Eugenio Derbez returns to teaching role in ‘Radical’

The movies have always loved honoring inspiring teachers and “Radical,” Mexico’s gritty, true take on a remarkable man, ranks among the best.

Based on a 2012 Wired magazine article inspired by Sergio Juarez’s barrier-breaking approach teaching a classroom of impoverished 12-year-olds, “Radical” continues the positive work of producer and star Eugenio Derbez following his turn as a music teacher in the Oscar-winning Best Picture “CODA.”

The Wired story asked if a young Mexican girl named Paloma in Juarez’s class just might be “The Next Steve Jobs.” She was an undiscovered genius.

Years later the Wired writer Joshua Davis approached Derbez’ production company about a film version.

“Immediately, I connected! These are the stories I want to tell,” Derbez, 62, said in a Zoom interview.  “I find it so powerful. The fact that this girl and this teacher who was behind her, even though they were in the worst conditions, with no resources at all, with a violent environment around them, they succeeded. I don’t want to spoil anything but they did amazing things that year.”

Both Sergio and Paloma, who attended the recent Mexican premiere of the Spanish language/English subtitled picture, were on the set as well.

“We contacted both of them. They were supervising the script and we’re supervising the movie on the set because we wanted to tell the story in an accurate way,” Derbez said. “It’s real. We’re not exaggerating anything. What you see in the movie did happen. And they were there, in a truthful way.”

But Derbez knows how different it is to play someone who is alive and going to be looking and judging.

“It was kind of scary. When the director Christopher Zalla and I were talking about the character, we knew it was a real person and thought that we should not make an impersonation of him.

“The idea was to capture his soul, his essence, his message. More than trying to make me look like him — we’re probably physically different — the idea was to focus on the way he was teaching.”

Sergio arrives at this Mexican border town school with hints to a troubled past. Derbez learned what happened.

“When he was teaching, kids at the end of the year, kids used to come say goodbye and ask for a picture. He noticed less kids were asking for a picture. Then nobody came. He was losing touch and decided to make a huge change.

“He started to research why these kids were quitting school. He knew he had to change that reality.”

“Radical” opens Friday

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