July 13, 2001

crazy/beautiful: Breaking stereotypes

by Adrian Rudomin

crazy/beautiful is a love story between Carlos Nuñes (Jay Hernandez), an A-student from East LA, who falls in love with Nicole Oakley (Kristen Dunst), an out of control trouble maker from West LA. The setting sounds familiar, two kids from opposite sides of the track falling in love, causing serious opposition from their families, but the truth is completely different.

If one thing can define crazy/beautiful is its reversal of roles. Not only is the Latino kid the straight arrow and the white one the trouble maker, in this film even the parents take a different view from what is usually expected in these sort of fare. Nicole's father is worried about the relationship not in fear that a Latino kid may corrupt her daughter, but the other way around. He is concerned his troubled daughter could de-rail the bright young Latino kid!

"In the original screenplay there was more of the cliché prejudice banter against the Latino kid" stated Texan born director John Stockwell. "But as I did more research it simply didn't ring true. It appeared to be better to stick to the simplicity of the love story, in which the problems arise not from the different origin of the characters but from their personality. I decided that it would be more believable to make Carlos just an American kid with American dreams who happens to be Latino, proud of his origin and colored by it, yet not defined by a ghetto perception of Latino youth." By this simple effort, John Stockwell has made a bold statement that transcends what even some Latino filmmakers have done, by presenting a new view of Latino roles in which being Latino does not separate the character from the rest of society, but simply makes him/her part of the mesh of this nation.

When asked about the choice for the lead male character, John Stockwell commented that Jay was their very first choice. "Jay came to read for us at the very beginning, and he was amazing. We then continued to seek throughout the USA and the world, just to be sure we had the right kid. We even brought talented actors from Mexico and Spain, but at the end, we just knew Jay was the right one. Jay nailed that role and made it his from the get"

"This film was unique" continues John Stockwell, "in that the Studio did not put pressures on the star power of the leads. It may be one of the last opportunities I have to work like this, but it sure was refreshing to be given cart blanche in the casting. Disney simply wanted the best actors for the roles. Perhaps it is the fact that youth oriented films are slightly different as most actors that age have not had enough time to become huge stars, but it was a very wonderful experience. Kristen Dunst was not imposed by the studio but was selected simply because I thought she was the best for the role."

Jay Hernandez is a story like those we love hearing time and time again. One of those Hollywood dream tales that are the cause of great gossip and perhaps the envy of many who struggle so hard for their break yet never get it.

One day, Jay (who never dreamt of being an actor) and his mother were entering an elevator where an agent spotted him, gave him his card and asked him to call. Jay did call and soon landed a role in a TV series. He has not looked back since.

A smart and refreshingly humble young man, Jay expresses great gratitude for all that is happening and enjoys every second of it. "Working with John and Kristen was simply amazing," states Jay in a phone interview from the set of his next movie, "The Rookie," opposite Dennis Quaid, "They were extremely patient with me and made everything they could to make me comfortable. In the love scenes, Kristen was relaxed while I was a nervous wreck! She gave me advice and helped me through the scenes.

"One of the things that attracted me to `crazy/beautiful' was that the Carlos character was so removed from the usual cliché Latino roles. Instead of being a wild an unruly trouble-maker from the ghetto, Carlos is an A student and athlete, filled with solid work ethics and possibilities. I liked the fact that he was rooted in his origin but not defined by it. He may be from Latin American origin but he is an American, sharing the dreams of American kids of all origins."

crazy/beautiful, a fun filled yet simple coming of age Love story, gives perhaps one of the most surprising renderings of a Latino character in a long time, simply by not over stressing the Latino essence but the sheer human qualities shared by all. A great step ahead in the perception of Latinos in Hollywood, in main America, and even in the Hispanic community itself.

Return to the Frontpage