Mexicans versed in the glamorous task of making us laugh and cry
It didn't take long for Mexican talent to transcend borders and conquer Hollywood, proving that good cinema isn't a question of nationality, but of sense and sensibility.
We've seen them fall in and out of love. They've moved us to tears and laughter, on screen and from behind the scenes. Since the birth of the film industry, Mexico has contributed to the classics of world cinema.
One of the first Latin actresses to make it in the big industry was the diva Dolores del Río, who, in the 1920s, was the female version of Rodolfo Valentino, the "Latin Lover" of the silent movies. Del Río appeared in several of Hollywood's early talkies and is said to have had a sordid affair with the actor and director Orson Welles.
Another Mexican, the comedian Mario Moreno, more popularly known as "Cantinflas", has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 1956, he joined the cast of the Michael Anderson film Around The World in Eighty Days, based on the eponymous Julio Verne novel. In it, he played the part of Passepartout, which he demanded be adapted to his Latin traits. "Cantinflas" also shared credits with the big stars of the period like Shirley MacLaine, Marlene Dietrich, Buster Keaton and Frank Sinatra. Even Charles Chaplin praised the work of the socalled "Mime of Mexico" and is quoted as saying he was the best comedian alive.
But gone are the days when Mexicans were limited to playing Latin parts. Today they are so versatile they can take on any role and have even started creating a celluloid history of their own. These are just some of the names that are floating on Hollywood's firmament of celebrity actors and filmmakers.
in An Unexpected Destiny
Parácuaro, a town in Michoacán in Central Mexico, is known as the "Villa of Springs". It was here that Elpidia Carrillo (1961) was born. She left home at the tender age of ten to make a living, but surely never imagined she would become a famous Hollywood actress.
It all began one day when she was walking down the street and received a strange invitation: to appear in a film. So it was that at 13 she began her acting career in the Rafael Corkidi film Pafnucio santo.
The course of her life changed from that moment on. Elpidia continued working in the movies and took up dance, until she had another stroke of luck –which actually had more to do with her talent– and was invited to appear in the Tony Richardson film The Border with Jack Nicholson and Harvey Keitel.
Her performance opened the door to Hollywood productions and she landed her first lead, starring alongside Richard Gere and Michael Caine in John Mackenzie's The Honorary Consul, based on the eponymous Graham Greene novel.
Perhaps her best-known role, though, is as the survivor, Anna, in Predator, with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
in An Oscar Underarm
Alfonso Cuarón (Mexico City, 1961) is the filmmaker of the moment. In 2014, he won an Oscar for Best Director with the feature film Gravity, making him the first Mexican director –and one of only a handful of Latin American directors– to receive such recognition.
Gravity was but the culmination of a solid career: Cuarón had already been nominated for an Oscar in 2006 for Children of Men and in 2002 for Y tu mamá también. He started out directing independent films in Mexico; his international career kicked off in 1995 with A Little Princess, based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel.
His big-budget movies include Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment of the popular children's story that is packed with references to the director's Mexican childhood, like the sugar-coated skulls on sale at the Honeydukes store in Hogsmeade that are typically eaten on the Day of the Dead in Mexico.
Alfonso's son, Jonás, and his brother, Carlos, are also writers and directors and have co-written some of his films.
in A Woman's Gaze
The women of Guadalajara are said to have the most beautiful eyes in all of Mexico. That can be debated, but there can be no denying Patricia Riggen (1970) has an eye for producing beautiful films.
Riggen began her career writing documentaries for television in her native Guadalajara. She later moved to Mexico City and in 1998 went to New York to study a Master's in Directing and Screenwriting at the University of Columbia. Her first short film, La milpa, was screened at over 30 film festivals and received 20 awards.
Under the Same Moon, her first feature-length film, deals with families divided by emigration and debuted at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation.
She also directed the musical Lemonade Mouth for Disney Channel. Its first two television screenings were watched by over 12 million viewers.
Her most recent project is Girl in Progress and stars Eva Mendes, with Espinoza Paz playing the part of a Mexican folk musician.
in The Golden Goat
Oftentimes the work of cinematographers is overshadowed by big-name directors, but Emmanuel Lubezki (Mexico City, 1964), alias "El Chivo" (The Goat), has managed to shoot his way out of obscurity and into the light.
Lubezki has worked dolly-to-dolly with acclaimed directors who have welldefined aesthetics: Tim Burton, the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuarón and Terrence Malick.
In his case, six was a charm and after five nominations, in 2014 he finally took home an Oscar for Best Photography with Gravity.
"The Goat" started out doing photography for independent films in Mexico, which he combined with shooting commercials, allowing him to familiarize himself with equipment he probably wouldn't have come into contact with otherwise.
His breakthrough came with A Little Princess (1995), which earned him his first Oscar nomination. Here, Lubezki revealed his gift for capturing the essence of a story with a photography that oscillates between fantasy and reality.
A photographer with a signature all his own, Lubezki demonstrated his gift for lighting once again in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999), with shadowy sets that lend the film an aura of make-believe and mystery.
in The Woman of the Port
Salma Hayek (1966) once confessed amid fits of laughter that she is typically referred to as an Italian-style beauty in the US. "You can tell they haven't been to Veracruz," was the response of the actress with Lebanese roots who was born in the port town of Coatzacoalcos in South Mexico.
Hayek made her debut in a soap called Teresa that has virtually achieved cult status. In 1991, she began appearing in Hollywood productions, but only really got the attention she deserved in 2002, when she played Frida Kahlo in Frida, a film that she also produced and that earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. An accomplishment only two latin women, besides Hayek, have achieved: Katy Jurado in 1954 and Adriana Barraza in 2006.
As a producer, Hayek is also known for Ugly Betty, a sitcom based on a Colombian screenplay that has traveled the world and whose first three seasons were a hit in the US.
A paragon of beauty and sophistication, Salma's name means "peace" or "calm" in Arabic.
Kate del Castillo
in The Charm and the Voice
In 1991, a young actress with bushy eyebrows made her debut in the Mexican soap Muchachitas. Her name was Kate del Castillo (Mexico City, 1972). Twenty-two years later, in 2013, People magazine was to name her one of the "25 Most Powerful Latinas".
In 2002, del Castillo went to the US to study. That same year she starred in the series American Family and became a household name in that country. In 2005 she made her incursion into Hollywood with Juan Carlos Valdivia's American Visa, where she shared the limelight with the Oscar-nominated Mexican actor Demián Bichir.
One of the voices of the Disney film Cars (2006), del Castillo has shared the big screen with the likes of Antonio Banderas, Jennifer López, Kevin Kline and Alec Baldwin, among other famous actors.
Together with Eugenio Derbez, she played the lead in Patricia Riggen's film, Under the Same Moon, but is arguably best known for La reina del Sur (2011), a series based on the eponymous book by the Spanish author Arturo Pérez Reverte. The series was broadcast during primetime by the American network Telemundo and was seen by millions of viewers in 86 countries and translated into 17 languages.