Over the weekend, Mexican comedy Instructions Not Included continued its incredible box office run, finishing in third place in only 717 theaters. The film, about an Acapulco playboy who’s forced to raise a daughter he didn’t know he had, has now grossed over $21 million, and thanks to its “A+” CinemaScore grade, it’s poised to surpass Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth as the highest-grossing Spanish-language film ever in the U.S.
We sat down with Instructions‘ writer/director/star Eugenio Derbez to get his perspective on its runaway success north of the border.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Well, you must be having a great week.
EUGENIO DERBEZ: I’ve been going back and forth from L.A. to Miami, Chicago to New York, but I’m really, really happy. Yesterday [I] was [on] Larry King, and today Jimmy Fallon, so I couldn’t ask for more.
Where did you get the idea for this movie?
I actually was inspired after watching Life Is Beautiful. After I saw that movie I said, “I need to do something like this with a different plot but the same heart.” So I started writing a beautiful story — a love story between a dad and his daughter — and we finally found the balance after 12 years. It took 12 years to raise the money, because it’s very expensive. In Mexico, the average for a film is $2.5 million, and this one was $5.5 million. So while we were raising the money, we were writing and rewriting and reading over and over.
You’ve created so many shows that most American audiences probably aren’t familiar with. What would you say you’re most known for in Mexico?
Oh my god, I’ve done such a lot of things. Maybe my characters — I have a lot of characters on my TV show. When I walk down the street, even here in the U.S., they are always saying my catchphrases of my characters, and they shout at me with my catchphrases.
Did you expect the movie to find a large audience in the United States?
Well, I’m gonna be honest. When we were writing the script, I always think about doing the crossover with this film. Always. But when we finally released the film, I never thought it was going to be this big. I had a hunch and the hope that something was going to happen, but I never thought it was going to be this big.
Have you been trying to cross over into the United States?
Before? Yeah. I did a TV series with Rob Schneider last year [¡Rob!], and I thought that was my crossover, but it wasn’t. I did it, but then I went back to Mexico and nothing else happened. Before that, I did Jack and Jill with Adam Sandler. Before that, I did a Broadway play here in the U.S. [That show, Latinologues, had a five-month run in 2005.]
Are you friends with Adam Sandler? He gets referenced a couple times in your movie.
Well, I live in Mexico and he lives in the U.S., but every time we can, we have some phone calls or something. Adam just sent me a gift yesterday to my room. It was a beautiful, beautiful bottle of champagne. He’s such a nice guy.
Why do you think this film is connecting the way it is with people?
I think nobody has a formula for success, but I really studied different kinds of films: Life Is Beautiful, Amelie, Cinema Paradiso, Little Miss Sunshine, Bicycle Thief, all these heartfelt films, and then we added a lot of comedy. Then we took out a little bit. Then we finally found a perfect balance between comedy and drama. [Audiences] are laughing, then crying, then laughing again. There’s a time where they laugh and cry at the same time. It’s weird. I never expect the audience to connect in the same way that they do.
You are such a huge star in Mexico. I mean, you had your wedding telecast live. [His wife, Alessandra Rosaldo, plays Renee in Instructions.] Is coming to the United States refreshing or weird?
It’s both things. It’s refreshing because I can walk, I can feel free. Although the Latinos in the U.S., they know me because my shows are running here through Univision. So I feel more free to walk on the streets, but at the same time, it’s weird because every time I have a meeting with some producer or director, they don’t know me, so I have to struggle like I did 25 years ago in Mexico. It’s like starting over again. It’s weird, but it’s funny. I like it.
Do you think the success of Instructions Not Included is going to kick-start more productions that reach out to the Latino audience in the United States?
I think so, and I hope so. Instructions Not Included is proving that there is a huge Latin market that needs a special project. They love seeing their own people, they want to see themselves onscreen. In my case, I know them pretty well. I know what they laugh at. I think it’s going to open a lot of doors, this movie.
It’s very rare for a movie to open in the U.S. before Mexico. Why’d you do that?
Usually, it’s always the other way around. This time was an experiment. I’ve got to tell you, I was against it. I really fought for not opening first in the U.S. … because I was afraid if it was not a good opening, it would affect the Latin American market. But now we have amazing publicity in Latin America and Mexico after this huge success. It was perfect! But we never thought it was going to be this way.
Pantelion Films says the film is playing well with crowds who go to the movies after church. Was any part of you trying to appeal to Christian audiences?
No, no, no. Actually, we have a lot of irreverent humor. When I heard they were talking about church, I thought, “I don’t want the audience to think it’s going to be something for a grandma or a grandpa.” It’s for everyone. We have some very funny scenes, some irreverent scenes with a different kind of humor, and I think teenagers can enjoy the film as well as seniors, kids, everyone. I’ve seen every kind of people inside the theaters.
I know it’s only been a week, but do you already have another project lined up after this?
I want to direct another film and maybe that is going to happen next year. But in the last two days, I’ve been receiving tons of new offers, so I have to evaluate what I’m going to do. Sleep, first of all.
Is it true you’ll be directing a new version of Saturday Night Live in Mexico?
Well, we bought the rights, and we want to make SNL Mexico, so we’re working on it. We’re just in pre-production. And this is going to take place maybe next year.
Would you star in it?
No, they told me that they want be to be like the Mexican Lorne Michaels … with a different salary, of course.