Luis Gerardo Méndez on exploring the immigrant experience in his U.S. breakout comedy Half Brothers
It was another late day on set in New Mexico when Luis Gerardo Méndez, the star and executive producer of the upcoming road-trip comedy Half Brothers, noticed George, the set goat, getting restless. It was always around 11 p.m., Méndez says, that George would start to signal he was done for the day by kicking people's legs.
"I'm done with this. I'm done with this. I want to go to bed," Mendez remembers thinking. "One day he ate a whole barrel of his food because someone left it there. Like, four times more than he was supposed to eat. The next day on set, he was inflated."
Like George, Méndez's character in Half Brothers is a charming straight shooter, at times to a fault. The film (in select theaters Friday) tells the story of a Mexican aviation engineer named Renato (Méndez), who heads to the United States after learning that his estranged father (Juan Pablo Espinosa) is terminally ill. Although bitter about his dad's long absence in his life, Renato takes the trip, running into his half-brother, Mexican-American Asher (Connor Del Rio), and a lovable goat (sometimes affectionally called Renatito) along the way.
Méndez, who's currently in Mexico City and sporting a cop-ready mustache for his next role in Narcos: Mexico, worked with director Luke Greenfield (Let's Be Cops) and screenwriters Eduardo Cisneros and Jason Shuman for Half Brothers. Through the story of Renato and his evolving relationship with his father, his half-brother, and Americans, the team aimed to accurately portray "the perspective of the immigrant," the 38-year-old tells EW.
Méndez's star began to rise in his home country of Mexico in the early 2010s. He starred in the dark comedy The Noble Family, which took the box office by storm in 2013 and became one of the highest-grossing Mexican films ever. He went on to appear in Cantinflas, Mexico's entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Academy Awards, and to star in and produce Club de Cuervos, Netflix's first Spanish-language original series.
To prepare for his breakout role Stateside, Méndez worked with A-list acting coach Larry Moss. He also drew from his own memories. In a series of flashbacks early in Half Brothers, a young Renato watches his father leave their home for the U.S. during Mexico's financial crisis of 1994-1995, which left a wave of broken homes in a mass migration of Mexicans to the United States. The spike in migration rate ultimately led to a growing fear among some Americans of incoming mass unrest (see: outgoing President Donald Trump calling people caught crossing the border "animals" and "rapists.") Half Brothers has multiple scenes depicting detention centers near the border.
Méndez, who comes from a family of doctors in Aguascalientes, recalls firsthand what the financial crisis was like. "I remember my father losing his apartment," the actor says. "The only property he had at the moment. He lost it because of the crisis… It's not like Mexicans want to go to the States because they like the better weather, right? No, man! It's because they didn't have opportunities in Mexico. No one wants to leave their home."
In the film, Renato has a bone to pick with almost everyone around him, perhaps due to others' continued mistrust of him. In an early scene, Renato lashes out at a probing American journalist in a meeting, asking, "Why do you guys always think the Unites States is a symbol of success?"
That question crystallizes the movie's message. "We wanted to portray the theme of migration into the States with a lot of dignity," Méndez says. But rest assured, Half Brothers is no grim drama; it's often broadly comic. "I'm hoping families in the States around Christmas can watch and open a conversation about [migration]," Méndez says.
And you know what they say: La risa es el mejor medicina. Laughter is the best medicine.