Flamin’ Hot Eva
“Nobody can tell this story better than me.”
Eva Longoria plops into the corner booth at the Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel fresh from a fitting for the Cannes Film Festival, looking amazing in white sweats, no makeup, and damp hair. She seems incredibly chill for someone whose schedule is as packed as a clown car during a circus act and very much at home here. She briefly catches up with virtually everyone who comes by — servers, bussers, manager. “These are all my people,” she says. “I almost named my son Polo Lounge because I literally thought I was going to have the baby here. I was here every day.”
Longoria has been very busy lately, or since forever. The actor, producer, director, entrepreneur, philanthropist, activist, and mom premiered her feature directorial debut, Flamin’ Hot, on Hulu and Disney+ on June 9, and she has been promoting it internationally while flying back and forth to Albuquerque to shoot Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. She recently spent four months traveling through Mexico for the CNN food show Searching for Mexico, a spin-off of Stanley Tucci’s popular Italian culinary travelogue. She hosts a podcast on authentic connection on Apple; and she launched a nontoxic cookware line, Risa, and a tequila company, Casa Del Sol. And she recently got back from six months in Spain, where she shot a series for Apple TV+ called Land of Women, in which she plays a Bernie Madoff-type swindler’s socialite wife who flees New York for rural Spain with her daughter and elderly mother, played by Almodóvar muse Carmen Maura.
“That’s the first time I did anything [written] in Spanish,” she tells me after ordering an egg-white scramble with avocado and bacon on the side. (They don’t have refried beans, so she gets the sourdough toast instead.) Longoria, a ninth-generation Mexican-American, only really started to learn the language 10 years ago, when she began dating her now-husband, Mexican producer and executive José (Pepe) Bastón. On set, she struggled with the accent, which had to feel authentic to Spain and, even more locally, to Catalonia. “At first they were trying to perfect me,” she says. But after a frustrating tussle with a tongue-twisty line about buying a tractor, she was allowed to switch to Mexican Spanish. “It made sense, because my daughter [in the film] is Mexican,” she says. “So they changed the storyline to say we’d lived in Mexico.”
In many ways, Longoria’s personal and professional life is coalescing around the Mexican heritage she didn’t always know how to claim. She was born and raised on a ranch outside Corpus Christi, Texas, on land granted to her ancestor in the 18th century by the king of Spain. Last fall, Longoria received the medal of Dama del Real Cuerpo de la Nobleza de Asturias (Lady of the Royal Corps of the Nobility of Asturias, Spain), where she can trace her roots to the town of Llongoria, but her identity is firmly rooted in the Mexican American or Tejano culture of South Texas. “It’s just a very specific world,” she says. “The food is very different. Flour tortillas instead of corn. Lots of cheese. Pepe hates the food.” The culture doesn’t necessarily include fluency in Spanish. Her parents didn’t speak Spanish to the children at home because it was generally discouraged. She didn’t realize how limited her mom’s Spanish was until her husband pointed it out. “But now I speak Spanish. And I go, ‘Mom, your Spanish is really bad.’ She goes, ‘It’s always been bad.’ But I didn’t even notice. I never noticed.” In fact, she learned French before she learned Spanish, during her marriage to former NBA player Tony Parker. In 2013, she started dating Bastón: “I mean, they say, ‘You want to learn a language, take a lover.’”
The youngest of four sisters, one of whom had special needs, Longoria learned the value of philanthropy and activism early in life. She was a hugger at the Special Olympics and picketed the state Capitol when changes in the law drove up prescription costs for her sister. “I was like, ‘Oh, so that law goes into effect and we can’t eat. Whoa.’ I remember holding up signs telling lawmakers they can’t do this to families.” Coming from a big family, she’d always assumed she would have one, as well. “When it didn’t happen, I was like, ‘OK, I have my life’s purpose, which is my charity work and my philanthropy,’” she says. (Her Eva Longoria Foundation, founded in 2012, has a mission to increase opportunities for disadvantaged Latinas through education, outreach, and entrepreneurship programs.)
“Then I met Pepe. He had three kids and didn’t want any more. And I really didn’t want to get married again. We were like, ‘Great, we’re fine.’ And now here we are, married with Santi,” she laughs. Santi is Santiago, her 4-year-old son, who was born when she was 43. “I don't know what happened, but it happened.” There are benefits to having kids in your 40s, when you’re fully established in your career, she says. “I can really be picky about the projects I choose. I can really be with him and raising him now, as opposed to being career-focused. People go, ‘Oh, is your life crazier now that you’ve had a kid?’ I go, ‘It’s actually less crazy because he’s such a priority.’ He’s such the center of my universe, so it’s easy to say no.”
Growing up in South Texas, Longoria didn’t feel like an outsider. “Everybody’s Hispanic — like everybody,” she says. “So, I didn’t really feel different.” Then in the third grade, she entered a gifted and talented program and transferred to a rich, predominantly white school across town. “That was the first time I heard ‘She’s Mexican,’” she says. “And I was like, ‘Who? What is that?’ Because everybody in my neighborhood was Mexican. I had a bean taco, and I got on the bus and everybody had a Pop-Tart. And I was like, ‘What’s that?’ And they were like, ‘What’s that?’ And I was like, ‘It’s a bean taco. Everybody eats a bean taco for breakfast.’ And they all had a Pop-Tart. I went home and I begged my mom to buy Pop-Tarts. I go like, ‘Please, I just want a Pop-Tart.’ And she was like, ‘No, I’m not buying that. Pop-Tarts are so expensive.’”
For the past 10 years, Longoria has lived primarily in Mexico City, where her husband is from, but she still sometimes feels like a fish out of water. “It was interesting to move to Mexico City because they’re like, ‘Oh, the American. Oh, la gringa.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m Mexican!’” Santi is fully bilingual, though his first language is Spanish. “He gets very frustrated that we [his mother and grandmother] don’t speak Spanish as well as English,” she says. “It’s actually surreal. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, my son is so Mexican.’ He’s also very worldly. He’ll say, ‘I want to go to Paris to have a croissant.’ He associates it with that. Or he goes, ‘Can we go back to Australia to see the kangaroos?’ And I love the idea that he knows we live in a global community. You’re not just Mexican; you’re a global citizen. And that to me is very important because I think you have more compassion that way for a lot of things.”
People go, “Oh, is your life crazier now that you’ve had a kid?” I go, “It’s actually less crazy because he’s such a priority.” He’s such the center of my universe, so it’s easy to say no.
Longoria believes it was her deep understanding of hybrid identity that helped her get the job of directing Flamin’ Hot. The film, which, yes, is about the invention of spicy Cheetos, is based on the book A Boy, a Burrito, and a Cookie: From Janitor to Executive by Richard Montañez. Montañez, whose contested claim to fame is that he invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos while working as a janitor at a Frito-Lay plant in Rancho Cucamonga, rose through the executive ranks at PepsiCo and is credited with mainstreaming the Hispanic market. (After the Los Angeles Times debunked his claim, parent company PepsiCo stated its support for Montañez while not disputing the reporting.)
“I fell in love with Richard’s story. I got the script — it wasn’t that great of a script — and I cried four times,” she says. “My agent goes, ‘You’re probably not going to get this because you haven’t done a film before, and it’s Searchlight, and Searchlight is very prestigious.’ And I was like, ‘OK.’ Then she’s like, ‘But I think you should try.’ And so I went in and pitched my heart out five times.”
Her pitch for Searchlight Pictures, which focused on authenticity and specificity and took about four months to prepare, included graphics, videos, a look book, and casting ideas. She wanted to “blow up” the script, tell the story from Richard’s perspective. “I was like, ‘Nobody can tell this story better than me. I am Mexican American. I am Chicana. I am Richard. I am Richard. I straddle the hyphen of being Mexican American. I just sit right in the middle. It’s such a navigation of identity being both all the time.”
According to Linda Yvette Chavez, who wrote the new version with Longoria, Longoria wanted to make Richard the narrator of the film, and she wanted it to be funny. “Because if you meet Richard, he is so funny,” Chavez tells me. “That original script was very earnest.”
Longoria identified with Richard in other ways, too. “Everybody told Richard, ‘No, no, no, no. That job is not for you. Ideas don’t come from people like you.’ And he was like, ‘But why not? Why not?’ He didn’t understand. His naivete was his superpower.” Longoria knew exactly what that was like. “So many people are like, ‘No, you’re not going to be a director. You’re a girl. You can’t be a star. You’re from Texas. There’s 6,000 people a month who move to L.A. to become actors, and 6,000 who leave because they didn’t make it. Why do you think you’re special?’ I was like, ‘I just know I’m going to make it. I know I’m going to be the one that stays.’”
“As a Mexican American woman,” Chavez says, “it’s rare that you aren’t questioned by people about the authenticity of your work. We’re often having to demand respect, [insist] that we know what we’re doing. Even Eva has to demand respect. You would think someone of her stature wouldn’t have to do that anymore. But she still does.”
Longoria’s experience has been that “when people doubt you, it fuels you to want to do better, and it fuels you to want to outperform what they even expect.” She says she really felt that pressure when she got the job with Searchlight. “I felt like if I didn’t get it right for women, for female directors, for Latin directors, we may not get another chance for another five years. And so I felt the pressure of delivering for a community greater than myself,” she says. “The movie is specifically is a love letter to the Mexican American community, and anybody who’s been told ‘No, that opportunity’s not for you.’”
Longoria doesn’t know where her optimism and faith in herself comes from. “[If] I don’t get a job, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, that means something else is coming.’ I don’t go, ‘Oh, I didn’t get the job.’ I go, ‘Oh, my God, you guys, this means something better is coming!’ I get so excited.” She was always that way. When she was 15, she wanted a quinceañera, but her parents wouldn’t pay for it. So she applied for a job at Wendy’s, lied about her age, and worked there until a teacher came in for a hamburger one day and saw her. In high school, she wanted to be a cheerleader. “My mom was like, ‘You’ve never been a cheerleader or a dancer. You’ve never taken a dance class.” I was like, ‘I know, but I’m going to do it.’” At Texas A&M University at Kingsville, where she was getting her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, she didn’t have enough money for her senior year, so she entered a scholarship beauty pageant. “My mom was like, ‘Oh, honey, that’s not a good idea. You’re not going to win.’” (Wasn’t that discouraging? “No, they’re still like that!” she says, laughing.) She won.
The prize was a trip to Los Angeles. Not long after arriving, she asked her parents to send her belongings. She worked at a headhunting firm and as an extra for a while, then booked a part on The Young and the Restless. Then came Desperate Housewives, which became a worldwide sensation and lasted for eight years. More importantly, it opened her eyes to the world behind the camera. She realized she wanted more control. She spent her downtime on the set learning everything she could about production and about the business of movie-making. Flamin’ Hot, Longoria points out, is her feature directorial debut, but she has been directing television episodes and short films for 12 years. “The thing about Eva is she’s been on set forever,” Chavez says. “If you’re an actor and you’ve been on set forever, you become a sponge. You learn about what’s worked; you learn about good directing and bad directing by being directed by good and bad directors.”
Longoria’s celebrity has also opened doors to activism and entrepreneurial ventures. “Once I was working, I would get invited to host things,” she says. “I’d get on a stage and people would give me talking points and then I would get off and go, ‘Wow, is that true? Farm workers don’t even have water in the field? They don’t even have a bathroom? Farmers aren’t required to provide the shade?’” She met one of her mentors, the legendary activist Dolores Huerta, who told her, “Mija, one day you’re going to have a voice, so you better have something to say.”
At the time, she didn’t understand what she meant. She read Occupied America by Rodolfo Acuña, the godfather of Chicano studies and a professor at California State University at Northridge. She met him, took his class online, and loved it. She took another class, and then another. “Finally the school’s like, ‘You can’t keep taking classes; you have to enroll into the master’s program.’” So she took the GMAT and enrolled. “I would work all day on Desperate Housewives, and then Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, I would have night school from 7 to 10, and then I’d do my homework on set,” she says. “Everybody helped me. The grips, the lighting, the boom guy. I was like, ‘What do you know about the New Deal? Does anybody know what NAFTA is?’ It was so fun. It was a collaborative thing, but it was all encompassing. If I had known the amount of work it was going to be, I probably would not have done it.”
Twenty-five years later, M.A. in Chicano studies in hand, she understands what Huerta meant. “I mean, the microphone I have is very loud.” In addition to the specificity and intention she brings to her own projects, UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, the production company Longoria started, is on a mission to tap into a different talent pool to tell stories. “Perspective matters,” she says. “The voice of who tells the story matters.” She believes that in order for things to break through the glut of content, they have to be innovative. “And the only way you can be innovative is by diversifying.”
Figuring out how she wants to leverage her fame has been clarifying in all aspects of Longoria’s life, from the shows she produces, to her business ventures, to how she structures her free time. Her new cookware and tequila businesses were a natural fit with her love of cooking and her mission to promote Mexican culture and Mexican women specifically. The Casa Del Sol distillery is 100% Mexican owned, and its master distiller is a woman, Carmen Gonzalez.
“I’d heard about celebrities in tequila. And we say we don't want to be in the ‘celebrity category,’ because Eva gives so much to the brand,” says Alejandra Pelayo, vice president of operations for Casa Del Sol, Mexico. “She actually comes and works the market. She bartends; she’s been to our distillery; she knows our offices; she knows how to guide a tasting — all of these interesting things you need to know to work in the industry.”
Longoria’s first move as co-founder was to throw a party for employees and their families in Mexico. “We had our parents, siblings, cousins, tíos,” Pelayo says. “And she took the time to meet our family to talk to our family and to hear from them. Everybody was so excited, because who wants to meet your family at work?” When Pelayo, who comes from the world of tequila, not entertainment, was nervous about taking promotional photos, Longoria coached her through how to pose.
Chavez recalls their first time working together on the script for Flamin’ Hot, marveling at Longoria’s ability to be simultaneously humble and in charge. “She rushed into the meeting with her kid on her hip, like, just having just directed an episode of television, and she sits down, and they bring her her steak salad. And then we’d like, get ready to work. It blew my mind that she was able to go from one thing to the next.”
“In the latter part of my career, I just want to do things I love,” Longoria says. “And what do I love? I love my family. I love cooking. It is one of the greatest joys in my life. I can get off a red-eye and want to cook for my whole family. I got off a plane from Paris a month ago and landed and made an entire barbecue for all my friends.” Her husband thinks it’s crazy, but it relaxes her.
Longoria has to rush off to the next item on her schedule, but she doesn’t seem harried or stressed. Still, after the year she’s had, she might be gearing up to relax by actually relaxing.
“A friend of mine told me: ‘Women can have it all. Just not at the same time.’ This summer’s going to be all about my family. All about Santi. We have a house in Spain. So just being in the house and doing nothing, sleeping. I was saying to my agent the other day, ‘What’s my next job? What am I doing next?’ And he goes, ‘Sleep. That’s what you’re doing. You’re going to sleep this fall.’”
Top image credits: Ulla Johnson cardigan, Lizzie Fortunato earrings, Tiffany & Co. necklace, Almasika ring (right hand), talent’s own ring (left hand), Tory Burch sandals
Photographs by Emman Montalvan
Styling by Tiffany Reid
Hair: Dimitris Giannetos
Makeup: Leah Darcy
Manicure: Sreynin Peng
Talent Bookings: Special Projects
Video: Kyle Hartman
Associate Creative Director, Video: Samuel Schultz
Photo Director: Alex Pollack
SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid
SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert