ILLUSTRATION BY HANOCH PIVEN
If Eva Longoria had a superpower, it would be multitasking. On any given day the former Desperate Housewives star dons a variety of hats, among them actress, producer, director, philanthropist, and activist. Most recently, she’s added wife and mother to the list, as she and her husband, former Mexican media executive José Bastón, welcomed their first child, Santiago, last June. But what’s most impressive is how effortlessly she melds these worlds. Call it tenacity. Or maybe gumption. The Latin community would call it ganas. She has always had the ganas—the desire—to do more.
Longoria knew she wanted more from her career than acting, so she used her time on Desperate Housewives as a bootcamp to learn how to direct and produce. She knew she wanted to create stories about Hispanics, so she launched her production company UnbeliEVAble Entertainment in 2005. She knew she wanted to enlighten audiences on issues close to her heart, so she produced documentaries on agricultural child labor in the U.S., abortion rights, and marginalized voters. And, most recently, the Time’s Up cofounder knew Hollywood needed more women behind the camera as well as in front of it, so she hired a woman director of photography and a 50 percent female writing staff for her new ABC drama, Grand Hotel.
This month, she appears in the live-action feature film Dora and the Lost City of Gold, playing the adventurous mother of the famous kid explorer. Calling from the Grand Hotel set, Longoria discussed bringing the beloved cartoon to life, her many initiatives for social good, and the piece of advice that has kept her grounded through the years.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold looks like a lot of fun. What drew you to it?
I was excited to take a one-dimensional character, an iconic cartoon like Dora, and bring it into real life, with emotion. It was exciting to be a part of, especially because I didn’t realize how much of a global icon Dora was. When it was announced I was going to do it, my friends in the U.K., my friends from Germany, my friends from Australia were all talking, and I was like, What is happening?
Yeah, Dora is huge—like Oprah or Cher.
Everyone around the world knows who Dora is! It’s just great to do a fun family adventure movie, and it was an honor to be able to be part of the origin story of Dora. You know Dora’s adventures, and then you meet her parents and you know why Dora is the way she is.
Any memorable moments on set?
Oh, so many. We filmed in the Australian rainforest, and it was pouring rain. We had long hours being soaking wet, but it was so much fun. This was my second movie with Michael Peña, who plays my husband, and we just laughed so much. And Eugenio Derbez—it’s been a gift to meet him. We all really bonded in a beautiful way.
Of course, acting is just one of your many jobs. What inspired you to launch your production company, UnbeliEVAble Entertainment?
I wanted to do more. I realized that as an actress I wasn’t reaching my full potential as a human being, and I wanted to have more control over the whole product, as a producer. I also wanted to create opportunities not only for myself but for other Hispanics in the industry, in front of and behind the camera.
This summer, you premiered a new ABC drama, Grand Hotel. I watched the Spanish series that it’s based on years ago and loved it. How did you come across it?
My husband showed me the series, and I just became addicted to it. I couldn’t stop watching. I met the writers in Madrid and I optioned it. I was like, I need to remake this. If you’re familiar with the original series, there are a lot of nods to the original characters and some new twists.
Your version is set in Miami, which is perfect.
Yes, modern-day Miami Beach. It’s about the last family-owned hotel in South Beach. It’s so much fun and has everything you want in a drama.
Besides your Hollywood endeavors, you’ve been active in humanitarian efforts. Tell me about the Eva Longoria Foundation.
We’ve been doing a lot of work trying to improve the lives of Latinas. I focus on Latinas because they’re the heart and soul of the Latino community. We [help] through entrepreneurial programs and educational programs, making sure they’re reaching their full potential.
What would you say is the overarching theme uniting your efforts?
I think compassion. We have to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and understand their struggles and their journeys. It’s easy to become numb to the outside world and to people who aren’t like us. We have to open our hearts and have compassion toward other human beings.
How do you decide which causes to contribute to?
When I got the platform that I have today, I was getting requests from all over: dolphins in Japan, AIDS in Africa, sex trafficking in Thailand. And I realized I can do anything, but I can’t do everything. And so I created the Eva Longoria Foundation, to be laser-focused on how I can create sustainable and effective change for one person, one community. Because it’s hard. There are so many worthy causes.
Is there a project where both of your passions—art and humanitarian work—come together?
Well, I’ve worked on a lot of documentaries. I’ve done two documentaries on farm workers, one called The Harvest that is about child farm workers and one called Food Chains, which is about the Fair Labor Standards Act. I recently produced Reversing Roe, about Roe v. Wade, on Netflix, so yeah, there are a lot of times when my art and humanitarian work cross.
When I got the platform that I have today, I was getting requests from all over. And I realized I can do anything, but I can’t do everything.
What advice do you have for people who want to get involved in social causes but don’t know where to start?
I feel that people think you have to be rich and famous to create a difference, and the truth is you can look to your neighbors, people on your street, people in your family—you don’t have to look far to find change that is needed. And start small; start in your local community. You’re not going to cure cancer, but you can definitely help someone in your neighborhood dealing with that.
That’s great advice. As a Latina, how do you think we can continue to improve our representation in Hollywood?
I think the key is not to get fatigued. “Oh, there’s been an increase in Latina directors” or “There’s an increase in female directors this year”—there’s an increase because we’re angry and we’re making change happen, but once we start to see momentum, we can’t stop there, because then the momentum stops. We must continue to create the change we need to see.
What’s your next focus in terms of fighting for representation?
I think, with the election coming up next year, we’ve just started to lay the groundwork on what needs to be done and the different phases of civic duty—registering people to vote and giving them voter plans and educating them. There’s a lot to be done before 2020.
Speaking of planning for the future, how has motherhood changed your perspective?
My philanthropy has more urgency. Now that I have a child, I really want to leave the world a better place for him, and so just that urgency of, things have got to change; it’s got to be a good world for him.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
My mom always said, “Never forget where you came from,” and that’s really grounded me in how I approach everything. Giving back is part of my DNA, my optimism is part of my DNA, being with my family—all those things stem from that piece of advice.
BY THE NUMBERS
Years Longoria worked at a Texas Wendy’s as a teenager, in part to earn money for her quinceañera
The television show that cast her in her first role, as Flight Attendant #3
Episodes of Desperate Housewives in which she appeared
Age when she completed a master’s degree in Chicano Studies at CSU Northridge
Title of her upcoming feature directorial debut, starring Kerry Washington
Year she was named Philanthropist of the Year by The Hollywood Reporter
Year by which Time’s Up, cofounded by Longoria, strives
to have 50/50 equity in