You may not have heard of Luis Gerardo Méndez, even though he’s a star in Mexico and has appeared in films “Charlie’s Angels” and “Murder Mystery.”
His new film, “Half Brothers,” opens in theaters on Friday. Méndez, who stars in and executive produced the film, plays Renato, a Mexican aviation executive whose life is upended when he gets word that his dying father wants to see him.
The two haven’t spoken for decades after his father left the family in Mexico to find work in the U.S. — and never returned. Later when he meets his father at the hospital, Renato discovers his dad had another son with a woman in the U.S. His father’s dying request sends the pair on a wild road trip to Texas.
A native of Mexico City, Méndez says he acted in Mexico for almost 20 years before moving to Los Angeles about five years ago to pursue work in the U.S. That’s where he met Eduardo Cisneros, the writer and producer of “Half Brothers.”
“We were very intrigued about the relationships between brothers and fathers and sons, but especially about creating some kind of metaphor to speak about the differences between the people in Mexico and the people in the U.S., how in a way, we are half brothers and we are not that different,” Méndez says of the two countries.
Part of the goal of this film, Méndez says, was to bust stereotypes of how Mexicans are portrayed in American films and push for more accurate representation.
“I play all kinds of characters in Mexico, but in Hollywood, it's really rare to see a lead in a film who's a Mexican successful businessman, and we are also that as Mexicans,” he says. “We are also businessmen. We are also writers and filmmakers, mothers and fathers, so for us, it was really important to create this character who's also very complex.”
Those stereotypes, such as linking successful Mexicans to drug cartels, are all things that Méndez and Cisneros have dealt with in their everyday lives. The two wanted to include those very lines in the movie, Méndez says.
“I really believe that comedy is a great vehicle to speak about these things,” he says, “because when people are laughing and they have their mouths open, that's the perfect moment to put a spoon of truth in their mouths.”
Even though the film is a comedy at its core, there are some heavy moments. In one scene, Renato is detained by Border Patrol with other immigrants in a holding cell, which is known to feel like the inside of a freezer. He doesn’t say anything to the other immigrants inside. He just looks at them.
Méndez says what he tried to do is portray “immigrants with dignity.” He hopes bringing those images to the screen will help change people’s understanding of controversial issues like immigration.
“It's a lot to ask for a film to change the way someone sees life, but I really believe we can create conversations just to have,” he says.
Méndez also brought inspiration from his own life into his character. Seven years ago, he found out he had a half sister, but wasn’t interested in meeting her until he was cast in this film, he says.
“So I called her and it was really special,” he says. “I think it also made me a better person, a better human being, a healthier person, because I heard her perspective … I could see better the whole picture, and in a way, I understood better my father and by the way, I understood better myself.”
While “Half Brothers” brings a more accurate portrayal of Mexicans to film, Méndez says Hollywood still has a long way to go. He says Mexican filmmakers need to be at the forefront of telling their stories on screen.
“One character in one film is not enough,” he says. “We need to be in charge of telling those stories because those are our stories. That's our inner life. That's our experiences. So we need to fight for those spaces.”
Releasing a film in the middle of a pandemic also comes with its own set of stressors, Méndez says, but he’s learned in his life to let go of things he can’t control.
“Honestly, releasing my film in the middle of the pandemic is the least important problem that we have in the world right now,” he says. “So the way I see it is like if we can offer some people in the U.S. and Mexico laughs and a good time and a heartfelt comedy at the end of this horrible year, I'm going to sleep like a baby on December 31.”
This segment aired on December 3, 2020.