EXCLUSIVE: How Eugenio Derbez Is Becoming a Hollywood Power Player

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Eugenio Derbez’s rise to stardom began over 30 years ago in his home country of Mexico. Since then, the actor-producer-director has become one of the world’s biggest Hispanic stars, setting a box office record in the U.S. for the highest-grossing Spanish-language film with 2013’s Instructions Not Included and even earning his own star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. But many who pass by the marker don’t recognize the name.

“It’s like living two lives at the same time, because all the Hispanics here in this country, they know me pretty well, but not the Americans,” Derbez confesses to ET. “Sometimes [I’ll] go to a meeting and I’m nothing, nobody for the executives. Then I go back and, picking up my car with the valet, the valet parkers are excited to meet me. So my agents told me, ‘You should do your meeting instead of in an office, in a restaurant, because all the kitchen [staff] comes out and they want pictures.’”

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But that should all change thanks to two high-profile projects: How to Be a Latin Lover, Derbez’s new filmstarring Salma Hayek and Rob Lowe in theaters April 28, and the upcoming remake of the Goldie Hawn-Kurt Russell classic Overboard. And as Derbez has filmed and promoted the former, ET has been with him every step of the way to witness just how talented, affable and -- frankly -- famous the 55-year-old star is. But will it finally earn Derbez the recognition (and power player status) he deserves?

“I am so proud of Eugenio. I’m like, ‘Everybody, look at this guy. Keep your eyes on him.’ He’s so talented,” Hayek gushed. While Hayek and Derbez have been friends for 20 years and even share the same birthday (Sept. 2, but different years), they have never have shared the screen together. In fact, Hayek taking a role in the comedy came as a direct favor to Derbez, who called her personally to offer her the part. 

“He’s extremely successful in all the Spanish-speaking countries. He’s our No. 1 comedian and I’m so happy for his success. He really deserves it. Because not only is he talented, he’s such a great human being that really deserves it and he also deserves to cross over. And I think that the rest of the world is going to fall in love with him.”

Lowe echoed Hayek’s sentiment, saying: “I want to do a hundred movies with this guy.” The 53-year-old heartthrob was impressed by the interaction and admiration between Derbez and his fans. And if anyone knows what it means to be adored by the masses, it’s Lowe. “Watching him interact with his people is the greatest,” the actor said during a visit to the set of How to Be a Latin Lover.  “It’s 6-year-old kids, 80-year-old women…and the way they react to him is like he is family.”

While Derbez has been able to turn his career as a filmmaker into a family business -- his three adult children Aislinn, Vadhir and JoséEduardo have pursued careers in modeling, acting and music, with Vadhir playing a younger version of his father in the film -- it’s taken nearly three decades for him to cross over into the American mainstream. Realizing that there were no handouts, he eventually forged his own path, creating opportunities for himself that made him a star. “In the beginning, I was always asking for a role and an opportunity, and then I realized that that’s not the way that things work. I’d been struggling for many, many years and nothing happened until I gave myself my own opportunities,” he recalled. “So I started developing my own company, my own scripts, my own ideas, my own signature, and this is a result of that. Nobody was hiring me, so I hired myself and here’s Latin Lover.”

Adding to Derbez’s Hollywood star power is the remake of Overboard, which will star him and Anna Faris in swapped parts from the 1987 original.  And while it would have been natural for Faris to take on Hawn’s part and for Derbez to play Russell’s, it would have meant that he’d be playing a Mexican carpenter -- a stereotype that he would like to break. Instead, he will be playing the rich billionaire whose yacht is the center of much of the movie’s action. In fact, the script change was partially inspired by the fact that one of the richest men on Earth, tycoon Carlos Slim (worth $54.5 billion), is Mexican.

Derbez admitted that the road to reboot Overboard wasn’t the easiest, sharing that “MGM was freaked out, [saying,] ‘Oh, don’t change anything, it’s a classic.’ [But] then they read the script and they were thrilled!”

Both Derbez and Faris are hoping for a cameo from the film’s original stars, but Russell and Hawn seem to be content with letting the newbies handle the reboot on their own. The couple played coy to ET at the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with Hawn saying she’s out and Russell joking that it depends on the amount of money they’re offering him. “No interest at all,” Russell laughed when asked about making an appearance in the film. “I mean, they’ve got to make their way man! They’ve got to do whatever they do.”

Fortunately for Derbez, “making his way” is something that he knows how to do quite well, and it’s not something that the actor plans to give up on anytime soon, especially noting his recent success producing his own material.“I love being a boss,” Derbez said. “It’s like having my own party!”