Eva Longoria has achieved representation on her own terms. The multi-hyphenate’s career trajectory took her from a starring role in Desperate Housewives to working behind the scenes as a director and producer to starting her own production company to see hire more women and people of colour in Hollywood. Add her philanthropy work, ambassador role for L’Oréal Paris, and her most recent venture as the co-founder of Casa del Sol, a newly launched tequila brand, and suffice to say she’s extremely busy.
Most recently, Longoria joined this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) virtually to discuss her experiences in the film industry as a woman. We also had the opportunity to speak with the star about representation in film and beauty, the power of telling diverse stories, and the importance of supporting women.
What type of beauty did you see represented in media when you were growing up?
There wasn’t the celeb culture that there is now and obviously no social media. The closest beauty representation I got to see was my family — my sisters, my mom and my aunts. They’re the ones that taught me my beauty secrets. They’re the ones that taught me to shave my legs. They’re the ones that taught me to apply cream [in an upward motion]. Other than that, we didn’t have disposable income to buy fashion magazines, we had three channels on TV and didn’t go to the movies. I looked very close and saw this radiant beauty within my sisters and my mom.
Do you think the traditional ideal of beauty is changing and what do you hope to see more of?
If you look at the rainbow of ambassadors that L’Oréal has, it’s just an example that beauty comes in many colours, sizes and forms. That’s the world we live in. There’s beauty in diversity. To be able to be with a brand that not only represents it, but also celebrates it is really important.
Flamin’ Hot will be your feature film directorial debut. What drew you to this project and what was the experience like?
I just wrapped and slept for five years. It’s the true story of Richard Montañez, a janitor who worked at Frito-Lay and worked his way up to vice president over 40 years. He’s the godfather of Hispanic marketing. He was the first person to tell a major company, ‘Hey, there’s a huge market you’re missing out on. We buy stuff, too.’ He helped launch this billion-dollar brand. It’s the number one snack in the world today. All because this man said, ‘Hey, we should put chile on a chip.’ It’s really his story. It’s not really the documentary of Frito-Lay. It’s a story about rags to riches, the American dream, perseverance and succeeding against all odds.
Is there anything you wanted to do differently as a director working behind the camera rather than in front of it?
This was my first time directing a feature, but not my first time directing. I was able to spread my wings as a filmmaker, whether it was camera choreography, composition, trying new shots, new equipment or new lenses. I had an amazing cinematographer, Federico Cantini, and we were two peas in a pod. I was surrounded by all of these people who understood my vision and elevated it. To be able to work so closely with all these talented people was truly a gift.
What was the inspiration behind your production company?
You just look at the statistics and the small percentage of women who are employed as directors. We’re out there; we’re just not getting the opportunities. There’s a small amount of women and people of colour that are represented in television and film — the data is there. As content creation has shifted and there are so many avenues to express that content, you have to break through the noise of studios, streamers, cable, YouTube and social media. There’s so much to consume so you have to be innovative with the content you create and the only way to be innovative is to be diverse. In creating my production company, I wanted to build that pipeline of diverse talent that normally wouldn’t get the opportunity. Once you tap into a different perspective of storytelling, all of a sudden it becomes fresh and new, even though you’re talking about universal themes.
This year, L’Oréal Paris focused on the importance of supporting women in film at TIFF. In what ways have women supported you in your career?
Kerry Washington was a big reason why I even directed my first feature film. First of all, she gave me permission to be great. She said, ‘You should do this. You should direct this. You are qualified. You are ready.’ Then we went to the studio together and she said the same thing to the studio execs. I don’t think either step would have happened without Kerry. Sometimes as women, we’re just waiting for permission. We’re waiting for someone to say, ‘Do it. Go for it.’ She was one of those people who did that for me.
You have a really unique career trajectory as an actress, producer, director, philanthropist, activist and entrepreneur. Was that always the plan?
I crafted my career because the opportunities weren’t there. My career path was very intentional and purposeful. Time is my most valuable asset so where I put that time has to be carefully evaluated. Building my production arm, my acting career, my philanthropy and my activism — all of it is tied to my DNA. You have to be strategic in your daily activities and tasks and how you’re working towards that dream.