As exaggerated as all telenovelas are, actress Génesis Rodríguez is a big fan of the genre. Not only did she start her career on TV shows like Prisionera and Doña Barbara, her experience working on these types of series has prepared her for her role in Casa de mi Padre, a Spanish-language comedy starring Will Ferrell (Step Brothers).
“In novelas, sometimes you get the most ridiculous situations, but you make the best of it,” Rodríguez, 24, told me during an interview last week. “But novelas are a very special genre. That’s why they’re still alive today. When you see some of that drama happening, you just want to sit down and watch.”
In Casa de mi Padre, Rodríguez plays Sonia, the love interest of Armando Álvarez (Ferrell), who is caught in the middle of a drug war between her fiancé Raul (Diego Luna) and drug lord Onza (Gael García Bernal).
During our interview, Rodríguez, who is of Cuban and Venezuelan heritage, talked about tapping into the humor of a scene by taking it extremely serious, and shared what she thinks is the most macho thing about Will Ferrell.
Did you feel like there were some obvious similarities with Casa de mi Padre and some of the Spanish-language novelas you starred in at the beginning of your career?
Well, the situations and characters were very different. My character in Casa de mi Padre is an ambitious woman. I had never played that kind of character before. I knew what kind of genre Casa de mi Padre was going for. But my character, specifically, I think is very real. There are a lot of extravagant characters in the movie and I think Sonia is the anchor for all of them.
A lot of people would say novelas are made to be overly dramatic and exaggerated. Do you think that’s what Casa de mi Padre was trying to do?
I think what we were trying to do is be extremely serious and let that extreme seriousness come off as funny. It might be ridiculous dialogue, but if you say it extremely serious that’s what makes it so funny. I think what we were trying to do is play the actors who act in telenovelas. Those actors go for it and take it serious.
The movie poster for Casa de mi Padre is epic – you thrust into the arms of Will Ferrell. What did you think when you first saw it?
It was a surreal moment for me. It’s the first movie I ever did and I’m Will Ferrell leading lady! I couldn’t be more honored. Will is an incredible human being and an incredible actor. I was a huge fan before I ever got to work with him.
Did you feel safe in the arms of someone so manly?
(Laughs) Absolutely. I think anyone who sees that poster can feel the macho through the paper.
So, what is the most macho thing about Will Ferrell?
He knows how to use a gun and ride fake horses! And he can woo you by singing.
What impressed you the most about him learning how to speak Spanish for his role?
He took it so seriously! He wasn’t messing around. He wanted to be the most authentic Mexican possible. He didn’t want to be an American speaking Spanish with an American accent. He wanted to have a Mexican accent. That’s what was the most impressive to me. To see someone who doesn’t know the language well dominate that cadence was very impressive and incredible.
Did you get to help him with any of his lines?
He would ask me, “Hey, why is this word feminine and this word masculine?” He wanted to learn more about the language. He wanted to learn all these little things because he would improvise his lines on us. We were sticking to the script and he would add to it and it would blow us out of the water.
You started in Spanish-language TV but have since moved to American TV and movies. Was it a goal of yours as a working actress to make it to Hollywood?
For me it was always a dream to be in the mainstream market. But I grew up bicultural and bilingual. I remember as a kid watching [the telenovela] Luz Clarita and wanting to be in it. But I would also watch a movie like E.T. and wanted to be Drew Barrymore, too. I wanted the best of both worlds.