Gloria Estefan’s journey to her latest film role started with a text from her friend and former co-star Andy Garcia. But she’ll tell you kismet was already at work.
Her 10-year-old grandson has become a bit of a film enthusiast, much like his father, Gloria’s son Nayib, who owns a drive-in theater in downtown Miami. As she explained recently, “He’s watched ‘Killer Klowns From Outer Space’ and stuff like that.” Under her care, Estefan wanted to introduce him to a more wholesome favorite: “Father of the Bride,” the 1991 remake starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short and Kimberly Williams-Paisley.
“It’s an age-old story,” says the veteran singer-songwriter. “The daughter is leaving the nest; it’s the struggles that parents go through of watching their kids grow up.”
Instead of continuing his cinematic edification with the film’s 1995 sequel, Estefan followed up by going back to where it all started, with the 1950 original starring Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett and Elizabeth Taylor. She was met with some reluctance. “He was like ‘Tutu, it’s in black and white!’” she recalls. “I said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to like it.’”
He made it through. And not long after, Estefan got that text from Garcia, whom she previously worked with on “For Love or Country: The Arturo Sandoval Story,” urging her to read the script of a new remake of the warmhearted family/romantic-comedy.
Written by Matt Lopez and directed by Gaz Alazraki, the 2022 iteration finds Garcia and Estefan playing the parents preparing for their daughter’s wedding — and in this retelling, Estefan’s character, Ingrid, has grown frustrated by her husband’s ways and wants a divorce. The film is available to stream on HBO Max beginning Thursday.
Estefan recently spoke to The Times about the delicate balance of remaking a classic, her own memories of being a bride, and that time she acted alongside Meryl Streep.
In the spirit of the film, may I ask what your wedding day was like with Emilio? What went wrong that day?
Oh my God. Whatever went wrong ended being right. We didn’t want a reception. My dad was in the hospital — I didn’t want to celebrate. I walked down the aisle alone. If I were to do it again, I would ask my mother to walk me. But because of traditions, it didn’t even cross our minds that my mom could be the one that walked me even though she was literally my mom and dad.
After the ceremony, Emilio and I went to the hospital to visit my dad, who hadn’t said a word in like three years and he actually said my name, “Glorita.” And then we went [home] … we were just gonna have a champagne toast with the close family. And when we got there, our friends decided to throw us a surprise reception. They were set up in the backyard. It was a super-hot day and it rained, which to me is a blessing. But talk about humidity!
I had gone in to change in my bathroom and then suddenly it was announced that we were going to do our wedding dance, which was to “El día que me quieras.” And I’m opening the window out of the bathroom going, “I’m not dressed yet, hold on!” I come out and my cocker spaniel had eaten the sleeve of my wedding dress because it had gotten some cake on it. So first, I’m trying to fish part of my wedding dress out of her mouth, and then [later] watching for it in her poop.
Given your father’s illness, was it your mom that Emilio had to win over? And what was that like?
Oh yeah. And no matter what he did — poor thing — she was brutal to him. Brutal. It took 12 years. She was convinced he was going to leave me. It wasn’t until after my accident that she realized that this was real and we were really in love. She thought: “He’s going to take her away from me — musicians, they’re traipsing all over the world, it’s impossible to succeed at this.” Poor Emilio, he was so patient. We actually broke up right after we got engaged because he thought, “OK, now we’re engaged. She’s gonna realize that I’m serious.” And she just got even more adamant in [her concerns].
He said to me one day: “I’m a real family man. And I don’t know if I can do this, because your mom …” And I said to him, “Look, I wish I could tell you that I could convince her otherwise, I talked to her constantly about it, but I understand where you’re coming from. And I’m going to try to stay in the band, so that we don’t ruin this, although it’s going to be really hard.” It lasted a week before we were back together.
But when he won her over, he won her over big time. They were closer than any two people can be and he would call her five, six times a day. He spoke to her more than I did, honestly, even though I adore her.
You play a woman who is unfulfilled in her marriage and on the cusp of divorce. In real life, you’ve been married for going on 44 years. What’s the secret?
There’s no secret. First of all, it feels like 10 seconds. It feels so fast, maybe because of the life we’ve had. We’ve traveled so much and done so much and continue to do, that the years just speed by. There’s a lot of respect. I’m very much about communication. And now he’s much better about it, but he he had a tough time with that kind of thing as Latin males tend to do, so I really lead him down that path.
But he’s the most motivational human being; he loves his family, we have the same priorities, we rarely disagree on business or music or even politics. So it helps when you’re not arguing about stuff. And we both wanted to be married our whole lives. So we balance each other. We’re very different personality-wise, but I think that helps kind of fill in each other’s gaps and strengths. I love to do things he doesn’t like to do and he loves to do things I don’t like to do, so it’s a good team.
A Cuban American family is at the center of this “Father of the Bride” remake — and the bride-to-be is marrying someone who is Mexican. How was it to be part of this story?
I’ve been eager to do something for a long time, but it has to be the right thing or why bother? I’m not going to do something that either doesn’t advance me as an actor or doesn’t represent my culture in the way that I feel it deserves and should be. So I got a text from Andy Garcia first off — “Oye! I’m gonna send you a script,” because he’s very to the point. And I see it’s “Father of the Bride,” and I go, “Oh my God, this is big shoes to fill.”
When I read the script by Matt Lopez, I thought it was phenomenal and made me laugh out loud. I really loved the characters. And even through from what I read to what ended up on the screen, there were many passes taken to get rid of those little easy jabs that go to stereotypes about Cuban or Mexican culture. We wanted to make a really warm film about family about and have it be completely different.
It was an amazing playground to have and to know that we were in the hands of a Hispanic director that cares about what he’s putting on the screen; to know that Andy, who has been our amazing example for decades of great work, cares about what he chooses [and] what gets on the screen. I hope more of these things come around because of it. Because just like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” … was floating around and nobody would [make] it, and then it ended up being this gigantic thing — even though it was about a culture, it was universal, and that’s what we’re hoping to do with this film.
Was there a time in your career where you felt the pressure to be a multihyphenate or branch out into other areas of the entertainment business?
It’s never been a pressure, it’s been an exciting new challenge that I love. An artist is going to want to play in many different venues. And I think the advent of videos in music really changed the game for a lot of us because you were forced to act or do something, because not every video was a performance video. You kind of dip your foot in there, not just a toe. And I really knew that I loved it and that one day, I would do it. But I also respect the craft.
They offered me the role of Julia Roberts in “Mystic Pizza.” Early on, if you notice, she’s got long curly hair, she kind of looks like me at the time. But I knew that as as an actor, I wasn’t ready … I was very, very interested in delving into being someone else and creating a character, [but it’s] harder when you have this big looming career somewhere else — you have to make them forget you and then convince them you’re somebody else. But I love challenges and I really enjoy the process and I started preparing even without any offers.
You made your film debut in 1999’s “Music of the Heart,” opposite Meryl Streep. How nerve-racking was your first scene together?
Imagine — my very first onscreen scene that is shot is one-on-one with Meryl Streep on a bench at a New York City school. I meet her a couple of days before, she was the warmest, nicest person. My son had moved to L.A. and my cellphone kept going off … she’d see me pick up because if my kids call, I pick up. And she goes, “Oh my God, how do you do that?” I go, “Do what?” And she goes, “Get your son to call you! My son just went to college. It’s been 10 days and I haven’t heard from him!” I go, “He’s a Cuban boy, that makes a big difference.” She was super wonderful and welcoming.
So, we sit down to do this scene and I say, “You know, Ms. Streep, if you have any comments that you’d like to give me, any notes, I’d really appreciate them and I thank you for them,” and she goes, “Oh yeah, you too.” And I’m thinking, “Oh, yeah, like I’m gonna turn around and say to Meryl Streep, ‘You know, Meryl, I really didn’t feel that last line.’” Come on. It was a masterclass in acting to be with her in that movie.
Was a life in entertainment always the plan? You graduated college with a bachelor’s in psychology — was there a time when you felt a calling to that profession?
We have a theory that when you’re looking for self-help, you study psychology. I definitely got it. And I studied communications too. I had two majors and a French minor. So I graduated in three years. By the time that I had gone through all my psychology training — and I was having a real tough time in the labs, with the animals with the brains exposed, and that would kill me — I was already full blown in the band and really excited about that.
I was gonna go to the Sorbonne in France and study international law and diplomacy, which was another love, but … I didn’t want to leave my mom with my dad. I felt guilty to leave my sister and my mom alone, so it was very easy to make that decision. I stayed and the band just took off, and I got married. And life led me in that direction.
But I love psychology, I still continuously read. At the beginning, I would have been a Freudian by the end of it [but] I’m a Jungian, I think, through and through. I believe very much in the collective unconscious … When I would get in front of those gigantic audiences, my main goal was to get them to relax. I did four nights in Madison Square Garden, and every night, the collective personality of that audience was completely different. It was a real challenge for me to get them to relax, laugh, dance. So, it’s still with me. I love, love, love, love psychology, it’s been very useful to me, as a boss, as a friend, as a mom, a wife — in every way you can imagine. I’m like the doctor of the family. Before they call their doctor, they’ll call me and go, “Hey, look, this is happening. What do you think?”
I have vivid memories sitting in the back of my mom’s car and her listening to your CDs. I won’t ask you to pick a favorite song, but is there one with lyrics that are particularly special for you?
It’s hard. But I think “Con los años que me quedan,” which was the first song that I wrote with Emilio, that we co-wrote in the kitchen in our bathrobes. It kind of is the way we live our lives — every moment that we have left, I’m going to take advantage and I’m going to show you how much I love you. So I think it would have to be that song. Although, I love “Mi Tierra,” it’s my favorite to perform. If I could only leave one album behind, that would be the one.
At this time in your life, what do you value most?
Family, always. It’s still number one. The time I spend with my grandson is precious and sacred to me. My phone goes away. I make every opportunity I can. Just last weekend, I asked my son and daughter-in-law if they’d let him come with me to the beach house. [My daughter] Emily came up, we’re working on a project that’s very fulfilling, that I’ll announce later on. We just spent quality one-on-one time — him with his aunt that he adores, and me with him and with her.
I make as many of those moments as possible happen because you have to make it happen … you have to create it, you have to schedule it, you have to find the moment. And I know that if I establish that kind of relationship with him early on, which I’ve done since he was born, it’s going to be different when he’s older. Time is short. So I want to spend as much time as I can with my family doing whatever we can together.
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