“Radical,” the new feature film starring Eugenio Derbez, is the story of a small Mexican border town where corruption and violence are more prevalent than education opportunities. Students have the lowest test scores in the country. Derbez plays a frustrated teacher who arrives at the school with some groundbreaking ideas on how to get the students to start learning.
The film is based on the true story of Sergio Juárez Correa. His tale of educational transformation that is at the heart of the movie started more than a decade ago. But, the problem with low test scores is a major problem today in places like Kern County.
Writer/director Christopher Zalla uses “Radical” to point out that the young students should not be blamed for the low scores. It is the system of teaching toward standardized testing that kills the learning experience for the children.
Derbez adds that children should never be the prime focus of blame in such matters.
“The kids don’t know,” Derbez says. “I think it is the parents responsibility. In my case, I didn’t want to learn English. So, I ended up learning English at 42 because I really knew I needed it to do the crossover.
“When I came to this country, every time I saw a Latin family and I saw the kids don’t speak Spanish. I asked the parents why they didn’t teach them Spanish, and they would say it is because they want to blend in. So, it is a pity that they don’t know the power of speaking two languages.”
Derbez stresses to parents that if they give their child another language, it is like giving “a super power to them.”
The advice is coming from someone who is considered one of the most successful Latin actors at the box office. If ever there was proof of how being bilingual can be beneficial, it is Derbez.
As the son of one of Mexico’s most popular performers, Silvia Derbez, he grew up in the show business world. He launched his own career in Mexico making Spanish-language movies and TV shows such as “Papá soltero,” “XHDRbZ” and “Transplante a la Mexicana.” His popularity grew when he started taking on roles in English-language productions such as “Miracles from Heaven” and “CODA.”
Recently, Derbez received an Emmy Award for his comedy show “LOL: Last One Laughing,” which he produced and hosted. He is in his third season of the travel show “De Viaje Con Los Derbez” for Amazon Prime Video and is in his second season of the Apple TV+’s original comedy series, “Acapulco.”
Along with bouncing between two languages, Derbez has been going back and forth from comedies to dramas. His “Instructions Not Included” is the highest-grossing Spanish-language film to open in North America. He easily moves between both genres but when pressed to pick one that he enjoyed the most, Derbez goes with comedy.
“But, there is something weird. It is way more difficult to make people laugh than to make them cry for many reasons,” Derbez says. “People cry for the same reasons – love, death. But, comedy is different. You don’t laugh about the same things we laugh about in Mexico. Your status. Your education. Everything matters whether to laugh or not about the same joke.”
“It is way harder but for some reason, people don’t respect comedy.”
He noticed the change in respect for him as an actor after appearing in the Oscar-winning “CODA.” Derbez was surprised to get invitations to parties and events he never would have been asked to attend when he was focused primarily on comedy jobs.
Not only is Derbez involved with a serious drama in “Radical,” but he is dealing with the responsibility of playing a real person. And, the subject of the film was available to talk about how events happened.
Playing a role based on a real person was a major challenge for Derbez both to get his performance right and to know the person he is playing eventually will see the movie.
“It’s scarier. It’s intimidating,” Derbez says.
Derbez and the director decided that there was no reason to try to make the actor look like the real person through makeup or prosthetics. They were more intent on capturing the soul and essence of the teacher.
Even with that approach, Derbez felt a great amount of responsibility.
“I was trying to really be accurate and truthful,” Derbez says. “On the other hand, because this person is alive, I could ask him questions. I got to ask him how his relationship was with the kids. What you are watching is 100% supervised by him.”
“Radical” opens in local theaters Nov. 3. Joining Derbez in the cast are Daniel Haddad, Gilberto Barraza, Jennifer Trejo, Mía Fernanda Solis and Danilo Guardiola.