Capone hangs with Freddy Rodriguez and The Guzman to talk about NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS!!!
Published at: Dec. 8, 2008, 9:35 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I realize holiday movies in general are a dicey subject, not just on this site, but the world over. I've been begging people with all my heart and soul to skip FOUR CHRISTMASES if they absolutely insist on seeing one new holiday film this year. Instead, I would recommend NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS (the film formerly known as HUMBOLDT PARK, named after the Chicago neighborhood that serves as its setting). HOLIDAYS concerns a Puerto Rican family who have not been fully reunited for several years, primarily because one of the grown siblings (Freddy Rodriguez, who also serves as one of the film's producers) has been serving in Iraq. The movie certainly has its share of cornball moments, but for the most part the film is a solid offering about family worth getting to know. The cast includes such heavy hitters as Alfred Molina, John Leguizamo, and Luis Guzman as cousin Johnny.
I've interviewed or otherwise come into contact with Rodriguez a couple times in the last few years, first when he was promoting what might be his best work as an actor, opposite Christian Bale in HARSH TIMES. He made a name for himself on HBO's "Six Feet Under" as the grossly undervalued funeral technician Federico, and has since appeared in Robert Rodriguez's GRINDHOUSE offering PLANET TERROR, POSEIDON, LADY IN THE WATER, HAVOC, BOBBY, BOTTLE SHOCK from earlier this year, and had a recurring role on "Ugly Betty."
Is there any real point in talking about the extraordinary career of Luis Guzman? It seemed like for years on AICN, anytime a movie was being reviewed unfavorably, the writer would say, "It could have used some Guzman." He's a hero to many (with me right at the front of that line), and watching his work over the year in such films as BLACK RAIN and Q&A in his early years, and continuing on with CARLITO'S WAY, THE SUBSTITUTE (yeah, I said it), BOOGIE NIGHTS, OUT OF SIGHT, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, SNAKE EYES, MAGNOLIA, THE LIMEY, TRAFFIC (are you noticing how much Paul Thomas Anderson and Steven Soderbergh love this guy?), WELCOME TO COLINWOOD, and FAST FOOD NATION. He even did a memorable voice in one of this year's surprise hits, BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA. If I ever bothered to write down my dream list of actors or directors I'd like to interview before I croak, Guzman would be right near the top…except he wouldn't be because I actually talked to him last week.
I spoke to both kind gentlemen together on the morning of the big Chicago premiere of NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS. Guzman arrived first and immediately launched into statement about how much he has loved AICN over the years and has been reading it "since Day One." Needless to say the feeling was mutual. Enjoy Freddie Rodriguez and The Guzman!!!
Capone: So, with the family in the film named Rodriguez and their being Puerto Rican, is that coincidence?
Freddy Rodriguez: No, that was coincidence. That was actually [story writer] Bob Teitel’s idea, him and the three writers [Alison Swan, Rick Najera, and Rene Rigal] that were involved in writing the script. So, yeah, that wasn’t my idea at all. I wouldn’t want to name it after myself. [laughs]
C: Did the script come to you, or did you have a hand in getting it developed? How did that work?
FR: The way it worked was, from the beginning, I have known Bob Teitel for years, and we decided to come together and put a film together. And, at that point, I was very interested in producing, and so he asked me to come on board, and executive produce it with him, and help him put it all together. So, it pretty much came from an idea that he had in his head about a family in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago. And so, from that idea, we hired writers to come and put it together. And, it evolved from the original idea. It wasn’t anything like what turned out on the film, but that’s just sort of the writing process. You come up with an idea, and it evolves into something else.
C: When you first started thinking about getting into producing, were you trying to find things that were uniquely Latino?
FR: No. I was just trying to get into producing. I was interesting in producing, and I think I’ve always produced without even knowing what producing was. I think I’ve always had the knack in terms of having the instinct for picking good projects and putting people together and making the right connections.
So, when Bob presented the idea of putting this together, it just so happened to be a project that revolved around a Latin cast. So, you know, I thought that was a great idea, but a lot of the stuff that I’m going to produce in the future, or that’s slated for next year, happens to revolve around a Latin cast as well.
C: Okay. Can you give me an example, or is it too soon to discuss?
FR: Well, I can’t tell you who’s in it, but I’m doing this other thing next year in Puerto Rico. We’re going to film in a ghetto in Puerto Rico called La Perla, and it’s going to be the first full-length feature to shoot in this ghetto in Puerto Rico. There’s been scenes from films shot there and music videos, but this will be the first full-length feature shot there.
C: Okay. Was it important to you, once you nailed down the script for this film, to shoot it here? Was that something you really wanted to do, to make it a Chicago movie?
FR: Absolutely. Chicago is a character in the film, and there’s something about the people of Chicago that’s different than people all around the world, or even in the United States. And, we’ve never seen a film like this before. We’ve never seen a film revolve around a Puerto Rican family in Chicago. So, we’re just looking to do something different, and why not base it off of families that we grew up with and we’re very familiar with.
C: Luis, what did you think of Chicago. I’m sure you’ve been here before, but had you really spent that much time here?
Luis Guzmán: Well, you know, the thing about it was…shooting in Humboldt Park reminded me of the lower East Side, where I’m from in New York City, like, 15-20 years ago. And, I got to tell you, it was one of my best experiences, shooting this movie here. The neighborhood was great. People were very inviting to us, you know, and it kind of helped with our whole chemistry of family, and just seeing how all the families from the neighborhood came out. It just complemented the whole signature of the movie.
C: It must have been really exciting, once the cast started coming together and you realized you were getting all these heavy hitters--Alfred [Molina], Elizabeth [Peña], and [John] Leguizamo. That must have been a real vote of confidence for a first-time producer, really, to get that kind of quality coming into the film. Were you a little worried about that initially?
FR: I wasn’t sure what to expect in the beginning. But, you know, me as an actor, the one thing I’ve always tried to do with the projects I’ve chosen and the characters I’ve played in the past is I’ve always tried to inject a certain level of quality and integrity to my work as an actor. And so, I was hoping that the actors that I called upon to be a part of this movie would, first, recognize that and feel confident that the same quality and integrity that I hold in my work I would also bring as a producer. And, I would hope that that would make them feel confident to come on board and be a part of this project.
C: Now, you chose a holiday film to be your first project as a producer, and one of the things that a lot of holiday film try to accomplish is to be something that can be revisited every year and be a standard.
C: So, make your case for NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS being a timeless standard as a holiday film.
FR: Well, it’s a universal film about family and love and relationships and things that happen around the holiday season. So, it has a universal quality about it that people could revisit, even at times that not around the holiday season. I think it deals with issues and things that happen around that time, that happen every year, once a year. And, I think we’re constantly revisiting these same issues. I think every year we get together with our families and have the same conversations or conversations that revolve around specific topics, and this film deals with that.
LG: Yeah, like Freddy said, it's pretty much a universal story, and it just goes to show the most important thing that we have around the holidays is coming together with family. And, anything can happen, you know, from somebody hooking up with somebody, to somebody getting divorced, to the competitive siblings, and…yadda, yadda, yadda. And, I believe pretty much that this movie is going to be one of those movies where, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s put this on’, five, six years from now, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s watch this’, because, again, besides having a great cast, you just have the whole premise of, you know, it’s the holidays. And, people always celebrate those kinds of things. You don’t celebrate Christmas this year and not for the next three or four years. It’s something that’s going to come around every year. You know that. And, again, you put this kind of talent together, and it makes for a great group of actors and a great story, and I certainly had fun doing it.
C: Yeah. It’s the one time of year you pretty much can guarantee that old wounds will be opened and old rivalries will be revisited.
FR: Right. And, it happens every year. And so, there’s a relate-ability to the theme of the film that all families, I think, deal with every year. So, to revisit this movie around the holiday season every year is relevant to what happens at the dinner table every year at Christmas time. And, also, I think, our film has more emotional depth than the average holiday movie.
C: I’ve seen FOUR CHRISTMASES. You’re absolutely right.
FR: Uh-oh! [laughs]
LG: I mean, this is not, like, a slapsticky kind of movie. It has a lot of soul to it. It has a lot of heart to it. It’s funny, it’s dramatic. It kind of hits on a lot of different nerves and stuff. When you can accomplish that in a movie and find that kind of balance, I think it makes for great storytelling.
C: You’re obviously one of the hardest-working men in show business, and you have been for a while. In making this film, was there something that was especially important to you about being a part of this film when you saw the script and who was involved?
LG: Well, Freddy definitely is what drew me to this movie, ’cause I love Freddy. And, I was totally honored when he made that phone call to me. Originally, he wanted me to do a cameo, and after speaking, I think, a week later, I got a phone call, and he said, “Check out this part.” And so, when I read the part of Cousin Johnny, it’s, like, I said, “Omigod, we all have a Cousin Johnny.” You have a Cousin Johnny somewhere in your family.
And, it was just that it was a Latino cast, but yes, working with a Latino cast was great, but, it was such a good, universal kind of story. I mean, this could be a Russian family, an Italian family, a Greek family, a Mexican family, Afro-American family. It could be in the Midwest. It could be in the South, the Northeast, because when family comes together, anything can happen. And, then, you have that whole Christmas dinner, and every family sets up for that. I just thought the whole premise of it was great, and to have such an All-Star lineup as far as cast goes.
We had all the elements and we had the right formula. And, we tinkered with it, and we played with it. We had certain takes that we said, “Okay, this one’s for us, and whatever happens, happens.” And, when you have that kind of chemistry, that kind of good working relationship, not only with the other actors…’cause it wasn’t about anybody trying to outdo anybody. This is about family, and we became a family on and off the set. And, the producers were great--Freddie produced too--and, we had a great relationship with our director Alfredo [De Villa].
Like I said, you show up sometimes to a movie, and it’s like the motor, the engine is being calibrated. We pretty much had a sense of ‘Okay, this is what we’re stepping into. We’re pretty much all calibrated’. And, like I said, we tweaked it as we went, but it was fun tweaking. We experimented with stuff, and everybody just kind of united right behind it and said, “Let’s go. Let’s do it.”
C: I forget now, it’s been a while since I saw the film…Is Johnny really a cousin, or do they just call him that?
FR: No, he’s really a cousin.
C: You’re like the cousin who, when you were kids, was getting everybody in trouble.
LG: Either getting everybody in trouble or getting everybody out of trouble. Or if I said something or, if I did something, I would point: "Jesse did it," because Jesse was the younger cousin. As the older cousin, they were going to believe me and not him.
C: Freddy, the character you play is an Iraq war vet. That’s an interesting choice, I think, and a brave choice, because you’ve got to be really careful, especially in a film like this that isn’t really supposed to be just about Iraq, how you handle that. Why did you think that was an okay thing to do in this case?
FR: Well, we just felt that it was relevant to today’s time. And, that story line was the catalyst for them getting together, you know? Yeah, it was Christmastime, and they haven’t been together for three years, but that was the reason why they got together, because he was honorably discharged. So, we needed to find some story line that wasn’t just the average ‘Hey, it’s the holidays. Let’s get together’. It was something a little more serious than that.
And, it was a tricky subject to tackle. Especially around the time that we were writing it, there were many films that revolved around the Iraq War that weren’t doing well at the box office. And, the one thing we decided at the beginning was not to show him in Iraq, not to show him fighting or at war. In my own personal opinion, I think that a lot of those films didn’t do well because you can tune into the 11:00 news, and watch it on the news, so people don’t want to pay 10 bucks and go see it.
And so, what became more interesting to me was exploring what happens to them after they come home, and the post-war traumatic syndrome that they go through, and the anxiety, and the displacement that they feel, and the re-assimilation that has to take place when they get back, and trying to mend relationships. All that other stuff was more interesting to me than seeing him shoot a gun in the film. And, I felt like seeing him in the war wouldn’t mesh with what was going on within the film.
C: I gotta ask about Debra Messing being in this cast. How did she assimilate into the group?
FR: Debra was great.
C: Luis, what does your character call her future kids with Leguizamo?
LG: Sorta-Ricans. [laughs]
C: I never heard that before. That’s a great line.
LG: Well, it’s interesting, because, again, that’s part of reality that that always happens in a family. It’s, like, okay, so-and-so came back with a girlfriend, and she’s a Jewish girl? I mean, her character really tries her best to fit into the family, you know, when she got that whole recipe, she Googled recipes and stuff like that. But, in those situations, my character, Johnny, I would just kind of take a little stab and see how far I can push this, and, ‘What are you about, exactly?’ But, I think at the end, we all grew accepting of her.
FR: Yeah, and Debra’s a fearless actress, too. She just jumps right in and catches on really quick, which she did. And, she was able to maneuver her way around, being part of an all-Latin cast, and fit right in and not feel out of place at all.
C: I just want to check out what you guys have coming up next. I know you [Luis Guzmán] have got THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123.
LG: PELHAM 123, got YES MAN coming out. And, what else? FIGHTING with Terrence Howard and Channing Tatum. And, OLD DOGS with Robin Williams and John Travolta. I’m in that, too. And with PELHAM, they reinvented this one.
C: So there’s not a corresponding character to the original that you’re playing?
LG: Well, the only corresponding characters, really, are John Travolta and myself, because, I’m the motorman that takes over the train. And Travolta, again, is like Mr. Blue [played in the original film by Robert Shaw], but his name is not Mr. Blue in the movie. It’s a 2008 premise, not like the ’70s premise.
C: Freddy, what about you?
FR: I’m producing that film I talked about earlier next year, so that’s really the concentration right now.
C: Okay. Well, that works. Thank you guys so much.
FR: Take care.
LG: You guys are the bomb, bro. You really are.