Eva Longoria Discusses Her Drive to ‘Encourage’ Her Community to ‘Speak for Themselves’

Eva Longoria Walk of Fame Honor
BRINSON+BANKS/The New York Times/Redux

Eva Longoria is a part of the “Latinas Who Lunch” community, designed for Latinas in Hollywood to come together and talk not only about their struggles but also how they can support each other and future generations. Longoria may have had to compete with many other women for “the one Latina role” in scripts her agents sent her early in her career, but now she is determined to prove there is more than enough room at the table for everyone. While “Latinas Who Lunch” was started just last year, the multi-hyphenate Longoria, who will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame April 16, has been fighting this fight for years.

“We’ve all felt like the industry has pitted us against each other and made us feel like there’s only room for one — but that’s not true. So if we unite and create opportunities for each other and pull each other up, there could be a lot more success for representation on TV,” Longoria says.

In 2015, Variety Latino honored Longoria with a visionary award, presented by Lifetime, for being a leader in taking steps toward inclusion both in front of and behind-the-scenes of small screen programming.

“The word ‘diversity’ has been thrown around so much in all industries — not just in television and film but in corporations all over — and it’s not just because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s because it makes business sense,” Longoria says. “If you want to widen your customer base, you should be inclusive and reflecting the communities in which they live in.”

Longoria got her start as an actress on dramas including daytime’s “Young and the Restless” and primetime’s “Beverly Hills, 90210,” but became best-known for her role as former model Gabrielle Solis on ABC’s dramedy “Desperate Housewives” in 2004. With her platform growing larger across the series’ eight years, Longoria increasingly became more active with philanthropic projects, many of which were designed to shine a spotlight on Latinos in America.

“‘Desperate Housewives’ was such a global phenomenon from episode 1. It was something I had never experienced,” Longoria says. “I very quickly realized I was going to have this voice so I better have something to say.”

She executive produced “The Harvest,” a documentary about agricultural child labor in America that premiered in 2010 and was released in 2011. She took the fight off-screen as well, visiting Capitol Hill to show support for the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE) Act. At the same time, Longoria was working on her directorial debut, a documentary spotlighting Latinos from all walks of life across the United State that were working to make America a better place. The project, which she also executive produced, was called “Latinos Living the American Dream” and was released in 2010.

“I come from a very philanthropic family, so for me being involved in my community and giving back and the word ‘volunteer’ [were] instilled in me very early,” Longoria says, citing her special-needs sister as a reason she understood the importance of helping from a young age. “We always had to volunteer for some sort of activity my sister was involved in. I knew I was going to be that person with or without a large platform. For me, it was a natural evolution of what I was going to be doing in my life as an adult.”

Her Eva Longoria Fund (established in 2010) is designed to benefit children and Latinos, and she founded the Eva Longoria Foundation in 2011 with a three-fold mission of empowering Latinas to “reach their full potential through education and entrepreneurship.” The Foundation works to create parent engagement and mentorship programs, conducting studies to better understand why only 15% of Latinas earn college degrees, and raising awareness of a number of issues surrounding Latinas at events around the country.

“I never speak for my community. My goal with my activism is to encourage my community and people to speak for themselves. Stand up, say something, have a voice,” Longoria says. “If you want to see a difference, you’re the person that can make it.”

Longoria’s passion to create more opportunities for Latinos brought her to the world of politics, as well. In 2012 she worked tirelessly to get out the vote among the Latino community for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. Acting as a co-chair for his campaign, she held star-studded fundraisers and spoke about him at rallies. But she also worked as an activist for change regarding immigration policies, as well as development within Latino communities.

Longoria also serves on the board of directors at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), as well as the National Museum for the American Latino.

“As soon as I want to do something, I prioritize. Something else will have to take the back seat,” she says.

In 2012 she signed on to executive produce “Devious Maids,” about four Latina maids working for rich families in Los Angeles. For many young Latina actresses, the only audition sides they would receive would be for roles where they would play support staff characters — and often with only a handful of lines. But this series put the titular maids in the protagonist positions and fully fleshed them out as women and lead characters with complicated and diverse relationships.

Eva Longoria has stepped behind the camera to direct episodes on series including “Black-ish.”
Courtesy of ABC

“One of the reasons I went into producing and directing was I wasn’t going to sit back and wait for somebody to create a role I wanted to do,” Longoria says. “I was very lucky ‘Desperate Housewives’ fit into what I could do as an actor, but that’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. You can’t just sit around waiting for that, and I wanted to create that — not just for myself but for other Latinas.”

In 2014 she followed “The Harvest” with another documentary, “Food Chains,” about agricultural labor, this time looking more closely at the conditions of migrant farm workers who pick fruit and vegetables. The next year, in 2015, she shined a light on Latino voters with “Ours Is a Future.” It has been important to Longoria to showcase that Latinos are not just how they are frequently depicted on the news — as criminals or illegal immigrants.

During this time, Longoria also executive produced a comedic take on telenovelas, aptly titled “Telenovela,” in which she also starred. The NBC series was set behind the scenes of a fictional Spanish soap opera and was a cheeky homage to the serials that are such an important part of Latino pop culture.

But Longoria says she actually thinks she’s defined her career by the “nos” she’s given, rather than the “yeses.”

“I’m very particular about what I act in and what I direct and produce,” she says. “This past year I dedicated myself to directing so acting took a backseat, because I was back to back to back booked directing.”

Noting she targets very specific things that she wants to dedicate her time to, Longoria adds that a major decision-making factor in taking on a project is whether or not she’ll “get to work with really funny women.” While Longoria has expanded her imprint on Hollywood by producing films like “John Wick,” guest starring on television shows including “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Empire,” becoming a spokesmodel for L’Oreal and even writing a cookbook and starting a clothing line, she notes that being able to direct incomparable performers like Gina Rodriguez on “Jane the Virgin,” Tracee Ellis Ross on “Black-ish” and Kaitlin Olson on “The Mick” has been a highlight.

“I try to pick projects based on people I want to work with, people I love and people I want to showcase their talents,” she says.

Longoria has also expand her philanthropic efforts. Currently, she has “Sanctuary,” a documentary about the Arctic ocean’s environmental future in the works, and she has also become a spokesperson for cancer charity Padres Contra El Cancer and co-founded Eva’s Heroes, which is dedicated to “enriching the lives of individuals with intellectual special needs.”

“She’s so amazing. There’s just nothing she can’t do,” “Jane the Virgin” creator and showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman says of Longoria. “She’s so funny and able to do everything at once and still be so prepared. She’d be directing a really complicated episode and also launching a clothing line. And she’s so detailed, you’re like, ‘How can you hold so many things at once!?’ But she can, she can. She’s such a force.”