When I first came across the trailer of Cantiflas, the biopic of the late and great Mario Moreno “Cantinflas,” I flipped. I flipped because I am a huge fan of Cantiflas and I was eager to know more about the man behind Cantiflas, Mario Moreno. You see, I have always felt that Cantiflas belongs to me, I’m sure many feel that way because Cantiflas is of the people and for the people, but Mario Moreno, the man behind Cantiflas, has always been more of a mystery to me.
If you don’t know who Mario Moreno Cantiflas is then you are probably NOT Mexican. Cantinflas is a true Mexican treasure and icon beloved by countless many. Cantinflas and his films aren’t only HUGE in Mexico, but in all Latin America. In the U.S., English-speaking audiences became familiar with Cantinflas when he was cast as Passepartout in the movie Around the World in 80 Days for which he won the 1956 Golden Globe in the category of best actor in a musical or comedy.
I never even saw Around the World in 80 Days until I was a grown up. I fell in love with Cantinflas because of his Spanish language films. I grew up watching his films and listening to his convoluted way of speaking a.k.a. his cantiflada that left me confused, but always made me laugh. He was funny, smart, resourceful, and a hero for all underdogs.
So how excited was I to be invited to a press screening of the movie that opens to the public on August 29 and to be given a chance to interview the actor playing Cantinflas in the film? Uh, VERY! When I saw the trailer, way back in June, I was amazed by how much the actor playing Cantinflas actually managed to make me think he was Cantiflas. I mean I have seen people “do” Cantiflas, but I have never really felt like I was watching anything more than an impersonation, in this case, the trailer left me wanting to see the movie because it was like Cantiflas was back, in color and ready to make me laugh. The movie did not disappoint, I felt like I was watching my buddy Cantiflas on the big screen.
The actor playing Mario Moreno “Cantinflas” is Óscar Jaenada, a rather well-known, successful and Goya Award winning SPANISH actor. Yes, SPANISH, not Mexican! I’m not gonna lie that when I found out a Spanish actor got the part instead of a Mexican actor, I was skeptical. I mean how could they cast someone who is not Mexican to play the part of a man who has become so symbolic of Mexico, of a man who became what he became because of Mexico?
I’ll tell you how they could do it, because Jaenada without a doubt deserved to play this part. He did his homework, he went after the part, he became not just Cantiflas, but Mario Moreno.
When I met Jaenada in person I was even more impressed because in real life he reminds me not one iota of Cantiflas. I brought my eldest daughter Put Pie to the interview and Jaenada was beyond gracious to her, which of course made me like him instantly. Here’s a little excerpt of our conversation…the conversation was in Spanish, but I am translating it since I write in English here…
Óscar Jaenada: Hola, Put Pie (except he called her by her real name), I am Oscar.
Me: Put Pie do you want to give him what you made for him? She made you a drawing while we were in the lobby.
Óscar Jaenada: Wow, you know my brother is a painter and he loves to draw. I’m going to save it. Si señora, very beautiful!
Me: I saw the movie last night and you did a phenomenal job. I have to start off by asking you a question that my mother made me promise to ask, how did you capture his voice?
Óscar Jaenada: It was very important to go to Mexico, I had never been to Mexico and my accent is completely different. I went to Mexico and I realized that his accent was very distinct, very particular, so I decided to hire a phonetician and also a Cantinflas impersonator. I saw that there were many impersonators, which is an imitation and very different than how I work, but I thought it could help me with certain tones. But most importantly I studied all of his movies over and over again, I learned his lines, I said them with him. The intent is not to fool, but to convince the audience.
Well, I for one was convinced because Jaenada nails the performance. As I left the interview, I thanked him for his time, but most of all I thanked him for his wonderful portrayal of Mario Moreno. He in turn thanked me and my daughter for our time and promised to make my daughter an international artist.
Óscar Jaenada: Gracias, thank you for coming and being here with me and thank you very much for your drawing, I’m going to take it with me to Spain! Me lo llevo a España!
Awww, my daughter’s art is going to Spain.
Here’s a featurette of the film Cantinflas:
Images via Ángel González / Courtesy of KenioFilms.com and Pantelion Films