By Liz Lopez
“El Chicano” premiered during the opening weekend of the Los Angeles Film Festival in September of last year, followed by a screening in the Marquee Features category of the Austin Film Festival. If you missed it at the one – time screening in Austin last October, here is your chance to see the film directed by Ben Hernandez Bray, based on a script he co-wrote with filmmaker Joe Carnahan (“Wheelman,” “The Grey”). Former Austin and McAllen, Texas resident, actor Raul Castillo (“Vida,” “Unsane,” “We The Animals,” “Looking”) has the lead role as twin brothers Diego and Pedro, who grew up very close in East LA, yet when they are adults, they take entirely different paths on each side of the law. Castillo’s performance is excellent as he takes on the dual roles, L.A.P.D. Detective Diego Hernandez who is investigating a vicious cartel, and in doing so, clues begin to surface that connect his brother’s death to what he is working on.
I have read descriptions of the film as being a “super – hero” film, one I do not fully agree with because the character does not originate from a comic book, but the legend known as “El Chicano” is revived and fights against nefarious villains that threaten the city, especially the neighborhood. The overall script is engaging and should have an ample audience in attendance.
I enjoyed viewing the film’s showcase of Hispanic/Latino acting talent, from the very familiar faces of some, to others who have had smaller roles in television and/or film. They all deliver authentic performances about the life they live in the neighborhoods dealing with many issues in East LA. The supporting cast that join Raúl Castillo include George Lopez, as LAPD Captain Gomez; Jose Pablo Cantillo (“The Walking Dead” TV series), as Detective Martinez; Aimee Garcia (“Lucifer”, “Dexter” TV series), Emilio Rivera (“Sons of Anarchy”) as Shadow; David Castañeda, (“Sicario: Day of the Soldado”) as Shotgun; Marco Rodríguez (“Queen of the South” TV series), as Jesus; Sal Lopez, “Westworld” and “Queen of the South” TV series), as El Gallo; Marlene Forte (“Superstore” and “Mayans M.C.” TV Series); with a cameo by Kate del Castillo (“La Reina del Sur” telenovela that recently started the second season, and the movie “Under the Same Moon”) that broke records when released in the US.
I do recommend viewing the independent film that highlights the stories told by authentic actors portraying the varied characters in the city, aside from the legend that exists. “El Chicano” is set to hit theaters on May 3rd, 2019, with some theaters opening the film on Thursday, May 2nd.
AFF INTERVIEW WITH JOE CARNAHAN, co-writer/ producer
Joe Carnahan is the writer-director of films “The Grey,” “The A-Team,” Smokin’ Aces” and “Narc” among other productions he has been a part of. In addition to film, Carnahan is well-known for his television shows “The Blacklist” and “State of Affairs.” Prior to the screening at the Austin Film Festival, Carnahan said in a press announcement, “We are thrilled to be screening El Chicano at the Austin Film Festival. I’m so incredibly proud of this movie and cannot wait to share it with the AFF crowds. I believe in the power of this film and its intrinsic ability to highlight the incredible talent of the Latino community.” I sat down with the filmmaker in Austin to talk more about the project.
Joe talked extensively about life in LA, and the multi- culturalism that exists there. “I feel we all belong to one another. I am thankful and grateful for friends never saying that I don’t belong where I grew up in Vallejo, CA.” He added that his ex-wife and family didn’t either. “I wish more people would open their minds and not say ‘I’m just this.’ We’re all American – we’re all the same.”
“El Chicano,” stated Joe, “felt natural – I knew this; and knew friends that can do this. It has the authenticity.” Early on, Joe decided, “I/we’re going to make it undeniably good – not ‘just’ good.” They wanted the movie to look good, adding “I put too much on the line. I quit “Bad Boys 3” to do this movie. I knew it was an important film to not be easily dismissed. ‘That demographic’ buys 25% of tickets.”
After the Austin Film Festival, the film is scheduled to have a theatrical release. “The goal is for it to not only be seen here, but for worldwide audiences. It was shown in Calgary to an all – White audience and they commented to me that it was a great movie. I want everyone to see it,” he said as he named a list of ethnicities. “I hope it reaches people – to honor my friend, brother, daughter, mom. It is a nice post script – that people respond.”
The film is like a showcase of Hispanic/Latino acting talent. Joe responded, “You are right, it is a showcase of actors. There is not a bad performance in the film – everything is good – it is not a telenovela.”
When casting the actors, Joe stated it was a general casting call. “We picked who we loved/liked. “Ben (the director) was dead set on Raul and Aimee and I wanted George.” Raul is hot, if not red hot, in Hollywood. David Castaneda stars as the character Shotgun. “He read and he was our choice. The performances from Raul, George and David are so dynamite!” Joe stated he knows the agent representing George. “It is such a great thing for that role of Captain Gomez.” Joe continued, “George gave himself over to it and now he is helping promote it.”
Jose Pablo Cantillo stars as Detective Martinez. “I adore that man” said Joe, who describes him as a brilliant actor and supportive of Raul. “He was ‘ok’ with being the 2nd banana” in the film and cited a scene between the two actors in the morgue.
Marlene Forte portrays the mother. “Every time (I view the performance), I get choked up. She suffered so much in life and draws from it; I want more of her. When she says good-bye to him – it is with great pride and fear of not seeing him again. She gives it tremendous humanity.”
Marco Rodriguez (“MacGyver” and “Queen of the South”) has the role of Jesus. Joe said Marco was at the LA premiere and he was shaking. “He had never seen himself like this in 42 years, saying ‘I’ve never seen us like this.’ I cried that he was moved. “He is a veteran actor. He was blown away.”
Sal Lopez was described by Joe as “humble,” adding he is excellent in his scenes as the character El Gallo. Joe added that he is “great” and was also at the LA film premiere where after the screening Sal said he “can’t believe” what he had just seen of the entire film.
Joe remarked that “Sons of Anarchy” star Emilio Rivera read during auditions. He was considered for one part, but then was “cool as (the character) Shadow.”
Joe said he lobbied for Kate del Castillo. “It is an important piece for us; first her impact on us and second, how popular she is in Mexico.” This was during the time that Kate was not in Mexico. “Kate was great and acted as nice as possible.”
About Director Ben Hernandez Bray
Joe stated that he met Ben “years ago” when he was an actor. “I was casting three shorts. I looked at a resume and I recognized Ben. We laughed about it – this began 20 years ago. No one knows my deepest, darkest like Ben. I am honored to have him – his shoulder – good to prop you up.” Joe added that Ben is first generation (American) as his mom is from Boyle Heights and his Dad is from Mexico.
Joe stated that Ben had loss in his life when he lost his brother Craig from gang violence and the loss of a baby girl. “Back then, I told him to go write – “El Chicano” – let’s go do this. All of his pain and grief wound up there.”
Joe explained that when Marlene’s character slaps the son, Ben said “that’s my mama,” adding Ben’s mom raised six kids on her own. “It was his Valentine to his mother.”
Ultimately, Joe said they made the film “for all the right reasons. It will find an audience.” Joe stated that Ben said that of the handful of films, he wants “El Chicano” to be that – an important film.”
Source: Briarcliff Entertainment, WarParty