Love Ranch is Spanish actor Sergio Peris-Mencheta’s first American movie – it’s also the first time he’s done a film in English. And he has quite a co-star to play opposite – Dame Helen Mirren. Directed by Taylor Hackford, Mirren’s husband, the movie is inspired by a true story that took place at the Mustang Ranch, the first legal brothel in Nevada.
Set in the 1970s, Charlie and Grace Bontempo (Joe Pesci and Helen Mirren) own and run one of Nevada’s first legalized brothel ranches. In his attempt to enlarge his empire, Charlie brings a world famous heavy weight boxer from South America, Armando Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) to train at the ranch. It’s a decision that goes drastically wrong when Bruza falls in love with Grace, and their affair develops into a scenario that will change all of their lives.
I spoke with Sergio last week about his first Hollywood movie and working with a Dame!
Can you talk a little about your character of Bruza?
He’s not only a boxer, he’s a hustler. He’s very charming, but at the same time he’s a seducer. He knows what he’s doing. He knows what he needs, and he uses everything he has to reach his goal.
I think in the beginning, I’m like a very good horse and Charlie buys me, in a sense, by paying off my debts. I’m the first piece of meat he uses, who is not a girl. I’m a kind of a whore.
What is Bruza motivation for trying to get along with Grace?
With Grace, the first thing is to convince her that I am gold, that I am money in the bank. Meanwhile I start feeling something with her. So the relationship starts changing little by little.
I think for Bruza, Charlie’s someone who doesn’t deserve what he has. He’s a little man with a little voice, but he has everything. He has all the girls, a big business, a lot of money. And Bruza wants this – he wants to be the king also.
He seems to have no fear, but something’s happening inside, he’s changing. That smile always on his face is a mask – behind it, he’s re-evaluating his life.
How difficult was it to do the love scene with Helen?
It was more difficult to do the audition than the shooting. You’re used to the shooting and it’s not so difficult at the end. But when you don’t know the other person it’s hard. I met Helen, and two days afterwards we were doing the reading and we had to kiss each other and we had to touch each other.
For me, that was difficult. After a while you know each other, she’s not Dame Mirren, she’s Helen and I could touch her. For me it was very normal, natural and easy, I’m from Spain!
You trained with Jimmy Glenn, one of the greatest boxing trainers in history, what kind of physical training did you have to go through?
I was working out for four months in New York. I trained for fives hours a day, I ate a lot, all the time; I had to gain 40 pounds. The worst thing was to go into the ring and to spare with heavyweights in New York. That was tough. They tried to respect my face, but sometimes I would get hit.
How did you gain 40 pounds?
It’s more difficult to gain weight when you’re not hungry and you have to eat, than losing it when you’re hungry and you can’t. I put ice-cream in the microwave and drank it. After three months in New York, Taylor told me, ‘Oh, you’re in shape, you’re supposed to be out-of-shape, you have to eat now.’
I heard you were insistent on authenticity in playing an Argentinean.
I needed to learn how to speak Argentinean because I’m Spanish and the accent is totally different. I felt a big responsibility about doing this character, who is based on someone who really existed, a real hero in his country. And I felt a little guilty also because I’m not Argentinean – I’m a Spaniard.
How was this experience for you?
Too much, but after awhile it was normal because they tried to make me feel at home, and I think that’s the key. Luigi, who did my make up, was very supportive. Finally I found my place in this big (film). I saw the movie yesterday, and I thought, ‘You did that?’
This is my first role in English, my first movie in the United States. I’ve made movies in Spanish, in French, even in Italian, but never in English. This was the first time I said a word in English.