White Elephant's Vadhir Derbez Dishes On The Action Film, Costars Bruce Willis And Michael Rooker, And More - Exclusive Interview

There are some actors that are simply known for dominating their genre. For Colin Firth, he's all about that classically British performance (think "The King's Speech" or "Pride and Prejudice"). For Julia Roberts, well, is there anyone else who can call themselves the queen of the rom-com? As for action films, that film genre is easily governed by none other than Bruce Willis, whose performances in such films including "RED," "American Siege," and "Armageddon" solidified his place among category-defining movies. Just before you think this is a Willis fan page, however, we're eager to tell you that the storied actor is not alone in the upcoming action film, "White Elephant," and in fact shares the screen with dominant Latinx actor Vadhir Derbez, whose impressive career has taken the Latin community by storm for more than 20 years.

Derbez joins Michael Rooker in "White Elephant" as the self-described villainous force, pressuring an ex-Marine to walk the line between honor and survival. If it sounds like the action summer blockbuster, well, that's because it is -– luckily for us, we got to sit down with Derbez himself ahead of its premiere to chat all about the film, his career, and more.

Derbez may have credits such as "How to Be a Latin Lover" and "Gossip Girl: Acapulco" to his name. He may have almost 6 million followers on Instagram, but when he sat down with Nicki Swift for an exclusive interview, he was nothing but lovely, chatty, and excited to share his insights into his latest film. Speaking of his breakthrough into English language projects, his successful run on "The Masked Singer Mexico," and more, Derbez dished about his impressive career and his experience on "White Elephant." Trust us, he did not disappoint.

The actor was drawn to White Elephant due to the cast and director

Thank you so much for making the time. I'm really excited to be sitting down with you. Before we jump into the details of the film, I'd love to take a step back if you will, and talk about what initially attracted you to the project.

Well, I think everything about the project was very appealing. I love the story of it and how the character has this complicated thing going on. I love the director. I had seen [director Jesse V. Johnson's] stuff and he's great at it. I love the cast, it's amazing. What can I tell you? But just the cast felt great. Just the fact that I would be able to do like an action film, which is something I really wanted to do. It was very exciting for me.

A good combination of, it sounds like a lot of different things you'd been looking for.

Yeah. Honestly.

I'd love to pick your brain about your initial reaction to the script, but then also to your character, Carlos, because we've really got in this film, this wrestling of honor and the mob and so many moving parts. What was your perspective on the script, and what was your initial reaction to your character?

I like my character. I like the fact that he was [Michael Rooker's] sidekick, and he's this guy that he's like a lone wolf in a sense that he is now in this organization, he's trying to prove himself and earn everyone's respect, especially from Michael -– because you know, he's going to be taking over his role. I love everything that happens. I don't want to call it false friendship, but in a way they start building this kind of relationship, friendship, even though they're both very cold killers and this, like, "We don't have friends" kind of thing. But, they start getting along with each other and then they're put in this situation where now they have to face each other. I think that is very interesting with both of their personalities and as an audience member, to just be like, "How are they going to solve this?"

So I really like how the script did that. [Bruce Willis'] character just adds something to it. [Olga Kurylenko] being there and having this woman, who's just trying to also find this mob and system and everything -– how she's being rescued by this killer –- it is just a lot of things happening. So, I liked it. I think it does what an action movie does. It's full of action, full of killing, lots of things happening, but it's fun.

The unexpected place Vadhir Derbez drew inspiration from

Well, and for your character, where did you source inspiration from? Because he does have that tortured, internal battle, as you said, with a friendship that gets turned on its head?

Yeah. Well, inspiration is just my messed up childhood really helped that. (Laughs)

A silver lining of the experience. (Laughs). Exactly.

Exactly. Well, thanks to my parents. No, honestly, I had played one psycho dude before in a show, and I really liked that tone of darkness. But honestly, with Jesse, we really kind of fine-tuned where my character had to be, and he didn't want him to be like a, "Oh, I'm really bad," kind of dude. But I think his actions just speak louder than whatever he's saying. But also he's a little bit reckless. So it was fine-tuning those details to make the character be, in a way, likable and funny, but at the same time it's that fine line.

I think characters nowadays -– there's not a good guy, or a good guy and a bad guy. It's just complex situations that make everyone choose their own side for each character.

Definitely. I feel like we're flipping the script on the so-called villain these days, of showing that complexity and letting that person's life path force them into making these tough calls, which obviously in hindsight they could have gone either way.

Yeah. Then you let the audience choose their side.

Definitely. It makes me think of the first time I watched "Black Panther," the origin Marvel film. The character, the villain, you totally get where he's coming from. I love that we're getting these more well rounded, complex characters that you can really see -– it could have gone either way for them.

Recalling the stunt days on set

Take me back to the production experience, because this is such an action-packed kind of film. What stood out to you about the production element and the action sequences?

It was very, very crazy, some of the things we did. I remember this one scene, for example, that they chose this building for. The location and for whatever purposes, they only had to blow out three windows that had to explode. So, they had the bombs or whatever they used, like the exploding machine thing, whatever, set up. The building had some side windows and it had other floors above it, and they were only going to shoot that smaller part of it.


The thing set off, exploded. Let me tell you that thing blew. It was insane. It was like all the windows shattered from the whole building. Like the whole building has no windows anymore. There was fire coming out of like, wow, it was insane. We were all in shock, but it was fun to watch for sure.

I bet.

It was definitely not planned like that. All the fights that I had to do, they were very exciting. I had to do this knife fight with this dude that was huge. Like 6 feet, I don't know how much, and a giant [build]. So, I had to train for that. I had to do all the gun training for all the shooting parts. There were a lot of things going on in every scene and I just loved it. It was fun.

Definitely. I mean, you're a pro. You've had more than 20 years of entertainment experience, but this seems like it was a unique challenge, in a way.

I've done some shooting stuff. But, I think that the fact that the whole project had these things and every scene had something different about it that was action-packed -– it was very exciting to do. Also with Michael and all these people -– they're so, so great and talented and I admire them so much. Having them there and playing around, it was very nice.

His filming experience with Michael Rooker and Bruce Willis

That's a perfect transition — you crossed paths with Michael Rooker, Bruce Willis, John Malkovich — these guys, I think of the film "RED" that Bruce and John were in together and that sequel. You're in action film gold essentially.

Right? I know. I know. I loved it. I honestly was so happy and shocked about the cast. I'm so excited to be part of a movie that Bruce is in. He's such a legend, I admire all his work. So being able to share the set with him and have scenes and just be there, it was just shocking. It was, it was nice. I remember sometimes I was sitting and seeing him and I'd be like, "That's really this dude I used to watch when I was little, like what's happening?"


It was definitely very nice. Michael, he's so much fun. He's crazy. He is insane. He loves making jokes and improvising all the time. We started doing our own lines and adding stuff and playing off each other. So, it got to a point where the director would get the actual scene and then do another take where he would be like, "Now do it your own style, do it your way." Then he would let us go. So it was nice.

I'm sure that's such a joy as an actor as well, to get that kind of freedom to play off of the person that you're sharing the screen with.

Mm yeah. Some directors are very strict and they're like, "Okay, no, just say exactly what the script says." But lately, most people are learning that the more you let people play, of course, if they have good instincts, you'll get some other amazing things that could never be written.

What has Vadhir Derbez's transition into English language films been like?

I want to talk to you a little bit about your foray into English language films, because you have made it so big in Latinx cinema. I'd love to know what your takeaway was from this project and how you're hoping it will propel you forward.

I took all these wonderful memories and experiences, and I know I'm going to love the film, but I'm hoping that more people will see this. I feel like every work that an actor does, whatever it is, it's just a showcase of one of the things that you can do. So I definitely want a lot of people to see this. I want this to be able to be part of a snowball that keeps growing and pulling in more work and other wonderful things and opportunities. So, I just want to keep challenging myself. I want to keep finding other projects that take me into different characters that are either more difficult or just new or different, to be able to tell more stories that people connect with.

The actor recalls his experience on Dancing with the Stars and The Masked Singer

I'd like to pick your brain about a couple things you've done outside of your acting career, specifically "The Masked Singer Mexico," and "Dancing with the Stars Mexico." You won both of them! That's so wild. What were those experiences like? How did they challenge you as a performer? I was doing some research before we sat down and it was such a cool addendum that I saw, like, "He won both of those competitions. That's legit."

No, I know. I know. I still can't believe it sometimes. It's weird because one was when I was 19, and it was just me thinking, "Okay. I know that I love dancing. I've never really taken classes before, but I'm passionate about this. Let's do it." And then it just started working and people were falling in love with everything I was doing. It just happened and it was this big boom in the Latinx community and it was nice. So in the "Masked Singer," it was just so awesome. I've been releasing music for the last five years, I think it is. So with acting ... sometimes when you're doing acting for so long, and people are sometimes very small-minded in the sense that they see you doing one thing and they're like, no, you can only do this thing.

So a lot of people were like, "No, what do you mean? You're singing?" They didn't see that music part of it. So, this project was a very big risk because I knew that if I was to go out on the first show, a lot of those people would be like, "Yeah, I told you so." But if I were to win or get close, it would just be very big for this part of my life. So, the fact that I was able to get in a costume and make people fall in love with the voice, the performance, everything else that's surrounded me without a face, without them knowing who I was and winning the damn thing. It was very exciting for me.

Well, and I'm sure it gave you that boost that you needed to say, "Hey, I got this, music could be something I could really explore."

It is something I knew I wanted and I'm passionate about, but sometimes hearing all those voices outside, it really gets in your head. So that was truly a boost of self-confidence, to stop listening to other people that don't even know what they're talking about. When you have other guys that have been doing this and filling up stadiums, telling you these amazing comments without even knowing anything about you, you have to listen to that and really believe in yourself. So, it was a beautiful message for a lot of people and for me, 100%, to grow and believe it.

Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes you just need that external push to confirm something that you already know.


Well, that's my time, I think. Thank you so much again, for sitting down with me. I appreciate it.

"White Elephant" will be in theaters and streaming on AMC+ on June 3!