'Grand Hotel' is part of Eva Longoria's mission to 'produce with purpose'

A year ago, Eva Longoria had just given birth — and was preparing to do it again.

'Grand Hotel' is part of Eva Longoria's mission to 'produce with purpose'

There was her first baby, Santiago Enrique Bastón, who arrived in June 2018. Then there was what she jokingly called her second, “Grand Hotel,” her new ABC drama.

“My son had just been born, so I was breast-feeding behind the camera, directing the show and acting in it at the same time,” said the multitasking Longoria, who is also an executive producer. “It was really crazy but totally rewarding.”

Like an “Upstairs, Downstairs” relocated to Miami Beach, “Grand Hotel” chronicles the soapy, steamy travails of Santiago Mendoza (Demián Bichir) and his second wife, Gigi (Roselyn Sanchez) — the proprietors of the last family-owned hotel on the strip — along with their blended brood and the staff that is at their mercy. The pilot, which opens with a murder and hints at a dead mother (played by Longoria), was shot during spring break at the iconic Fontainebleau, with an electronic dance music festival throbbing in the background. Brian Tanen, who wrote for “Devious Maids” and “Desperate Housewives,” contemporized the Spanish series “Grand Hotel” on which the show is based — and with which Longoria was obsessed.

Those obsessions, along with a potent activism (she’s a founder of the Time’s Up movement) and an allegiance to her Mexican-American heritage, drive Longoria’s producing efforts, which have tackled the history of Roe v. Wade in “Reversing Roe,” migrant farmworkers in “Food Chains” and child agricultural laborers in “The Harvest.”

“I love to produce with purpose, because it’s hard to get something ready for consumption by an audience — so that journey has to be worth it at the end,” said Longoria.

In a phone interview from the Fontainebleau, Longoria, 44 and married to television producer José Bastón, tended to their son while speaking about using the power of her own voice to help others harness theirs. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Q: So what inspired you to model the show’s hotel, the Riviera Grand, after the Fontainebleau?

A: I had my heart set on this the minute I read the script. I said, “We have to shoot at the Fontainebleau. We have to shoot Miami for Miami, and every frame has to be an Instagram photo.” There’s just a glamour and elegance and sophistication that constantly lives on here. It’s one of the few hotels in South Beach that has really preserved its 1950s Miami modern look.

Q: What does “Grand Hotel” bring to network television that wasn’t already there?

A: It adds the rainbow of diversity. Our media should reflect the world that we live in, and this show does just that. I loved having representation in television and a family that was Hispanic and affluent and educated and smart and resourceful and runs a large business. I wanted to make sure people saw that.

Q: You’re an outspoken advocate of women’s rights, and in “Grand Hotel” hired a majority of women in supervisory roles, includingas directors, the director of photography and even the stunt coordinator.

A: We really did a lot to make sure that we were on par with the “50/50 by 2020” motto in Hollywood, which is making sure that when you crew up, you do it with the lens of equity. Every step of the way you have to combat the unconscious bias of hiring men in all those positions. Not that anybody’s malicious about it. They’ve just always used Bob and Dan and Joe, so they’re going to [keep using] Bob and Dan and Joe. And until we expose them to and tap into a new talent pool of women and people of color, change isn’t going to happen.

Q: In the midst of making “Grand Hotel,” you left to play the mother of Dora the Explorer in “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” out in August. How exciting is that?

A: It’s the biggest movie I’ve ever done and to bring to life one of the biggest icons of the Hispanic community — and then to find out she’s a global icon everywhere. My friends are calling me from London, from Germany, going, “Oh my God, you’re doing ‘Dora’!” I was like, “How do you know who she is?” I had no idea that she was in countries all over the world teaching English — she taught us Spanish in the United States.

Q: You’ll soon be directing your first feature, “24-7,” with Kerry Washington. What are you two up to?

A: It’s a comedy about women in the workplace in a post-Time’s Up way — just poking holes into some realistic situations that women have to deal with, whether it’s men stealing their ideas at work or balancing motherhood with career or the mean girl, women hating women. And also ageism. Kerry and I in the movie are teamed up with this millennial. We’re like, ugh, gosh. [Laughs.] True stories and laughing at that so that people can swallow the medicine a little.

Q: Speaking of Time’s Up, what accomplishments stand out to you so far?

A: First of all, the global conversation about work harassment. We kicked a bees’ nest and everything is buzzing. We see Time’s Up branches in France and Time’s Up branches in China and women everywhere standing up and uniting to say, “Look, we demand a safe workplace environment.” So that’s what I applaud the most.

The legal defense fund is also something we’re very proud of. We just took on the women who are suing the FBI for gender discrimination. We took on the McDonald’s workers who were getting harassed and couldn’t get promotions. When we launched Time’s Up a year and a half ago, it was a coalition with restaurant workers, with domestic workers, with hotel workers, with farmworkers. There are so many sisterhoods that have been created through the work of Time’s Up that I’m really proud of.

Q: As if acting and producing weren’t enough, you earned a master’s degree in Chicano studies in 2013 and wrote your thesis about the value of Latinas in STEM. Why?

A: I was blessed to have a mentor, [labor leader and civil rights activist] Dolores Huerta, and she always told me, “One day you’re going to have a voice, so you better have something to say.”

Q: The mission of your Eva Longoria Foundation is “unlocking the full potential of Latinas.” Who or what helped you unlock yours?

A: I grew up with strong women. My mom, my sisters, my aunts, every woman in my family was educated and independent, and that was something my mother instilled in me. Like, make your own money, make your own decisions, don’t depend on a man. I assumed all women went to college, all women had a career. And that was awesome to have that gift because a lot the young girls that I help in my foundation haven’t even heard the word college until their senior year in high school, and by then it’s too late. They don’t know that’s a possibility for them. They don’t know they can afford to dream.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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