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Why couldn’t Breaking Bad find Mexican Mexicans?

Watching “Breaking Bad” . . . I’m told on good authority that may of the actors playing Mexicans are not actually Mexican; some of them can barely speak Spanish at all. Whassup with that? How hard is it to find a Mexican actor in LA or Albuquerque??

29 Comments

  1. Shea Levy says:

    My gut guess is that the real question is why they didn’t try to find Mexican actors. No idea why that might be, though.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Whooooooa (spitting out morning coffee)… hold on there, are you saying TV shows contain make-pretend?

    • Andrew says:

      Anon:

      Yes, of course Breaking Bad is not realistic. Still, what’s the point of hiring actors who can’t speak Spanish to pretend to be Mexican. There are lots of Spanish-speaking actors out there!

      • Calum says:

        Andrew, the point of actors is to pretend to be people they are not. That is quite literally the job description. It makes no more sense for someone playing a Mexican to be a Mexican than it makes for someone playing a murderer to actually be a murderer.

        • Andrew says:

          Calum:

          It makes sense for someone playing a Mexican to speak convincing Spanish! A performance should be convincing, and if someone can’t speak the language that makes things a lot less convincing.

          • Calum says:

            Only if your audience is likely to find it unrealistic. The majority of Breaking Bad’s audience worldwide does not speak Spanish well enough to find it jarring. And it is important to realise that there are hundreds of things about any television show or film that are not correct: I’m sure a plumber would find fault with the way Walt installs a boiler, and firearms hobbyists with the portrayal of weapons, and skilled drivers with the high speed driving scenes, and indeed psychologists with the progression of Walter’s mental state throughout the show.

            • Andrew says:

              Calum:

              Yes, I agree. It’s a production-values issue, and as such there is a tradeoff: Is the cost of finding a Spanish-speaking actor, or hiring plumbing consultant to give advice regarding the boiler, or hiring a gun expert for the weapons scenes, or hiring a top-quality stunt driver, etc., worth the benefit of increased realism in these different scenes?

              The thing that surprised me was, I’d’ve thought that in LA, or even Albuquerque, it would be so easy to find Mexican actors that the additional cost of hiring Spanish-speakers for these scenes would be approximately zero. It just seems natural enough to put up a casting call for male actors in the age range 20-30 who can speak fluent Spanish. But apparently it was not so easy for the producers to find Spanish-speaking actors for these bit parts. This surprised me, hence my post.

  3. Roger says:

    Hollywood usually chooses something fake over something authentic. It ia all about fakery.

  4. jonathan says:

    Casting notices for men tend to be pretty general: general height, general statement of looks. Guess is they wanted guys who sort of generally looked a certain way rather than actual guys. This tends to be true of male and female background and really minor characters: actual looks may be too authentic for the type, as in real Mexicans look too Mexican for TV. While male casting notices tend to be general, female casting notices can be eerily specific, like some casting director has in mind some exact girl, as in pixie cut light blonde hair, narrow range of height, etc. It kind of feels masturbatory in the specificity and is bluntly sexist. And sometimes racist, as in black actress minor parts are “sassy office worker” or some version of streetwalker. There are of course male casting notices for thug biker and the like. (Remember actor A Martinez chose that name because that’s a type, as in “we need a Martinez”.)

  5. Brian Borchers says:

    New Mexico has a very large Hispanic population, but many New Mexican born Hispanics have never learned Spanish or speak it very poorly because they live in a society where English is the predominant language. You’ll still find a few areas in remote parts of northern New Mexico where Spanish is widely spoken, but traditional New Mexican Spanish is a fairly distinct dialect.

    Because of the poor economy in New Mexico, relatively few recent migrants from Mexico have come to New Mexico (there are many more jobs for them in Texas, Arizona, and California) Furthermore, there is often discrimination against Mexican migrants from native New Mexican Hispanics. For example, the most recent time that I heard someone use the “W” word to describe a Mexican immigrant that person was a proud New Mexican Hispanic who traces their family back to the Spanish colonial period in New Mexico.

    In general there are very substantial cultural differences between various Hispanic communities in the US (Puerto Rican immigrants living in the northeast vs. Cuban-American immigrants in Florida vs. Mexican Americans in southern California vs. New Mexican Hispanics in New Mexico.) You can see these differences in language, food, and politics among other areas. Politicians who don’t understand this can make fools of themselves.

    • Martha says:

      “In general there are very substantial cultural differences between various Hispanic communities in the US”

      +1 Sometimes even within the subgroups mentioned –for example, differences between Cuban Americans whose ancestors came to the Tampa area to work in the cigar factories pre-Castro, vs the later immigrants fleeing Castro’s regime, who settled mainly in the Miami area.

  6. Howard Edwards says:

    It’s happened before. As it says in his entry in IMDb http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0193295/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm, Cliff Curtis is a New Zealand Maori who has played mostly bad guys of almost any ethnicity that Hollywood thinks he resembles, including Mexican.

  7. Christoph N. says:

    Is your question rethoric in nature?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Apparently its bigger than Breaking Bad. As a Chris Rock fan, you might find some of this interesting: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/top-five-filmmaker-chris-rock-753223

  9. Robin Morris says:

    Surely a good actor should be able to play a wide variety of roles. Or are you advocating strong typecasting based on ethnicity?

    • Andrew says:

      Robin:

      Have you ever watched Breaking Bad? They have people playing Mexicans, speaking lines entirely in Spanish, but these guys can’t actually speak Spanish—they’re just memorizing the syllables. To a native Spanish speaker (and, yes, there are a few of them in the U.S.), it’s just jarring. And it seems unncecessary, on a par with a continuity violation or an anachronism in a period drama.

      It’s not about ethnicity, it’s about finding actors who can speak Spanish, if that’s what they’re asked to do. And it’s not the biggest thing in the world—but, jeez, how hard would it be for the producers of a major TV show to find actors who can speak Spanish with a convincing Mexican accent?

      • Robin Morris says:

        Ok, to be honest I’ve never watched Breaking Bad. But yes, if speaking Spanish convincingly is a requirement of the role, then they should be casting people who can speak Spanish convincingly.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Generally, Hollywood has to be somewhat more punctilious about ethnic casting than in the past. George Clooney got away with playing a Hawaiian landowner who is 1/32nd native royalty in “The Descendants,” but a blonde actress being cast as half-nonwhite in the recent Cameron Crowe movie set in Hawaii was much denounced by the usual Twitter mobs.

      Cliff Curtis, a Maori, can still get cast as Arabs and mestizos, but he’s a quite good actor. And I haven’t seen him that much lately. I suspect his career would have flourished more back around 1960 when that kind of casting was considered liberal and progressive.

  10. Eduardo says:

    A mexican *accent* might be asking for too much, in fact, one of the main characters, Gus Fring, was of chilean origin, not mexican (and the two accents are nothing alike.) The actor playing Gus, Giancarlo Esposito, is quite good but he really can´t make a single sentence sound like something near normal spanish (in any accent.)

  11. Señor Anonimón says:

    “Uh, Sir, why don’t you just use real cows?

    Cows don’t look like cows on film. You gotta use horses.

    What do you do if you want something that looks like a horse?

    Ehh, usually we just tape a bunch of cats together.”

    – The Simpsons

  12. Steve Sailer says:

    Mexican-Americans (defined as somebody of Mexican descent who has been in the U.S. since the beginning of high school) are quite rare in the movie business, perhaps rarer than in the Anthony Quinn days of sixty years ago. I haven’t checked in about three years but at that point not a single U.S.-raised Mexican had been nominated for an Oscar in any category, creative or technical, since Edward James Olmos in the 1980s. That’s something like an 0 for 2000 losing streak.

    Of course, there are outstanding talents from Mexican movie/TV/advertising industries who relocate to Hollywood in their twenties or thirties after achieving initial success in Mexico (e.g., Emmanuel Lubezki is the top cinematographer in the world at the moment; he worked solely in Mexico until he was 29). But the Mexico City cinematic elite are quite different sociologically from typical Mexican-Americans.

  13. Steve Sailer says:

    I haven’t checked the Oscar nominations in 3.5 years, but here’s what I found as of February 2012:

    “Yet the most striking diversity shortfall in Hollywood is one that would get any less liberal industry in trouble with Obama’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Los Angeles County is about half Hispanic, and Latino fans make up 30% of the enthusiasts for summer blockbusters. Despite all that, Mexican Americans—meaning those who have spent at least part of their formative years in America—are remarkably underrepresented in The Industry.

    “Wikipedia’s Oscar lists suggest that no Mexican American has been nominated in any category, no matter how humble, since the 1980s.

    “Oddly enough, Mexican Americans did better in the pre-diversity days, receiving five acting nominations from 1952 through 1964. Granted, one went to Susan Kohner, daughter of a Mexican silent-film actress who married her Jewish producer.

    “But Anthony Quinn, who was born in Mexico and raised in Boyle Heights, was closer to the real deal. …

    “But as the number of Mexican Americans has mounted to over 30 million, their Oscar recognition has dwindled. The last Mexican American nominee was Edward James Olmos as calculus teacher Jaime Escalante in 1988’s “Stand and Deliver.” Gregory Nava is the only Mexican American screenwriter given a nod, for “El Norte” in 1983. John A. Alonzo was nominated for “Chinatown’s” superb cinematography in 1974.

    “But there hasn’t been an American-raised Oscar nominee of Mexican descent for 23 years, unless you want to count Susan Kohner’s sons, the Weitz Brothers, who were nominated for writing “About a Boy” in 2002. But though their 101-year-old actress grandmother was born in Mexico, Chris and Paul Weitz aren’t exactly representative Mexican Americans. Their Berlin-born Jewish father was the late John Weitz—fashion designer, racecar driver, best-selling novelist, yachtsman, spy, and dandy.”

  14. Steve Sailer says:

    The father of one of my son’s baseball teammates was a tall, elegant telenovela leading man from Mexico who was trying to break into American TV. He was finding it very slow going, though. He explained that most of the roles on English-language TV for for Mexicans were for gangbanger-types, but he, like most Mexican telenovela actors, was an upper middle class Latin Lover-type and didn’t make a convincing meth dealer.

    Hollywood used to have romantic and patriarchal roles for suave Mexicans like Ricardo Montalban, but Mexico has pretty much disappeared off the American cultural radar. Mexico used to fascinate American directors such as Sam Peckinpaugh and John Ford. (Similarly, John Wayne loved Mexico). But in recent years only the outcast Mel Gibson is doing anything creative involving Mexico (e.g., “Apocalypto,” “Get the Gringo,” and the general look and feel of “The Passion of the Christ” is Mexican Baroque).

    Not surprisingly, like Ford, Wayne, and Gibson, Vince Gilligan, creator of “Breaking Bad,” was raised Catholic and, I would guess, is right of center politically.

    Perhaps the slow breakdown of Catholic solidarity has caused a decline in American interest in Mexico. My Catholic elementary school had institutional ties to Mexico in the 1960s (and my Catholic high school had institutional ties to Quebec in the 1970s).

  15. Steve Sailer says:

    Along these lines that Catholic conservatives in the entertainment business seem to find Mexico and Mexicans more interesting than Jewish liberals do, actor Andy Garcia, a right wing Cuban Catholic, made a labor of love historical drama a few years ago about the Catholic Cristero revolt in Guadalajara in the 1920s against the anti-clerical Revolutionary government.

    Graham Greene was a leftwing Catholic who set one of his most famous books, The Power and the Glory, in Mexico. Evelyn Waugh, a rightwing Catholic, wrote a travel book about Mexico at about the same era, but it was one of his more perfunctory efforts.

    Cormac McCarthy is another rightwing ethnic Catholic who has set a lot of his books, and a recent movie debut as a director (“The Counselor”), in Mexico (“All the Pretty Horses”) or near the Mexican border (“No Country for Old Men”).

  16. Steve Sailer says:

    Probably the peak of Chicano representation in the media was around 1972: Cheech and Chong, Joan Baez, Lee Trevino kept Jack Nicklaus from winning the Grand Slam in golf at Muirfield, Pancho Gonzales was still a hugely famous tennis player, Cesar Chavez was gigantically famous, Linda Ronstadt was slowly rising to dominance in pop music in the mid-1970s, and so forth. These were all American-born celebrities of significant Mexican descent.

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