“There’s a lot of amazing female directors creating amazing movies,” Eva Longoria tells FLAUNT, before excitedly naming some recent favorites: Greta Gerwig, Emerald Fennell, Ava DuVernay. “But I think it’s also a myth that Hollywood is progressive in that way, that women are directing everywhere.” Longoria continues, “We’re not. We’re still underrepresented behind the camera. We’re a smaller percentage now than in the years prior. We’re going in the wrong direction.”
Longoria knows all about being a female director in a male-dominated Hollywood world. Earlier this year, her first feature film as a director debuted: Flamin’ Hot. She began her career in front of the camera, on the drama, The Young and the Restless, later moving on to the ground-breaking show, Desperate Housewives. Longoria credits the experience as her “film school,” the place where she “really learned how to direct.” While still working on the show, Longoria started to produce and now has her own production company, UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, which has secured orders from the likes of Apple TV+. In between that, she’s a full-time mother, activist, and entrepreneur. We’re speaking to her in Las Vegas, where she is, as ever, busy working.
When the script for Flamin’ Hot landed on her desk, Longoria says she knew she had to direct the film. Flamin’ Hot told the story of Richard Montañez, a former janitor at Frito-Lay. He claimed he pitched the idea for Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with the Latino market in mind, at a time when the company was struggling. The company denied this claim. Longoria loved the story and spent months on her film pitch to Searchlight. The hard work paid off: she was hired, having pipped dozens of other—mostly male—directors to get the job.
Longoria laughs now looking back on this. “Getting a directing job is the same as acting. You’ve got to basically audition for the part and show them why you’re the best person for the job. My agent had sent me the script saying, ‘No, I don’t think you’re going to get it. Not because you’re not talented, but because you haven’t directed a feature before.’”
She continues: “I read the script, and I loved the story. I was like, ‘I have to direct this story.’ I felt like I was the only person who could do it,” she explains, saying a Latino voice was needed to tell this Latino story. “I really felt that in my bones... I had a very clear vision of what the film should look like and be.” Searchlight loved her presentation, and she was hired. “When I got the job to direct the movie, I realized Hollywood defines what heroes look like and they never look like us. I had the opportunity to create a hero that looked like Richard, that looked like my dad, that looked like mi tío [my uncle].”
Soon after she got the job, Longoria set about building a cast and crew of Latino men and women at a time when, despite the community representing over a fourth of moviegoers in the US, the number of Latinos working in the industry had fallen. “I don’t think studios are purposefully not hiring people of color or women,” Longoria explains. “They just work with who they’re used to working with. Because we [women, the Latino community,] haven’t had that many chances to show our talent, they’re going to hire who they’re used to hiring. They’re not tapping into a different talent pool and taking ‘risks’ with new filmmakers [who] are usually more diverse.”
Longoria says with a determined urgency that it was imperative for her to help change this and to develop a new talent pool. “Part of the reason I got behind the camera was because I wanted to help build that pipeline of talent,” she explains. “People will go, ‘Well, you’ve never done it before,’ and it’s like, ‘Yeah, they haven’t done it until they do, and so [it’s important] giving people of color and women that opportunity to build up their resume so they can go into rooms saying: ‘I have done it before.’
“I knew I had to have people in those key department head positions that had authenticity along with me,” Longoria adds about her decision to hire a predominately Latino crew. “I didn’t have to explain anything... It needed to be understood at a deeper level. It was very important that I was able to hire the people I wanted to hire.”
With this, Longoria says, came a weight of responsibility that doesn’t exist for white male directors. She says she felt she “had immense pressure to get it right.” She continues: “I felt like I was representing women, I was representing Latinos and if the movie doesn’t do well, then they’re going to say female directors don’t do well. If I don’t do well, they’re going to say, ‘You know, we hired that Latino that one time, and it didn’t work.’ I did feel immense pressure to succeed. “I’m hoping that I’m able to tell the stories I want to tell from my community about my community. That’s important to me and those are the stories that I feel haven’t been on the big screen.”
One of the stories that wasn’t represented well enough on screen for Longoria was that of Mexico and its people. Longoria was born in Texas to Mexican-American parents, the youngest of four daughters. Recently, she has shot a program, Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico, in which she travels around her ancestral country, telling the stories of its people and food. Stanley Tucci had his own successful incarnation of the show, Searching for Italy. The program arrived at a time, post-Donald Trump, when relations between the US and Mexico were at an all-time low. Longoria said she wanted to show people the Mexico she knew and loved. “I thought, ‘Let’s show the Mexico that I know,’ and I’m just so happy [the show] has had the success it’s had,” she explains with pride. “I was so happy to introduce the country of Mexico to so many people who weren’t familiar with it and to reintroduce Mexico to America as well. We need a better relationship with our closest neighbor and our closest trading partner.”
She says Tucci gave her “a lot of great advice.” “He couldn’t believe I did all the regions back-to-back,” she laughs. “He was like, ‘Oh my god, you’re going to need a detox if you’re eating that much,’” she smiles, in reference to the fact she went around several different regions in several days, eating delicious Mexican food and telling the story of those places through the meals the communities ate. “It was the adventure of a lifetime,” Longoria gushes, her happiness at speaking about her Mexican heritage feeling palpable. “When you talk about the food of a country, you’re talking about its people... I think we did a beautiful job at introducing the Mexico that I know, the Mexico that many people know to the United States.”
Longoria says she has spent her life navigating the different facets of her dual identity. “I’m Mexican-American, so our identity is constantly navigating or straddling the hyphen,” she explains. “I’m 100 percent Mexican and 100 percent American at the same time [and] we’ve always grown up with that identity crisis of not being from here nor there. For the most part, I’ve been so lucky to be part of both cultures: I get the best of both worlds and I really embrace that duality for sure.”
At a time when Trump’s America divided Mexican and American communities, Longoria spoke up about the importance of democracy when those rights felt under threat more than ever before. “It’s important for me to lend my voice for democracy,” she continues. “I think democracy is at stake right now... The idea [that] you have to be a politician to be political isn’t true. The most important person in the democratic process is the citizen and so as long as we have power as citizens, we’re able to create change in our cities, in our communities, in our states and in our countries,” she continues.
“The world’s a difficult place right now. We’ve faced adversity before, and we’ll continue to face it. Democracy is something that always has to be protected—the fight is never over. It’s going to be every election. Not just general elections and presidential elections, but local elections, city elections, county elections, state elections. There’s so much work to be constantly doing to defend democracy.”
Longoria is a keen activist and set up the Eva Longoria Foundation in 2012 “to help Latinas build better futures for themselves and their families through education and entrepreneurship,” as detailed in its mission statement. It continues: “By providing Latinas with the resources to succeed in school and business, we can help empower the Latino community.”
Longoria talks proudly of the work the foundation does, especially with women and young girls. “It’s set up for Latinas, specifically women of our community to help them reach their full potential.” Part of this comes via educational programs and entrepreneurial training that the foundation provides. Longoria has a deep knowledge of the needs of the community and a fierce desire to initiate change—much like her work in the film industry.
“Latinas start businesses at six times the national average in the United States, so we’re very entrepreneurial. But sometimes we don’t have the capital, the access to the capital, the access to the ‘know how’ of how to run those businesses or scale those businesses. One thing my foundation does is really give that support where it’s needed.” Her most treasured part of the foundation’s work, she says, “is making people’s dreams come true.”
She continues: “Seeing them reach their full potential, seeing them achieve their dreams because [that] infrastructure of opportunity is not available to everyone and so if I can provide or help someone with that infrastructure and they take it the rest of the way... to see them succeed once your open that door for them–that is the most gratifying part.”
Here, Longoria uses her own experience as a successful businesswoman to help. She has her own brand of tequila, Casa Del Sol, a cookware line, and has been a global ambassador for L’Oréal since 2005. “I am a businesswoman first and foremost,” Longoria says. “I take [my businesses] very seriously. I do all my research. I look at the industry; I look at sales landscapes. I look at a 360 view of different businesses before I enter into them. I think that’s why the ones I’m attached to have been successful because I fully understand them. I understand how to support them, how to scale it. The business brain is a side of my brain that I really love exercising.”
Longoria says she sees entrepreneurship as another “extension of creativity.” “I think being an entrepreneur is super creative. You’re creating and you’re building and you’re being innovative. With my tequila, we’re being ground-breaking,” she says, adding that just like her directorial work, women are given roles front and center. “We have a female master distiller and we have a lot of women in key positions in an industry that’s still predominantly male.”
Longoria’s desire to put women in powerful positions goes back to her breakthrough in Desperate Housewives—the award-winning ABC show that ran for eight years with 180 episodes. Longoria played ex-model Gabrielle Solis who lived in the fictional town of Fairview on Wisteria Lane. The show, like Sex and the City, was a game-changer for women as they led the drama singlehandedly at a time when this was still a rarity on screen. It interrogated the ideals of picket-fence suburbia and the seemingly perfect marriages behind them, putting the women first and exploring the patriarchy, misogyny and mental health at a time when it was still taboo.
“I always knew it was special,” Longoria reflects of Desperate Housewives. “What we were doing felt important. It felt ground-breaking when we were doing it to be honest and so to see it all resonate with so many people around the world... it’s really amazing to see that. But I do think it’s because we dealt with a lot of universal themes—marriage, divorce, raising kids, friends, sisterhood. It was a global phenomenon because it was so relatable.”
Next year, Desperate Housewives turns twenty. Would Longoria return if the opportunity to do a new series arose? “I’d be the first to sign up for it! But unfortunately, it’s not up to me,” she laughs, saying it would be one for the show runners to decide. Longoria points out, it was one of the first shows to have older women onscreen driving the action at a time when ageism for women in Hollywood was brutal. “At that point, it was crazy to have women over 40 as a lead... I remember everyone was like, ‘Wow, women over 40 carrying the show!’ Now, for me I think 40 is so young,” she laughs, having turned 48 this year.
Longoria says the show taught her much—especially when it came to producing, directing and creating the roles that she would like to see on screen for women. “Why I produce and direct is because I’m not going to sit back and wait for somebody to offer me a role or wait for that role to come along,” she explains. “For me, I’m going to create my own roles... that’s what I’m going to have to do so that I make sure I don’t have an expiration date. With regards to ageism, my race, my gender, you know, you can’t just wait for those roles to fall into your lap.” She says it’s disappointing how women still sometimes “have a shelf-life in this business,” but she thinks “that’s changing a lot with so many roles,” even if the process feels slow.
She thinks there has been a shift in the industry with the roles many previously underrepresented groups have on screen, but not because “studio heads” thought “let’s do right by these communities,” but because “the audiences have demanded it.” She thinks audiences will have the power to bring more change in the future.
“There’s been a shift because audiences are demanding diversity, they’re demanding different perspectives,” Longoria says. She thinks of these communities—be it LGBT+, Latino, Asian, Black, or disabled communities—“want the space to be able to tell their stories because at the end of the day we’re all storytellers,” she continues. “I think change is coming. I think we’re still far away from equality and fair representation, but at least we’re facing the right direction to create that change.” Longoria is already in that direction of change via her upcoming acting, producing and directorial projects—including one that leans into her roots on Wisteria Lane. “I have a show coming out for Apple TV+ called Land of Women, a dramedy that’s kind of in the vein of Desperate Housewives,” she explains. “I’m definitely excited about what’s to come for directing and acting.” She says for her, any upcoming project must “have purpose” or “something that changes hearts and minds, that is culturally defining. I have a very high bar with the things that I want to do.”
What does she hope for the future? “I would like to see more women behind the camera; we need to see more women insubstantial lead roles: not just the girlfriend or the wife... I would like to see Latinos in more roles and I would like the stories to be about us. It’s not just about putting a Latino in a movie or television show so it’s like, ‘Look—there’s representation!’
”Longoria says change must be meaningful and lasting to have power and impact. “There’s only representation if it’s our point of view, if it’s our story,” she says. “Only then will change truly come.”
Written by Liz Aubrey
1st Assistant: Charles Brown
2nd Assistant: Winston Kingstro
Photo Assistants: Allison Lopez and Sho Stewart
Digi Tech: Kevin Leupold
Styling Assistant: Rachel Bode
Production Assistant: Khami Auerbach
Location: David Bailey’s Estate