Luis Gerardo Méndez on Personal 'Half Brothers' Connection & Need for Authentic Immigrant Stories (Exclusive)
By Liz Calvario
Luis Gerardo Méndez has a personal connection to Half Brothers -- and it's not because he's also made a name for himself in Mexico like his character, Renato.
The 38-year-old actor gained fame with the 2013 film Nosotros, los Nobles, going on to star on the Netflix series Club De Cuervos. Last year, he made his Hollywood crossover appearing in Murder Mystery alongside Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, as well as Charlie's Angels with Kristen Stewart. Now, he's taking on his first leading film stateside with Luke Greenfield's Half Brothers.
The comedy follows thriving Mexican aviation executive Renato, who discovers he has an American half brother he never knew about -- the free-spirited Asher (Connor Del Rio). The polar opposite siblings are forced on a road trip together after their father, Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa), falls ill. Planned by Flavio -- who left for the U.S. when Renato was a child -- the half brothers trace the path he took as an immigrant from Mexico to America.
Just like Renato, Méndez also found out he had a half sibling that his father never told him about. And just like Renato, he didn't want to know any of the details…at first.
"Me paso como en la película," Méndez tells ET about their shared connection. "About seven years ago, I found out that I had a half sister. My dad told me and at that moment I wasn't interested in meeting or knowing anything about her. In my mind, this happened before I was alive, so it wasn't my problem."
At first glance, Half Brothers looks like a typical comedy with two very different people from very different worlds going on a topsy-turvy road trip. But take a closer look, and Half Brothers tells a heartwarming -- and necessary -- tale about the importance of empathy, family and immigration.
"When I started developing this movie, it became more apparent and necessary for me to reach out to her," Méndez, who also serves as an executive producer, recalls. "A month before I started filming, we had our first conversation, via Zoom like this, and it was very special because not only did she help me better understand this movie and my character, it also helped me become a better human being. I was able to hear her side of the story."
Méndez had only heard about his father's experience and once he got his half sister's point of view, he got to "see the whole picture and better understand her, but above all else, my father."
"This movie, in a way, can help you start those tough conversations, make those calls that you've been meaning to have with your parents, aunts, uncles, a family member," Méndez explains. "This is a great comedy, but I also think it opens doors to having difficult conversations."
Among those difficult conversations shown in the film include why Renato's father stayed in the U.S. after promising his young son that he would return home. Flavio, as an immigrant, made some unexpected choices and huge sacrifices that completely altered his life. Méndez, along with co-writers Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman, wanted to touch on the lives of Mexicans and Americans and how, in the end, "we're not that different."
"The film is 100 percent about empathy. It's about being able to walk in someone else's shoes and understand a different perspective on life," Méndez relays. "And in that sense, we wanted to talk about this really complex problem that is immigration. I really believe that as Mexicans, me and Eduardo, who is the writer and me as a producer, we need to talk about these things in Hollywood. It has to have our voice to be more authentic and we wanted to represent this topic with a lot of dignity."
Whether Flavio made the right decisions is what Méndez says is the "whole point of the film." "Not judging the characters. I think it's such a difficult decision, like Sophie's choice. What's right and what's wrong? It's understandable. That's the thing. It's just being able to understand someone else's choice."
As for Renato, like Méndez himself, they had to learn to understand their father's choices, whether it pained them or not.
"Renato is really wounded because his father, his best friend, told him he was going to go to the States for a better job and he's gonna be back soon -- and he never comes back," he explains. "So this kid is so hurt that he unconsciously decides to not to feel anything ever again. This character has put all of his anger and frustration into his work and that's why he's a successful businessman. But in reality, he hasn't worked on what's most important, himself and the wounds that he has. Like they say, childhood is destiny and that's what's happening to Renato."
Méndez now has a better relationship with his half sister, but it took time. This movie made him process his feelings and realize that we only have our loved ones for so long, so "have awkward conversations," he states.
"If you have your parents, if you have your grandparents with you, have awkward conversations, push the limits, stop talking about the food and the weather," he notes. "This is the time to discuss meaningful things. The past, what's painful for you, what's painful for them, because when they are gone, it's over…This is a comedy but the last 15 minutes, there are really deep moments. It's so emotional."
Méndez will continue to tell even deeper stories as he's just joined the third season of Narcos: Mexico. The actor is set to play Victor Tapia, a Juarez cop with a moral dilemma who is drawn into the mystery of a series of brutal killings despite his misgivings over getting involved.
"I cannot tell you that much because of obvious reasons. I'm just going to say that I am really excited. Narcos is probably one of my favorite shows on TV ever," he raves. "I think it's so well written, the writing staff is amazing, they do such a deep research about every single thing."
"My character is a cop from Ciudad Juarez. I cannot tell you that much about the story but he’s one of the main characters in the third season," he shares, adding that he "cannot say" if Tapia is based on a real-life person.
"But my character is complex," he teases. "But I'm just going to say that my story is really, really urgent and necessary and painful. It's a really painful story that is still happening in Mexico. So that's why I wanted to jump onboard and talk about this thing."
When telling these stories of complex characters and immigrants, Méndez wants people to seek out more information from various sources and, most importantly, try to relate to their stories.
"Just read different things, read a newspaper that you don't read, read articles about people who don't think like you," he expresses. "There's always a middle point. There's always more information that you need to have before making a judgment."
"Be more open to other ways of thinking," he notes. "Because that's the only way of being empathetic, especially with a pandemic."