George Lopez is back in action in the new film Spare Parts, along with actors Jamie Lee Curtis, Marisa Tomei, and Carlos PenaVega. The film follows a group of four Hispanic teens (Carlos PenaVega, David Del Rio, J.R.R. Villarreal, and Jose Julian) in Phoenix, Arizona who are struggling with different personal things in their life. But after convincing their new teacher (Lopez) to head their newly formed robotics team, they enter the well-renowned robotics competition against MIT and Virginia Tech, with only $800 to build the entire thing. The odds are against them, but they persevere regardless.
I, along with Dean Rogers of The Rogers Revue, Alex Mitchell of The Hoya of Georgetown University, sat down in a roundtable interview with the film’s stars George Lopez and Carlos PenaVega to talk about the film, how fatherhood plays a major role, and which teachers inspired them growing up.
You can read the entire transcript of the interview below, read my review of the film here, and you can check out Spare Parts, out in theaters today!
Alex Mitchell: The George Lopez show talked about fatherhood, and your character didn’t grow up with a dad. This is also very present in the film with Lorenzo’s family. So was this something you had put in the script, or was it something that was based on real life?
George Lopez: That was based on real life. It was kind of a thread with some of us who have issues with fathers. You know, I never knew my father, so it is something that happens a lot. The mother takes a bigger role than the father sometimes. Having Esai Morales play Lorenzo’s father was important because he’s such a powerful actor and has done credible work. It gave a profile to that guy. He looked like someone you don’t want to mess with. Favoring one son over the other I’ve seen growing up and is very common. Based on a real-live event but also based in real life as well as far as relationships go.
Mae Abdulbaki: Speaking of Lorenzo’s father, I think your character George really comes to life or realizes his impact on these kids when he decides to go over there and speak with him. Did you feel like that was a turning point for Fredi [George Lopez’s character]?
George: Absolutely. And last week when we went to the premiere and I asked Lorenzo if his father’s coming, and he looked at me and his eyes got glassy. He said he didn’t know. And I said, “what?” And I think it’s a little bit of a control thing. Because not only did he go but he brought his mom, his grandfather and grandmother. So he did go. And maybe he won’t ever tell him that he’s proud of him, because it might be the most difficult thing that he ever has to say, but it’s definitely visible when he took a picture with all of them and that the pride really does show.
Dean Rogers: What brought you to this project?
George: I was very fortunate. I have a producing partner and around the time I was doing my talk show, this thing kind of came onto her radar. And we bought it and had it. And the script had gone through a couple of different incarnations. We wanted it more based on real stuff. The story is so compelling, that you don’t want to make things up that aren’t true. So we had to go back and take some of the things that the guys weren’t happy about. They were like, “that didn’t happen.” [laughs]
So, to honor them and so they could see it and be proud of the movie. Wanting that as a producer and being in the movie, we didn’t want these kids to see the movie and say, “that’s not our story.” For a movie that kept it very close to the truth and to have so much heart and humor and show that anything is possible, for this thing that only cost $800 and looked like it wasn’t even going to float, forget about functioning [laughs]. It plays very well. We’ve been running around promoting the movie, so we haven’t gotten a chance to see what people really think of it that have seen it, but it feels like the word is good.
Mae: I think it’s very inspiring because you see a lot of these kinds of film in sports and something else. And especially coming from a minority perspective and, let’s be honest, there’s not a whole lot of diversity in Hollywood, so it’s great coming from that. And they’re smart kids, so that’s exceptional to me.
Carlos PenaVega: And they’re kids! Like most people go into these films, the sports ones, okay it’s going to be a positive message, but then at the end [of Spare Parts], these kids win, and then it hits you with the reality of what these kids went through. And the emotions hit you and people aren’t just getting an inspirational movie, you’re getting a movie, you know? It’s well worth going to the theater.
Alex: I watched it with my brothers, and they did robotics in high school and so they never got movies for them. And now they’re like, “we have one.” And this kind of leads to my next question, Mr. PenaVega. The school [Carl Hayden Community High School], was kind of different than the high school you went to and your experience. Did you do anything to prepare and that helped you get into that high school mentality?
Carlos: My high school was a junior high school, 6th grade to 12th grade and there were 300 kids. My graduating class was like 20, maybe 25 kids. So, I got picked on, but it wasn’t like what these kids went through because I knew everyone. It wasn’t like what these kids went through. Some of them were just alone in this school and Cristian especially. For me, I really had to shave everyday to look younger [laughs]. Every single day. But talking to the kids through email or on the phone, that’s what really helped me get to where they were at. We filmed at a school that was similar to Carl Hayden it was New Mexico, so a lot of Latino kids. We filmed while they were actually in session. We’re filing a scene, the bell rings, and 2,000 kids are crossing back and forth. And I’m like, “we’re really in this. This is going on.” And now that I watch the film, it’s a whole different ball game. I think we did it justice and for me getting into it was more about being in the school.
Dean: This movie falls along the line of students and teachers, and teachers inspiring students. I’d like to know, was there a teacher growing up that inspired the both of you to be where you are now.
George: I had a few of them actually. I had a teacher that was my baseball coach, that would tell me when things got tough, I’d quit. He and I had a huge altercation in front of the whole team and when I got out of school, I actually quit baseball, which I’d played all my life. And I quit in my senior year. When I was out of school for a couple of years and I started to play golf. And golf was something that frustrated me so much that when it got tough, I quit. And then one time when I quit and I was driving home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the coach and thought, “man, this guy was right.” And I gave him such a hard time. When it was baseball season, I drove over there and waited until after practice and I walked up and apologized to him for giving him such a hard time and not appreciating what he was trying to teach me while I was at school, and I had to learn it the harder way.
Carlos: Wow. You know for me, my drama teacher, Michelle Perkins. She was so pivotal to what I’m doing now. She was so supportive. My school was so small that she was also my English teacher. So I thank her for not failing me because I passed and got to go on to college. But she was so supportive of me and everything I did. He [George] had his baseball coach and I had my drama teacher. One person. All it takes is one person to believe in somebody and truly lift them up. Check on them, see how they’re doing. It takes one person. That just goes to show you that we have to help each other out and lift each other up. You could be the person that could take another to their next level, and why would you miss out on that?
Mae: Coming from different backgrounds, like George you’ve done a lot of comedy, and I grew up watching George Lopez, I’m not going to lie [laughs]. And you, Carlos, coming from Big Time Rush. How was it different doing this type of film? Would you want to do something like this again in the future?
George: Yeah. Fortunately, and unfortunately, I’ve managed to put so much of my life into my work. And this one, even though it isn’t me, it kind of is me. The show was about me not having a father and this one has issues with the father. And even when I was doing my talk show, and I absolutely love music. I remember when I introduced Peter Frampton, I was crying because I spent so much time listening to his music and to think that I’d have a show and that I would sit down and talk to him, and even become friends with him was overwhelming. Elton John was telling Carlos that he and I have become friends over the last few years. The fact that I would ever consider us friends after all the hours I spent listening to that guy’s music, it’s unbelievable. It’s like, “get the f*** out of here.” Even if you’re not dreaming, life just takes you in that direction. Like water in a stream.
Carlos: This was the most perfect departure for me from Big Time Rush. It was such a cartoon, very Disney/Nickelodeon. And I was looking for something to do next and I’m drawn to drama. But the fact that this was about a bunch of Latinos doing the impossible, coming out on top, changing their community, and it was a true story. I really wanted it. And it was crazy because I really had to fight for this role. Most people think it’s just easy, that once you’re on a show, that’s it. But no, I had to come in and go for the screen test and meet the producers. It was a very humbling experience. Once I got it, I was like, “I need to work my butt off now.” And George has been amazing. Loving on us and I’m so thankful for this opportunity. It’s very different and I think it’s the first of many.
Alex: How heavily did you try to base your portrayal of the characters on the actual individual? And for George, you had two people melded into one person? Did you take artistic license?
Carlos: You kind of have to do a little bit of both. You try and stay as true as possible, but as an actor you want to bring a little bit of yourself into your character that you want to portray. Like Oscar, I never saw him smile in person until last week. And I was like, “dude, you have to smile,” and he was just like [impersonates Oscar Vasquez’s very serious look]. But that’s him. In the movie, I allowed him to be able to give a little bit more. The boys would have these moments, and you can tell Oscar is enjoying it. But until last week, I never saw him smile. Ever [laughs].
George: But also what Carlos did was he kind played the leader that kept the team going. And that’s what Oscar does too, when times got rough, he kept them going and the guys together. They’re not the world’s best buddies, but they do have a tremendous amount of respect for each other and for what they accomplished together.
Carlos: George actually wore Fredi’s [Cameron] watch.
George: I said, “I want that watch” [laughs]. I bought him another one and wore the one that he wore because I felt that the watch had a presence since he wore that during the competition.
Carlos: 10 years!
George: And when he looked at it, I wanted to look at what he saw.
Carlos: What’d he say when you said you’d buy him a new one?
George: He said ok [laughs]. He had no connection to his own watch other than never taking it off. And I let my hair grow and grew a mustache and a goatee and there are a couple of pictures, we don’t look alike, but there are a couple of pictures, there’s a feeling of looking alike.