Eugenio Derbez takes on a different kind of role in the new Apple TV+ film “CODA.” The primarily comedic actor plays Bernardo Villalobos, a tough choir teacher who gives private lessons to Ruby, an aspiring singer who is the only hearing member of her family. It was an exciting role for the Mexican-born Derbez, who was mostly given stereotypical roles when he moved to the U.S. in the mid-2010s. “I promised myself that if I could, I would try to break the stereotypes,” says Derbez in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “When they called me to play this music teacher, I was like, ‘This is the kind of thing that I want to do.'” Watch the full video chat above.
Mr. Villalobos has a bold personality, telling his choir students the precise way to say his name, bluntly assessing their talent and pushing the students he deems as special to reach their full potential. Derbez recalls telling the writer-director, Sian Heder, “I would like to give this character a very unique personality,” going beyond the typical kind of mentor character we see in media. He watched films like “Dead Poets Society” and “Whiplash,” which feature instructors with very distinct (and polar opposite) personalities, during the pre-production process, while also developing a compelling backstory to how Mr. V got to his position.
The role required Derbez to get a crash course in music, as we see him in the film playing piano, teaching voice lessons and directing a choir. The actor recalls working “really hard” to nail the various piano pieces, taking instructions from the same instructor who helped Ryan Gosling on “La La Land,” Liz Kinnon. He also took singing lessons to fully comprehend the vocal exercises his character teaches in the film, in addition to learning how to conduct. Luckily, he had a great scene partner in Emilia Jones, who plays Ruby, to bounce off of throughout the film. “She was always committed to the project,” praises Derbez. “I have no words to explain how great she is as a human being.”
“CODA” received near-universal acclaim when it premiered at Sundance and has been met with a very positive response from audiences. Derbez notes that there is something universal about the film’s themes, that can even relate to those outside of the deaf community. He draws a connection to the experience of children of immigrants who help translate for their parents, as we see Ruby do for her deaf parents. “I think this movie connects with everyone,” observes Derbez. “You don’t need to be deaf to understand this world or to make this movie interesting for you.”
To watch this same interview with closed captions, view the YouTube video below and click the CC button on the bottom right.
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