Eugenio Derbes has been a staple in Mexican pop culture for years.  Besides his numerous tv and film roles, he’s done the Spanish dubbing for Donkey in the Shrek films, voices Glen in both Angry Birds movies, and is attached to voice the lead character in the upcoming Speedy Gonzales movie.

Earlier this week, in a small theater hidden behind a freezer door at a Scottsdale Multiplex,  we caught up with Eugenio to discuss his latest project, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold.”

Excerpts from the interview follow, or you can listen to the entire conversation below:

TCF:  In addition to acting in the film, you’re also one of the producers.  Were you attached as an actor first, or did you come on as a producer and demand to be in the movie?

Eugenio Derbez:  It came almost the same time, because when I heard about the project, I told my agents, “I want to be part of this.” I was always complaining that in Hollywood, they’re always portraying Latinos in a negative way. You know, every single movie, we are the criminals, the drug dealers, the narcs.  I wanted to change that in Hollywood as much as I could. And that’s why I started producing my own films, because I said, every time they call me is for the same kind of roles, the only way to change this is producing my own stuff.

So, I told my agents, “It’s a good way to portray Latinos on screen, and I want to be part of this. And I know that I can bring a lot of things to the table.” Because I was born and raised in Mexico, I’m a real Mexican, not like George Lopez, who’s more American than anything else. It’s just that his parents are Mexicans. Up until five years ago, I was living in Mexico for my entire life.  

I could help them with the Latino culture, about not making mistakes, about the Spanish, and many, many things. That was how my agents were able to put me in the project, not only as an actor but also as a producer. I ended up in charge of supervising anything related to the Latino culture. I also wrote the adaptation into Spanish with one of my writers, meaning all the Spanish for all Latin American and the dubbing, was under my supervision.

There’s a lot of physical comedy in the film.  Do you have past experience in comedy of that nature?  Did you do most or all of those scenes yourself?

Yes, I have a lot of experience in that. Actually, for some reason, in Latin America, we like to do comedy in a broader way. So it’s like too big. Everything’s big, big, big. So it’s been the opposite. It’s really hard for me to go down and make everything grounded.

I also love doing my own stunts. I was always fighting for, “I want to do that.” And were like, “No, this could be dangerous. Just let your stunt double do this.” And then, “Okay. Let me try it once. And if not, you see that I’m like not so good. We can try the stunt.” And I always did my own stunt. Everything you see, and also with the kids, I think we were all the same. We did our own stunts.

That was a lot of fun. And it was kind of risky because it was very demanding. I mean, physically it’s the most demanding movie I’ve ever done in my career.  For an underwater scene, they trained us to hold our breath for two minutes!  I was like, “I can’t do more than 45 seconds. I can’t.” But it was very interesting how it’s more mental than physical. And in the end, we did it. We were able to be underwater for two minutes five seconds, actually. That’s my record!

Live actions adaptations are a huge trend in Hollywood right now. What would you say to audiences who might be a bit fatigued with this trend to encourage them to see “Dora?” 

I love the cartoon, but the storyline in the cartoon is very simple. So, someone tells you, “Let’s go watch Dora the Explorer.” Like, “Really? It’s going to be boring.” But no, I think this movie is different. They really did a great job with the script and made Dora a more three-dimensional character. It has humor for everyone. In fact that the director is an amazing comedy director, James Bobin, he directed the “Flight of the Conchords.” That TV series was amazing.

He was constantly bringing jokes, and jokes and jokes. Honestly, they cut at least 30 minutes of good jokes. They wanted the movie to last no more than an hour and 40 minutes, so that’s why they had to do that. But there’re jokes for everyone. So, if you go with your kids, and your abuelitas or toddlers, teenagers, whoever, they’re going to enjoy the movie because it has humor for everyone.

One of the lessons that “Dora” has is to stay true to yourself. Do you have any examples in your life where you can look back and say, “Hey, I stayed true to myself?”

I worked my entire life in Latin America, in Mexico. I was born and raised there. I did my entire career there. My shows were always very successful there. One day after I did a movie called “Instructions Not Included,” my life changed, and all of a sudden, the doors in Hollywood open and it was like, it’s now or never.  Everyone was telling me, “You’re not a kid anymore. You should do it. Right? Do it.” I mean, for one, my agent was telling me, “Do it now or it’s going to be now or never.” And others were telling me, “You’re crazy. Don’t do it. I mean, you have a career here.”

So, I shut down my office, everything. I come to the US.  Once I was here, it was like, “What I’m going to do? I mean, I’m not going to be better than Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell or Will Smith or you name it. I’m not going to be. I’m not able, it’s not my language. I’m still learning English.”

At first, I have to be honest, I was trying to be like them.  But one day I said, “No, I have to be who I am. It’s the only thing I know, be myself.” So, by staying true to myself, I said, “I need to do the kind of movies that aren’t going to be competing against Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, or Ben Stiller. I have to do my own kind of movies with my own kind of humor, and I have to stay true to myself in order to succeed.” And here I am. I think that’s why I’ve been succeeding because I don’t want to be another version of another comedian. I’ve been true to myself.

“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is in theaters now!