In the odd chance that you happened to be watching Mexican telenovelas sometime in the last five or six years, you may have locked eyes upon Genesis Rodriguez, a young actress who was a regular cast member on several shows before moving to Los Angeles for an arc on Entourage. You’re also likely to enjoy her performance as Will Ferrell’s absurdly radiant paramour in this week’s Casa de mi Padre, a movie that riffs heavily on the telenovelas of Rodriguez’s past. The actress’ training in those deadly serious, unintentionally cheesy melodramas proved a perfect fit for the film, which calls for a steely straight face while delivering ripe dialogue and acting against kitsch sets — not to mention Ferrell’s weirdly intoned Spanish.
We sat down with Rodriguez for a chat last week, in which she reflected on working with Ferrell and his intentions behind playing a Mexican. Plus, she talked a little about working with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the forthcoming Last Stand. First, though — before we ran out of time — she ran through her all-time five favorite comedies…
Step Brothers (Adam McKay; 2008; 55% Tomatometer)
I was a huge fan of Chevy Chase, so I’ll have to just condense them and put Vacation, European Vacaction, and Christmas Vacation all under one.
Next, Rodriguez on how her telenovela background prepped her for Casa de mi Padre, what she thinks of Will Ferrell’s Spanish, and working with Arnold Schwarzenegger on Last Stand.
This was your first major feature, but you were previously acting in the kind of telenovelas it parodies — was that how you got involved?
Genesis Rodriguez: I moved out [to Los Angeles] after finishing a six-year contract. I was getting out on certain things on TV. I did a little part on Entourage. And this was like my first real film audition. It was kind of wonderful how it worked out, because what I had done was so fresh, you know — and I knew exactly what to do. Telenovelas and, you know, Mexican movies — old Mexican movies, for example — they’re so serious and they just look a little bit off and wacky. So I felt like I had to be extremely serious to make it work. And I knew I wasn’t the funny guy — Will’s the funny guy. Gael [Garcia Bernal] and Diego [Luna], obviously, they kind of blew us out of the water too.
They’re actually very funny here.
Who knew? They’re exceptional actors. They were amazing. But I was kind of like the anchor in the movie, with kind of a “real” character in all the ridiculousness. I got to play around, too, don’t get me wrong.
But being so straight makes things funny.
It does. Being so serious… in real life, when people are so serious and so intense, it kind of makes me laugh because I think, “Why are you so serious?”
Telenovelas are notoriously melodramatic. Did you find them funny when you were working in them, when you were meant to be serious?
Oh absolutely! I mean, I’ve had ridiculous situations, if you put it in the context of the characters I’ve played. A lot of them were just like, “What? I really did that? That’s totally unbelievable.” Just ridiculous plot twists. And it was also because we were two days off air, so the audience kind of controlled what they wanted to see. So one day I would hate the person, and two days later I’d just be making out with him, in just the most random emotional moment.
They’d poll the audience to see what they wanted?
Yes. Tomorrow I might be just crying the whole time. Or I’m gonna be blind. And then I come out, and I see again. [Laughs] Just weird stuff.
You were invaluable to this film, then.
[Laughs] I guess.
The director likened you to a young Lana Turner — that’s some compliment.
I don’t know what to say. He’s amazing. I can’t… that really touches me. I mean, somebody validates you like that and, honestly, these guys — if something ever really takes off and I should have a really long career, then they should take a percentage, because they’re the ones who said, “This girl.”
Don’t say that on record. When Will Ferrell’s bankrupt he’s gonna come after your money.
He should! He totally should have a percentage of Genesis Rodriguez. [Laughs]
Tell me what it was like working with him. He’s not a native Spanish speaker, so did you guys play tricks on him?
Well Diego and Gael improvised a lot, and sometimes you would just see like a blank stare [laughs], so you did not know what was going on — with the director as well. Diego and Gael just really went for it, just improvised.
Did much of that end up on film?
Yeah, a lot of it. I wouldn’t say all of it because it was written out for us, the dialogue; it was just so well done — so ridiculous. But they added so much to their characters, with little details. That’s how they improvised. To see Will speaking Spanish, it was pretty incredible for me because he’s honoring our culture — and the fact that he wasn’t playing the American guy trying to speak Spanish. He wanted to be as authentic as possible. He wanted to be Mexican. And he did. He learned the cadence of how the Mexican accent is, and that’s what I find so surprising, because that’s not something that you learn in a month. It really isn’t. That tone and just the sing-songiness is just really impressive. And this is coming from a Cuban-Venezuelan who has another accent and has to sometimes have a Mexican accent in other things.
So you could tell whether his accent was really bad or not.
I could tell. And I know from experience how hard it is to grab that intonation. It was just ridiculous sometimes, the intensity in Will’s eyes — just the intensity mixed with the Mexican Spanish. I couldn’t believe what I was watching.
He was kind of immersed in that character.
Yeah, he was awesome, He really was.
The way I saw it, he wasn’t making fun of these movies — it was more of a gentle homage.
Absolutely — that’s how I saw it.
He really dedicated himself.
He did. He was so worried. He was so worried about his Spanish, and his authenticity. And I think he really did it. He really did it, but like you said, for an homage. I mean, we know what telenovelas are: I come from them, I used to watch them. I love them, you know. But he just made it incredible that he shone a light on it. It’s wonderful, for our culture, that they’re just doing this. And it’s Will, you know — that’s one guy that can just do this and bring his type of humor into another language. It’s him.
What was your favorite part of the shoot?
I mean every part was incredible, to work with him, but there’s so many epic scenes — it’s so passionate and so over the top. One of my favorite moments was when he was trying to get me on a horse and he offers me, you know, a hand. We didn’t plan any of that out. I just hung over the horse and the horse decides he wants to participate in the scene — and this is not a part of the movie — but he just starts walking off. And nobody yells “cut” so I didn’t get off of it, I just dangled there like a dead body for a very long time. Will left the scene and there was just me slowly getting off it. I was like, “Is anybody gonna yell ‘cut’ out here, because what if this guy takes off?” [Laughs]
Do you have any acting inspirations? Apart from Lana Turner, of course, to whom you’re now heiress.
Oh that is too much! [Laughs] Let’s keep it more down to earth, please. I just hope to do more movies that continue to entertain people, although I would love a super-challenging and thought-provoking movie…
But you’re so good at comedy.
I love it. I just love it. It’s something that I’ve never done before and I never thought that I could do. I have acted a fool for, like, 12 hours and I wish I could pay someone to have me continue doing it. It’s the best job ever.
You’ve got Jee-woon Kim’s Last Stand coming up, with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Where are you at with that? I assume you’re not acting the fool in it.
[Laughs] I just finished it. We just finished at the end of January. I can’t say much about my character but I can tell you about the movie. It’s exactly what you’d expect of an Arnold comeback film. It’s Arnold doing what he does.
Did you get to trade any one-liners with him?
I don’t personally because he’s a cop and I’m an FBI agent, so we have two storylines, but what I did see — and I was there the days of [his shooting] — there’s a lot of chase sequences and what not. You really appreciate a different side of Arnold. You can see the seasoned side, and you can see a vulnerability and a humanity to him; as opposed to, you know, this other person, this action god-like thing who was Conan and Terminator and all these epic characters that weren’t, you know, real. This is real. This is real Arnold. This is him.
Is he enjoying being back at work?
He was wonderful. And it was wonderful to have him back. I’m such a super fan. It’s crazy.
Casa de mi Padre is in theaters now.