Buzzine talks to George Lopez about his upcoming retirement plans, his own Chihuahua pets, and his new film, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, with Drew Barrymore, Salma Hayek, and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Izumi Hasegawa: You have Chihuahuas, right?
George Lopez: I have three of them.
IH: Are they from the pound or rescued?
GL: One was born naturally, from a result of the relationship between the mother and the father, and one was a rescue, and one we bought.
IH: So you were familiar with them before you had to play one?
GL: Yeah. I mean, look, there’s a lot of compelling stories in Hollywood of how people make it against all odds, but to be one day from being put down and then the next day you’re on every billboard and you’re the star of a movie is unbelievable. It’s unfortunate that he’s a canine and really won’t ever understand what that means, but I think it’s a metaphor for all of us. I had kidney disease and I didn’t know what my life was going to be like after my surgery, or even before — what the quality of life was going to be. In this movie, it’s Disney, and they always do movies that pull at your heartstrings, and this one’s no different. It was more of a romantic story than I imagined it to be when I was recording. You read the script initially, and then you go in there and you just read your pages. So when I saw the movie, I was impressed by the sweetness of Drew Barrymore’s voice, how brilliant that is and how sweet it is when she’s talking on the train to the puppy and the mom. It’s very Disney — and the fact that this movie had such a dynamic trailer with the big production number with the Chihuahuas in headdresses that The New York Times called incredibly insulting on someone’s image, and then, at the same time, people can’t wait to see the movie. So when The New York Times says it’s annoying but yet there’s a certain amount of people who can’t wait, and on YouTube, there were videos of how much they loved it; there was a YouTube video on how much they didn’t like it. But that just created this great energy for the movie.
IH: How did you like the “no más” movie?
GL: Placido Domingo does the “no más” speech in the movie, but I did it virally. You know, “enough is enough,” and all that stuff really helped. I enjoyed that “no más/enough is enough” campaign.
IH: Do you think these little dogs have been over-exploited in Hollywood?
GL: [Laughs] Well, they’re accessories. Paris Hilton and different actors and actresses that carry them around… Yes, they’re cute dogs. They’re small but they think that they can take anyone on. I’ve seen my dogs at a dog park where I have to put them in the car because they were going to beat up everyone in the park. You’re like, “Come on, what’s going on?” You’re carrying them under your arm. You’re like, “Are you crazy? What’s going on?” And it’s like, “Let me back out there! Let me back out there!”
IH: Do you relate to Papi’s strong romantic streak? Do you have a strong romantic streak?
GL: I don’t. It’s funny because, when I did the voice, Disney people would say, “God, he’s so romantic. He’s so great.” And I’m like, “You know that’s me, right?” And even when I saw the movie, I was like, “That is more romance than I thought I put in it.” Just the vulnerability… I think all the years of rejection from women… I finally found an outlet to let it go! Where it wasn’t me personally, but it was a dog. When I recorded the first time, I recorded with Drew the first hour and a half, and I only was supposed to have one recording session, that was it. That was just one hour, or one hour and a half, two hours, and that was it for me. But when her and I got together, and I sang to her and she rejected me, and everybody was in there like, “Awww…” they were like, “Hey, we might have something here.” So they started to see that, and then every time they prepared it. Everywhere this dog has a camera on him, they tried to get me to put a line in there, and a lot of them work. And it created a part where the dog was kind of invisible in the middle of the movie, and now he became the dog that runs through the whole film.
IH: How much time did you spend recording the part, and how much did it change, depending on what the dog did?
GL: What was great was in the beginning — I recorded for an hour and a half, and then we got that whole kind of romantic thing where I sang to Drew Barrymore through Plexiglas. That’s really the only way I should be close to Drew Barrymore, is through plastic, you know? And then when I started to record and they started to shoot in Mexico, and they were bringing back footage and you got a chance to see what was going on, I went and asked them if I could re-record a lot of the stuff from the beginning because I didn’t have a reference point. And I said to Raja [Gosnell], the director, “Can I re-record this?” And he’s like, “It’s fine.” And I’m like, “To me, it seemed a little flat, so I wanted to re-do it and bump it up a little bit.” So it was great to be able to do that. I even saw him yesterday and said, “Can I go in there and re-record stuff?” And he’s like, “No, there’s 3,000 prints already.” [Laughs]
IH: Did you get to interact with Rusco?
GL: I didn’t until last July. Three months ago, he and I were together for the first time and we did a couple of promos for Disney. And I gotta say, he was very good. I think he was a lot better than I was. He was more centered than I was. I was everywhere. And then he gave me a high-five on command and he was getting a manicure, so he had his paws in water, and I was talking to him and we were both sitting there with cucumbers over our eyes — just kind of relaxing with cucumbers. After they took the take, they were looking for the cucumber. He ate his cucumbers while they were resetting the camera. [Laughs]
IH: Who’s got more game: Papi or Pepe Le Pew?
GL: Pepe Le Pew. That’s a tough one to take down, man. I think if we do a sequel, Papi can contend. But Pepe Le Pew, for a skunk to be that romantic…and whenever he got close to somebody, there’s fumes that come out and chase the girls away. No, Pepe Le Pew, I think he’s got it. [Laughs]
IH: Did you learn anything from Papi’s romantic streak to impress your wife with?
GL: I do it with jewelry. I say it best. I say it with jewelry. I say it with small boxes.
IH: You’re trained well…
GL: Yes, I’m trained well. When they give you a kidney, there’s not a lot of “no”s you have left. [Laughs]
IH: I assume you don’t dress up your dogs at all…
GL: I do not. But I’ve had dogs dressed up in my house. Here’s the craziest thing. And I’ve said it anyway, I might as well say it. A year ago, our friends have a brown Chihuahua that was a female, and we have our youngest Chihuahua, which is a male. And my wife and the other person’s owner and the kids decided that it would be great if we had a Chihuahua wedding in the backyard. And I tried to get out of it, but I came home at the wrong time. They were just starting the wedding. So my smallest dog has a top hat on. They found a top hat. And they found a bow-tie and a tuxedo shirt. So there he is, and they’re holding them in their hand, and he’s like, “What the hell do I have on?” And then the other dog had a wedding dress on, and they were going to marry them. My daughter was doing the services. But in the middle of the wedding, the mother-in-laws fought — the two dogs got in a fight in the backyard — the bride lost her dress in the middle of the ceremony, and the father went missing and nobody could find him. And I thought, “I’ve been to this wedding!” [Laughs]
IH: What do you contribute your wide demographic and mainstream appeal to?
GL: I think that there’s a naturalness to me that I’ve always had, even when I did stand-up, when I wasn’t very good at it — that there was just this general kind of being in the place and warmness that I’m not sure if I have when I’m not on camera, when I’m not in public, because I’m still really shy. But I think that there’s a genuineness, and I think it draws people together. We did it in the show, and I think that’s one of the reasons why the show is bigger in syndication than it was in production, because more kids have got a chance to see it. I think movies like this. And even my stand-up — that’s very adult, but it’s still not mean. It’s just edgier, it’s not mean. Mean closes people off. And even though you’re talking about subjects that are really kind of edgy and different and deal with race, it’s not where I turn everybody off. So I’ve been able to be a nice mix. I think one of the things that benefited that was just being ignored for so many years and how that feels. Today there was a reporter here that was from Ohio and wanted to go to the game (today, Ohio State is playing USC), and he was talking about how he’s going to go back and he didn’t have money for a ticket. And I go, “How much are they? A thousand?” He’s like, “No, they’re probably like $400.” I said, “I’m going to give you $400 and you can go to the game.” He’s like, “No you’re not.” And I gave him $600. So I gave him $600 in cash and he’s going to the game. And the cameraman found two tickets, so he’s taking the cameraman. Both of them are going to go to the USC/Ohio State game. One’s a USC fan; one’s an Ohio State fan. I mean, fortunate in having some financial thing — it’s not just all about me. I actually enjoy doing that — that somebody was going to go and have a nice time.
IH: Do you subscribe to any philosophies, like The Secret’s Law of Attraction?
GL: Yeah, I do. I started to do that and it hasn’t let me down yet. I’m going to keep doing it until it doesn’t work. It really has been working. I mean, I get so much. And to be kind to people and to help and to be generous to people, and to help people who are in poor health as I was, that my wife and I do, is great. I’m getting a Make-A-Wish award in Phoenix next month because I’ve done a lot of Make-A-Wish with kids and things like that. I’ve heard stories of entertainers who have promised to be there and then have not been there, and then the child goes away. So when you think that there’s nothing probably sadder than a kid that’s sick or nothing happier than to hear laughter in a room with kids, is great. And this movie is that. So many times now we expect much more than just being entertained. We should just remain simple and go to a movie and be entertained, and walk out with your kids and say, “That was fun,” and go get ice cream and go home.
IH: You’ve talked about retiring in the near future. What if they want to make sequels to Beverly Hills Chihuahua?
GL: I will come back from my house in Hawaii for a “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2!” [Laughs] I’m almost 30 years doing stand-up. I’m going to have a big party next year. I’m doing an HBO special in Chicago. I hope to film it at the United Arena live in front of 15,000 people on HBO. And Chicago’s been a great town for me, when I first started doing stand-up. It’ll be 30 years — my 30-year anniversary. So I’m going to have a huge party. So far, I think I’m going to get Ambrosia and REO Speedwagon. I’m going to throw it back. I’ve got a huge party with a lot of bands. I think Peter Frampton, REO Speedwagon, Ambrosia, and maybe somebody else. I’m not sure yet.
IH: When you say “retire,” do you mean just from stand-up?
GL: I was in poor health and now I’m in good health. I think this business gets you in and doesn’t allow you to leave on your own terms. I’d like to leave while there’s still a bit left in the tank and enjoy my life, because I don’t know if this thing will last ten years, 20 years, five months… So I’d like to be able to enjoy a little bit of life.
IH: How much improv did you do in English and Spanish?
GL: I don’t know about the other actors, but I, being a comedian, would look at the thing and go, “I could do something better than this.” And he’s like, “Oh yeah? Well let’s do it like that and then we’ll do it the way you want to do it.” And then, in most cases, they used mine. Like that scene where Piper was walking out, they’re in the police office; Sam and Papi — Papi’s sitting in the chair, you know, he’s just sitting there in the chair… [Laughs] And Piper walks up and the dog just kind of looks over to the side — as a dog would, you know, somebody walking up behind him. So I said, “Hannah Montana at three o’clock!” It was funny, you know? All the dog did was that and I put a joke in there. So that kind of stuff was nice, and it adds to the movie. I did the same thing in the ping pong movie, Balls of Fury. I did stuff that was at the end of the scene — just always a tag at the end.
IH: Some people like voiceover because they feel it’s a different way to use their talent…
IH: Are you more comfortable with it, or do you miss the audience?
GL: For not having done it, I enjoyed it, and when you have a good director and producers that are open to it… But I was watching Aladdin with my daughter, and I don’t think that there’s ever been a performance like Robin Williams in Aladdin. It was brilliant. Those jokes that come flying out of that Genie — that’s great. I’m not at that level yet, but I’d like to be able to get to that. A little bit of that. That was fantastic.
IH: We don’t see many popular family movies where we see Mexico in a positive light…
IH: How did you feel about this movie showing the positive side?
GL: I think it’s great. Mexico and the United States — there are obviously a lot of political issues going on, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Mexico’s a beautiful place and very historical. Mexicans invented the calendar — how we keep time — which is amazing because we’re always late. I don’t know how that happened. Maybe they only had one. [Laughs] But to invent the calendar and then always be waiting — I’ve spent my whole life waiting on people! And I’m like, “Dude, we invented the calendar!” I got caught up. So it is great. And the pyramids, and the history of it…and I named my daughter Mayan. The fact that Disney…the validation of a Disney studio movie and having it come out as romantic and sweet… If you guys saw the movie and you saw it with kids, they loved the movie. That’s all you can ask from a Disney film. And when they get behind it, it’s big-time.
IH: What amazed you the most about what they could teach a dog to do on cue?
GL: Well, I have three Chihuahuas, and they’re not as still as that dog, I’ll tell you that much. I mean, these dogs, they go everywhere, and their heads move everywhere, and they shake. I have a dog — the middle dog, the female — that it could be 90 degrees outside, and if she’s outside, she’ll run up to the window and just start shaking like she’s in Antarctica. And you’re like, “It’s 90 degrees outside!” But they know. They’re like, “You gotta let me in, man, I’m shaking! It’s freezing!” So the fact that they had them so still and moving so freely that they do look like human actors — you forget that these are dogs. When they run out of the dogfight thing, you’re not surprised they don’t run in 20 different directions. They all run in the same direction! I don’t know what kind of bacon they have over there, or what kind of chicken they use, but that’s some powerful stuff. [Laughs]
IH: How long were they training the dogs? Some of these were rescues with no previous experience.
GL: Well, I don’t think it was a long time. But when you see these trainers, they do amazing things. Rusco, if you look at him now, he’s locked in. So I think they just know how to approach a dog, and then they gave those dogs homes that they used in Mexico. They used a lot of strays that they found and then they gave them homes, which is great.
IH: What are your dogs’ names?
GL: You’re going to make me say the names publicly?
IH: If you want.
GL: Chico is the black and white one. There’s a picture of me in People magazine that I’m trying to get the negative for. And then Trixie is the female. And then Monty, because he was born in Monterey, California — the one I paid for the $1,000 Cesarean, is the third one.
IH: What do you think of the overall casting — live actors and voice actors?
GL: I thought it was very good. Somebody pointed out to me that Sam and Piper’s character, and Chloe and Papi are almost like the same union in dog and human form. I didn’t realize that until someone pointed it out. But Jamie Lee Curtis is great in everything that she does, and Andy Garcia and Placido Domingo, and Drew Barrymore — the voice. So I thought they did a really good job. And Cheech, who’s like a staple at Disney. I thought they did a really good job of finding the right voices for the dogs.
IH: Did you have to match the dog’s mouth, or did they add that afterwards?
GL: What happened in the beginning — we didn’t because there wasn’t any footage. So when they started to get footage and send it back, then we started to match with the dog, because you don’t want to do four sentences and the dog only moves his mouth a little bit. And then they did it with CGI, so we were able to make it seem real. In the old days, they just took peanut butter and put it under the mouth and the dog would talk forever, like a lecture.
IH: Did you put in the Spanish improvisations?
GL: No, all English.
IH: The little phrases?
GL: Oh yeah. A little bit.
IH: Were they written?
GL: No, they were my improvisations. But just a little bit. I mean, they kept it really on point and they kept it really universal, and they kept it really clean. I had some stuff in there that was not un-G, but it was probably “G-almost-H,” so they took all that out and they made me do it really straight. It’s better for the movie. But how can you have Chihuahuas and not want to do some pee jokes, you know?
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures' 'Beverly Hills Chihuahua was released on October 3, 2008 and is now on DVD via Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.