Known in Mexico and by audiences across Latin America for
his humorous impressions, satirical characters, and his skills as an
entertaining host for a variety of TV shows, actor and comedian Omar Chaparro
has spent the past few years actively pursuing a career in film.
One of his most
recent successes, both in Mexico and in the Spanish-speaking U.S. market, is
the film “Pulling Strings,” which is one in a series of box-office hits for
production company Pantelion. In that film, a romantic comedy with bicultural
sensibilities, Chaparro played a role close to those he previously had delved
into during his years in television. But for his latest project, “Compadres,” in
which he is the protagonist, the performer decided to challenge himself by
bringing to life a Mexican police officer who friends a young American hacker.
Because of the physicality required for the role and the
dramatic undertones in the screenplay, this is a departure for Chaparro, who clearly is
aiming to broaden his acting skills and the audience for his work. In our
conversation with the actor we discuss his role as Garza, who deviates from
the Mexican stereotypes, his relationship with co-star Joey Morgan, and yet another
upcoming project with Pantelion to be released later this year.
“Compadres” opens on April 22 across the U.S.
Aguilar: Garza is a character significantly different from those you have played in the past. It feels like a real departure in your career. Tell me about the challenges of making this transition into a more serious role.
Omar Chaparro: It
was a challenge for multiple reasons. Physically I had to train harder and they
also wanted to make a more human character. He is a Mexican character that
knows how to defend himself. They also wanted to make the actios sequences
seem as realistic as possible. They didn’t want the shoot-outs, the punches, the
kicks, and the explosions to look cheap, so I had to take my role very
seriously. I do think that I left some aspects of what I had been doing on
television behind, even though this is my eight film. I believe this is a much
more serious character despite the film being an action comedy. He is an
honest cop. He is strong, brave, and audacious, but he is also someone who is going
through an extreme situation, which is the kidnapping of a loved one. He is
definitely a character with more nuances that what I had been doing. It is a
bit more distant from comedy and closer to reality.
Aguilar: One of the most refreshing elements about your role is that he is not another version of the stereotypical Mexican character we often see in American films. It’s a film that takes place between Mexico and the U.S., but a Mexican lead. Was that part of the appeal for you?
Omar Chaparro: Yes
of course. I loved the fact that this is a bicultural film that reflects the reality
of life on the border, the differences between the “Gringos” and the Mexicans,
and how we coexist and can become friends. But I also enjoyed that my character
is an antihero. He is different, and I think that it will let the audience see a
different type of Mexican in a Hollywood film. He is not the gardener or the
one that crosses the border illegally and is being chased by ICE. He is
a good cop, almost like a Mexican Bruce Willis. That’s something we hadn’t
really seen before and that makes it fun.
Aguilar: Part of what makes this comedy work is the banter between you and your co-star Joey Morgan who plays Vic. Was this friendship developed organic during the set? How was the experience of working with someone from a very different background and with different experiences?
Omar Chaparro: It
was very fun. We clicked right from the first day we met. I lived in the U.S.
for a year many years ago – I lived in Boise, Idaho more specifically. I was living with a
young guy similar to him. In real life he is kind of bipolar, very sensitive,
passionate, and intense. He reminded of that kid 20 years ago when I was living in Idaho.
I think that’s part of why we created such a strong bond. He became my friend.
We went out partying. We went to the Gloria Trevi concert and he slept over at
my place. The chemistry between us was real and you can see that in the film.
There are scenes where we are improvising and playing around. The song we
perform in the movie, the one called “Puto” by Molotov, wasn’t even on the
screenplay. We were inside the car as the camera was rolling and I started
singing it and he joined me. We
didn’t even know they were recording us until we heard the director yell out,
“Don’t cut.” He liked it and that’s why it’s in the film.
Aguilar: In a sense you showed
him a different side of Mexican culture.
Omar Chaparro: Yes!
He liked it. But he also taught me things. I feel like despite his young age he has great cinematic chops as well as an agile talent for comedy. He can also instantaneously
get into a dramatic performance. He would give me advice on acting and even on
my accent and English pronunciation. He was like my dialect coach.
Aguilar: How important is it for you, in the roles you choose to play, that they have an element of comedy since it’s something you do so well? There is definitely much more than just fun gags in “Compadres.”
Omar Chaparro: The
film is very balanced. It’s a movie with a lot heart. Besides the action scenes
that are also very well realized, there are lots of scenes that make you laugh. It’s a film about how these characters and these cultures intertwine. We
even see the cop risking his life for this kid or the kid getting emotional in
the climax of the film. That’s something very beautiful, and I think audiences
will connect with these emotional aspects of the film.
Aguilar: Speaking of that, it seems like the relationship between you and Joey in the film is almost like that of a father and a son. He doesn’t have a father and Garza is a afraid of starting a family and losing his freedom.
Omar Chaparro: They
complement each other. He is a kid that spends his time locked in his room
behind a computer. He doesn’t know anything else. He is a lonely kid that takes
care of his grandfather. His parents died when he was very young and he never
had a father figure in his life besides his grandfather, who is in a home. Garza, on the other hand, is a lone wolf that lives in a camper and that
doesn’t think about having a family. They complement each other and they
quickly develop a beautiful and affectionate friendship in the midst of the
shoot-outs and chases.
Aguilar: Have you found it difficult to get work in bigger films, in particular in the U.S. where non-white actors tend to have a harder time getting leading roles?
Omar Chaparro: I
don’t like to use the word difficult, I prefer to say “not so easy.” This is a country with so much diversity
and where there’s a lot of competition. When there is a casting call for a TV
show or a film, besides the actors that are already in Hollywood, there are also
actors from Ireland, Australia, Guatemala, and elsewhere trying to get the part. The tapes come from all over
the world for any role. The competition is arduous and it’s not very easy to
get a lead role. I’m very fortunate to be in a film of this size as the
protagonist, even though I’m aware that I still have a long way to go I’m
enjoying this moment. I’m enjoying everything, from the reviews to the fact that
people are supporting the film. It’s almost a miracle that this is actually
happening, so I really want to enjoy this moment.
Aguilar: Is there any specific character that you would like to play in the future now that your career has broadened beyond comedy?
Omar Chaparro: As an actor, an also because I’m very
hyperactive, I don’t think I’ll
ever be satisfied. I think happiness exists in the middle ground between appreciating
what you have and always wanting more. That’s what I’m doing. I’m appreciating this
action comedy right now, but I want to know what’s next. I want to play roles
that challenge me. I’m very comfortable in comedies, but I’d love to play
perhaps a boxer, someone from another country, or even a famous drug dealer. Maybe star in a movie about the
life of El Chapo Guzman, why not? [Laughs}.
Aguilar: Where you hesitant about embarking in this project because of the demands in involved, included the fighting sequences and the physical strength and abilities that would entail?
Omar Chaparro: I
believe that when Francisco González, the producer of the film, thought of
me for this leading role, he knew that he wanted an actor that had experience
doing comedy but that could also be believable during the action sequences. I
have the pleasure of being his friend, and he knows that throughout most of my
life I trained in karate Shotokai. Probably that also motivated him to think of
me. I did tell him, “I’m a little
rusty because I haven’t trained in a while,” but they say that what you learn well
you never forget. In any case we trained boxing and Krav Maga, a different martial art style, for several weeks before we started shooting. I think that
helped a lot while choreographing the sequences.
Aguilar: Given that the film will play in both sides of the border, was there any concern about whether the comedy would work for both Spanish-speaking audiences and those who only speak English?
Omar Chaparro: Comedy is always different in Spanish and in
English. American comedy is different, so the biggest challenge for this film
was for it to be understandable in both cultures. The film is about to be
released in the U.S, but in Mexico the film is already a success. It did so
well that there has been talks of a sequel, “Compadres 2.” We are waiting to
see how people here in the U.S. react to it. One of the writers,Ted Perkins, is a gringo,
and the other is Gabriel Ripstein, who is Mexican, so they were very careful so
the comedy could work for both cultures. That has a lot to do with the story
itself. If the characters are real and the story is authentic, then the comedy
will work in any country.
Aguilar: What are your future plans? Will you go back to television or continue seeking roles in films? I understand you already have another upcoming film.
Omar Chaparro: I
want to continue learning. I’m excited to make more films and I want to improve my English. We also just shot a film called “No Manches Frida,” which will open
in theaters on September 2nd, and it also stars Marta Higareda. It’s
based on a very famous German story that was adapted into Spanish. I believe
that it can become a box-office success both in Mexico and in the U.S. I’m very
happy, we are just now finishing promotion for “Compadres,” and we are going to start
promoting this other film in August. Cinema is opening its doors to me and I’m
Aguilar: Would you say part of this increased in opportunities and production in terms of Mexican films with bicultural appeal has to do with Pantelion’s efforts?
Omar Chaparro: Yes.
Pantelion has been taking chances on good and different stories like “Comapadres.”
It’s a film that is working with a genre that hadn’t been done in Mexico in a long
time and with a unique tone, and I think the audiences really appreciate that.
Gringos are going to enjoy the film as well because about 60% of the dialogue
in the film is in English. We can only hope that the film does as well here as
it did in Mexico.