Eva Longoria Is Changing Hollywood. Next Step: The World.
The ‘Grand Hotel’ executive producer on her fight for inclusivity on set, respect for working mothers, immigration reform, and bringing the Time’s Up muscle to the 2020 election.
This last year brought two very important Santiagos into Eva Longoria’s life. There is Santiago Enrique Bastón, her son who turned one earlier this week. And there’s Santiago Mendoza, the owner of Miami’s Riviera Grand Hotel, played by a dashing Demián Bichir on ABC’s telenovela-inspired Grand Hotel, which premiered Monday night.
“I joke that I had two babies,” Longoria laughs. “I was pregnant when we were shooting the pilot and now my son is turning one and it’s finally premiering. I’ve birthed two children.”
The former Desperate Housewives star is the executive producer of Grand Hotel. She also directed the series’ third episode and plays a recurring role. The soapy drama is an American adaptation of the wildly popular Spanish telenovela, Gran Hotel. Longoria found the Spanish version on Netflix at the recommendation of her husband, José Antonio Bastón. She was instantly addicted, and flew to Spain to meet the writers to convince them to give her the American TV rights.
She enlisted Brian Tanen, whom she worked with on Lifetime’s Devious Maids (which she also executive produced,) to serve as creator and showrunner. Together they came up with the idea to contemporize the original story, which was set in Spain in the early 20th century, by transporting it to modern-day Miami—thus amplifying the creative potential for scandal, secrets, and six-pack abs.
Longoria knows a thing or two about successfully launching a salacious primetime soap opera from her time 15 years ago on Wisteria Lane. “I definitely used Desperate Housewives as film school,” she says. “It was such a great lesson in how to make a hit TV show.”
And spending much of the last decade building a reputation as a producing force—Devious Maids and the series Mother Up! and Telenovela, the documentary Reversing Roe, and the upcoming film 24-7, in which she’ll co-star alongside Kerry Washington—she’s gleaned what it takes to make a splash in the increasingly crowded media landscape. “Television today has to be a little louder, a little edgier to break through the clutter of everything that’s out there,” she says. It needs the colorful splash of Grand Hotel.
Longoria is in the green room at The View when we connect on the phone the morning of Grand Hotel’s premiere.
She’s somehow centered in the midst of chaos, passionately talking about inclusivity in Hollywood and the Time’s Up initiative’s plans for the 2020 election—she was among the women who founded the organization in 2018 in response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement—while simultaneously fielding questions from the swarm in the green room about how she wants her makeup done.
Multitasking, though, is her perennial mode of operation. She’s directed episodes of seven different TV series in the last five years, in addition to producing and her acting work. Her philanthropy and activism are as much a part of her public identity as her IMDb credits, be it her foundations, speaking at the Democratic National Convention, or her immersive work on immigration rights and reform.
She’s warm and funny as we talk, even as a producer nearly pulls the phone from her hand so she doesn’t miss her The View entrance.
Minutes later, she and her friend and Grand Hotel star, Roselyn Sánchez, will talk with Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, and the show’s co-hosts about normalizing the idea of bringing their children to work. Two days before Grand Hotel premiered, Longoria shared a photo on Twitter of her breastfeeding her son, who was then two months old, while directing a scene of the show.
Sánchez also had her three-month-old son on set with her while shooting the pilot. “To have that culture and normalize that, oh, we’re women, we can be mothers and also pursue our careers was really, really good,” Longoria says. “And that was the set we had.”
Establishing that environment is what Longoria considers among her most vital roles as a producer and as a person at the top of a production who can open the door for inclusivity. When she was hiring her crew, she says she “did it with a conscious bias of hiring women, as opposed to an unconscious bias of forgetting them.” She remembers all the talented women in the industry she’s worked with over her career. When it came time to staff a role, she would be the one to have to ask, what about her? Why not this woman?
“A lot of times when you’re crewing up, people will pass on the names of Tom, Dick, and Harry for a position, and you’re like, that’s great but are there other options?” she says. “And there are, and then they give them to you. But unless you ask for it or think about it in a conscious way, it typically doesn’t happen.”
She hired cinematographer Alison Kelly to be director of photography, who then, as is often the case, hired more women in her department. When it came time to interview stunt coordinators, the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys returned. She asked for a female candidate, eventually hiring Helena Barrett for the job.
“There are women who can do these jobs that are super-qualified, so it’s not like we’re checking a box,” Longoria says. “We’re actually hiring the most qualified person for the position. It’s about giving the opportunity; the same opportunity men get.”
I ask if she thinks conversations with the suits and those who control the purse strings have changed when it comes to these issues, if they’re more receptive than before. She pauses longer than usual before she answers.
“I don’t know,” she says. “That’s a good question. I think we’re facing the right direction. I don’t know if we’ve taken the step.”
On the topic of taking steps in the right direction, we start talking about her work with Time’s Up, which is planning to get involved in the upcoming elections. “We’re actually looking towards Time’s Up 2020 and how we can have women’s issues brought to the candidates in a real way, not in a superficial soundbite,” she says.
Inspired by the spate of anti-abortion legislation being produced, one way the group plans to push for policy change is through report cards that grade legislators on their performance on this and other progressive issues. It’s in line with Longoria’s own work producing Reversing Roe, which chronicles the politicization of abortion and the efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Another issue Longoria will continue to be outspoken about is immigration. During her appearance on The View with Sánchez, the two discussed their experience visiting the immigrant families at the border to meet with children seeking asylum. Among so many other things, a goal is to humanize the issue.
“We’re losing the human element that is happening at the border,” she says, while Sánchez put in context the impossible feat these mothers are undertaking, walking for months with their children, a newborn on their hip, endeavoring to cross the border. “I don’t care what side of the aisle you’re on,” Longoria says, “these people are fleeing something greater than themselves.”
Her conversation at the View table induces the tonal whiplash the show is known—and celebrated—for: the juiciness of her new series, her son, what she likes about being a boss… as well as gender parity and the trauma of separating children from their parents at the border.
Our discussion unfolds with much of the same which, once upon a time, might have been unexpected when talking with an actress about a sexy summer soap opera about a rich family’s secrets in Miami. Longoria couldn’t be more pleased that it’s what people have come to expect from her.
“It’s really great to use your platform for good, whether it’s as an actor, as a director, as a producer, as a spokesperson, as an activist,” she says. “For me, it’s just part of my DNA. It’s who I am.”