Diego Luna on the Latino experience and ‘Cesar Chavez’: ‘I’d never direct myself’

AUSTIN – Diego Luna finds it “ridiculous” there's been no biopic Cesar Chavez, prior to his. Rather than thinking his film of the same name has arrived right in time for audiences, “I think it's late.

“We arrived late, but I'm glad it happened,” Luna told HitFix the day after “Cesar Chavez” made its premiere to enthusiastic audiences at the South By Southwest film conference this month. “It's important today that we not just celebrate the movement of farm workers and the amazing change they brought to their communities… but also its important to think about what needs to be done today. The conditions in the fields are far from perfect.”

Luna directed the project but instead had actor Michael Peña take the reins in its titular role. Not only did Luna say he could never imagine directing himself, but said that Peña encapsulates what he was trying to address in this “Latino experience,” as a first generation American in a Mexican family.

Chavez as a civil rights figure had many supporting characters in his life — including his family with wife and eight kids, plus legal and office aide — but Luna had the daunting task of keeping his focus just to a select number of years and events in the 1960s so that the flick stuck to its lean 101 minutes, and not his initial cut of 3+ hours.

“You have to start prioritizing,” he said. “I wanted to make sure we did a film that left you at the end like, 'I want to see more.' I want to generate curiosity.”

Watch the full interview above, on Luna's thoughts on farm work and conditions for immigrants and Latino workers today, what it took to get the talent he did in front of the camera and more.

“Cesar Chavez” opens Friday (March 28) and co-stars America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson and (co-producer) John Malkovich.