with Franc Reyes about the new film EMPIRE.
As a Hispanic writer / director, do you
only get Latino type projects? Are you looking to "cross over"
into general market type projects, like Cuaron (Y tu Mama Tambien)
with Harry Potter? Do you think this is an angle that Latin directors
should take, or should they be more focused on the Hispanic community?
Right now I'm being offered a cross section of projects. Though
I believe Cuaron is a wonderful filmmaker and will probably hit
Harry Potter out of the ball park, as a writer I've written a wide
spectrum of stories with Latinos in them. If I made a film with
a 100% Latino cast, I wouldn't be true to myself and what my life
is all about. Art imitating life. Having said that, it also applies
the other way. If I made a film with a 100% African American or
Caucasian cast, the truth wouldn't be there either. There isn't
a story that exists that Latinos along with every other culture
can't tell. My cast will always include Latinos because that's who
I am. But I live in a wonderful world of cultures and I hope my
films will always reflect that.
What were some of the biggest obstacles in making this
film? Did you get any criticism or concerns about misrepresenting
the Hispanic community?
There was one time when shooting in The Bronx when a woman (community
leader) started to protest about the "perpetuating of stereotypes"
on my set and disrupting it. I took the woman to the side and asked
her what her problem was. She said she was tired of "Latino
gangster movies". I asked her to name one of the many "Latino
gangster movies" she was tired of. She mentioned "Scarface."
I told her it was directed by Brian De Palma, not from a Latino
POV. Then she said "Carlito's Way", I said once again
that was De Palma. She then said "Blood In Blood Out."
I said that was Taylor Hackford. She became frustrated and started
to complain about the Latino images on television, shows like NYPD
Blue, Law and Order, etc. I told her the images she was "tired"
of are not images written or created by Latinos, that finally she
had in me a Latino director shooting a story in our neighborhood
and she disrupts "my" set. I gave her a copy of my script
and told her to read it and come back to me. I assured her if there
were any stereo typical characters in it that I would get rid of
them. She came back at the end of shooting day with tears in her
eyes and asked me to sign the screenplay for her. I've said all
this to say that though I understood her concerns, sometimes we
just need to get out of our own way as Latinos.
Why did you cast Leguizamo to be the lead?
I never thought I could get John Leguizamo. I sent the script
to many Latino actors. But many refused to even read it because
the lead was a Latino drug dealer. Which didn't make any sense to
me. John called after reading the script and asked me how I planned
to shoot the film. We went to lunch and spoke about it for hours
and the rest is history.
How did you come about to cast Fat Joe? When you wrote the
script, did you write his character thinking specifically on Fat
Joe for the role? What about with Treach?
When I first wrote the script I wrote it about a guy who
couldn't get up from his sofa to have a gunfight. I had Big Pun
in mind (Rip). Joe has a smaller frame and he moves fast for a guy
as big as he is. But when I spoke to him about the role, he responded
positively and did an amazing job. He realized there was more to
his character than just a gunfight.
Is Fat Joe in the film to attract the urban / Hip-Hop demographic,
or is did you have a specific reason for his casting him in this
When I cast this film, I didn't really think like a marketing
person. I wanted the best people for the job. His music took off
after we shot the film. A little luck doesn't hurt.
Has your background in music influenced the way you see
and understand Hispanic urban cultures?
Absolutely. Someone recently called Empire a Latino "New
Jack City". I responded by saying that musically I grew up
listening to was Tito Puente, Hector Lavoe and Ruben Blades on one
side of the street and Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind and Fire and RunDMC
on the other. The Black music influence in my film is obvious. I'm
not sure there is any Latino musical influence in "New Jack
City", knowing for a fact that the African-Americans in Harlem
also grew up on Tito,
Hector and Ruben.
Do you think Empire is a true representation of what
it is to grow up and be in the rat race in the Bronx?
For some, not for all. There is no "one film" that
can represent an entire people.
Did your music background influence you to involve urban
music icons, Fat Joe and Treach, in Empire?
I needed to keep the film as authentic as possible. Some
of the actors that auditioned for the Treach role couldn't bring
it. I've seen Treach in other films. There was no doubt he can bring
Are there any particular scenes in the movie that were
directly inspired by, or reflect personal experiences?
A lot of the moments with Carmen (Delilah Cotto) and Victor
Rosa (John Leguizamo).
Would you say that Empire personifies the current philosophies
and ambitions in the streets of the Bronx? To what extent
does this hold true to other Hispanic neighborhoods (ie East LA)?
Latinos are a very colorful and diversified people with an array
of philosophies and ideas with which to challenge our ambitions
in life and succeed. Coming from any ghetto, the pitfalls are there.
Whether that be the ghettos in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami,
etc. Empire personifies one slice of life, one that I'm familiar
Are the characters in the movie inspired on real life
people and experiences?
Yes and No
What made you decide to write Empire?
Desire, ambition, inspiration and desperation.
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