Dennis Haysbert and Matt Walsh Talk Flamin' Hot
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Dennis Haysbert and Matt Walsh Talk Flamin' Hot

Sep 06, 2023

The actors discussed the new Eva Longoria-directed biopic and how it celebrates both Mexican culture and working class sensibilities.

Flamin' Hot tells the inspirational story of Mexican-American father who used his wits and culture to rise from a custodian to a head executive at the massive Frito-Lay company. It's as much a celebration of Mexican culture as it is an embrace of the American Dream, in a way that's just as sweetly optimistic as its main character, Richard Montañez.

Eva Longoria's feature directorial debut stars Jesse Garcia, who is utterly phenomenal as a man with contagious curiosity and joy. The supporting cast is excellent, including Matt Walsh as a frustrated floor manager at Frito-Lay and Dennis Haysbert as a quietly brilliant machine engineer who takes Richard under his wing. The two actors spoke with MovieWeb about the film, its significance, and their characters in it.

Walsh (not that Matt Walsh) is a comedy icon who co-founded the Upright Citizens Brigade and has been in what seems like every majorly successful studio comedy film of the past two decades (Old School, Bad Santa, Step Brothers, I Love You Man, The Hangover, Elf, Ted, Get Hard), not to mention his extensive television career and Emmy nominations. Walsh co-wrote the recent film Unplugging, in which he starred opposite Longoria, which led to his being cast in Flamin' Hot.

Yeah, this movie came up after we became fast friends on Unplugging," said Walsh. "And she just texted me and said, 'Do you want to come out to Albuquerque and maybe play kind of an old, old white racist?' And I said 'No, but I'll play a middle-aged racist.'

"But yeah, she's great," said Walsh of Longoria. "And she let me play, and I got to inform the character and bring my own suggestions, and she was open to loosening up the dialogue. So it was a wonderful experience and she's a great actor, obviously. And a great director."

Related: Exclusive: Eva Longoria Reveals Her Mexican Superpowers Discussing Flamin' Hot

Walsh plays Richard's manager at the Frito-Lay plant, an average guy in a toupee and tie. He's funny in the way that pathetic bosses are funny, but also kind of sad. He's a jerk, at least at first, but he's also just as much a victim of the hierarchical economic system as Richard, even if he's just a few rungs above him on the ladder.

"Yeah, I think he in some ways wanted what Richard Montañez wanted," explained Walsh, "which was to keep the plant open. His approach was just to keep your head down and don't deal with corporate because then they're going to be coming in and inspecting you. So he'd been inside the system for a long time, and he learned how to navigate that by just keeping your head down and doing your job. So I think his whole approach is, don't rock the status quo. Everything's kind of working; don't bring attention to ourselves. So that's how you play a jerk in my mind. I don't know that he was one; he was actually an ally to Richard in the end."

For Walsh, like many actors, inhabiting the role comes more readily when you can actually see yourself in it. So many actors have said that the costume, hair, and makeup departments offer some of the most important assistance they could have in developing what a character is like, and Walsh is no different.

"One of the great things, the hair department was fantastic, and I should know her name," said Walsh (it's likely Teressa Hill, Reneé Majour, Jolynn Nieto, or Carol Mitchell). "But coming into a film, you begin creating the character with the wardrobe and the makeup, and it was very collaborative. They asked me what I was thinking, and they showed me some pieces, and so it's a real collaborative art form." He continued:

When you land on set like days before you're shooting, you're in the chair, or you're standing in a room, and you're working with these other artists in the trades to help you bring to life what you've conceived in your mind, and they always give you options [...] It's a conversation ultimately with the director, but it's wonderful. It's a really fun way into a character.

There have been a surprising slew of films recently which focus on a product or brand — Air, Tetris, Blackberry, and down the line, Jerry Seinfeld's movie about Pop-Tarts. So how does Flamin' Hot stand out among the crowd? By focusing on culture and the working class more than the corporation.

"I feel like it's an exploration of Mexican culture in America, and Hispanic culture in America," explained Walsh. "Yes, it's tied to a brand, but it's about the experience of all these people who live here, who come here, speak Spanish, have their own traditions. You know, it was like that on set, all these actors who came together, these wonderful actors were sharing stories, and it was like a celebration because it was kind of like their story. So I think that's what is at the heart of this film."

Dennis Haysbert (a legend who should need no introduction) fundamentally agrees. Haysbert swerves from his famously intense characters (Now and Again, 24, The Unit, Heat) to playing a quietly observant man named Clarence who is largely ignored by his superiors at Frito-Lay despite being their intellectual superior. He still brings the gravitas he's known for, along with his iconic Allstate voice.

Clarence's mentorship and friendship with Richard Montañez is a highlight of the film, and Haysbert says that their relationship and work together in Flamin' Hot reflects his experience in many ways, along with the experiences of many marginalized people or minorities. The nature of capitalism tends to pit people against each other, relying as it does upon competition, and so it often creates an impasse to real human unity (and unions). It breeds mistrust, but Richard Montañez is presented as such a vibrantly curious, joyful, and hopeful person that he's able to break through.

Related: These Are Some of the Best Movies About Class Consciousness

"I've kind of lived [Clarence's] life. Not lived his life, but being a man of color, and to have this type of story, and have Jesse's character, Richard, come to me and start to ask me these questions as a way into the world, [I'm like], 'Who are you? Why are you talking to me? You're a janitor; are you coming for my job?'" explained Haysbert. He continued:

I mean, all these things start getting in your head. You really don't have to do a hell of a lot of research to get that, because that's kind of stuff that happens all the time. There's always this sense of divide and conquer in these instances, and once you realize that it's not that, then you can relax and say, 'Hey, you know what? You're a good guy. I'll show you the ropes here.' You know, because if I help you, it helps me.

While Flamin' Hot is very much about Mexican culture, and while Montañez bonds with another BIPOC underdog, Haysbert believes that the message of the movie transcends just one culture and community.

"It's not always because of being people of color," said Haysbert. "It's people of like minds. I've found that, you know, the Caucasian people I know that have become friends, we come from the same kind of mindset. Which also tells me that, hey, if we all understand that we are all one, we all come from the same place, we don't have to do this 'divide and conquer.'" Haysbert continued:

Because that's all it's been. If you look back into history, 1500s, 1600s, when white became white, there was no color until the 1600s. You're either Irish, or French, or your tradition, you know, you're all these specific things. But then they decided, 'Okay, we're getting outnumbered here. So we have to conclude this whole group, and then we have to divide all this other stuff into groups to conquer.' Once we realize that we're all together, everything's possible.

That's the inspiring interpretation of Flamin' Hot, which may celebrate a Mexican legend, but embraces the labor of humanity as a whole. Flamin' Hot will be released on June 9, 2023, by Hulu and Disney+. You can check out a trailer below.

Managing Editor and critic for MovieWeb. Lover of film, philosophy, and theology. Amateur human. Contact him at [email protected]