Behind the Camera with Ken Marino

Although Ken Marino says he learned nothing about how to be a Latin lover while directing How to Be a Latin Lover, he enjoyed collaborating on the development of such an outlandish character. The movie follows Maximo (Eugenio Derbez), an aging playboy suddenly dumped by the older woman he married for money. With nowhere else to turn, he moves in with his estranged sister Sara (Salma Hayek) and her 10-year-old son, Hugo (Raphael Alejandro). Determined to return to the lap of luxury, Maximo uses Hugo to meet a rich widow (Raquel Welch) —and learns the hard way that love and trust must be earned. Along his journey he meets Cindy, a frozen yogurt enthusiast/crazy cat lady (Kristen Bell) and two bullies (Rob Riggle and Rob Huebel) who squeeze him for cash. His best friend Rick (Rob Lowe) is the only one who understands him as a fellow connoisseur of wealthy older women.

How to Be a Latin Lover is now available on Digital HD, Blu-ray, and DVD. Marino can also be seen in front of the camera this summer on Netflix reprising his role as Victor in Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later. I talked to Marino about wrangling cats, driving trucks through houses, and hypnotism.  

What appealed to you most about the script for How to Be a Latin Lover when you signed on?

No comment. Well, one, getting to work with Eugenio. I’d seen his previous movie Instructions Not Included, and I thought he was just kind of a force comically. I really loved that he was a guy who played these big characters but would ground them in a way and give them heart. When I came on board, the script was a pretty broad comedy, and I thought, “There is something here – if we can keep these big ridiculous set pieces but then ground it, Eugenio can kind of handle both ends of that comically and emotionally.” So I thought that would be fun to tackle with him.

What did you watch or read to pull for inspiration?

I’m a big fan of movies where the main character is larger than life but you can somehow believe the world that they’re living in. I think of movies like Tootsie, The Jerk, Being There or The Big Lebowski, where you have these big characters, but you ground them. I mean, The Jerk is silly all the way through, but the world is fun and you’re with it the whole time. Certainly, his relationship with Bernadette Peters is quite tender and wonderful at times and then ridiculous at other times. Movies like Tootsie, and Being There and Big Lebowski, those were the movies I was watching for research and information because those movies with big characters speak to me.

What was your favorite behind-the-scenes moment working on this film?

We had a blast on set. The scariest moment was when we had to drive a truck through a house. If we screwed it up or something or if the cameras turned off, we would have been screwed. That was an exciting day, but I was hoping we would get everything we needed and I think we did. I’ve never been on a set where you drive through a home. I was also worried about the stunt driver. There were no special effects. We just drove a truck through a mocked-up house. We built the house and made sure that it was drive-through-able, and so that was a fun, exciting, nerve-wracking day.

Did the stunt driver just bail or did he stay in the truck all the way through?

He stayed in the car, and the area he was driving through was fake wood, but then you needed real wood to hold the place up. I was like “Well, what if the real wood crashes through the front windshield?” They were like, “The windshield is protected by this very strong plexiglass.” But when he came out the other side, we run over to him and see that the whole front windshield was shattered. It was pretty intense. That stunt driver was a stud.

With Kristen Bell and all those cats – how did you wrangle all those cats?

That was the hardest day because basically that whole storyline – my wife Erica Oyama is a screenwriter and she did a big pass at this script, and she made it even funnier and gave it so much more heart, and one of the characters we put in there was Kristen’s character – the cat lady basically. My goal was when we get to her house, we just have that place infested like cockroaches with cats, but when you do that, you don’t realize that for every four cats you have, you need a cat wrangler. So, if you have twenty cats in there you need five cat wranglers. Any shot we just turned around and would get all the cats in that shot. And it just took a while because you know, you want to be careful with the cats. Cats are not like dogs. Dogs will sort of listen a little bit more and go where you want them to go, but cats are kind of like “Screw you, I’m gonna go over here,” and they don’t listen as much. For the sake of the scene it worked out great, but it was a little time consuming, because after you finish a shot you would have to take all twenty cats out and then bring them back in. That was one of the more nerve-wracking days for me, because that was the last day we had Kristen and couldn’t go over on time. But I think it worked out great for the movie and came out pretty funny.

Do you have any unusual directing tricks?

What I do is I hypnotize them. They don’t know it, but I take a little watch and swing it in front of their faces, and then after they’re hypnotized they basically do anything I want, which is great. They don’t question my notes. They really are very accommodating.

You should patent that, that sounds great.

I have patented that. It’s funny you say that, it was patent pending for some time, but I just got the okay, so it is patented and nobody can use it. I’m really excited about it.

Was there any room for improvisation on this movie?

I think the script was really funny, but it would be silly for me to invite all these wonderful comedic actors – Rob Corddry, Rob Huebel, Rob Riggle, Michaela Watkins. Salma [Hayek] was incredible at improv. Michael Cera. It would be silly for me to not open it up for improv a little bit. You never know what little gold nuggets of comedy you get in those situations, but you’re bound to get some. Especially when you’ve got Rob Riggle and Rob Huebel just riffing.

Have you had any surprising responses to the movie?

My mother disowned me, which I found surprising, but other than that, no. I’ve been happy overall with people’s responses. People are surprised that there was so much heart to it. When people talk about the emotional part of the movie it makes me happy.

What is coming up next for you?

I’m about to direct a movie – I’m in pre-production for it. It’s sort of a multi-narrative, Love Actually style movie. I can’t tell you the title because it might not be the official title yet. Then there’s also of course Wet Hot American Summer that’s out right now.

Sydney Parker is a writer living in Seattle. You can read more of her writing on Carnival of Souls or follow her on Twitter @Carnivalosouls.

Behind the Camera with Ken Marino