Director Guillermo Ivàn: Sun’s Out and Guns Out in Acapulco

Guillermo Ivàn is a triple threat – an actor, writer and director – and an international artist.  Born in Mexico City, he has a degree in production and direction from the Union Nacional de Escritores y Artistas of Cuba, in addition to studying acting in New York. He’s appeared in a number of Mexican and American films, including Vantage Point, Mexican Standoff, and the Telemundo telenovela Al otro lado del muro. His directorial resumé, including Havana Darkness and The Strike is growing rapidly.  

In his latest film, Welcome To Acapulco, a young video game designer has one shot to save his career by unveiling his biggest project yet at the Video Game Awards in New Mexico. But after running into a friend at the airport and having a little too much to drink before his flight, he ends up in actual Mexico – specifically, Acapulco. As soon as he lands, he finds himself on the run from high-powered criminals, deadly hitmen and the Feds, all looking for a mysterious package that he has allegedly smuggled through customs yet knows nothing about. Partnering with a beautiful femme fatale and channeling his inner video game action hero, the pair unravels a world-shaking conspiracy.

Welcome to Acapulco is a fun movie to watch – was it a fun movie to make?

“Yes, yes,” he says enthusiastically. “Absolutely. We had a great time! First of all, if I can tell you something about Acapulco, the place itself, is a real part in the movie. And besides  everything else it’s a very meaningful place for me because I was born and raised in Mexico, and I used to go to Alcapulco when I was a kid. This was like a dream come true. I mean we had the greatest time, everyone was so chill on set, and that really helped because it was a lot of work.”

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Courtesy Momentum Pictures 2019

Welcome to Acapulco is a big-looking movie, in fact the movie is bigger-looking than its budget, no mean feat in a marketplace crowded with hundred million dollar franchise wonders that often leave the audience wondering where the money went. A contemporary take on the ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances plot, it’s very much the sort of movie that Alfred Hitchcock might actually be making if he were around today. Did Iván have a sense of making sort of a classic thriller while he was making it?

Ivàn says: “It’s so interesting that you are talking about Hitchcock, one of my all time biggest references and icons when it comes to film making. I admire the way he built characters, the way he built suspense around those characters – the thriller factor in all of his movies is just phenomenal. So it’s fascinating to me that you are talking about him or you are bringing him up. The answer is yes, however, we were trying to do something different without any sorts of pretentiousness. We wanted to narrate the story from a different perspective.  In Welcome to Acapulco you have a character like Matt Booth (played by Michael Kingsbaker) who, while he has nothing to do with danger by himself, I mean, this is a guy who works with video games. He designs video games, he has his own interpretation of the world – this virtual, fictional world that he has in his mind in which everything belongs in a video game.  Because that’s his psychology, that’s his vantage point. We wanted to build all this tension that you are mentioning, all of this thriller around him and we wanted to see it through a sort of guy like him, with some obstacles along the way. And that was the final result that you saw on the screen.”

One of the things that makes the movie so entertaining is that the main character is not a Jason Bourne or a James Bond.   He’s a man with a very ordinary kind of job, hungover on the wrong plane and coming into Acapulco, which is the wrong place, and his mind is on anything other than what’s about to happen to him.   

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Courtesy Momentum Pictures 2019

Iván laughs. “Right, right, and in absolute honesty that was what we were trying to do.  The objective was trying to make the audience relate to someone who is not Jason Bourne.  Somebody who is just like any other guy that has a nine to five job. And, he’s not a hero, however, there is an arc, there is an evolution of the character as well, this is a guy who has to learn how to make decisions and he has to learn how to survive.  Especially through a character like Adriana (played by Ana Serradilla). Adriana is really a strong female character who helps him move along the way, and is a trigger for him to awake to this different world and to learn how to basically survive. This is not a video game anymore. There is an evolution in this character and yes I think that you have the right idea. We were trying to portray a person who is nothing close to being a hero. But that is entertaining.”  

Kingsbaker’s Matt Booth eventually uses the skills that he learned at MIT to save his life, evoking Three Days of the Condor where Robert Redford was in the Signal Corps in the Army and the fact that he knows how to wire phones together ends up saving his life. In Welcome to Acapulco Ana Serradilla’s character of Adriana is the espionage professional. How important was her character to the movie?

“Very important,” he says. “If you think about it, it’s also source of inspiration for our hero Matt, who’s seeing someone different from his regular environment, a woman who belongs in a different world.  This is a woman who encourages something different as well, she inspires different feelings and different senses, almost like a female lion in the jungle. It’s something that he is not used to seeing in a place like New York especially in his environment,  in his office. Also just a fact that she has this kind of sexy thing going on, that she is Latina, this is Acapulco, that triggers some kind of pheromones along the way. I mean Acapulco, all this tropical weather, even though you are in danger, brings something different, especially if you are coming from a place like New York in the winter time.   For us it was also important to portray a strong woman, somebody who is willing to take risks, to do the right thing. And speaking of that, Adriana, as a character, also evolves because she is 100% loyal to her beliefs and her agency, and along the way she finds out certain things that she really doesn’t like, so she too ends up being an ordinary person by the end of the movie, if you think about it.  It’s like the other way around with Matt Booth, an ordinary guy at the beginning of the story who kind of leans toward the hero arc at the end of the movie. Adriana is the opposite. She is the strong one who is always in control, the one that’s always right and who is doing the right thing at the very beginning of the movie, and at the end of the movie she is just a regular person. And, she finds out some information that makes her quit her job and just go for something completely different.  That was something that I really liked, working with both actors and that evolution.”

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Courtesy Momentum Pictures 2017

Among the wonderful rogues gallery in his cast, Ivàn has the redoubtable Paul Sorvino, who’s worked with everyone from Karel Reisz, Mike Nichols, John G. Avildsen, Oliver Stone, Warren Beatty and Martin Scorsese. What was he like to work with?

“He was incredible.  I’m being honest with you, one of my favorite moments on set was, Paul and I had like 2 1/2 hours where we were waiting in between one of those big setups for a scene between him and Michael Madsen, he called me and said,  ‘Do you want to come and talk with me, I’m gonna be here and I just want to have a conversation with you.’ And, I said ‘Yes, of course.’ So I went to his place and he started talking to me about his acting training when he was a young man in New York, and we have a 2 1/2 hour conversation and it was so meaningful to me.  I mean, I cannot express to you how important that conversation was to me. And how profound and how much it helped me in building a foundation… as a regular person…I mean…I have one of the actors that admire the most sharing with me everything that he had gone through to becoming who he is nowadays. We talked about [Sanford] Meisner and his days back when he was training with Meisner – we talked about him and his passion for opera, and for arts and we spent like 2 1/2 hours talking about his past, his background,  and that was so cool and so meaningful. Certainly one of my favorite days and moments during the entire shoot.”

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Courtesy Momentum Pictures 2019

Ivàn is in a busy phase of his career right now:

“I’m shooting right now a movie in New York – it’s called The Last Rumba. This is a movie that has to do with Latin music in New York City. It’s a project that I wrote and am also directing and acting in. It’s an international production as well that we worked on in Germany, the USA and Mexico. We shot half of the move in Cuba and half the movie’s being shot right now in New York, and I’m just having the greatest time of my life doing that right now. In addition to Welcome To Acapulco, I am premiering a new show on national television in the United States called The Unknown.   It’s premiering March 17th in the US , May 20th on Netflix.  

Momentum Pictures will release Welcome To Acapulco on VOD and Digital HD on March 12, 2019.


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