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‘Jack and Jill’ Star Eugenio Derbez: “I Feel Proud To Be Playing A Mexican Gardener”

In the new gender-bending Adam Sandler comedy Jack and Jill (opening in theaters nationwide today), Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez plays a gardener named Felipe. And while some Latinos might take issue with yet another Latino playing “the help,” in a Hollywood movie (gardeners, maids, cooks, etc)—Derbez says there’s nothing wrong with playing a gardener. “People are never happy,” says the 49-year-old comedian. “They’re always complaining about something—if they see a Latino star portraying a gardener, they may get mad because they think it’s a “stereotype” of a gardener. And if they put a {non-Latino} star {in the role}, they complain because it’s not a Mexican, but an American playing a Mexican.”

Derbez explains that Jack & Jill depicts gardeners as they are. “I know gardeners and actually, I’m a really, really good friend of at least five of them. They’re like that,” he says. “And I feel proud to be playing a Mexican gardener, actually.” Read on to find out what else Derbez has to say about his role in Jack & Jill—including what it was like playing two roles in the movie: a gardener and a Latina abuelita!

Who do you play in Jack & Jill?

My character’s name is Felipe—he’s Jack’s (Adam Sandler) gardener. When Jill {also played by Sandler} comes to town, I’m in charge of taking care of her, so we start quite a special relationship. But I actually play two characters—I play Felipe the gardener and also my own grandma. There’s a scene where I take Jill to a picnic and you meet my grandmother, who I’m also portraying. {Laughs}.

What’s the grandma’s name?

JUANgelina! {Laughs}.

Was it fun for you to play two different characters?

Absolutely! Initially they told me “we would love to have your mom play the grandma,” and I said, ‘well, me too—but she’s not here anymore.’ My mom passed away like eight years ago. But I can portray my own grandma because in my show in Mexico, I do a lot of characters and I have a lot of elastics and silicone, so they agreed…It was just supposed to be one day at first, but when they saw the final result, it was so funny that they added a lot of extra things for the grandma to do.

Did you channel your own abuelita for the role?

This was a very, very different grandma from mine! Mine was kind of sweet and this grandma was really mean—you’ll see {Laughs}. She doesn’t like Jill at all—she’s always complaining about her and they don’t like each other. So that’s the funny thing.

Juangelina sounds like one mean abuelita!

She’s Latina and she’s mean because…you know how Latina mothers or grandmas are—they don’t like anyone for their kids. Felipe’s not a kid, but they treat him like a kid. And they love him so much that nobody’s good enough for him.

Did you ever experience that in your life?

Yes, absolutely. {Laughs}. I think every Latino has. My mom—especially my mom—nobody was good enough for me, so she was always rude with my girlfriends. I always told my mom to be nicer, and she was like, “I’m nice—I’m being really nice.” But she wasn’t. And she didn’t even realize that she was being mean or rude, but she was…always. {Laughs}.

Some Latinos might take issue with a big Latino star like you playing a gardener in Jack and Jill, because they think there are too many Latinos playing “the help” in movies and on television. How do you feel about that?

Well I’ll tell you something about that—people are never happy. They’re always complaining about something. If they see a Latino star portraying a gardener they may get mad because they think it’s a “stereotype” of a gardener. But if they put an American star {in the role}, they complain because it’s not a Mexican—but an American playing a Mexican. I know gardeners, and actually I’m a really, really good friend of at least five of them. They’re like that. And I feel proud to be playing a Mexican gardener actually.



By Lee Hernandez



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