Cinematic Immortality: Lupe Ontiveros on Her Career-Changing Turn in “Chuck & Buck”

Although it would’ve been surprising and saddening to learn at any time, the passing of the great actress Lupe Ontiveros on July 26th from liver cancer at the age of 69 was particularly hard to square when only a short time ago on August 15, 2010, she regaled a crowd at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles during an evening celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Miguel Arteta-directed, Mike White-penned dark comedy “Chuck & Buck.”

The Mexican-American actress, who moved out to Los Angeles to be a social worker before finding her true calling 17 years later when she followed her passion into acting, was as much of a force of nature that night as she was onscreen, particularly in the role of the acerbic, no-nonsense theater manager who helps White’s Buck find his way in the 2010 film. A founding member of the Latino Theater Company in Los Angeles, it was a role that far more suited Ontiveros than the maids she became accustomed to playing in Hollywood productions, though when she did in such movies as “The Goonies,” “Clueless” and “As Good as it Gets,” she did it with dignity.

Those roles would make Ontiveros one of the most prominent Latina actresses in contemporary times, a position she used to lend credibility to the few mainstream movies being made about Hispanic culture, whether it was in Patricia Cardozo’s “Real Women Have Curves” or Gregory Nava’s “Mi Familia” or “El Norte.” It was the last of those films that led Arteta, who only had the Sundance favorite “Star Maps” to his name at the time, to pursue Ontiveros for “Chuck & Buck,” though at the reunion Arteta admitted he thought he might have a hard time selling White on her until White told him how impressed he was with her after seeing her on stage.

As for Ontiveros accepting the part, which would mark a turning point for her nearly as important as her transition to acting nearly two decades earlier, we’ll let her tell you the story, in quotes below and on audio to hear her in her full, unregulated glory:

Lupe Ontiveros: I’ve been doing all these — get ready — the stereotype shit for the Latino women and this guy [Miguel Arteta] came up to me and he says, ‘I want you to read this screenplay.’ Yeah, alright. And he says her name is Beverly. And I say, say what? Her name is Beverly? It’s not Maria Conchita…? Oh verdad? He says, ‘No, no es Maria Conchita.’ And I said, okay, I’m going to do the film. I don’t care if I have to pay you to do the fucking film. I’m going to do the film for you. He says I want you to read the part of Beverly. Beverly?!? And she’s intelligent. She’s intelligent? She has dialogue…I’ll do it.

Anyway, [Arteta] said ‘Read the part of Beverly’ because [Mike White] wrote the part for a Beverly, which meant it was some kind of a white chick or whatever the hell it was. but I said I’ll do it. Because I knew she was going to be intelligent. Thank you. Thank you, Arteta, Arteta for the rest of my life and our career.  I didn’t know this guy. I didn’t know who the fuck these guys were. It didn’t matter. Now, I love them – no, I’m just kidding. [big laughs] But we did it and what you saw up there and what it did for Miguel and for myself and Michael, [White] called me and says, ‘You have no idea what we just won.’ He was crying. You were crying, Michael White, when you called me and said, you just won the Board of Review!

Mike White: It was the National Board of Review.

Lupe Ontiveros: Say it again. [laughs] It was like winning an Oscar to me. I didn’t know what the fuck a Board of Review was, but he was crying and he had written this thing and I said, if he says I won a big award, I mean…let me tell you, this is…you’ve got to take it for what its seriousness is. The Board of Review is critics, directors – it’s not a bought out Oscar, it’s not an Independent Spirit Award that you sell your whatever when you get it. Or the Golden Globes. It’s not that, it’s an honest to goodness fucking award. You guys agree with me?

As you can hear on the audio, the audience concurred with great applause and soon after, Arteta recalled of the moment Ontiveros officially signed on, “We were psyched. We had our first legit actor in the film.”

Boy, did they ever.

Lupe Ontiveros on Chuck and Buck by moveablefest

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