Entertainment

Entertainment

Diego Luna: 'Cesar Chavez' is no history lesson

Diego Luna is in director mode.

The Mexican actor ("Y Tu Mama Tambien," "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights") effectively called "Cut!" on himself as a siren interrupted him mid-answer during a recent interview at the Peninsula Hotel.

"Is this going to work? No, right?" he asked, pausing to look out the window and watch the emergency vehicle pass. "Otherwise you'll never [use] it."

"Cesar Chavez," Luna's English-language directorial debut opening Friday, focuses on the Mexican-American labor leader's work during the 1960s, when Chavez became the face and voice of a southern California grape boycott that would grow into an international movement.

"Chavez" is just the second time in the director's chair for the 34-year-old, most recently seen in last year's "Elysium" but perhaps more memorable as Katy Perry's artist boyfriend in the video for "The One that Got Away."

At the Peninsula, Luna talked about why he cast Chicago native Michael Pena in the lead role, what would make him cry and who would be able to turn him into an 8-year-old again.

 

Michael Pena, who plays Cesar Chavez, and John Malkovich, who plays Chavez's main adversary, they're actually from Chicago. What have they told you about Chicago?

Steppenwolf is a project and a reference for me for quite a long time. I do theater; that's how I met [Steppenwolf ensemble member] John Malkovich. ... And definitely, the story of Michael here ... it's one of the reasons why I cast him. ... He was born in Chicago, he's a first-generation [American] and he lived here a very similar experience to the one Cesar Chavez had to go through in Arizona, basically being born in a place that reminds you every day you don't belong, having to go to school and study in English and then go back home [where everyone speaks Spanish].

Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson and America Ferrera are in their 20s and 30s, as are you yourself. What was the most challenging part of making a movie that was set mostly in the 1960s?

That distance is good because it's not the same when you talk about something that you experienced, because then you have your own agenda. ... My film is more to let everyone know that Cesar existed, to tell the story to all of those who think Cesar Chavez is a street or the name of a park but they don't know why, and what he means for a community. I think we're at the right age to tell this story.

As a Filipino-American, I was surprised at the role Filipino workers played in the beginning of the workers movement.

Everyone talks about the [Mexican] farm workers going on strike and what it meant back then and the strength they showed, when in fact it was the Filipinos who went first and they decided to join. I really love that way of starting the film. It was this community following another community. ... I don't think this film is [just] for Latinos. I think this film is for everyone in this country, because the film is about a boycott, and what the boycott did is that the story of farm workers suddenly became the story of America. 

In the movie, Fernando Chavez complains that his father makes everything into a history lesson. If someone said that about your film, what would you say to them?

I would start crying, because from Day 1 I said, "I'm not going to do a history lesson." ... Every time [teachers] come to me and say, "Why did you leave this out? Why did you not talk about this?" I go, "Listen, film is not a history lesson." Film is in fact about engaging emotionally ... and it's about having a good time in the cinema. It's about entertaining. Cinema can bring some curiosity for people to go and investigate a little more about Cesar. But film shouldn't be teaching you. At least that's not the film I like watching.

You've now both acted in and directed English- and Spanish-language films, you have your own production company, you've co-written a screenplay and you've even been in a music video. What is one thing you haven't done that you would like to do next?

[Laughs.] What haven't I done? Definitely the parachute experience is something I will do one day, once my son becomes old enough to do it with me. I guess one thing I'm never going to be able to do is be a -- well, here I have to say a soccer player.

Is that something you wanted to do?

I always wanted it! I always wanted it, but I was never good enough. I did a film where I played a goalkeeper.

Was that your dream coming true?

You know, I don't give a [bleep] about anyone coming in or out of a room, but if suddenly [retired French soccer player] Zinedine Zidane comes in, I just can't handle it. I become an 8-year-old, and I need an autograph, and I can't stop staring at them. I have that thing with soccer players, just with them.

 

edelossantos@tribune.com > | @elisekdelo

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Q&A: 'Divergent' stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James

    Q&A: 'Divergent' stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James

    Though part of the strength of "Divergent" is that it's much more than just a love story, the big-screen version of suburban-Chicago-raised Veronica Roth's massive novel simply wouldn't work with underwhelming leads. So 100 gold stars for the casting director who selected the exceptional Shailene...

  • Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    The Lolla schedule is sort of like the NCAA tournament: there are millions of possible combinations, and it’s anyone’s guess what the winning picks will be. With that in mind, we make some bold predictions about how this year’s fest (returning to Grant Park Fri.-Sun.) will turn out. Breakout artist...

  • 2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    The man on trial in the killing of Chicago police Officer Thor Soderberg hated police and surprised the officer as he changed out of his uniform at shift end and placed his duty belt down, a Cook County prosecutor alleged Monday.

  • Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Chicago aldermen on Monday called on police officials to provide information on how quickly rape kits are being tested by the state crime lab, part of a largely symbolic effort to determine whether a large backlog is hampering work to apprehend rapists.

  • Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    A South Side alderman's effort to tweak filmmaker Spike Lee for using "Chi-raq" as the title for a movie about Chicago violence fell flat Monday with his colleagues.

  • ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    Commonwealth Edison will hold energy fairs at satellite locations across the region Monday in order to get money to thousands of people struggling to pay their electricity bills in northern Illinois.

Comments
Loading

83°