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CASA DE MI PADRE (2012)
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Release Date: March 16, 2012
Studio: Pantelion Films
Director: Matt Piedmont
Screenwriter: Andrew Steele
Starring: Will Ferrell, Gael Garcia Bernal
Genre: Comedy
MPAA Rating: Rated R

****

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

Armando Alvarez is an earnest, gentle soul, a dreamer. He has lived at and worked on his father's ranch his entire life. He has a special bond with nature and enjoys his life in the countryside. He is the local patron saint of animals and lost causes. So what if he is not exactly un cientifico de la NASA or suspiciously never seems to be too interested in women? He is kind and dependable and loves his family - especially his brother Raul. It is clear to everyone that they are siblings, they have so much in common. Their last name - for instance - they share that.

Raul is the shining star in the Alvarez clan. He is a sophisticated, suave and slick international businessman. Charismatic and successful, he has earned his father's respect. Armando? Not so much. Still, Armando is happy and loyal and has only the utmost affection and admiration for his father and brother.

Unfortunately, the Alvarez ranch has fallen on hard times. Fortuitously Raul returns home and, ever the hero, pledges to settle all of his father's debts and to shower the family with expensive and extravagant gifts. He also introduces his beautiful and feisty girlfriend Sonia, winning even more of his father's esteem.

All is not what it seems, on so many levels. Raul's business turns out to be less than legit and slowly Armando starts to realize what kind of a person his brother really is - oh, in the process, he also starts to fall for Sonia. But before that happens, he loathes her. It's complicated.

The life Armando knew, everything he believed is turned upside down. His simple existence undergoes a sea change. Slowly he begins to embrace his manhood, to understand who he is, to accept his destiny. A magical white mountain lion helps. It's tricky but ultimately makes perfect sense - to Armando, anyway.

Raul's machinations will eventually lead them all into a war with Mexico's most feared drug lord, the mighty Onza. The stakes are incredibly high. There are many guns and cigarettes. Yet Armando feels no fear. La Onza will soon find that he has never tangled with anyone quite like Armando Alvarez!

Starring Will Ferrell as "Armando", Diego Luna as "Raul", Gael Garcia Bernal as "La Onza" and Genesis Rodriguez as "Sonia", Case de mi Padre is a romantic action adventure with an affectionate nod towards the classic telenovelas. Casa de mi Padre began several years ago, mostly because Will Ferrell just thought starring in a Spanish language comedy would be funny.

"I don't remember when I got the idea and there was really no good reason, but I always had the notion of doing a Spanish language comedy. I do not speak Spanish but I thought the concept of having someone who is - depending on who you talk to - either fairly well known or kind of well-known in American language film - placed in a foreign language film would be something you don't see every day. And I love the Mexican-Western genre," Ferrell says.

Fortunately, Ferrell knew some likeminded souls who also thought this pescado fuera del agua theme would be entertaining - writer Andrew Steele and director Matt Piedmont, both of whom won Emmy Awards for their work on Saturday Night Live. "I just had the most general concept of what the movie would be about, but I had nothing specific and that's where Andrew Steele, a writer who is a longtime friend from our time together at Saturday Night Live, came in. I pitched the potential, and asked him if he thought this would be fun to write? And he actually came up with the story of Casa de mi Padre. And then we reached out to another friend of ours from Saturday Night Live, Matt Piedmont," Ferrell recalls.

Part of the Ferrell's general concept revolved around the classic telenovela, dramatic, serialized melodramas in Spanish that are extremely popular in Latin American countries. Telenovelas typically revolve around a family and focus on a romantic couple. Often the storylines reflect sociocultural messages. They have also, in the past, provided rich comedy opportunities for Ferrell, Steele and Piedmont.

"From the outset, Will had always framed the project as something 'like' a telenovela. Telenovelas have always been a comedy staple for comedy writers. When I was at Saturday Night Live, we probably parodied telenovelas five or six different times. They are so over the top and so dramatic that they just lend themselves to satire. We did not want to do a mere parody however, so we used the telenovela as a kind of springboard for something hopefully more imaginative, with an affectionate nod towards the format," Steele says.

In fact, "Casa de mi Padre" is an intentionally eclectic nod to several film genres.

"Most of the inspiration for the movie came from old Mexican movies and Spaghetti Westerns and even old, classic Hollywood films with dramatic themes. Telenovelas were the little extra flavoring on top thrown in," Piedmont says.

"Probably the easiest label to put on this movie is that it's a little bit of an homage to telenovelas, it kind of dips its toe into all of that and yet at the same time its more complicated than that. It's a telenovela meets bad kind of Mexican-Western meets a Tarantino film. It's all of these fun elements rolled into one. It's not just the joke of a telenovela movie, it comments on all these things," Ferrell sums up.

Will Ferrell in a Spanish language romance action adventure send up required a stouthearted director, which Ferrell knew he had in Matt Piedmont.

"We felt his visual style and zeal for this kind of project would create a nice collaborative spirit," Ferrell says.

"Honestly, I loved everything about it," Piedmont says. "I thought the script was brilliant. Of course it was funny but it also had drama, action and weirdness - all the stuff I love. It has a story that could be told in a uniquely visual way. The chance to do a movie with shoot-outs and an emotionally satisfying story sold me. We tend not to worry about the humor part since we all see the world through a comic lens anyway and that part always seems to take care of itself. The fact that it was going to be entirely in Spanish didn't throw me. In fact it made me giddy that we were committing to something so wholeheartedly," Piedmont says.

The "collaborative spirit" was genuine and also hearkened back to the trio's days at Saturday Night Live and then on Funny or Die. Casa de mi Padre was an opportunity to get the band back together.

"Andrew and I shared an office as writers on SNL and all three of us have very similar sensibilities. Thought we usually wrote our own stuff solo, we always loved what the other did and of course both loved writing for Will. I left the show and had begun directing a bunch of my own stuff, and then we were reunited again for the HBO Funny Or Die series that Andrew had been hired to completely run. It was a great experience. So when he sent me the script for Casa to do, I absolutely loved it and immediately said yes. It had everything," Piedmont recalls.

For Steele, writing a comedy entirely in Spanish was particularly tricky, especially since part of the joke is that the dialogue is often purposefully stilted, bad and therefore funny.

"I don't speak Spanish so writing the script was a little worrisome for me. After I finished the English version, I had to find a translator who was willing to sit down with me and go over practically every line. The script is intentionally formal at times and at other points, it breaks down into what looks like very bad writing. I love bad writing. It's hard for a translator to read it and not want to fix things that I deliberately wrote poorly. I felt sorry for the guy because in the audition phase, actors would actually tell me the translation was bad. They would say something like, 'Well, no Mexican would speak that way.' And I would have to explain that 'No American would speak that way either.' And they would either get it or they would not," Steele explains.

NALA Films, which produced and financed "Casa de mi Padre," definitely got the joke.

"They had me at Will Ferrell in Spanish," says Emilio Diez Barroso, NALA Films CEO. "It's Anchorman in the telenovela world. Working with Matt, Andrew and Will was a phenomenal experience and the movie is a perfect fit for our company. It's a commercial Hollywood mainstream movie with Hispanic sensibilities."

"Working with NALA was an absolutely fantastic experience", Piedmont says. "Creatively we were on the same page, making the same film, which was amazing."

NALA Films is a financing and production company that focuses on commercial stories that empower and uplift audiences. Casa de mi Padre dovetailed with NALA's corporate and artistic mission and struck a personal chord for NALA President & COO Darlene Caamano Loquet.

"What appealed to me the most about it was; finally here was an opportunity to make a mainstream comedy with a major comedic movie star that just happened to be in Spanish. I am a mainstream human being who just happens to speak Spanish because of my Cuban descent and I think that there are millions of movie goers just like me," she says. "We at NALA love to make people laugh and we love to do it in a thoughtful and responsible way. This movie is finally an opportunity to acknowledge that the Hispanic cultures are a part of the American mainstream, without patronizing and boxing us as a demographic."

The film attracted incredibly talented and highly regarded actors- in particular, two of Mexico's finest actors, Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, who are also old friends and business partners. Luna plays Raul Alvarez, Armando's successful, charismatic brother and Bernal, the feared drug lord Onza.

"We have an outstanding cast, it was an incredible coup to get them - we are still in disbelief that they agreed to do it," says Ferrell.

In particular, Luna and Bernal committed entirely and enthusiastically to their roles. While the pair have a teasing and joking rapport and engage in a constant banter off camera, they are not primarily known as comedic actors. In "Casa de mi Padre," they absolutely reveal their funny side.

"It was an amazing stroke that Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna signed on as they bring so much gravitas to the picture and are amongst the best actors in the world. I remember talking to Gael on the phone about it while he was shooting some movie in Georgia -- I'm talking in Eurasia not the US. He had like an hour of cell phone reception a day and we were able to talk about it and how it might go. Diego got it right away and it was exciting thinking he may come onboard, and they did and we were thrilled. They are super hilarious in the movie, as we approached the whole thing as if we were making and epic drama like The Godfather or Scarface. Diego comes off like a young Pacino and all of his ideas on how to play his character were right on and really funny. Gael played it so perfectly too and comes across so funny, playing it like a villain from a James Bond film. His instincts comedically were right on -- always play it as straight as possible," says Piedmont.

"When my agent pitched me the movie, it sounded so crazy that I thought he was making fun of me," Luna recalls. "A film with Will Ferrell, set in Mexico but will be shot in California. It's all in Spanish, you will play his brother and you are both supposed to be Mexicans. It's a comedy but it talks about what is happening today and has a very interesting social comment. I was like, what the fuck? Then I read it and I loved it. I talked to Matt Piedmont and I REALLY liked him. He had these creative ideas as to how to shoot it and the kind of visual language he was going to use that sounded very interesting and crazy and like nothing else I had seen before. So it was quite easy to want to be part of this."

Both Luna and Bernal have experience acting in telenovelas. Luna and Bernal, whose respective parents worked in Mexican film and theater, appeared in telenovelas as children. But as Luna points out, as the filmmakers intended, "Casa de mi Padre" went much further than a simple spoof of telenovelas - and in so doing, provided some fascinating, borderline harrowing acting challenges.

"It is really a parody of movie making. We intentionally made mistakes and pointed at them. We allowed ourselves to be terrible actors, which was very tough. You spend your whole career saying, I'll never do this or that and in this film, we were asked to do that kind of stuff. It's the first time I've done a film like this where I was allowed to laugh so much about what we were doing, where I was able to do everything that crossed my mind. There was a lot of improvising. In this film, we were supposed to make the wrong choice and by making very many wrong choices, it happens to be funny. Like there's these uncomfortable moments where we held the reactions longer than we would have and we were encouraged to keep going. We may have started with the telenovelas but then we made fun of people making movies and how fiction works, of the characters and the props! Everything was a chance to make a joke about art," Luna says.

Ironically, Ferrell, a renowned and nimble improviser, hewed closer to the script than he might have, mostly because he is not fluent in Spanish.

"A lot of it was rote memorization," Ferrell explains. "I had probably a good month before filming, I would work with a translator three to four times a week on the script, just going over pronunciation, going over the scenes, going over the right kind of cadence with the sentences, that sort of thing. And then every day we would drive to set together and go over that day's work so that hopefully when we began our day of filming, no one was waiting on me to learn the scene."

"Will is undisputedly the Improv King but he couldn't really do that on this one. It was a brave thing for him to do - like when they made Rocky fight southpaw - let's see if you can do it with one hand tied behind your back - which he did - and then some," says Piedmont. "Will is a total genius. That word gets thrown around a lot but with him it's true. His instincts are otherworldly and he is fearless and commits completely. He likes to be challenged yet he is the most generous performer I have ever seen. The thought of him speaking Spanish is insane but if you know Will, you know somehow it will become completely legitimate and logical and a blast."

Ferrell's dedication to his version of Spanish immersion impressed his castmates.

"Working with Will was one of the most fun experiences I've ever had. I really like the guy. He is such a giving man and works so hard and had such a heavy weight on his shoulders. Doing a film in Spanish when he speaks the Spanish he speaks? Oh my God, it must have made him a little bit crazy. But he really went for it and was so committed, really amazing job," Luna says.

He adds that Ferrell's limited grasp of Spanish made for some very funny cinematic moments, especially because Piedmont encouraged his Spanish-speaking cast to be spontaneous and creative.

"Matt would always allow us to do anything we wanted. The first day I realized that what was on the page was the beginning of something that was going to be completely different in the end than what was written. When you're there, in wardrobe, you have the props, ideas start to come and Matt allowed us to explore anything. The improvising was fun but very unfair with Will because we had to improvise in Spanish. It was very funny because Will would look straight at me with a face like, I can't believe you are saying this, but the reality was that he was thinking, what IS this guy saying, what should I do? So he would have this very intense look when I was trying to improvise something," Luna recalls.

Ferrell thoroughly enjoyed his foray into the Spanish language and sees it as an opportunity to expand his horizons.

"I think there's a whole opportunity out there for me to take control of the Spanish language market in a way that's never happened for a non-native speaker. I have 17 projects in development, mostly in Spanish, some in Korean and one in German. It's an exciting time," Ferrell says.

Piedmont faced an equivalent challenge in that he also does not speak Spanish - and yet agreed to direct a Spanish language film featuring some of Mexico's finest actors.

"Matt did an amazing job of not only working on a movie in a foreign language - and keep in mind, very few people outside the actors spoke Spanish - but Matt was able to get all the actors on the same page," Ferrell says.

Ferrell describes his character, Armando Alvarez, as "a very sweet, earnest soul. He loves his family, he loves his father and brother. Armando may not be the smartest guy but he has great intuition and a corazon grande." As it turns out, his quirky charm ultimately wins the affections of his brother Raul's beautiful fiance Sonia, played by Genesis Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, who appeared in 150 episodes of the telenovela "Prisonera," certainly understood the more histrionic aspects of "Case de mi Padre." But as Piedmont points out, it was more than her telenovela experience that appealed to the team - in fact, she was the first actress they saw for the part.

"Genesis Rodriguez is amazing. She was the first woman we saw in casting for the role and she blew us away. She was so committed and real but she totally got the vibe. She really pulls off the entire movie - she's funny and an exceptional actress and looks classically beautiful - like a young Lana Turner," Piedmont says.

"Casa de mi Padre" marks Rodriguez's motion picture debut. Rodriguez admits that her background in telenovelas was absolutely helpful, especially in a move as unique as Casa de mi Padre.

"The movie is pretty spot on to what I've been doing for the past six years. It's my genre, so I felt really comfortable with the material, something I could really deliver. I definitely thought it was a crazy movie but that's the beauty of it," Rodriguez says." I definitely was not expecting to do a Spanish language film in Hollywood. It was really fun - and something different. Everyone was taking a risk. We didn't know what line we were crossing but we were definitely crossing one," she says.

Although Ferrell may not be a fluent Spanish speaker, his dedication and delivery inspired Rodriguez nonetheless.

"He had a beautiful accent and he puts the correct emphasis and emotions on the words. I was so impressed by him," she says.

Rodriguez was also thrilled to work with Luna and Bernal.

"Gael and Diego are great actors, I really admire them. They are giants in the cinema, in truth and they are very kind, very dedicated, very natural, unaffected. They were funny and ridiculous but I mean that as a compliment. It was a great experience to work with everyone," Rodriguez says.

Some of the "ridiculous" had to do with a running gag about smoking. Raul and Onza smoke anything and everything all the time, while throughout the film the hapless Armando struggles to roll a simple cigarette.

"Yeah, Raul will smoke anything that burns," Luna comments. "I quit smoking before the movie and these bastards made me smoke like crazy in the film. I was smoking like a pack a day because it was one take after another. It wasn't planned or anything. The first day, we had the character smoking and I said, well what if we have him suddenly smoking a cigar and any other thing. I didn't realize we were going to have him smoking in every scene at every moment but that's what happened. It was a great idea but today I cannot climb simple stairs."

The movie shot for 22 days in such locations as Simi Valley, CA, Chatsworth, CA & Hollywood CA, Piedmont and his cinematographer Ramsey Nickell employed a classic widescreen, using anamorphic lenses, and aimed for a rich, classic composition - with a few pops of deliberately bad production values played for laughs.

"We shot the film in a formal manner - no hand-held camera, all dolly moves and carefully planned out shots. We aspired to look like something shot in 1972 by Sam Peckinpah. My sensibility always goes back to those 70s films and I know Andrew's does too. We do play around with continuity and intentional errors and other things that are usually associated with lower budget narco films. We definitely mess around with film conventions but the actual film's production values are quite high," Piedmont says.

A more subtle subversion of film conventions in "Casa de mi Padre" is tonal - within this very funny film is a powerful message about drug trafficking between the United States and Mexico.

"I knew I wanted that combination of action and romance that is classic Hollywood movie making. I also knew I wanted to use the drug problem in Mexico and this country as a catalyst for all of the action. My research consisted of watching a ton of 70s, 80s and 90s Mexican movies and my reading obsession with the 'war on drugs,' as we call it in this country. Our inability to point the finger of blame in this war at our own consumption just baffles me to no end," Steele comments.

It was, in fact, this funny but serious commentary on the "war on drugs" that especially appealed to Diego Luna.

"Will, Matt and Andrew definitely had a point of view (about the drug war). And I love that because their comedy is full of context and a point of view. Otherwise it just is a laugh that you forget the next day. But the film does have a soul and wants to say something and takes a position on something that is actually happening. Normally in the States they seem to see the drug trafficking as a Mexican issue, a thing that happens over there, south of the border. What I like about the film is that it makes a comment that the drug war is one that we share - a drug war is happening because there is a market for it. The film says it quite clearly. And I think it is a film that has layers - it's a funny film but behind the comedy you can realize that it is making a comment. It's interesting how film can make a reflection and promote a debate. That's also why I accepted. I wanted to work with Will and I admire his work a lot but I also felt that this was the right time to do it because of what it says," Luna says.

Caamano Loquet adds that "Casa de mi Padre" manages to combine its sociocultural point with deft humor.

"I think what the movie does effectively is show how easy it can be to say, 'it's all them, they are bad,' without looking at ourselves and realizing we are all in this together. Together we can screw it up and together we can fix it. And it does this all while cracking us up," she says.

Piedmont hopes that the many different aspects that define "Casa de mi Padre" - comedy, romance, action, satire, social commentary - contribute to its unique, quirky and hilarious charm.

"I describe 'Casa de mi Padre' as a 'real' movie that is also funny but has dramatic shoot-outs, violence and true romance. It's not what you think it is yet it's a party that everyone is invited to. There are layers upon layers of cinematic references. If you know them, you will enjoy them, but if you don't you will still enjoy the movie on its own. I would also say it's a comment on the failed drug policies of the US and delivers that in a comic, visually satisfying way that is not ham-fisted. I mostly hope that people come out of the theater and say, 'Man, that was really entertaining and original. Now let's go get a drink and talk about it,'" Piedmont sums up.

Caamano Loquet notes that "Casa de mi Padre" proves that comedy is truly a universal language and the team behind the movie are definitely fluent speakers.

"To experience what Andrew did in making what's funny in English, be just as funny in Spanish was truly inspiring. I mean the guy doesn't speak a lick of Spanish and yet he totally understood the cultural nuances that needed to be addressed in the translation of humor. Going from hearing Matt's vision for the film to actually seeing him direct was both exhilarating and powerful. He made me realize that some people are actually really born to direct. The very first time I sat in a theater on the opening weekend of 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,' half way through the film I turned to my husband and said, 'I have to work with these guys.' To work with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay and their team at Gary Sanchez actually was a dream come true. To experience Will Ferrell transform into "Armando Alvarez" on that set every day was mind blowing and something that will always be a highlight in my career. These guys are pure class and brilliance, I feel blessed to be a part of something with them all."

Piedmont adds, "Darlene and Emilio have set up a situation at NALA that really is a filmmaker's dream-they're smart, passionate, film-literate producers who ask the right questions and are interested in what is best for the film itself. As the same time they really are good people, so it's a combo that I found to be perfect."
Studio photos, notes and videos © 2012 Pantelion Films