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Laughter is good for the soul
It seems that Santiago Segura has one purpose in life, to make Spanish people laugh. And he’s been hell-bent on it since 1998, when ‘Torrente, the Dumb Arm of the Law’ came out. Now, he’s back on the big screen with ‘Father There Is Only One 3’ at a time when, after a few ‘sick’ years, people need to heal mind and soul, and there’s nothing better than laughter for that. Wise words from “doctor” Segura.
Comedy is the best medicine. That’s what Santiago Segura (Madrid, 1965) defends, and even urges the National Health Service to prescribe it against depression. This actor and director from Madrid believes unquestioningly in the power of laughter, and if it’s inside the cinema, where peals of laughter grow and multiply, even better. His latest pill is Father There Is Only One 3 —out on the 14th of July—, a saga where he shares screentime with his daughters, Calma and Sirena, and which has become a box-office hit. We chat to him about the film, without forgetting about the character that launched him to fame and for whom he doesn’t rule out a comeback: Torrente.
Father there is only one, but you’ve already made three films, how far will the García family’s adventures take them?
If it were up to me, to infinity and beyond. I’d love to make a sort of Boyhood [Richard Linklater, 2012] or Cuéntame cómo pasó [Miguel Ángel Bernardeau, 2001] in modern times with a yearly summer gathering. The truth is that it’s the audience who helps you decide these things.
Javier García is on his way to becoming a character as iconic as José Luis Torrente; who do enjoy playing more?
Creating such an over-the-top and ridiculous character as Torrente is incredibly fun but acting with my real daughters and my stepfamily —Toni, Loles, Leo, Silvia and Carlitos, Luna and Martina— is truly a delight. I’m a lucky guy.
“There are many things that separate us from earlier and later generations, but laughter is the glue that can bring us together”
What’s harder: directing Toni Acosta, Loles León, or Leo Harlem, directing yourself, or your daughters?
The hardest thing is directing myself, clearly. The others are actors with an incredible comedic vision, ability, and intelligence. They make any director’s work easier, however inept.
We tend to underestimate sequels, perhaps unfairly. What challenges do you take on when making one?
Sequels have one great advantage, they grab the attention of a number of filmgoers that already enjoyed the previous films, and one disadvantage, the expectations of those filmgoers, who you can’t let down. I always say that people expect the same but different from a sequel. If it’s too similar, they feel like they’ve seen it already, and if you create too much distance, they miss what they enjoyed about the previous films. They’re definitely not easy to make, although it may seem like it in advance (and from the outside).
Does the success of the Father There Is Only One saga lie in its ability to bring together several generations at a time when the differences between them seem to be ever increasing?
Those differences or barriers have always been there. The Beatles were long-haired noisemakers, and Elvis was possessed by the Devil (his pelvis, specifically). There are many things that separate us from earlier generations, and also from our successors, but laughter is the glue that can bring us together. The father I play is a guy who’s never listened to Bad Bunny and parents will find that funny, because they identify with Javier, and kids laugh thinking: look, another guy who doesn’t get it, like my dad!
Families are full of everyday dramas, but humour helps us to confront them, endure them, and overcome them. Is comedy liberating?
It’s not only liberating, but also healing. During the previous film I suggested that doctors prescribe these family comedies against depression and to boost the immune system. Sadly, the National Health Service hasn’t echoed my wise advice [laughs].
How much talent do you need to make people laugh?
I think that with 300 grams, more or less, you could get some chuckles out of someone.
And what does that word mean to you, how would you define it?
When people ask me complicated questions, I refer to the dictionary, it knows about these things... [laughs]. The ability to make something that is impossible for others easy could be one way to define talent. Talent electrifies me, surprises me, amazes me, and wins my heart.
“The ability to make something that is impossible for others easy could be one way to define talent. Talent surprises me, and wins my heart”
Santiago Segura and “blockbuster” have become synonyms, do the expectations your films create put you under a lot of pressure?
I’m under more pressure than a Russian submarine, I’m not sure how much they can take... But I can take more, for sure. I’ve spent the last three years directing the biggest Spanish blockbuster of the year. It’s not that I feel like the Nadal of film, because Nadal is out of this world, but I assure you I’m under a lot of pressure.
After the pandemic, cinemas aren’t at their best right now; how would you convince the audience to not miss this opportunity?
I’d tell them to trust me, that they’ll leave the cinema feeling cool, with a smile on their face, and happier than when they went in. If they’ve seen the previous films, they’ll love this one. And if not, this is a great time to start and be a part of something that more than two million spectators have loved so far.
Because laughing surrounded by people isn’t the same as doing so home alone, right?
Absolutely. I think that comedy, together with horror, is one of the genres that most benefits from being with other people in a dark room. Those frights and, above all, that laughter grows and multiplies when shared.
“Comedy benefits from being with other people in a dark room. Laughter multiplies when shared”
As a film junkie, what does Santiago Segura feel when the lights go out and images fill the screen?
It’s indescribable. It’s so many films, so many emotions, so many years enjoying films... Those outdoor summer cinemas with my parents, those double programmes at the neighbourhood cinema, those marathons at Cinestudios, those premières in Gran Vía, those actors that you love as if you knew them... Being a small part of all that now seems incredible to me.
The pandemic has affected our lives in recent years and the filming of Father There Is Only One 3 wasn’t spared. In fact, Antonio Resines had to be replaced by Carlos Iglesias. Was that a tough call?
The hardest, especially because Antonio isn’t just an actor, he’s a friend, which is more important. Fortunately, when he went into ICU, I was able to talk to him to ask if we should wait for him, and he gave me his blessing to replace him, and he was intubated the following day.
And since we mentioned Torrente earlier, will we be seeing him again on the big screen?
To the dismay of naysayers and the jubilation of a handful of loyal followers, I have to say that I’m not sure, but it’s quite likely... If people keep asking me for the next Torrente film as insistently as they do, in the end, I’ll have to make it.