You may not recognize Eugenio Derbez but for more than three decades, he has been one of the most beloved comedic actors in Mexico. He has starred in several movies, TV shows, and is a bit of legend in the world of translation voiceover. If you watched various kids’ movies with Spanish dubbing, you’ve heard Derbez way more than you’ve seen him; he’s voiced Shrek‘s Donkey, Mulan‘s Mushu, and the titular green curmudgeon in the most recent Grinch all in the Spanish versions of those films. In the last few years, he has successfully made the jump to Hollywood, starring in How to Be a Latin Lover and Overboard. His latest film, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, comes to theaters this weekend and could prove to be the biggest box office hit of his career.
Fatherly spoke with Derbez about what drew him to the role, why Dora was the most challenging movie he’s ever been in, and how parenting has changed in the age of smartphones.
Were you aware of Dora the Explorer before doing this movie?
I’m very familiar with Dora as a franchise. I have three adult kids and they grew up watching Dora. I also have a four-year-old who watches Dora every single morning so I’m extremely familiar with the whole world: Dora, the songs, Swiper, the Map, everything. Dora is a Latin icon all around the world.
Did you have any concerns about the character making the jump from TV to the big screen?
In the beginning, I thought it was going to be hard because the storyline in the cartoon is so simple. However, they figured out a way to make a very strong story and the characters aren’t two-dimensional. Plus, Dora isn’t an eight-year-old anymore. She’s a teenager and she’s facing her biggest challenge yet: leaving the jungle behind and going to high school. I think the movie has a lot more complexity than the show, which is simple.
They have some fun mocking the series early in the movie and they did a great job of adapting the series to the big screen.
How did you approach playing Alejandro?
It was kind of difficult to crack the code of Alejandro. I knew he had to be funny and he’s a little bit dumb but there is more to him than that. So I had to play him in a way that allowed his character arc to feel natural, where he could be funny with a little bit of mischief in there as well.
Was it a challenging role?
Physically, it was very demanding. It was the most exhausting movie I’ve ever done. Every day, they trained us to be in shape and to be prepared for all of the running and jumping we ended up doing in the movie. There is also an underwater scene so we had to train to hold our breath for two minutes, which I said was impossible. I thought I couldn’t do more than 45 seconds. But they took us to a pool for a week and taught us how to hold our breath.
The movie sort of feels like Indiana Jones for kids. Was it appealing to do an action-adventure movie?
I always wanted to do an action movie. Since I was a kid, I always watched these big Hollywood adventure films. Indiana Jones is one of my favorite movies but I never dreamed I’d get to do something like this. So when I saw that I was gonna be a part of an action movie, I immediately said yes. It was a dream come true.
You spent a lot of the movie with the younger actors. How did you all get along?
We became a real family. I’m not just saying that; it’s real. You can see the chemistry onscreen. The four kids are amazing and we had a great relationship during the shoot because we were in the middle of the jungle, so we had no cell phones, no wifi, no connection to the outside world. This forced us to do something that is rare nowadays: interacting with the people around you! We were making real eye contact and actually talking to each other. That helped us really bond.
A lot of the humor felt like it was for adults as much as kids. Was that an intentional choice?
The director was always aware that this was not just for toddlers. That’s why they made Dora a teenager instead of a child. We wanted to appeal to a broader audience. The director was pitching jokes for parents and an older audience, not just kids. The movie has humor and jokes for everyone.
Some of your kids are now in the entertainment industry. What advice did you give them when they started their careers?
I’m always telling them to build their own careers. Don’t try to imitate me or follow my path. You are unique and have your own voice. Prepare yourself every single day, work hard, and try to create your own opportunities. I was always waiting for someone to offer me a role and it never worked. Then one day, I started creating my own projects and writing scripts and making my own opportunities. That changed everything and it helped me build my career.
You’re currently raising a four-year-old, how do you feel like raising kids has changed from when you were raising your other kids?
Social media and technology have made everything different. The internet worries me. Kids just want to be on their iPads or watching television. I wonder how I can keep my daughter away from that without her being disconnected or isolated from the world around her. It’s a tricky balance and I’m still figuring it out.
But on an individual level, I feel more mature. I’m more confident. When I was raising my older kids, I was learning how to be a parent. I had other priorities, like my success and my career. Now I know the most valuable thing I can give my kid is my time. Being present is bigger than anything else. I missed a lot of birthdays and graduations. Now, I want to be a better dad.