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New York Cool - Interview

Wendy R. Williams Talks to The Cast and Creative Team
of Illegal Tender
Press Roundtable
Saturday, July 25, 2007
Regency Hotel

(Opposite photo of John Singleton by
Wendy R. Williams)


Franc Reyes' new film is fun. It is a rocking gangsta flick that races through to the finish; there is no downtime. I saw the film and then interviewed some of the cast and creative team. Here is a copy of my review. Be sure to scroll down for the interviews with Franc Reyes, John Singleton, Wanda de Jesus, Manny Perez and Antonio Ortiz.


Rick Gonzalez as Wilson De Leon Jr. in Illegal Tender

Franc Reyes’
Illegal Tender
Opens Friday, August 24, 2007

Sin City invades Pulp Fiction in this smokin' hot gangsta flick

Starring: Rick Gonzalez; Wanda De Jesus: Dania Ramirez; Manny Perez; Antonio Ortiz: and Tego Calderon.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Fran Reyes has helmed a thrilling carnival ride with his new film, Illegal Tender. Tender tells the story of Millie, a smart (and hot) Puerto Rican mamma (played by Wanda De Jesus) who is quietly living in suburban Connecticut with her two sons: college student Wilson (played by Rick Gonzalez) and elementary school student Randy (played by the adorable Antonio Ortiz).

See this quote from the press release: “After the gangsters who killed his father come to settle a score, a teenage boy and his mother turn the tables on the killers. Producer John Singleton (Four Brothers, Hustle & Flow) and writer / director Franc Reyes (Empire) join forcers to tell the story of one family’s quest for honor and revenge as the hunted become the hunters in the new thriller Illegal Tender.”

Wilson is named for his father, Wilson De Leon Sr. (played by Manny Perez), a Bronx based Puerto Rican gangster who was murdered at moment of Wilson’s birth. Well, Wilson Jr. may now be a well-heeled Connecticut college student (he drives a BMW to class), but he is still pure Bronx, dressing in baggy pants and blasting gangsta rap from his Beamer’s speakers. He is more Bridgeport than Westport, more G Unit than Ralph Lauren.

Then one day Mamma Millie is shopping for groceries when she sees a “ghost,” a woman from her old Bronx neighborhood. She quickly grabs Ricky and runs home to inform Wilson that they have to move, “again.” (It appears that this is family that has been mansion surfing.) But Wilson has a great life and is less than receptive to his mother’s hysteria. He has an adorable girlfriend named Ana (played by Dania Ramirez), he is doing very well in school and he wants no part of this new move. He feels safe and just assumes that his mother is over reacting (as mothers occasionally do).

We then hit the top of the roller coaster. Mamma quickly tells Wilson that he is a man now and if he won’t leave, he needs to be prepared to defend himself and his girlfriend. And in one of the most unintentionally funny part of the story, Mamma takes her boy into the basement, unlocks the safe and distributes assault rifles to her understandably shocked son.

Mamma leaves and Wilson is then forced to defend his turf (and his girl) when the sins of his father’s past invade his luxurious Connecticut world. We are then treated to a scene from the Scream sequel that must have been filming in the sound stage next door as Ana (who is supposed to be "quietly" hiding in the basement so the bad guys and gals won’t find her), screams her heart out for what seems like five minutes. This is also unintentionally (I think) hysterical.

Wilson, who is rightfully perplexed by this turn of events, confronts his mother and makes her tell him the secrets of their past starting with just where did their money come from in the first place? (He just noticed that Mamma dosn't have a job.) So Mamma tells him. It seems that while they are from the Bronx, the root of their “problem” is the gang world of Puerto Rico; Mamma has a blood feud with a Puerto Rican based gangster, Javier Cordero (played by Gary Perez).

Wilson then decides to “cut the head from the hydra” and in this quest he gets ample help from his smokin’ mamma. Mamma Millie and Wilson travel to Puerto Rico where they undertake a Michael Corleone-type mission to make things right for their family.

This film is fun. I never once looked at my watch to see how much longer it would be; it moves. And yes, there are mixed genres – sometimes I was watching the Godfather and then it turned into Scream II. But there is so much to like. Wanda de Jesus is both heartfelt and hysterical as Millie and Rick Gonzalez gives a quietly sincere performance as the coming-of-age Wilson. And Tego Calderon bring in the goods as Choco, the more than capable assistant to Puerto Rican kingpin Javier Cordero. And you just have to see this film to see the two bad-ass Latina assassins (played by Mercedes Mercado and Carmen Perez) who are seemingly moonlighting from the set of Sin City II. They are pure camp.

Tego Calderon as Choco in Illegal Tender



Writer/Director Fran Reyes with Actor Antonio Ortiz
Photo Credit Wendy R. Williams

The Interview with Writer/Director Franc Reyes

Question about how he talked John Singleton into producing his film:

Franc Reyes: I met John Singleton at a party and I talked to him. Several months later I saw him at a coffee shop and stopped him to pitch my idea. He told me to write it up in three weeks and he would produce it.

Question about how he came up with the character of the mother Millie:

Franc Reyes: Wandas De Jesus' character [Millie] came from all the strong women I know. This movie is not so much about being Puerto Rican but about being mother and son. I grew up in the south Bronx in the 80s in a neighborhood that Time Magazine called the most dangerous neighborhood in the country. Nine out of ten people I know were raised by single moms and I wanted to tell a story about what happened when the men went away. My experience is that the mother holds it down. It would not be honest if she had not been the one to hold it down.

Wanda De Jesus as Millie in Illegal Tender

Question about the casting of Wanda De Jesus as the mother, Millie:

Franc Reyes: Once I saw Wanda De Jesus, that was it.

Rick Gonzalez and Dania Ramirez in Illegal Tender

Question about the character of the girlfriend Ana and why she did not just leave when the violence started:

Franc Reyes: Not that many good men out there. She’s not going anywhere.

Question about the Latina assassins:

Fran Reyes: I knew girls like that growing up in the Bronx. They were hot sexy girls but they would smoke you in a minute.

Question about the Shakespearean themes in the film:

Fran Reyes: I wanted to tell the Latino story of New York and it is [a story that is] operatic and Shakespearian in tone

Question about the violence in the film:

Fran Reyes: Nothing is more American than violence. Maybe hotdogs are more American than violence, but that is about it.

Question about what he is doing next:

Fran Reyes: I just finished a film called The Ministers with Harvey Keitel and John Leguizamo.


The Interview with Antonio Ortiz
(Antonio plays Randy, Millie’s younger son in the film)

Question about how he really looked like he loved his brother in the film:

Antonio Ortiz: I just pictured him as my actual brother.

Question about whether this was his first film:

Antonio Ortiz: This is my third feature. (Antonio was also in Knights of the South Bronx and Just Like the Son.)

Question: How did you get so cute?

Antonio Ortiz: From my mamma.

Manny Perez and Wanda De Jesus
Photo Credit Wendy R. Williams

The Interview with Wanda De Jesus (Millie, the mother)
and Manny Perez (Wilson DeLeon, Sr.)

Question about the decision to do this film:

Wanda De Jesus: I was really excited when I read the script and then I had a chance to talk to the director. I wanted to ground her (Millie) in education and integrity. To make it a real journey like John Cassavetes’ Gloria. Fran Reyes themes are like the themes in Martin Scorsese’s films. The story is about stains in a family. Millie has some stains in her history and the stains of her past affect her present and make her hyper vigilant. She never wanted the fight to come to her.

In this film, you are not just connecting to the Latin culture; you are connecting to the human experience

Question about the rise of Latin films:

Many Perez: At last years Oscars, Latin films came into their own. And in this film an African American producer [John Singleton] and a Puerto Rican director [Fran Reyes] combined to make a film.

Wanda De Jesus: Foreign made Latin films are beautiful but there is a need for American themed Latin films with an American perspective.

Question about the inspiration for the character of Wilson Deleon Sr.:

Manny Perez: My dad was just like this guy in his need to get bread on the table. I used the inspiration of my dad for the way my character walked into the bodega.


The Interview with Producer John Singleton

Question about a black producer and a Puerto Rican director producing a Puerto Rican film:

John Singleton: Blacks and Puerto Ricans have lived side by side for years. We have kids together. And I am always about what’s new and what’s next. I am trying to make great cinema, films that have a resonance.

Question about the scene in the beginning of the film where Wilson is berating his mother for dating what he considers to be an unworthy man:

John Singleton: In the Latin culture, mothers have children at a young age and then their children don’t want their mother to have a life. But Mamma wants to have a life too.

Question about the themes in the movie:

John Singleton: I was attracted to this story of a kid growing up in a single parent family and having to take this journey because of the sins of the father.

Question about the use of the Latina assassins:

John Singleton: I liked them; they were sexy. And women love them. Women like to see women shoot men.

Question about the Shakespearean themes in his films:

John Singleton: It is more like Homer’s Odysseus; a guy goes on a journey for his mother. This film is about love and having the audience watch the movie and know who needs to be protected. And as I showed in Four Brothers, family is not necessarily the nuclear family.

Question about how he keeps it fresh:

John Singleton: I am me. I saw this in film school, this need to do my own thing. I am not a frustrated artist; people are going to see my movies. I have always been very passionate about what I want to do. I have a reputation for being a fire eating militant but I am a real eclectic guy.

Other black film makers are not speaking to what is going on in America. Other films are either gangster films or some so called family film where a black man dresses up as a fat woman.

Question about what he is doing next:

John Singleton: A film called Tulia about a town in the panhandle of Texas called Tulia. It stars Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton. It is set in 1999 and tells the story about the arrest of a huge number of members of the local African American community on trumped up drug charges. They [the powers-that-be] needed to create drug dealers so they could fill their local prisons and keep them in business.

Many thanks to the cast and creative team of Illegal Tender for talking to New York Cool. For more Illegal Tender, click here:




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