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Just looking for a hit: one of Mexico's biggest movie stars, Eduardo Yanez has been trying to crack Hollywood for 20 years.

IN MOVIES AND soap operas in Latin America and with U.S.-Spanish-speaking Latinos, Eduardo Yanez rocks.

Sporting an ultra fit physique at six-feet-three inches, Yanez has been hailed as one of the hottest actors from Mexico since the mid-1980s. Still, he is not as well-known to mainstream audiences in the U.S. and to more assimilated Latinos who do not follow telenovelas or Mexican cinema.

But he is making inroads. Ladrones, a comedy in which he co-stars with Fernando Colunga was released nationwide and was a hit.

As a Generation X Latino of Mexican origin who grew up in Los Angeles, I have known Yanez since the mid-1980s, ever since he exploded on the big screen in a cult favorite of Mexican Cinema, La Muerte Cruzo El Rio Bravo (Death crossed the Rio Bravo), a South of the Border Western revenge flick filmed in the gorgeous natural scenery of the Mexican state of Durango.

My parents were from rural Mexico, which meant that as a first-generation U.S.-born teen, I spoke Spanish at home and learned English at public schools. Though I faced the challenges of growing up bilingual, long before the "Latino boom" of the late 1990s made speaking Spanish popular, watching movies, especially from Mexico and Latin America, helped.

Many assimilated Latinos complain, rightly so, about the lack of role models or that they never see people like them on the big screen or on TV. Though Hispanics have made inroads in the media, one place where Latinos, especially men, have not had much success is in Hollywood.

Something that may have helped, like it did to me and other teen Hispanics from the 1980s, was to be fed a diet provided by the Spanish International Network (the media conglomerate that later became Univision) seeing larger-than-life stars who battled the forces of evil as Mexican wrestlers, rugged cowboys. Divas like Veronica Castro and Lucia Mendez were the rage on the feminine front.

As an adolescent, every Sunday after Mass, friends and I from my Lincoln Heights housing projects I would hop on an RTD bus that carried us past Little Italy, strolled by colorful Chinatown--full of immigrants just like the hoods I grew up in--and snaked down Broadway Street.

There, looming large upon the teeming streets filled with L.A.'s diverse population that resembled Bladerunner, were the most lovely and extravagant movie palaces in the world--the Million Dollar, the Orpheum, the Los Angeles--buildings erected from the turn of last century through the 1930s. They were architectural gems from another era; some seats were worn, the murals had chipped and little children in the audience often cried during shows, but the theaters held onto their vintage opulence. It was the winter of 1984. Think Wicked City, the new ABC series about a dangerous Los Angeles during Hollywood's most decadent era.

Prince was making a smash on the music charts and movies with Purple Rain, the city had hosted the Olympics and smog married the dense fog, giving Los Angeles a London-type atmosphere when I found myself working as a concession stand boy for The State Theater.

Broadway street had been in decay for decades, but filled with people from all over the world, it was the epitome of excitement when I took Cristina, my future wife, across the street to see La muerte cruzo el Rio Bravo, starring an up-and-coming Eduardo Yanez.

We went into The Palace, another cavernous movie theater. Amidst the mostly Latino immigrants, we saw Yanez face-off against veteran actor Eric Del Castillo in an action yarn typical of border action Mexican movies of the 1980s.

To the millions of immigrants, mostly from Mexico, Central America and their relatives in the U.S., it did not matter that high-brow movie critics in tony Mexican newspapers refused to review films like these. Movies starring Yanez and other popular leading men often spoke to the masses in ways that perhaps Hollywood productions or some of the Latino art house films did not.

Back in the 1980s, Mexican cinema's new young star was Eduardo Yanez, who has since starred in many films. He moved to the U.S. in the early 1990s and has been working in Hollywood for decades.

For 20 years, Yanez, who know resides in a lush, trendy apartment complex in West Los Angeles, has divided his career between working in Hollywood films and starring in Televisa telenovelas, which often beat English-speaking, U.S.-produced shows during prime time in the ratings.

Still, at 55, he yearns to make it as big as he has made it in Latin America, where he is the embodiment of a Latin Lover. In a recent interview, Yanez sports his hair cropped and wears a beige work shirt.

His voice, demeanor and large hands are as firm as ever. He is serious about work, but he still boasts a winning smile that has seduced countless women in movies.

"We can't deny that the U.S. market is the universal market of entertainment," he says. "That's why I insist so much."

The Black Palace

Yanez was born in Mexico city on September 25, 1960. It was a Sunday.

A tall, raven-haired beauty, Maria Eugenia Yanez came from a family from Aguascalientes, who like millions of others, migrated to Mexico's gargantuan capitol. A single mother, she raised Eduardo and three brothers while she worked as a prison guard.

The future star of Mexican telenovelas and cinema admits he has no memory of his biological father. He does recall a stepfather who later left.

Growing up in working-class neighborhoods like Pensador Mexicano, fatherless and poor, Yanez narrates that he had to earn every inch of ground he walked on. At age 7, in a futile attempt to help his mother with money, he started to sell Mexican gelatin at 7 in the morning; at 11 a.m. it was offering paletas to customers and shoe shines by 4 p.m.

When the kid was not at school or out on the streets offering popsicles or shining shoes, he accompanied his mother to work at Lecumberri, Mexico's most famous and terrifying prison, where only two people escaped in its 76-year history: Pancho Villa and Dwight Worker, an American activist who dressed up as a woman during his flight.

Called "El Palacio Negro" (The Black Palace), Lecumberri was a unique experience for a kid, Yanez says. The good-looking boy was popular among female prison guards and women inmates.

"It was a very special world that makes you an introspective, it makes you value freedom," he recalls. "You get to know so many human traits that make you very sensitive. The images I have in my head, I can't forget and I don't want to forget them. I feel that that is when my life began."

There was never a dull moment on the streets where he used to get into fights, which in his neighborhood was part of growing up. Yet it was in junior high, at Vocacional 1 that he learned to channel his teen anxieties by playing American football; the discipline of the gridiron gave him the needed tools to hone his unbridled drive.

This is where his natural musculature and height came in to play. To this day, he still keeps tabs of his teammates of Los Cameras.

The game taught me that you learn how to fall and how to get up. There is no way you are going to stay down," he says.

Who knows if he would have gone on to a pro career, but a walk home from the football field changed his life forever, he recalls. As he strolled with a group of Camera teammates, the jocks spotted a group rehearsing a play.

There was this good-looking actress. What caught our attention was what was going on. The following days we stopped and watched," Yanez tells.

The group was a troupe of "Teatro Experimental": experimental theater that is popular in Latin America's urban areas. Mexico has one of the largest theater cultures in the world, where hundreds of plays that range from classical to comedy to musicals are showcased every day, often to full houses.

It was during these days, when he worked at a small, neighborhood tortilla factory, that he met Norma Adriana Garcia, a client and a young beauty about his age. She won his heart.

In the meantime, he went through Mexico's basic Army training, which earned him his I.D. card. That, in turn, permitted him to work. He tried getting his foot in the door at a bank, but was disappointed when he did not get the job as a greeter.

Mr. Telenovela

However, he never left the theater, going at it for three full years, learning from the masters, who had connections with "Fotonovelas," romantic photonovels consisting of still photographs and captions, often starring well-known television and movie stars.

Then someone contacted him with Televisa, Latin America's biggest television empire and the bastion of telenovelas, soap operas that for decades have been exported all over the world in dozens of languages.

Yanez's first crack at the telenovela world was in 1981 as an extra, playing a barman, in El Hogar que Yo Robe, which was produced by big-time producer Valentin Pimstein and starred Angelica Maria and Juan Ferrara. He was then 21.

Yanez went from being an extra to a role in Quiereme Siempre, which starred then A-list movie (this was still 1981) and telenovela star Jacqueline Andere and veteran actor Jorge Vargas. He got to play Carlos, the boyfriend of one of Mexico's future telenovela queens, Victoria Ruffo, the dark-haired beauty who would storm Mexico and later the world with international soaps like Simplemente Maria.

Quiereme Siempre also introduced Yanez to the man who would become key in his career and life: Ernesto Alonso. In those days Alonso was already the undisputed king of Mexican soaps.

A classically trained actor from Mexico's golden age cinema (he narrated Luis Bunuel's Los Olvidados), Alonso turned to telenovelas in 1960. By the 1980s, he was a master at the genre and would go on to produce 157 telenovelas.

"He [Alonso] taught me, he disciplined me," Yanez says, his voice quivering. "He was like a father to me. I can thank him for what I am today."

Raul Araiza, a veteran director and Alonso's right-hand man, recalled a few years before his death in 2013 how Yanez went from being a novice to a pro. He often said that with Alonso's classical discipline, the young actor learned the basics and honed his craft.

"Lalo was educated old-school style, because I used to nag him a lot because he used to be late. He became a very punctual young man," he told Galavision during 2007 interview.

Yanez needed all the help and discipline he could get, because he would act next to Ernesto Alonso himself, as the master played Enrique de Martino, a millionaire and satanist in El Malebcio. The all-star cast included Andere, Norma Herrera, Maria Sorte, Carmen Montejo, a young and already established Humberto Zurita. Rebecca Jones, teen goddess Erika Buenfil and future star Sergio Goyri.

Despite the gorged cast of A-listers, Yanez managed to steal some scenes as "Diego," a sports coach. The telenovela was a monster hit, notwithstanding its then-controversial nature due to its horror and occult themes.

In 1984, Yanez, capitalizing on El Maleficio's success, played in another Alonso production in Tu eres mi destino, next to another teen sensation: Laura Flores. He also got to meet Maria Felix, the legendary diva.

A big man for the big screen

Many say that the small screen was, well, small for Yanez, whose physique, charisma and rough around the edges macho nature was tailor made for the big screen. And indeed it was a big screen.

Since the 1930s, the Mexican movie industry quickly established itself as the biggest producer of movies in Latin America. Mexico's golden age gave the Spanish-speaking world many stars, including Cantinflas, Maria Felix, Pedro Infante and others.

But by the 1970s, historians agree, the movie industry in Mexico was on a downward trend. Still, state-financed films produced notable, art house filmmakers like Felipe Cazals, Jorge Humberto Hermosillo and others who paved the way for Mexico's current Nuevo Cine Mexicano. In one way or another, they permitted directors like Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu to break out by the 1990s.

By the 1980s, it was another story. There were a few notable films, but most of the 170 films per year (still one of the biggest in the world next to Hollywood) were "Fichera" (taxi dancer) comedies with adult themes and "Frontera" (border) flicks, violent, bloody, drug dealers yarns or modern day Westerns.

It was one of the latter that Yanez was to star in. Through the years, La muerte cruzo el Rio Bravo became a cult favorite.

Filmed in Santiago Papasquiaro and produced by Spanish movie mogul Carlos Vasallo. Yanez took Mexico's film industry, which was already on its deathbed, by storm (please see full review in this edition).

Sure, there was competition from fellow novices like Sergio Goyri and Miguel Angel Rodriguez and veteran stars like Valentin Trujillo and Andres Garcia. But the young guns were not at his level and the veterans were past their prime.

The only leading man who was still the undisputed king of Mexican cinema was Jorge Rivero. But by this time, Rivero had moved to Hollywood.

Vasallo, who has always had a good eye for films, casted a young, drop-dead gorgeous Maribel Guardia, old hand Narciso Busquets and Eleazar Garcia "Chelelo" as comic relief. Seasoned Eric del Castillo and a few other actors of the time were chosen as the bad guys.

Seeing the success of La muerte cruzo el Rio Bravo, studio executives casted Yanez in Contrato con la muerte (Contract with Death), another modern Western just as full of gunplay as "La muerte."

A string of films followed. Some of them, like Yako, cazador tie malditos (a Ramboesque revenge film that takes place in the woods of Southern California) and Narcoterror (a strictly mobster action movie) have become cult favorites.

Many criticize that genre of movies from Mexico as trash, with little quality, with actors doing half-hearted attempts. Yanez disagrees.

"I really suffered through them," he would go on to tell me in 1996 during an interview in Los Angeles, when I was at L.a Opinion, the biggest Spanish-language daily in the country. "I believed it all."

Felicia Mercado, a top star of Mexican soaps and films during the '80s and 90s who co-starred with Yanez in films like Narcoterror, praised Yanez during the interview I did for La Opinion. She said he was the consummate pro.

"He always knew his lines and was on time," Mercado said.

Norma Herrera, a veteran actress of films and telenovelas, who was also the wife of Araiza, said during an interview with Televisa for a special show on Yanez, that he was tailor made for being the new hero, but with great acting skills. Herrera, like Yanez, also took part in El Maleficio.

"He has that rugged figure few actors have," said Herrera. "He is the virile type, but handsome."

The day Mexican cinema died

Some speculate that Yanez, if he would have continued to star in movies, would have taken Rivero's place (the icon was a genuine sex symbol who starred in box office smashes in Mexico, Latin America and the places in the U.S. where they showed Mexican movies targeting immigrants, which were many). But one thing stood in his way: the demise of commercial Mexican cinema.

Most movie history books about the Mexican film industry are full of Mexico's golden age of movies. Tin Tan, Cantinflas, Pedro Infante, Pedro Armendariz, Maria Felix and Dolores del Rio are well documented.

But in a sort of historical amnesia--whether by deliberate or not--cinematic historians omit almost every reference to the movies of Mexico produced from the late 1970s and 1980s, when Yanez busted onto the scene.

Genre movies, though not as creative as previous generations, still attracted audiences. For example, Hugo Stiglitz, the Mexican actor known mostly for genre movies of that era, is a Quentin Tarantino favorite, and other films from that era directly influenced filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who even made his own "frontera" movie in El Mariachi.

Notwithstanding, dark clouds had been hovering above the Mexican movie industry since the 1970s. Left-leaning president Luis Echeverria had budgeted in 1970 one billion pesos--then an enormous sum--to fund a rash of new filmmakers who brought a bold but not so commercial aspect to the box office.

But the new state-funded cinema (the spiritual father of today's "New Mexican Cinema") clashed with studio-driven cinema (of which Yanez was part of). The left-leaning state movies claimed that commercial movies were trash, while the studios believed that the money poured into the new films was being wasted on directors full of themselves whose work always crashed at the box office.

By 1988, Yanez was already an established name in Mexico, able to command projects, star in telenovelas and lead movies that made money and even go on tour to promote movies in Los Angeles for the considerable Spanish-speaking media.

In 1989, the year that Jorge Fons' Rojo Amanecer about the Massacre at Tlatelolco came out--a critical and commercial success--was the year everything went to hell in the Mexican movie industry. Historians concur that a perfect storm made up of a cinema that forgot about how to make movies for the large, traditional Mexican family (horrible, sex comedies for male loners), a series of savage economic depressions, the advent of a video market and an ever-present corruption killed commercial Mexican cinema.

Tough times

On both the big screen and the small one, Yanez kept busting out hit after hit, albeit with a few flops.

Senda de Gloria (Path of Glory), one of the many and best of Alonso's "historical telenovelas" about the end of the Mexican revolution and the years that followed, won critical acclaim by respected historians and won the TV Novelas award for best soap opera of 1987. Yanez, who nabbed best actor trophy, played Manuel Fortuna, a journalist who chronicles that era.

A year later, Yanez starred in the hit teen soap, Dulce Desafio, telenovela--the first of many times he was paired with Adelan Noriega--that also earned him a TV Novelas best actor title. He was on a role.

By 1990 the movie business in Mexico had imploded, but Televisa was as busy as ever, producing soap operas that it exported--and still does to this day--all over the world. Yanez was its main leading man, starring in hits like Vo compro esa mujer, directed by the critically acclaimed Fons and En carne propia, where he plays a private eye, were big ratings hits. His personal life was another matter, though. For years, he acknowledged he had become a drinker. "Starting at 10 in the morning, I would get my first beer," he recalls. "That lasted about five or six years." He married his teenage girlfriend, Norma Adriana Garcia, who he had been with since his the days he worked at a tortilleria. Eduardo Yanez Jr. was born in 1988.

But the drinking, long hours at work and business trips took their toll on the marriage. The couple divorced in 1991.

Coming to America

With his career going well but his personal life on the rocks, Yanez decided to leave, he says. His destination? America.

Yanez still had a problem with drinking, but to his aid came Mendez, his co-star in Marielena, an independently produced telenovela. Yanez credits the soap opera queen for steering him away from alcohol.

He sobered up. Marielena, aired by Telemundo, became the first telenovela to beat Univision--which was then fed by a steady crop of Televisa soaps--in the ratings game.

Marielena producers proved their soap opera had not been a fluke. A year later Yanez led Guadalupe, another independently produced telenovela (which this time co-starred Adela Noriega), in trouncing Univision during prime time.

The feat was replicated not only among Spanish-speaking viewers in the U.S., but all over Latin America and Spain. Guadalupethso earned him an Emmy, which inspired him to go all out for a career in the English-language market.

Yanez was not the first class A actor from Mexico to chuck it all and risk a new career in the U.S. Jorge Rivero had done it during the 1980s, as well as Fernando Allende and Lucia Mendez.

"I believe he [Yanez] was one of the pioneers in leaving everything and trying his luck in a different country, in a differente language," said Gabriel Soto, a leading man in Televisa soaps who is also Yanez's friend, to Valle, during a Galavision story. "I believe he was one of the first to do that, but people don't remember that."

At first glance, observers and U.S.-born Latino actors often believe that foreign actors from Hispanic countries who arrive with big names and fame have an advantage with casting directors. But actors like Jorge Rivero, who made a career of working in Latin America and the U.S. for decades, disagrees, adding that all that acting experience and big names don't hold much sway with casting directors.

For Yanez, as for most actors from Latin America, the language was a barrier. But his steely discipline (his dedication is legendary in Mexico, where during nine months of telenovela filming he will sleep an average of two hours per night, rehearsing his lines to perfection) took him to master the language in record time.

Tinseltown

I met Yanez for the first time in 1996. He had barely moved to Hollywood from Miami, when someone tipped us on this move.

I was an entertainment reporter for La Opinion, the venerable Spanish-language daily in Los Angeles. I decided to find out what Yanez was up to.

He received me in a clean, low-key apartment in Hollywood, where he would stay indoors for weeks, dungeon-like, practicing for hours his English skills and movie parts. He kept in shape by going to the gym every day.

Yanez got lucky, getting a part in Striptease, the Demi Moore film. He played a bad guy in a scene next to the diva.

I asked him back then if it was not a crazy move to leave his spot as king of telenovelas, which was quickly taken over by Fernando Colunga, for the life a struggling actor in Hollywood.

He admitted it was a risky move, but it was something that he wanted to do. He felt he had much more to give, and Hollywood was as big a challenge as there ever was going to be.

"I feel that I can try this out for 10 years," he told me. "If I want to go back, I will pick up the phone myself and call."

He would often lose roles to more mundane-looking Latino actors who were practically unknown in Latin America and, for that matter, with U.S. Latinos. You got the feeling that his good looks, fame and physique worked against him with casting directors who would look for thespians to play gang members or gardeners.

Still, he managed to land a few good roles, like Held-up, a comedy in which he plays a robber with a good cause. He ends up stealing scenes--and the movie--from Jamie Foxx. If we for a moment think that's a small feat, let's not forget that Foxx later went on to win an Oscar and star in cool movies like Django Unchained.

In Hollywood, Yanez has played bad guys in movies like The Punisher. But so far he has not landed that big breakthrough role that could have him replicate his success in the Latino market.

Como Mexico no hay dos

Mexico's biggest leading man has had his ups and downs in Hollywood. After divorcing Garda, his first wife, he married Francesca Cruz and then divorced her a few years later.

But no doubt the biggest change in his life was when his son, Eduardo Yanez Jr. (who was then 15), decided to move into his Beverly Hills apartment. The actor discovered fatherhood shocking--and just what he had been missing.

"I found out that I needed him. I started to be a father. My love for a son fills me, it gives me everything," he says.

Father and son got along well. The youngster quickly adapted to American life.

As things were going well with his son, Yanez was experiencing economic troubles. With little money coming in from acting in Hollywood, he got into debt.

He recalls that it was during one of those darkest days that Salvador Mejia, one of Televisa's biggest soap opera producers, called him up to be in one of his productions. Yanez thought that he was offering him the lead role, but was shocked to find out that it was for a small part.

"You are no longer for lead roles," he recalls Mejia telling him. "You are for special appearances.'"

Humiliated, Yanez begrudgingly turned him down. And soldiered on.

"I believe he [Yanez] is a warrior," said Martha Carrillo, a writer from Mexico who specializes in entertainment to Galavision. "Imagine that such an important producer tells you that you are no good, anyone would start to cry. Eduardo said, "I am good. He proved it."

Unlike Mejia at that time, Emilio Larrosa, a veteran and bold telenovela producer who is also known for making cultural programs, thought of Yanez when production time came for La verdad oculta, a remake of El camino secreCo, which had been a big hit for Daniela Romo and Salvador Pineda in 1986.

Twenty years later, Larrosa needed a larger-than-life figure who could really act and carry it for 120 episodes during prime time. He turned to Yanez.

"I thought it was the right time for him to return to Televisa," Larrosa told Televisa. "I think a lot of people thought he was no longer in shape. He proved that he is a physically attractive man and that his acting skills are proven. All the augurs that he was not in shape were dispelled."

Again, Yanez won the coveted best actor award for 2006. He was back. Arguably his greatest hit came in 2007, when he starred next to the future first lady of Mexico, Angelica Rivera in Desdlando amor. The telenovela was a runaway hit and is considered one of the best soap operas of all time.

Mejia, the producer who allegedly told Yanez he was no longer fit to star in telenovelas, has hired him twice to lead some of the biggest and boldest soaps in recent years. With Amores con trampa, Yanez's latest telenovela, he has won more accolades.

Yanez has traveled back and forth, from Los Angeles to Mexico City, doing hit soaps for about nine months and coming back to castings in Hollywood. He is the man in Mexico, but in the U.S. he still has his work cut out for him.

Last month, he joined his former telenovela rival, Fernando Colunga, in Ladrones, a hit comedy that was released nationwide in theaters. The film was well received by the public, as well as by some critics.

Now that he can command movie projects and television series, he wants to do films with a better message, where he can bring back role models for newer generations, he says. A dark era has clouded Latinodom, and he believes actors like him have a responsibility in bringing a better message via their art.

On this sunny day in West Los Angeles, outside his new, posh apartment, Yanez strips away a designer denim jacket, revealing his muscled torso and trim abs. He changes into a shirt with a smile as he tells me that he refuses to give up on Hollywood, that he will keep at it as long as it takes.

He says with a boyish grin, "I am happy but not satisfied. There are a lot of things that I have to do."

EDUARDO YANEZ

* Age: 55 years old.

* Nationality: Mexico

* Lives: In Los Angeles.

* Civil status: He is currently single. He has been married twice.

* Who makes him happy: His son, Eduardo Yanez Jr.

* Biggest telenoveas he has starred in: Oestilando Amor, Senda de Gloria, Fuego en la sangre, Amores con trampa.

* Biggest movies in Mexico: La muerte cruzo el Rio Bravo, Contrato con la muerte, Yako, Cazador de Malditos, Narcoterror.

* Biggest movies in Hollywood: The Punisher, Striptease, Held-up.

* What makes him a leader, his philosophy: Never, ever give up. He gets beaten down, but he always gets up. A real warrior.

Photos: Emilio Flores
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Author:Trevino, Joseph
Publication:Latino Leaders
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:0LATI
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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