Eva Longoria

Eva Longoria-516Eva Longoria catapulted to fame in 2004 thanks to her role as the scheming, sexy Gabrielle Solis on Marc Cherry’s breakout hit Desperate Housewives. After the series went off the air in 2012, she served as executive producer of Devious Maids, also penned by Cherry, and appeared in a number of feature films and TV series. Tapping into her producing skills, she set up a production company called UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, which recently produced Telenovela, a workplace comedy on NBC that stars Longoria herself. She talks to World Screen about her love of comedy and having pride in her Latino heritage.

WS: How did Telenovela come about?
LONGORIA: There were so many things that I was thinking of before the idea of Telenovela came to mind, but I was a very big fan of telenovelas growing up. I was in a soap opera [early] in my career—one of the first breaks I got was The Young and the Restless—and I loved behind-the-scenes comedies like Soapdish, 30 Rock, Soap in the ’70s with Billy Crystal and Tootsie. There were so many things happening behind the scenes that were way funnier than what was happening in front of the cameras. So I always thought, Oh, it’d be funny to have a TV series [taking place] behind the scenes of a soap opera, but instead of a normal soap opera, what if it was a telenovela? That raises the stakes because [telenovelas are] more melodramatic, they’re heightened, and they’re the most popular TV genre in the world. I wanted to celebrate them and this was like my big love letter to telenovelas.

WS: You also lovingly poke fun at a lot of the telenovela tropes.
LONGORIA: We definitely bring out a lot of soap opera tropes, whether it’s a wind machine or a stare-down or slapping, but so many of our writers and actors have been on novelas, and a lot of the stories we show are real-life things that have happened. There was a telenovela actress who would randomly slap people in scenes—you never knew if you were going to get slapped! There’s another woman who would get up on ladders and move her own lights, and another telenovela actress whose assistant was poisoning her in real life, so we [decided to] just pull from this real world of novelas. But [the show has] been so fun and so well received. It is a workplace comedy at its heart; these characters could be in a dentist’s office and it would still be super funny, super relevant and super relatable.

WS: In Desperate Housewives we saw your comedic talent, but here there is a lot of physical comedy. What different acting muscles, so to speak, does Telenovela stretch?
LONGORIA: You’re right, Desperate Housewives was a dramedy, so when I got to do comedy people loved it, but I didn’t get to do it a lot. This is the first time I’m in a true half-hour sitcom. I get to spread my comedic wings and go for the joke and be big and broad and, of course, physical. I love physical comedy, and when I read this script, I thought, Oh my gosh, I love [my character] Ana Sofia! So it was a lot of fun to flex my comedy muscles. It’s a side of me people saw a little bit of and liked, and now they get to see a lot of it.

WS: Is comedy, because of the timing aspect, more difficult to do than drama, or is it just a different beast?
LONGORIA: It’s a different beast, but yes, comedy is all about timing and all about the rhythm of the words, the pace of the editing and the pace of the camera choreography. That’s why I wanted to produce the show that I was going to be in, and that’s why I like producing comedies, because it’s not just up to the actor to make it funny. The music can cue a joke, and the way we edit also lends itself to making [a scene] funnier or not as funny. So I needed to have my hands in all aspects of the final product, and for comedy specifically that’s very important. Even when we’re on set and I’m directing actors or talking to actors, I’m like, No, no, no, it’s “da-da-dat.” You know, there’s a rhythm to comedy that you have to get. Don’t move on the joke—say the joke and then move. There are so many things that make a comedy a comedy.

WS: What do you like about Ana Sofia, the character you play in Telenovela?
LONGORIA: Oh, my gosh, I love everything about Ana Sofia. I love that she’s the exact opposite of Gaby Solis from Housewives. Gaby was narcissistic and confident, and Ana’s the other side. She’s super insecure, she’s super fragile, she needs her friends, she hides behind [her best friend] Mimi, she gets herself into trouble and doesn’t know how to crawl out of it. I also like that she’s a fish out of water in this world, which kind of comes from my upbringing. I grew up in Texas not speaking Spanish yet being Latina, never getting the joke, not quite fitting in, having one foot in [that culture] and one foot out. I feel like the future generations of Hispanics in the U.S. feel that way. They feel that they’re not as tied to the language or culture as other generations, but they still feel Latino, still feel Mexican, still feel connected to that culture. So, when we did focus groups of the pilot, one of the major things Hispanics said was how they loved that Ana Sofia doesn’t speak Spanish. So it was interesting to see that that was a through line in other people’s lives.