If you’re not of Latin heritage, you may not know the handsome pop-singing actor Jaime Camil. With three albums and numerous stage and telenovela (Mexican soap opera) appearances, Camil, 40, is just starting to pop out of the Univision corner of North American culture by turning up on more mainstream networks (Lifetime’s “Devious Maids”) and now on the big screen.
“Pulling Strings” is about a single dad (Camil) and a culture clash. Here, it’s Americans (Laura Ramsey, Stockard Channing) discovering the “real” Mexico City. And “Strings,” from the same studio (Pantelion) that released the unexpected hit “Instructions Not Included,” has a secret weapon – mariachi. That is Camil’s character’s profession.
We reached Jaime Federico Said Camil de Saldanha Da Gama in Los Angeles.
In the States, mariachi bands are used as kind of a punchline, a musical joke. What about in Mexico?
People in the U.S. or other countries hear mariachi and they think it’s time to break out the tequila. “Get wasted! Hey, boys, play ‘The Macarena!’” Mariachis don’t do “La Macarena.” It’s hilarious. “La Bamba,” yes. “Macarena,” no.
Mariachi is Mexico. Look at the golden age of Mexican cinema, black-and-white films with Jorge Negrete, Agustin Lara or Maria Felix, the beautiful musical movies we used to make, you realize it has this long and honorable musical tradition.
Nobody can fall in love in Mexico without mariachis, right?
Oh, from quinceanera (sweet 15) parties to serenading a woman outside her window, you want to win the heart of a lady, you need mariachis. There’s a plaza in Mexico City – Plaza Garibaldi. On Friday or Saturday night, if you’ve had a fight with your girlfriend, you can drive by Garibaldi, where mariachi bands are giving out cards. “I need a serenade. Come on, guys!” They pile into your car, or follow you in their van, and they help you out. We had to show that in “Pulling Strings.” A band, on the street, for hire – rescuing romance. What woman wouldn’t forgive you if you brought a band to serenade her?
You’re not a mariachi singer. What was it like to put on “the uniform”?
You put on the mariachi’s suit and you feel like a superhero, empowered, like putting on Superman’s cape. You have the power to make people fall in love. I feel honored to represent my country in the most iconic way a Mexican can – as a mariachi.
And the singing style, how much of an adjustment for you?
All these years I’ve been a singer, and I never realized that mariachis don’t have to shout above the music, don’t have to scream. Sometimes, all it takes is a whisper. They caress the songs.
“Pulling Strings” shows us a Mexico City far removed from the dramas and thrillers set there.
Recent Mexican films dwell on the bad realities of our country – crime, drug dealing, gun fighting, cursing bad guys. That reality exists in Mexico, especially along the border.
But we have a lot of other realities. It’s a very optimistic place, a colorful country where we love our happy endings as much as Hollywood does.
Stockard Channing and Laura Ramsey came down to make the movie, and they’re afraid they’re going to be beheaded if they leave their hotel! I worked hard to get them out and help them relax and enjoy the city. I think they did.
This is your introduction to Hollywood, and it is coming just as the industry is paying closer attention to the Latin market, thanks to “Instructions.” What do you hope this does for your career?
We are sister films with “Instructions Not Included.” (Writer-director) Eugenio Derbez is huge in Mexico, so why wouldn’t his film do business here in the U.S.? I love the Variety headline about it – “Hollywood gets ‘Instructions’ from the Latino Market.” I hope we can surf that wave, too.