A self described “Texican,” Eva Longoria has been blazing trails in Hollywood for more than 20 years.
It all started when she won the Miss Corpus Christi USA pageant to earn some college funds. One of the prizes in the package? A trip to Hollywood. Longoria has never looked back.
Today, she’s an award-winning actress, Emmy-nominated director, producer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist. But the road to breaking down barriers and shining a light on the Latino community in Hollywood didn’t come easy.
During a featured session Saturday at South by Southwest, Longoria shared how tough it was to book roles as a Mexican American. She didn’t grow up speaking Spanish and often questioned whether she was Latina enough. At the time, she says, there was no room for nuance in acting roles for Latinas.
“Can you do an accent?” she’d often be asked in auditions. And for Spanish-speaking roles, casting directors could tell that she memorized the lines for the audition but wasn’t fluent in the language.
Now, after decades of working both in front of and behind the camera, Longoria makes her feature directorial debut with the biopic “Flamin’ Hot,” which is premiering at SXSW. The Searchlight Pictures film tells the story of Richard Montañez and his connection to the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Longoria beat out numerous high-profile film directors who wanted to helm the highly-anticipated film, which releases on Hulu on June 9.
“My north star for the movie was authenticity,” Longoria says. Her 12 years of directing television and all of her combined experiences in the industry made her ready, she says, to step into this feature film directorial debut.
Here are three lessons from Longoria about Latinidad, life and looking ahead:
Ask questions, stay curious.
Longoria spent about a decade of her career on the popular television show “Desperate Housewives.” “I was so annoyingly curious,” Longoria says.
Each season shot about 24 episodes directed by a different person. For Longoria, that meant 24 different opportunities to ask questions about the directing process.
“I got to really do a case study,” she says. “What is the hardest thing for you? I’d ask all the directors who came through.”
Embracing who you are is what will make you shine.
“There’s not a room I walk into where I’m not Latina or a woman,” Longoria says. “Don’t dim your light on either side.”
When a SXSW audience member asked her about balancing femininity in a male-dominated industry, Longoria answered that she doesn’t subscribe to beliefs that leaders need to be masculine.
“You shouldn’t compromise your femininity to fit into being a director or leader,” she says. “Women are natural leaders, so I would lean into that femininity.”
“We need to put our foot on the gas to make sure our stories are being told,” Longoria says.
Diverse films and stories educate communities about who we are, she says.
“If I can’t see it, I can’t be it,” she says. “Hollywood dictates what heroes look like and there’s never been a hero that looks like Richard (the protaganist in Flamin’ Hot).”
“I have an opportunity to create what a hero looks like, so I want him to be brown.”