Director Ken Marino recently discussed his first time directing a feature film – How to Be a Latin Lover – at the Los Angeles Film School after a screening of the film. Marino joined Backstory magazine editor Jeff Goldsmith at the front of the theater to answer questions from Goldsmith and the audience.
How to Be a Latin Lover tells the story of Maximo, played by Eugenio Derbez (Instructions Not Included). Maximo created a career for himself making rich older women happy. After twenty-five years of marriage, he is suddenly dumped for a younger model. He moves in with his estranged sister, played by Salma Hayek (From Dusk Till Dawn, Bandidas ), and his nephew Hugo, whom he barely knows, played by 10-year-old Raphael Alejandro (Once Upon a Time), to try and build a new life for himself. His nephew likes a girl at school, played by McKenna Grace (Gifted, Designated Survivor), but thinks he has no chance with her. When Maximo realizes the little-girl’s mother, played by Raquel Welch (One Million Years B.C. The Three Musketeers (1973)), is rich, he decides to be a good uncle and teach his nephew how to be a Latin lover.
Besides its stellar cast, the film also features Rob Lowe (Parks and Recreation, The West Wing), as a sometimes friend, sometimes rival gigolo, Kristen Bell (House of Lies, Gossip Girl) as a frozen yogurt shop manager/cat lady where Maximo tries to get a real job, and Rob Huebel (Childrens Hospital, Transparent) and Rob Riggle (The Hangover, 21 Jump Street (2012)) as a team of inept loan sharks who are after Maximo. Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Arrested Development) and “Weird Al” Yankovic have funny cameos.
“How do you get a cast like that?” was one of the questions put to Ken Marino.
“I called a lot of my old friends,” he explained.
How do you get friends like that?
Before making the jump to feature directing, Marino had a long career as an actor and TV director. His acting credits go back to the early 1990s. He developed his comedic talents with an improv group called The State which had a decade-and-a-half long run on MTV. Throughout the 90s and 2000s his face has been seen on iconic shows going back to Dawson’s Creek and Veronica Mars to more recent hits such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Fresh Off the Boat. He began directing on TV with Wainy Days and has continued with Burning Love and Childrens Hospital.
Marino also said he relied on his friends for the jokes in the film. “I used every source I could,” he explained. “I wanted to have jokes all the way through. I would ask a friend or text somebody and ask, ‘What’s a good alternate joke to this.’ Friends came to round tables and responded to texts.”
Goldsmith observed that Marino had worked with many directors. He asked if there were habits of other directors that had stuck with him.
“Absolutely,” Marino said. “Going back to The State, we all acted and edited on MTV. We were all writing and directing in some form. I worked with David Wain a lot on Wet Hot American Summer and Children’s Hospital. Dave always creates a very positive, fun, non-stressful set. That’s very important when you’re doing comedy. Dave is a wonderful director. In a minute he might throw out five different things to try and then pick the best one in editing. We did a lot of that in this movie. Setting a certain tone on set is critical.”
Marino continued, “Timothy Busfield always used the word ‘tumble.’ He would say, ‘Make things tumble. Don’t worry about your line exactly. Just let it tumble and I’ll tell you if we have it or not.’ I learned to always put the pressure on the material and not to make it personal. When someone makes a suggestion, always think, ‘Is there value to this.’”
Marino also said he watches other people’s movies and scripts to see what pushes a story forward. “The challenge,” he said, “was to come up with something fresh and original, which isn’t easy because the Greeks and the Romans did it all thousands of years ago.”
In How to Be a Latin Lover there is a fart joke.
Marino said. “I wanted a fresh and original way to tell that joke. The fart joke in this movie becomes a joke about timing. When you write a fart joke, it had better be fresh and original and I hadn’t seen that fart joke before. We bent the fart joke.”
Goldsmith asked about the mixture of Spanish and English in the film which is set in Los Angeles.
“When Salma’s and Eugenio’s characters are talking together – they are a brother and sister who were born in Mexico – it seemed right that they would speak Spanish,” Marino explained. “When they were talking to Raphael’s character who was born and going to school in the United States, it seemed right that they would speak English to him.”
Since Marino doesn’t speak Spanish, he relied on how Hayek and Derbez looked and reacted as they were doing their Spanish scenes. “When they stuttered, I made them do it over,” he said.
Goldsmith asked if Marino had any specific systems he used in structuring the movie.
“I take little pieces from different people,” he said. “You find that this works for you and that works for you and put them in your tool box and use that. I do tend to go back to Save the Cat if I have a problem I can’t answer and fill in the blanks.”
Marino said he was happy with how his first feature turned out. “It sounds oddly subversive” he said. “A gigolo teaching a kid how to pick up women. But, you can bring your family to this. I’ve done so many R-rated movies I can’t show my kids, but, I brought them to this one. It’s light and family friendly.”
How to Be a Latin Lover, rated PG-13 for crude humor, sexual references and gestures, and for brief nudity, is in theaters now.
Photos by Claudette Barius unless otherwise noted