The Pinoy in Rob

Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - March 26, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Rob Schneider says that his being part-Filipino taught him to value family. And family relationships and their funny complexities make up the core of the story of his new semi-autobiographical sitcom Rob, which is about a life-long bachelor who just married into a large, close-knit Mexican-American family.

In a phone interview with select Asian journalists, the screenwriter, director and comedian tells us how the sitcom came to be. It is the first TV project he produced in over a decade after Men Behaving Badly in 1996. Rob will be airing exclusively on beTV (formerly AXN Beyond) beginning April 8 and on succeeding Sunday nights at 8:10.

“To be honest, it’s my wife’s idea,” Rob, 48, begins. “And I got tired of being away for months making a movie, and I haven’t watched television in years and years. And there are really good shows on right now, and I got to say in the movies, it’s less and less interesting. The better films are coming out of Asia, South America, Spain, and for sure these movies are more interesting (than what’s done in Hollywood). For television, you know, I wanted to see if we could do something interesting and fun.”

In the series, Rob is an accomplished landscape architect who, after a whirlwind romance, weds Maggie (Claudia Bassols), a beautiful and smart book translator, who is just way out of his league. After eloping in Las Vegas, Maggie and Rob must break the news to her overprotective, judgmental parents, Rosa (Diana Maria Riva) and Fernando (Cheech Marin), that they are already husband and wife.

Shocked by the news, the family remains skeptical of Maggie’s choice for a husband, except for her uncle Hector (Eugenio Derbez), the so-called black sheep of the family, who immediately appoints himself as Rob’s best friend. Rob, truly feeling like the odd man out in the family, longs for the day he will win the hearts of his in-laws — not to mention aunts, uncles and many other relatives particularly Maggie’s Abuelita (Lupe Ontiveros) — and live happily ever after with his one true love, Maggie.

Rob is loosely based on Rob’s own whirlwind romance and wedded bliss to Mexican TV producer Patricia Azarcoya Arce, whom he met when he guested on her show La Guerra de los chistes (War of the Jokes), a popular comedy program in Mexico. He got smitten right away, describing Patricia as “very nice, very lovely, nice laugh, beautiful smile, very smart girl.” He begged her for weeks to go on a date with him, and when she finally did, flying all the way from Mexico to L.A., she brought along a chaperone — her mother. Rob and Patricia tied the knot last year.  

It was Patricia who also helped Rob select the great Latino actors in the cast, and while Rob the series is essentially Hispanic in flavor, the actor believes it will resonate well with Asian audiences.

He says, “I think that (Asian audiences) will relate to it because it’s about family. I have Asian relatives, and it’s the same, there’s always somebody who feels like they’re not getting enough attention, there’s somebody who gets too much, there’s always someone asking for money, or someone looking for a place to stay. The themes of family are respectfully, pretty similar between Hispanics and Asians.”

He adds, “I would have to say though, you know, you never see any Asian homeless people. They’re all working, they’re family, they’re taking care of each other. I remember like in my house, Filipinos were coming through, and literally, sleeping in the same bed with me until they get their own place. We had people coming in, like relatives from Manila, from Baguio, coming straight in, staying in the house, getting a place. You know, they’re hardworking people, but family is the most important thing to them.”

Rob is perhaps most famous for his long-standing friendship with Adam Sandler and has starred in a lot of his Happy Madison movies like Grown Ups, Bedtime Stories, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, The Benchwarmers, 50 First Dates, The Longest Yard and Mr. Deeds. Also under Happy Madison, Rob co-wrote and assumed starring roles in Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, The Hot Chick and The Animal. He started out on TV, opening for such comedians as Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld before debuting on The David Letterman Show in the late ’80s. In the ’90s, he became a regular face on Saturday Night Live with his work earning critical notice and several nominations at the Emmy and Peabody Awards. Just recently, he returned to stand-up comedy and released last year his first comedy album dubbed Registered Offender. He’s also been giving back, setting up the Rob Schneider Music Foundation, which helps provide music education for middle school and high school students.

Hard work as well as the drive to succeed are things that Rob has had learned from his Filipino mother, Pilar.

Rob shares, “My most important relationships in my life are with the family, of course. But you spend so much of your life in America trying to be successful and trying to ‘make it’ to have success and part of that comes from my (Filipino) background.”

He laughingly continues, “My mother, when you get good grades in school, she didn’t say, ‘Hey (that’s) good, you’re fantastic.’ She’d say, ‘What would you expect, you’re smart, you’re supposed to get A’s.’ There wasn’t like a pat on your back. Instead, ‘You’re not a dummy, you’re supposed to get these grades, so this is not impressing me.’ So, I remember saying to myself, ‘Wow, I gotta do something special to get any attention,’ and so I think that was a really good push for me.”

Rob’s mother is the daughter of a Filipina who married an American army private while he was stationed in the Philippines. Rob reveals, “This is going to sound like a fake story, but my mother, she didn’t have a father in the Philippines. Half of her family was killed during the Japanese occupation, and she along with her sister found money that the Japanese buried in a cave, along with some hand grenades, and they cleaned the money up, and that’s what they paid to put themselves through school. So when I didn’t want to finish college, that was a big deal.”

So proud Rob is of his mom — and so game Rob’s mom is — that he made her do cameo in some of his films. (Remember the head judge at the cheerleading contest in The Hot Chick? Or the old woman at the resto where Deuce goes for a blind date in Gigolo? Or the character Mrs. De La Rosa in The Animal?)

Rob says, “My mother’s doing fantastic (right now) but she just lives so far away. She lives in San Francisco but she’s like a pillar of that community. She taught school there for 30 years. She got more votes to be in the school board (as president) than President Bill Clinton did. She’s quite a lady, and my wife is very similar as she’s also a strong woman, and I do whatever they tell me.”

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