Famous funnyman George Lopez is shedding his larger-than-life persona for the role of high school teacher Fredi Cameron in his upcoming film, Spare Parts, in theaters Friday.
Based on a true story, the movie follows the adventures of four undocumented Mexican-American high school students in Arizona, who dream of entering an underwater robotics competition and going up against the likes of MIT and Virginia Tech.
This is where Lopez’s character, an amalgam of real life teachers Fredi Lavjardi and Allan Cameron, comes in. He coaches the troubled students through the difficult and sometimes tricky task of building a robot from scratch, with limited money (when water leaks into the robot, the boys resort to tampons as a quick fixer-upper).
And though the film does include more than a few laughs, there are several poignant scenes in which Lopez must help the foursome deal with personal problems that range from evading an immigration officer to facing a belligerent father.
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“I spent a lot of time with both teachers researching the role,” Lopez said. “Listening to their stories and trying my best to do justice to what each of them brought to the table, but the most important thing that I got from each of them was how much they really cared for the students and the role that emotion played in the development of this story.”
For Lopez, this is the type of story that the Hispanic public is thirsty for.
“Stories of Hispanic triumph are important and are definitely worth telling,” he said.
His interview with the Miami Herald was held shortly after the Golden Globe victories of two Latinos: Gina Rodriguez, who won for Best Actress in a Television Series for her role in Jane The Virgin, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won for Best Screenplay for his film Birdman.
In her acceptance speech, Rodriguez said: “This is for a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes,” and Lopez couldn’t agree more.
“If Latinos win Golden Globes, that’s incredible!” Lopez said. “But it’s also important for Hispanics to recognize the importance of going to school, working and living a clean life without drugs and without turning to vices. For me, all Latinos who do that are also worth admiring and are also winning big time in the game of life.”
Lopez, who has played a teacher before in 2002 flick Real Women Have Curves and most recently in FX comedy Saint George, doesn’t discount a real-life teaching gig in the future.
“I wouldn’t mind teaching acting or comedy,” Lopez said. “Or I can teach driving school,” he laughs, adding that the story of the four boys in Spare Parts really inspired him.
“They didn’t have any money and no help from their families and only succeeded thanks to their hard work and the support they got from these two teachers,” Lopez said. “And if you look at the robot, it was small and ugly, with different color parts and looked kind of thrown together.”
However, Lopez explains that unlike other movies the end of Spare Parts didn’t mark the finale of the story.
“For most people winning a contest sponsored by NASA would only bring forth good things,” he said. “But in this situation winning the competition changed these kid’s lives and not only in a positive way because it also brought them problems. One of them was even deported to Mexico.”
The 53-year-old comedian stressed the value of dreams and mentioned that people who work hard are the real heroes of our communities.
“Sometimes the janitors or other people who clean, the caretakers or people who work hard day in and day out don’t receive the respect they deserve, and all Latinos are worthy of respect because the work they do is what keeps this country moving forward,” he said. “Movies like Spare Parts are not made every day, or even every year and that’s why it’s important that Latinos go and watch this film because if this film makes money then we can make another movie about another Latino or Latina or another Hispanic family and if it fails then those chances go down.”
Lopez calls it the domino effect in cinema.
“For instance, I’d like to thank Eugenio Derbez for making the film Instructions Not Included because it was made by Pantalion and Lions Gate and thanks to the success it had we were able to film Spare Parts.”
So what’s next for Lopez in 2015?
“Well, I think I’d like to make a movie with Eugenio, so let’s see!” he said, laughing.