ABC’s new primetime summer soap “Grand Hotel” has all the trappings of an ABC primetime soap: murder, intrigue, steamy romance and secret affairs. But it also does something few shows before it have ever done.
Executive produced by Eva Longoria and created by her “Desperate Housewives” and “Devious Maids” collaborator Brian Tanen, “Grand Hotel” takes the classic upstairs/downstairs format and centers it around an affluent, powerful and glamorous Latino family.
“I was obsessed with making sure this wasn’t just going to be developed, that this was going to be on the air,” said Longoria, whose company UnbeliEVAble Entertainment first secured the rights to the Spanish series upon which the show is based. “Iwas a dog with a bone. I was like, ‘This will be on the air.'”
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The drama, debuting Monday, transplants the original tale from 20th Century Spain to present-day Miami Beach, where Demián Bichir and Roselyn Sanchez star as the wealthy owners of the last family-owned hotel on the strip. They’re surrounded by their mildly spoiled adult children, the hotel’s rich guests and support staff who struggling just to keep their jobs.
All that makes for a show predominantly populated by Latino actors. And Longoria, who directs and guest stars in addition to producing, made a point of hiring women and people of color in key roles behind the camera as well.
“All of my producing really is with purpose, like, how do I produce with purpose? Why am I doing this show? why this show, why this cast?” Longoria said. “And for me, this show was about doing an upstairs/downstairs show on television where the upstairs were Latino. And that’s something you don’t really get to see, affluent, intelligent, successful Latinos.
“I really thought, ‘Let’s explore this family, what does this family look like on TV?'” she said.
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Read TheWrap’s full interview with Longoria below.
TheWrap: Can you first tell me how you came to the project? I know it’s an adaptation of a Spanish series, but how did you come to this adaptation?
Longoria: I fell in love with the Spanish format, and I was like, “I have to adapt this in English. It’s so good, so juicy.” And I became obsessed with it and then I found Brian Tanen who I worked with on “Desperate Housewives,” and “Devious Maids.” He wrote the adaptation, put it in Miami, made it modern day, and it was just so delicious reading from the first script until the end.
I wanted to ask you about working with Brian because I know you’ve worked with him quite a bit. What is it about your working relationship or his writing?
I love his sensibility. He does family drama and really weaves in so much complexity, whether it’s the mystery storyline, or the romance storyline, or the conflict of business. He’s just so layered in his approach to characters and to plots. And he really has that great tone that “Desperate Housewives” had, and “Devious” where it’s dramatic, but it has a little bit of humor in certain places. And it just really makes for good TV.
The original series is a period piece, so how did you guys settle on the decision to kind of make “Grand Hotel” more contemporary?
Well, we decided to make it contemporary the minute I optioned the format. To really bring those themes into modern times and to see how do those they withstand contemporary times: family, love, work, career, children. Those were some really great themes, so we knew we wanted to make it contemporary and relatable at the same time, so that was a lot of fun, really creating this last family-owned hotel in South Beach and giving this, whenever you say it’s not personal, it’s just business. But what happens when the business is the family business? Everything is personal.
Why Miami? How did you decide on that location?
Brian’s from Miami, that’s his hometown, so he knows it well and chose to set it there. He’s the genius that said, “Let’s do a sexy family drama based in Miami,” and we were like, “Great.” Any chance to shoot in Miami, we were like, “Done.”
How much of the series was shot in Miami? Just the pilot?
The pilot shot in Miami, and then we rebuilt the set. We shot [the pilot] at Fontainebleau, and then we rebuilt Fontainebleau in LA on sound stages.
The sets are fantastic.
Amazing. I mean, they’re jaw dropping.
Did you guys look to the original when you were putting together the adaptation? How much do you borrow and how much of it is its own creation?
I think if you’re a fan of the original, you’re going to recognize some characters, and be pleasantly satisfied with finding those characters. And then, I think if you’re not familiar with the original format, you’re going to really find everybody just to be so juicy and complex. Because there are adaptations and new characters that are not in the original. So I would say both, we really leaned into the original series, and then we also at the same time made it new enough for even fans of the original to want to watch.
The show has this large ensemble cast, but it really is anchored by Demian Bichir and Roselyn Sanchez, these two really accomplished actors kind of at the center of the show. Can you talk a little bit about casting those two roles?
Yeah. The head of the family is this patriarch character that is basically the puppet master of everything that happens in the hotel. And we really couldn’t see anybody else doing this role. I mean, a complex man who has secrets, who is navigating some difficult times right now. Not only with the business, but with his family. And Demian really grounded the whole show in this beautiful character, this big patriarch character. And his character is actually not in the original. He’s actually the combination of a couple of characters. Roselyn, I’ve worked with many times before, but Brian Tanen and I worked with her on “Devious.” So when Brian wrote the character of Gigi, he did it with Roselyn in mind. I don’t think anybody can play this character like Roselyn.
And when it came to filling out the rest of the ensemble, did you guys have kind of a vision in mind? What were you looking for?
When it came to casting, the show is based in Miami, so we wanted to authentically represent what Miami would look like. That of course means Latino. And we had some young characters, so really looking at some untapped talent. There’s some great new talent coming. For some of them, this is their first thing they’ve ever done. And just tapping into a different well of talent, into the Latino talent pool. That was exciting. Then we have some veterans like Shalim Ortiz who I’ve worked with before and is just a fantastic actor. Shalim has to be Mateo. Jencarlos Canela played El Rey, who is this King of Miami rapper. I’ve worked with him before, we did “Telenovela” together. And then just rounding out the cast with newcomers and veterans, and balancing it all out.
I also wanted to ask you how you kind of view your role as producer. It’s a position that can vary so much from person to person, and project to project, but with this show, how did you approach that role?
I was obsessed with making sure this wasn’t just going to be developed, that this was going to be on the air. I was a dog with a bone. I was like, “This will be on the air.” All of my producing really is with purpose, like, how do I produce with purpose? Why am I doing this show? why this show, why this cast? And for me, this show was about doing an upstairs, downstairs show on television where the upstairs were Latino. And that’s something you don’t really get to see, affluent, intelligent, successful Latinos. I really thought, “Let’s explore this family, what does this family look like on TV?”
You wear quite a few hats: director, actor, producer. And you’ve taken on quite a few projects, including the CW pilot “Glamorous” just recently. What is it that you look for when you’re taking on new projects?
Well, especially if I’m going to be a director-for-hire, it has to be something that speaks to me. When I directed the “Glamorous” pilot for CW, it was a beautiful world that I didn’t see on TV. We called it a queer utopia, and it had every spectrum of people in that show. The creator, Jordon Nardino, just really, on the page, created this world in which queerness was celebrated. I wanted to be definitely a part of building that out with him. And, again, working with a new talent pool. I mean, a lot of the actors in “Glamorous” were untapped potential. Ben J. Pierce, the lead, is a star just waiting to burst onto the scene. We had Chester Lockhart, who is known in the queer community, and just a great, great actor, great talent. Their stories of their journey in Hollywood, of not getting opportunities that they deserve was heartbreaking. So to have a show that says, “This is me, this reflects me, this reflects my life, this reflects people I know,” that’s what drew me to that project.
And it’s not over. We’re still re-shooting some stuff to see if we can get it to series. Oh my gosh, it’s such an important show. The CW really likes the world, and I think we’re going to make it happen.
That’s great to hear. Last thing, I know you’re going to appear on “Grand Hotel” later this season playing Beatriz, the matriarch character whose absence kind of looms over the early couple of episodes. Can you tease a little bit about the character?
Well, I will tell you, I’m dead.
But really, really dead? It is a telenovela, after all.
I’m dead in the show, yes. You only see me in flashbacks. I’m not in many episodes, but I’m a very important part of the season long mystery. And a lot of questions will be answered. There’s actually a flashback episode later in the season. The whole episode is almost one big flashback, and it really gets to let the audience in as to what did happen with Gigi and Beatriz, and Beatriz and Santiago, and what happened with her kids. And you get to see it all happen.
“Grand Hotel” airs Mondays at 10/9c on ABC.