Eva Longoria and Michael Peña, two Mexican-American actors at the top of their game, are co-starring in the indie film Frontera. For both, it is their first Spanish-language role. We would be much more psyched if it didn’t involve the same old stereotypes and repeating that singular storyline of crossing la frontera, as if that experience defines all Mexicans in the United States. (Hello, some of us were born here!)
The film’s official synopsis speaks volumes:
“Set along the tumultuous Arizona-Mexico border, Frontera, follows Miguel (Michael Peña), a hardworking father and devoted husband who crosses the border illegally and is wrongfully accused of murdering the wife of a former sheriff (Ed Harris). Miguel’s pregnant wife (Eva Longoria) lands in the hands of corrupt Mexican “Coyote” smugglers as she tries to help her husband, while the ex-lawman investigates his wife’s death and unearths evidence that could destroy one family’s future.”
*Note to marketers: if you want Latinos to watch your film don’t use the word “illegal” to describe an immigrant’s arduous trek across the border. #NoHumanBeingIsIllegal
Sigh, we still love ya, Eva and Michael. Instead of focusing on the negative, we’re taking the chance to look back at the roles that made us fall in love with these two talented actors. Here are 7 roles where they actually speak English and aren’t sneaking across the border.
Michael Peña as Omar
Million Dollar Baby, 2004
Don’t tell me you didn’t recognize Michael Peña as Anthony Mackie’s best bud in the gym. Yes, it’s a small role in the shadow of Hilary Swank’s badass boxer and Clint Eastwood’s scowling coach, but it was Peña’s breakout role that led to another collaboration with Paul Haggis for Crash. The rest, they say, is Hollywood history.
Eva Longoria as Gabrielle Solís
Desperate Housewives, 2004-12
After watching a character grow for eight years, you’ll either love her or love to hate her. As the only Latina on the Wisteria Lane block on that TV show no one wants to admit they totally watched, Longoria had one of the more emotional backstories to match her scandalous storyline of her on-again-off-again marriage, pregnancy, offshore bank accounts, and all the drama.
Michael Peña as Paco Hernandez
American Hustle, 2013
To prove Michael Peña is one of the most chill actors of our time, let’s stand him next to Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Amy Adams decked out in all of the 70s polyester and furs glory. As of late, David O. Russell has really taken to making his actors overreact and yell and scream and stomp all over the screen for their Oscar nominations. But it’s cooler actors like Peña and Louis C.K. that damn-well steal the Hustle from the hustlers, and I’m not mad about that.
Michael Peña as Cesar Chavez
Cesar Chavez, 2014
So the movie was kind of a mess technically and historically speaking but, one of the few highlights was Peña’s performance. Messianic overtones aside, Peña carefully navigated Chavez’s complex legacy for what I think was a pretty effective portrayal of a troubled father and labor leader taking on the California vineyards for livable wages.
Eva Longoria as Herself
In A World…, 2013
In case you didn’t know, Eva’s way more pro-girl power than she lets on, and in In A World… she lends a cameo to this self-empowering comedy about an upstart vocal coach challenging the competitive male-dominated industry of voiceovers (the disembodied voices you hear narrating commercials and movie trailers). Longoria makes a brief appearance as one of Carol’s (a super-awkward but determined Lake Bell) students practicing a Cockney accent. Worth tracking down if you haven’t seen it already.
Michael Peña as Miguel Zavala
End of Watch, 2012
This cop drama filmed half hand-held, half-professionally is a shaky mix of Peña’s and Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting abilities, but it works because of the leading men’s talent. Again, Peña’s protagonist is so damn endearing even when busting his buddy cop’s balls, you can’t help but root for him. It’s slightly unnerving that all the crime suspects in the film are men and women of color, but you know cops and profiling.
Michael Peña as Sebastian Cisnero
Eastbound & Down, 2010
Okay baseball, Jody Hill, and David Gordon Green fans, here’s your shot at watching Peña square off with the insufferable Kenny Powers (Danny McBride, in the best suited role you can think of for his abrasive personality in films like Tropic Thunder and This is the End.) In the series’ second season, Powers, a down-and-out baseball pitcher turned P.E. coach hiding out in Mexico, is recruited by Peña’s Sebastian Cisnero to join his baseball team, Los Charros. Enjoy.
Frontera opens in theaters on September 5 and is currently available on iTunes.