Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights: An Interview with Diego Luna

Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights: An Interview with Diego Luna

Feb 2004   |   Written by Wilson Morales

There’s been a rise of Latino actors lately in the film industries. That comes with the success that guys like Antonio Banderas, John Leguizamo, and Benecio Del Toro have had to pave the way. Last year, the success of the foreign film Y Tu Mama Tambien has led to more roles and exposure for its two leading stars, Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. For Diego, he landed a small role among Oscar winners Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall in the hit film, Open Range and now he’s landed his biggest role to date. Coming out on Feb.27th, Diego Luna stars as Xavier Perez in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. In speaking to blackfilm.com, Diego talks about his experience on this film and his upcoming projects.

WM: Are you shocked by all the fanfare and work you have received since “Y Tu Mama Tambien” brought you international acclaim?

LUNA: Not shocked. I’m proud. I’m happy. I’m excited about it, but not shocked because that would be terrible and I’d lose everything. It’s really fun to be doing what I’ve been doing and having the chance to work with the people that I’ve been working with and having the attention also, you know, to show my work. I remember when we did ‘Y tu mama tambien’, tables had one or two people and they were on the phone talking to their kids [Laughs] and now, I have some attention. I have a lot of things to do and a lot of stories to tell and I’m glad that there’s been some attention in the world.

WM: What led you to take on this film? Did you secretly want the world to know how good of a dancer you are?

LUNA: No, no. That was a challenge because I had never done that. I’m a terrible dancer. I need to be really drunk and see a beautiful girl over there. It was a way of getting close to a girl without having to speak because always, whenever I opened my mouth, they would leave. So, dancing was a chance to keep them close. I wasn’t a good dancer and I had to train for two months, and I think that I did this movie because, first, it was a good chance to have a lead in another language and I wanted to have that and make that step. I think that it was important for me. Also, it was a chance to do a movie about smart, young people. I don’t think that there’s too many movies about teenagers, or for teenagers, I mean, that they don’t do stereotypes, that they do real people, and I kind of liked that. My character is a very political guy and I hope that young people get to be more political and more active about where they live and how to change the reality that they’re living if they don’t like it or at least analyze where they are and my character is that kind of guy and I liked that. I also liked the bands that play in this movie. When I was talking to one of the producers, I said to him, ‘What’s going to be the music? There’s too much Latin, pop crap on the radio. What’s the music for this movie? I’d love to have a listen.’ He said, ‘Really? What about this song,’ and he played that song, and I said, ‘You have that song?’ ‘Yeah, of course, they’re going to play for the movie,’ and so, it was a chance to do a commercial movie with good music and good people. The two producers, you see the movie that they’ve done, one did ‘Pulp Fiction’ which is one of my favorite movies and the other made ‘Frida’ and ‘Girlfight’ and so, it was a chance to work with good people.

WM: The original came out over 10 years ago. Did you watch it then or more recently?

LUNA: Two weeks before we started shooting.

WM: What were your thoughts after seeing it?

LUNA: It’s not the kind of movie when you’re eight years old. You want to go see ‘Star Wars’ or a football match, or to a soccer match, sorry, but you don’t want to go and see two people dancing. It’s not what you’re looking for, but I had to see it, and it was great. I saw the movie two weeks before we started shooting and I’d already made my choices about how my character was going to dance, who he was going to be and so, that made my character unique in a way. I wasn’t thinking about someone else’s decisions. I made my own decisions and then, I got to see that, and in a way, it was a good because I didn’t have the other movie as a reference. I didn’t say, ‘Okay, the character should do this or react this way.’

WM: Are you good enough of a dancer to enter a ballroom and woo the crowd?

LUNA: No, no. We shot that on the day that we shot the contest because we were in the middle of nine couples who were professional dancers, and we felt so good and we won the contest. We didn’t win the contest, but we got to the semi-finals and it was like, ‘Yeah, we did it.’ We had a whole routine and we just kept repeating the whole thing. We never just did one move and then another one, and then, the editor would create the whole thing. No, we knew the dance as you see it and it’s all the time us, and yeah, you feel great, but then, you realize that professional dancers are taking care of you and making space for your mistakes. So, it was nice. No, though, I’m not a dancer. I’m a one routine dancer. I can do what you see in the movie, but if you ask me to do something else, it’d take me another two months.

WM: How was it working with Romola Garai?

LUNA: It was great. We needed, I mean, I think that everyone was really scared about the chemistry between us because to dance you have to really trust the other person. You have to. It’s not the same dancing by yourself and having a partner. It’s about communication between two bodies and two bodies have to make one in a way. So, that was the most important thing in the movie and it happened. We went through the same things; we watched ourselves the first time and we said, ‘Oh my God, this is never going to happen,’ and then, we started to see changes, and we did everything together and it was great because at the end, I guess we were a pain in the ass. We thought that we were choreographers. We were like, ‘No, that move is not going to work,’ because we felt like we got there by ourselves.

WM: You were recently seen with Kevin Costner in “Open Range” and now you are doing “Terminal” with Steven Spielberg. Is Hollywood the place to be for you now?

LUNA: The next movie is going to be a Spanish speaking film. I don’t want to come and conquer American films or the American market. I just want to do movies, movies that I care about, stories that I like to hear even if I wasn’t in the movie. I didn’t go to university, and so, every time that I work, I’m looking for a teacher in a way. I’m looking for people that I can learn from and to have the chance to work with people that I admire, and it’s been happening, but I want to always keep going with my career in Spanish because it’s my first language and it’s where I decided that I wanted to be an actor, and I also want, there’s something that is really sad, but it happens; before I did ‘Y tu mama’, I did sixteen movies that no one went to see and then, suddenly, they like your work outside of Mexico and then, you become big in your country, and in a way, that’s really sad because it’s like, ‘Guys, all the talent that you have here and you don’t take care of your own talent. You have to wait for others to say, “Oh, that guys is good.”‘ In a way, it’s also good because now, I can make things happen in Mexico, projects that I like and that I care about or directors that I want to work with. I might have more of a chance to make things happen and produce things. So, that’s good and I just want to do movies. I don’t know where. There are a lot of people that I admire here, directors that I really want to work with, but also in Spain and in England and France and Mexico and South America.

WM: What’s like working Steven Spielberg?

LUNA: It was great. He was great. He’s so generous. If you ask me to describe a good director, it’s the guy that is really clear about what he wants and lets everyone know what he wants and what he needs to tell the story that he wants to tell because you’re always just helping someone to tell their stories. So, he’s so clear about what he wants and he goes straight for what he needs and he lets you know what he needs and that’s great because you feel like part of the process. He’s amazing. It’s great. I’m looking to learn in movies and that was a perfect place. I would love to just see them and watch them work. It was great. You can tell how people on set are all telling the same story, and that’s fantastic.

WM: What’s your role in “Terminal”?

LUNA: I play one of the friends that he makes while he’s in the terminal, Tom Hanks. I work with food in the terminal. I have a food cart, and I take food from the kitchen to the people.

WM: Your father is a famous set designer. Is he proud of your work?

LUNA: [Laughs] Yeah. He always says, ‘Damn it, I chose the wrong career.’ It’s weird, I admire him so much and he admires me too, a lot, and it’s a lovely thing when you can share so much and yeah, we did a play in homage of my mother who died when I was two and he did the set design and I was acting there, and we brought all her friends from all over the world to do this play. It was great, and I did another two plays with him. We were really careful though. The first ten things I did, he wasn’t involved because then people would say, ‘Oh yeah, he opened the doors for everything,’ but not, we want to work together. It’s just weird because he does theater and opera, and so, I remember when we were on tour, he never got to travel in first class or business class, and it’s kind of sad that you can be the biggest set designer in Latin America and you still have to drive yourself, and you do one movie that has a bit of success and everyone treats you like a king. It’s pathetic. It makes me how stupid we are. We think that it’s so important and it’s just movies, and that’s it.

WM: Were you conscious about your body and bulking up for this movie?

LUNA: It’s just that we talked about having a real guy. I want to see movies where I can relate to the guy. If I see the Governor of California, I never relate to his characters because I would never spend four hours in the gym. I don’t think that’s human. So, I wanted to do a real character which is a guy who works at two different jobs a day and uses his body for his work, but he doesn’t go to the gym and they allowed me to do that, and it was great. I had to stand more straight which was hard because I’m always like this. They always think that I’m 5’6” and I’m 5’10”. This character is a bit straighter than me, well, not straighter [Laughs].

WM: How do your think that your character would look back on his decision to stay in Cuba?

LUNA: Oh, well, I just think that revolutions always happen because people need the change, but what they have now is not what the revolution was fighting for. They won a lot of things. It’s amazing to see how well educated they are. You’re in the cab and the cab driver will be a doctor or a dentist, but it’s also really sad to have a dentist driving a car. So, it’s a weird feeling. For my character, I don’t know if he’d be in or out. The only thing that I love about Cuba, not the only thing, but one of the things that I love about Cubans is that no matter where they live, they love their island and they think that that island is the best place to live and they’re very political and they all have a point of view. They’re very political. All, even the people in Miami, they talk about that everyday and I just want to make clear that my character wants a revolution and wants a change to happen. I think that there’s a difference between saying Pro-Castro and Pro-revolutionary. Revolutions happen because people wanted to take control of their island and they wanted to enjoy their island and I don’t know if they can enjoy what they have now. I’ve been there twice and you see these amazing, beautiful people that want to give so much and are so open and share everything, and they have great things, and they don’t have what they deserve, I think. It’s weird what Cuba is now.

WM: How come there aren’t more Mexican filmmakers in Mexico?

LUNA: Because they tend to leave Mexican movies. It’s weird, you do a good movie and it takes you another five years to make another one in Mexico because suddenly, they make things really easy here. Guillermo Del Toro, a good Mexican director that did ‘Blade’, and he said once, I read this, ‘Spain is the best place to shoot a movie. It’s like paradise to shoot a movie.’ It was something like that. I’m not using his words, but he said, ‘Spain is the place to be a filmmaker,’ and it’s really sad because here’s a Mexican guy that can’t say that about his country. It’s like, it’s sad, but that’s reality, and you have to keep going and you can’t be waiting over there. Nothing is going to change until the government really understands that culture has to be a necessity and not a luxury as it is now, but that’s not changing. The party we just changed in Mexico, it was after seventy years of one party and the power we changed, and the reality is that it’s the same. They don’t think that people have to know things. They don’t think that education is important and that’s the thing that when you go to Cuba, you say, ‘Wow, all of these people, they read.’ If you see how many people read a book a year in Mexico, it’s sad.

WM: Can you talk about one of your upcoming films, Criminal?

LUNA: It’s a con movie and my character is a guy that lives in L.A., a Mexican guy that lives there, and he’s pulling a con with the character that John C. Reilly plays. It’s a very fun movie and a very smart script.

WM: Are you afraid of being stereotyped in traditional Latin roles for futures films?

LUNA: I’m always going to be working on my English and I’m always going to work on my English so that I can do different characters from different nationalities. I think that I see it as a problem. There are all the American actors that are my age that can’t do a Latin accent and I can. So, it’s not a problem, it’s great. Everyone is different, and so, I don’t want to repeat anyone else’s career. I want to do mine. If I have an accent now, and I can work with that, I’m going to work because I want to open my range of possibilities, but just because I want to do that, and not because I have to. I have to be proud of what I am and I am.