'Flamin' Hot': Spicy Cheeto lover Eva Longoria explains how she ended up directing one of the year's most unlikely biopics
When it comes to their Flamin’ Hot Cheetos cred, Eva Longoria and Jesse Garcia couldn't be more different.
"I grew up with them [so much] that the first time I had a regular Cheeto, I thought something was wrong with the bag," says Longoria, the actress-filmmaker-snack-connoisseur who directs Flamin’ Hot — the inspiring new drama about the popular puffed treat's creator.
As for Garcia: "Jesse had never had a Flamin’ Hot until the moment in the movie [where he first tests it]," Longoria reveals. Garcia's inexperience with the snack is all the more amazing considering he plays Richard Montañez, the real-life Frito-Lay janitor credited with inventing the street corn-inspired twist and pitching the idea to corporate bosses to spice up their chips as a way to appeal to the country's growing Latino population.
When it was announced in 2019 that Longoria would direct Flamin’ Hot — inspired by Montañez's 2013 book A Boy, a Burrito, and a Cookie and adapted for the screen by Lewis Colick and Linda Yvette Chávez — social media was (surprise, surprise) skeptical. "There's no way this is real" and "please say ‘psych’" were among the typical comments.
But skeptics didn't know the underdog story at the heart of the movie.
"We're not making a movie about the history of the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto," Longoria says now. "We're making a movie about this man's incredible life and how he overcame all of this adversity and not only survived it, but thrived in spite of it. And that's interesting to watch and that's why the movie's resonating with so many people." (Flamin’ Hot debuted at the SXSW Film Festival in March and won the Audience Award.)
Longoria, best known for the long-running ABC drama Desperate Housewives, didn't know about Montañez when the project first came her way. "I was really ashamed that I didn't know the story before I read the script," she says. "I was like, ‘How do I not know this? He's Mexican-American like me. I love Flamin’ Hot.’ So it was like the flavor you knew, but the story you didn't, and so I was immediately inspired and I thought, ‘Everybody should know this story. There are so many lessons we can learn from his life.’"
Annie Gonzalez, the Gentefied actress who plays Richard's wife, Judy Montañez, had heard whispers of the story growing up in East L.A. with a relative who worked at PepsiCo, which owns Frito-Lay. "But I didn't know the full story until I read the script," she says. "I was like, ‘Yo, this is wild. I wanna do it!’"
Same for Garcia (Quinceañera, Narcos: Mexico): "I knew bits and pieces of it. I was like, ‘Oh, that's gonna make a dope movie or TV series. And whoever gets that's gonna be a mega-star.’"
While Montañez has long touted his role in the snack's creation and doubled down on the origin story with his 2021 memoir, Flamin' Hot: The Incredible True Story of One Man's Rise From Janitor to Top Executive, an investigation by the Los Angeles Times that same year cast doubt on his claims, citing interviews with Frito-Lay employees and a statement from the company calling his tale an "urban legend." Still, Montañez has been embraced by Frito-Lay, rising up the corporate ladder to marketing executive.
While pitching his spicy twist on their product to the suits at Frito-Lay in the movie, Montañez speaks passionately about how underserved the Mexican and larger Latino population is in the U.S. Those pleas certainly resonate with Longoria. In recent weeks, she has spoken candidly about how rare it is for Latina filmmakers to helm major Hollywood movies while noting that film-going audiences are 28 percent Latino — yet still mostly ignored by mainstream releases.
"Now we did our part," she tells us. "We showed up, we wrote the script, we shot the movie, we edited it. Now it's the marketing of it and really making sure that the machine of Hollywood is behind this movie just like they’re behind any other movie.
"And making sure our community does their part as well and shows up. 'Cause our community is very loud in saying we want more representation. And so I hope that loudness translates into showing up because if they show up, then studios go, ‘Oh, OK. This is a formidable audience that we can create for and create to.’ ... And so for this movie, it's about us and for us and by us. And I hope our own community shows up and goes, ‘Yes, we wanna see more of those.’"
Flamin’ Hot premieres Friday, June 9 on Hulu.
Watch the trailer:Flamin’ Hot premieres Friday, June 9 on Hulu.