Luis Gerardo Méndez is from Aguascalientes, a small town in the heart of Mexico. He’s one of country’s biggest stars, yet Méndez remains humble and grounded to his roots. He is the type of person who is charismatic and personable, making you feel like he’s your good friend who you’ve known forever. It is rare to find that in a person who has achieved so much success. He is just getting started in the U.S. as we have a lot more of Méndez coming our way with his upcoming projects.
The actor found success in Mexican films and television shows before really rising to fame with his 2013 comedy film, ‘The Noble Family.’ If his name sounds familiar, you might have seen him in Netflix’s ‘Club de Cuervos,’ or last year’s ‘Murder Mystery,’ where he starred alongside Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler. Méndez also appeared in 2019’s ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ and he has recently signed on to be a part of the third season of ‘Narcos: Mexico’ on Netflix.
If that wasn’t enough on Mendez’s plate, the actor has a new action thriller series directed by Oscar winner Juan José Campanella set to premiere next year. Now, his most recent venture is the film, ‘Half Brothers,’ which is premiering in theaters December 4th. It is a film that Méndez hopes brings laughter and joy to people at the end of an unprecedented year.
The Focus Features movie is based around two very different half brothers who are forced on a road trip together to find out their father’s story. The film highlights important themes, such as immigration and stereotypes which are topics that we don’t see touched upon that often in Hollywood. Méndez not only stars in the drama comedy film, he produced it, and even helped inspire the storyline.
Méndez sat down and chatted exclusively with HOLA! USA telling us how he has been coping during quarantine, what he is doing to break into U.S. mainstream movies, and how working on ‘Half Brothers’ helped him bind a relationship with one of his real life family members.
“The beautiful thing about this kind of project is that the subjects and the themes are the ones you want to speak about.”
Um, you know, some days great, some days horrible. It’s been of course a roller coaster, but I took a lot of time for myself to start developing a couple of ideas I had. I started writing for the first time in my life. I’m working on a TV show that I’m writing so trying to make the most I can of this moment, of course, being with my friends and with my family in a safe distance, video calls, and all that stuff. Good, good. Of course, speaking a lot about stuff such as the world, about your decisions in life. I think it’s a good moment to think about everything you’ve been doing for the past years, but I’m fine!
It’s been great! The last year was crazy and like a dream come true and completely surreal in terms of, we did the premiere of ‘Murder Mystery’ with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, and then we did ‘Charlie’s Angels,’ and one day I was at the People’s Choice Awards receiving an award with Jennifer and Adam, you know those things are completely surreal for me because I see myself still in a way as this kid from Aguascalientes , a very, very small town in the middle of Mexico. All of my family are doctors. I have no one involved in the entertainment business when I was a kid so suddenly living last year was pretty intense. This year has of course been a challenge, for everyone. But it has been amazing, especially with ‘Half Brothers.’ ‘Half Brothers’ is the first film I’m producing in the U.S., I’ve been producing most of the stuff I do in Mexico for the past five years, ‘Club de Cuervos,’ the Netflix show, a couple of films, but producing something in the U.S., has been a completely different experience, it’s a different animal, it’s a different league in a way especially in terms of budgets - you’re playing with more money and that comes with more responsibility, and more stress, and more headaches, for sure. But I mean, working with Focus has been an incredible experience. They did my favorite films when I was in my twenties. The first time I went to Focus Features when we did the pitch to sell this film to them, I saw all of these posters; ‘Burn After Reading,’ ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ ‘Little Miss Sunshine.’ I was seeing all of those posters, I was like these guys have done the favorite films of my life and now I’m going to work with them. I feel incredibly grateful about that opportunity and about the possibility of now developing stuff with this extraordinarily group of talented people.
Yeah! Of course! It has been for sure the more surreal moment of my life. I grew up watching them, I grew up watching ‘Friends,’ I grew up watching Adam’s comedies, those were very important references for my comedy as well. The timing I have when I’m on stage, on set, in a way it comes from them two. So when I was on set working with them, I could totally recognize my timing in them and vice versa. So yes, it was a very interesting experience, all of them are beautiful people. Adam, Jennifer, Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Stewart, all of these people I grew up watching suddenly they are my colleagues and we are sharing a set, and that’s beautiful. And at the end of the day, it’s not that different whether I’m working in Mexico because at the end of the day, we’re all actors and we are just enjoying our craft and we are just storytellers. It’s beautiful how our passion and our desire to tell stories puts us in the same room and I think that’s pretty special.
It was a long process! The first time we spoke about ‘Half Brothers’ was exactly five years ago. I had just moved to LA to start working in the U.S. and I had a meeting with Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman who are the writers and producers of the film as well and we had a couple of drinks in Soho House in LA and they were like, “We love your work, we want to work with you on something, do you have any ideas right now?” In that moment I didn’t have that many ideas as a producer because I considered myself more just an actor, now I have like 10 ideas to develop as a producer but five years ago it was a different story. So they were like “Why don’t you just tell us about your life?” And I started talking about my family and I started talking about my brother and the really complex, beautiful, relationship we have and they were very intrigued about that. They were like, “Could you talk more about that? Because that’s interesting to us.” So I spoke to them about the relationship with my brother and one month after that they came up with this one-pager of this film which was the main structure of ‘Half Brothers.’ After that, we kept talking about this idea of creating this metaphor about the relationships between Mexicans and Americans with these two brothers. This representation of Mexico and the U.S. with these two half brothers and all of the analogies that we could work on with this idea, that’s where the process started. It took us two years to sell the project to Focus Features, it took us another two years to have the script ready. We did tons and tons of rewrites and passes on the script. Then we brought in the director, then we found Asher, Conner Del Rio, this incredible actor. We saw over 300 actors to find this character, so yes in a way it certainly has been the longest process of any project I’ve been involved with. Of course, ‘Club de Cuervos,’ the Netflix show was a long process as well but filming is a different animal. It was beautiful, it was challenging. I learned so much with this project and my secret for doing this is I worked as a producer like two weeks before we started shooting. Two weeks before we started shooting, I wasn’t a producer anymore and I needed to be 100% focused on my character, in creating my character, in creating better relationships with the actors I’m going to be working with. I don’t want to be involved in any troubles about production because otherwise, it’s just too much.
“I honestly think that comedy is the best vehicle to talk about these things,” Mendez affirms. “I have this image in my head: when someone is laughing, they’re opening their mouth - and that’s a perfect moment to give them a spoon of truth. Of course it’s a comedy about parents and daddy issues and brothers. But I think it’s also a beautiful metaphor for Mexicans and Americans. It’s a very important subject to talk about. So it was very important for me that the script was funny and moving. And it was a long process but I’m very happy with the script that came out of it.”
I think one of the reasons I’m also a producer and so into this project is because I’ve been an actor for 20 years and when someone pitches me a film or a TV show and I resonate with that, I’m like, “Yeah, I’m in!” but the beautiful thing about this kind of project is that the subjects and the themes are the ones you want to speak about. For me as a Mexican, it’s really important to talk about immigration in a different way in movies in a more entertaining, funny way. I try to go away from stereotypes and also because I want to see myself represented on the screen in a different way. This character is a very successful businessman from Mexico who’s going to be dressed in these cool suits all the time but he has this really weird way of acting with people and he’s socially awkward at the same time. I think that’s a character we haven’t seen that much, especially in Hollywood. So for me, it was really important to talk about those things and I always thought that comedy is the best vehicle for talking about these really tricky, sensitive subjects. I have this image in my head that when you’re laughing about something and you have your mouth open, that’s the perfect moment to put a spoon of truth in the audience. And that’s what we tried to do with ‘Half Brothers’ in terms of the portrayal of immigration, in the portrayal of the relationship between Mexicans and Americans, people from the U.S., so I hope we succeeded but we’ll see soon.
I think working with Connor was a dream come true. We saw 300 actors in the U.S. to find this weird, crazy, over the top character. When we were developing the script I remember a couple of times talking to the producers being like, “Are we going to find this guy? Are we going to find an actor so talented that he can deliver and say these horrible things and also be charming?” And when Connor entered the room and he started saying the lines, for me it was love at first sight. It was like, “This is the guy, this is it!” So that was very cool. Working with Luke Greenfield, the director was amazing. And I will say that it really moved me, for example, the movie is called ‘Half Brothers’ and we talk about that and I have a half-sister, older than me that I never spoke to her before until we started developing the film. Like one month before shooting, I was like, I need to speak to this woman, I need to speak to my half-sister because I need to hear her perspective of things and I need to know her side of the story because I just grew up with my dad’s story or my mom’s story but I never heard that one. I really like it when you are working with an actor or you’re working on a project and something about that project affects your personal life for good. In that way, this film made me closer to my half-sister. I’m not going to lie, we’re not like the best friends in the world, but I at least know her, I know where she lives, I know her story, and that’s one of the gifts of ‘Half Brothers’ that I found very special.
Honestly, to keep doing this. I love acting and I’m always going to be acting for someone else’s projects and ideas. But I definitely want to keep working on my own stories. I’m very grateful for Jason Shuman, Eduardo Cisneros when we had that meeting in Soho House and they were like, “Let’s develop something for you.” And it’s something I’ve heard for lots of years with my managers and agents being like, “You need to develop your own stories,” and I was overwhelmed by that possibility and now that I’ve done it, it’s so empowering and it’s so cool to understand that your inner life and your story is never going to stop speaking to you. You’re never going to be empty of inner life and that inner life is going to be a great source of inspiration for creating new stories and characters. So I really hope I can still be working on these stories.