present. That is not good on social media.
But when you can find kids like [Loreto] over social media, or you can help someone because of social media, or get blood [donations] for people because of social media, that’s when I think social media is a great tool.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects?
Eugenio Derbez: Yes, I am already working on my new film. Not sure when it will start but I have wonderful project coming up. It’s another beautiful story.
Q: Is the film going to be bilingual?
Eugenio Derbez: Yes, it’s a little bilingual. It has Spanish and English and… Chinese!