Mexico’s most bankable star, Eugenio Derbez, will be looking to make a splash with this Friday’s release of “Overboard,” a remake of the 1987 romantic comedy of the same name starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.
Derbez has already proven there’s an underserved and largely untapped U.S. audience for Spanish-language films. His 2013 passion project, “Instructions Not Included,” grossed nearly $100 million on a $5 million budget, becoming the best-selling Spanish-language film of all time. His follow-up comedy, “How to be a Latin Lover,” earned $62 million and was one of the top 10 films in Mexico last year.
But “Overboard” — where Derbez stars as a hyper-wealthy Mexican playboy opposite Anna Faris — marks his first attempt to expand his fan base to include non-Latino audiences. The film reverses the roles played by Hawn and Russell, with Derbez playing Hawn’s part as a rich heir of a multi-national company stricken with amnesia. Faris is the single, working-class mother who tricks Derbez’s character into believing they are married and swiftly puts him to work so she can better make ends meet while studying to be a nurse.
Some fans of the original picture expressed skepticism on social media about the remake of the Hawn-Russell picture, shot shortly after the longtime couple first got together. The prospect of falling short in remaking a classic 80s romantic comedy is not lost on Derbez.
“This might be my real crossover movie into this market, but at the same time, I feel a little bit nervous because it’s a big responsibility to have such an iconic film in my hands,” Derbez told Variety in a recent interview. “To try to crack into Hollywood, it’s a dream come true.”
Derbez, 56, is best known in his native country of Mexico, where he has a long list of television and film credits as both actor and producer. Among his most popular shows are a sketch comedy show called “Derbez en Cuando.” In the U.S., he’s a familiar face to millions of Latino immigrants, mostly of Mexican descent, who have packed theaters to see Derbez.
The actor and producer recently appeared as a presenter during the Oscar ceremony on March 4, introducing a performance of the “Remember Me,” the Oscar-winning entry for best original song this year. As he reflected on his short time in Hollywood, he said his focus always been on telling stories with heart.
“I’ve learned that you never have to think about how to make money,” Derbez said. “You need only to focus on what you think is going to be a good movie or what’s a movie I’d like to watch as the audience.”
Lionsgate/Pantelion and MGM’s “Overboard” will be jockeying to stand out this weekend on the heels of box office juggernaut, “Avengers: Infinity War.” Tracking services peg “Overboard,” which carried a budget under $15 million, opening to between $10 million and $14 million, according to early estimates. Other “Avengers” challengers are horror pic “Bad Samaritan” and Charlize Theron-starring comedy “Tully.” All three are opening on 1,300 to 1,900 screens.
But some observers say say Latino box office turnout can be hard to estimate accurately, given the surprise success of “Instructions Not Included.” Disney-Pixar’s “Coco” similarly beat tracking forecasts, over-performing its initial opening weekend estimates.
Derbez has earned praise for his comedic chops that harken to some of Mexico’s most iconic comic film actors like Mario Moreno, known as Cantinflas, sometimes referred to as the Charlie Chaplin of Mexico. In an interview with Univision’s “Despierta America,” Derbez gently pushed back on the comparison saying he’d prefer to work hard and maybe in the future earn such an honor.
Those who have worked with Derbez say his sincerity and earnestness are why his comedy connects with audiences.
“He has this innate quality of empathy,” Faris said in a recent interview. “His comedy comes from a place of generosity and not cruelty in any way which makes it really easy for audiences to love him and for his co-stars as well. His sense of comedy comes from self-deprecation and a sense of innocence and sincerity of character which is something that makes us well matched, I hope.”
Faris, who makes her return to live-action films after five years with “Overboard,” also commented on Derbez’s humility. He’s one of the least vain comedic actors I’ve worked with,” she said. “I love that his passion and his drive is to tell an honest story.”
“Overboard” was written and directed by Bob Fisher, a writer on “Wedding Crashers” and “We’re the Millers,” and Rob Greenberg, who was a producer on “Frasier” and a writer on “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” Neither had worked with Derbez before, but they researched his film and television work to understand his style of comedy.
“We looked him up on YouTube, and there was a whole bunch of his Mexican television stuff that wasn’t subtitled,” Fisher recounted in a recent interview. “I have two years of high school Spanish and Rob has none, so in other words, neither of us spoke any Spanish. He’s still making us laughing without knowing what he was saying and that’s usually a sign of someone who is extremely funny.”
To ensure the Spanish in the film came across authentic, the directors often turned to Derbez for guidance. “We received a very delightful education in what Eugenio’s core audience enjoys,” Fisher said. “Eugenio in particular knows his audience. That was very interesting for us.”
Greenberg said the pair are already working on another script with Derbez. He said they share in the mission of Derbez and Ben Odell’s production company, 3Pas Studios, to feature diverse voices and expand representation.
“There’s an under-served market and we hope to serve them,” Greenberg said of U.S. Latino audiences. “We hope that this movie is something that the Latin community will embrace because they don’t get a lot of opportunities.”