On the face of it, the story of how a specific variation of a popular American snack food came into being might not sound like the basis for an especially compelling feature film.


But when Eva Longoria first read the script for Flamin' Hot – which arrives on Disney Plus this weekend – a few years ago, she wasn't in any doubt that it would be the perfect project for her film directing debut.

"It was like a no-brainer," she tells RadioTimes.com of the film, which tells the story of how a janitor at snack company Frito-Lay played an instrumental role in launching the Flamin' Hot Cheeto.

"I read the script, and I was like, 'How do I not know this story?' He's Mexican-American like me and [so] I immediately got motivated – I have to tell this story to everybody on the biggest platform I can."

Longoria instantly felt something of a kinship with Richard Montañez, the man who, for a long time, has claimed to be the inventor of the snack. Mostly, she related to the fact that he had faced many of the same obstacles she has throughout her own career.

"I've been told, 'Ideas don't come from people like you,'" she explains. "I've been told, you know, women shouldn't be directors or whatever it is that people say, opportunities aren't for you. And you go, but why not? Why not me? I can do that.

"So I felt like I related to his journey in facing adversity and overcoming it. I think his naivete was a superpower, and I think sometimes for me too, I am not afraid to ask questions – I'm very curious about a lot of things. So as I started directing, I was like, 'But why is it done this way?' Or, 'Why don't we just do this? Why don't we have three cameras?'

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"When you start to question the system, whether it's in corporate America or the media, that's disruptive. And usually what comes out of this disruptive moment is innovation. And so I think he dared to ask questions and disrupt protocol and this amazing brand was born because of it."

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The original version of the script was so overwhelming for Longoria that it made her cry four times, but when she came on board the project as director she felt it was vital to inject a slightly different tone.

Given that Montañez is a funny, witty and charming individual, she explains, she wanted to adapt the screenplay such that it was from his point of view and in his tone of voice. Luckily, Montañez himself was "very collaborative" during this process.

"He wrote two books and so we used that as a jumping-off point of like things he's already said," Longoria says. "But we met four or five times with our new writer Linda Chávez... and it was conversation after conversation with him really digging out the details.

"Judy [his wife] wasn't in the original script, then we sat down with him and I was like: 'This is a love story, the heart of the movie is Judy.' And so we created this character that exists, and then she also added so much colour. Judy was like, 'He'll never tell you this, but this is what really happened.' And then she would tell us the version of the story, so they were both very involved in us writing the script, and they came to set many times."

Jesse Garcia in FLAMIN’ HOT.
Jesse Garcia in Flamin' Hot. Disney

Of course, although the script could do some of the heavy lifting in terms of adopting Montañez's voice, finding the right actor to portray him was also of utmost importance.

In fact, the casting process was an especially challenging task due to the fact that the film unfolds over several decades, and so whoever was chosen for the lead role would need to be equally capable of playing him at various stages of his life - starting from the days when he flirted with working for criminal gangs.

"We needed an actor who could play those four decades, really: from gangbanger all the way to adult Richard," Longoria says. "And Jesse Garcia was just fantastic, he was amazing. He could do the humour and wit that Richard had, but he also was super vulnerable with Judy – he just did all of those things."

Although the film – and Montañez's own books – paint him as a driving force behind the creation of the Flamin' Hot Cheeto, the reality may in fact be rather more complex.

In 2021, the LA Times ran an article that disputed Montañez's claims, with the piece including a quote from a Frito-Lay spokesman that read: "We do not credit the creation of Flamin' Hot Cheetos or any Flamin' Hot products to him."

Longoria is aware of this article, but she claims it wasn't of great importance to the film – which she says wasn't really about the snack's invention. "It never really affected the film because we weren't making a movie about the Flamin' Hot Cheeto," she says.

"We were always making the movie of Richard Montañez and his story, [which] is compelling and inspirational, and his truth. And so, for us, it didn't really affect us in any way or how we were telling the story – because it was always from his perspective."

She adds: "He really came up with this idea that you should market to different communities in different ways. And, you know, the Hispanic market will not be ignored. And that was his genius, his grassroots marketing, and his ability to speak to that community."

Flamin' Hot might be Longoria's first feature film behind the camera, but she is by no means a rookie when it comes to directing. She has previously built up a wealth of experience on the small screen by helming episodes of shows including Jane the Virgin, Black-ish and Why Women Kill, and although she says transitioning into films was "the next obvious step" in her career, she wasn't necessarily actively searching for a feature.

"I love the medium of television, I love the speed of television, I like the pace – I like being with characters for long periods of time," she explains. "And so I didn't really have the desire to go like: 'It's now time for my feature.' It just happened to be that this story, I felt like I was the only one that could tell it. I felt it in my bones."

Eva Longoria on set of FLAMIN' HOT.
Eva Longoria on set of Flamin' Hot. Disney

It's therefore no surprise to learn that television remains important to her going forwards – she says that she'll "never leave TV" – but she is also now on the lookout for another film project, even if nothing has jumped out at her so far.

"Scripts have been pouring in and I feel like I haven't quite felt the way I felt when I read Flamin' Hot," she says. "And I was like, 'Oh, God, do I have to feel that strongly about something?' So it hasn't happened yet."

In the meantime, she has plenty to keep her occupied back in the world of television, but might that include reprising her role as Gabrielle Solis in a possible reboot of Desperate Housewives, the show for which she remains best known?

Longoria is well used to this question by now – she light-heartedly mentions that she's asked it in every interview – and her answer remains the same as ever: Personally she'd be only too happy to return to Wisteria Lane, but doesn't foresee a revival on the horizon due to a reluctance from the show's creator Marc Cherry.

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“I would do it in a heartbeat, but Marc Cherry just does not want to do it," she says, "He doesn't like to do a reboot for the sake of a reboot. He's just like, he doesn't feel like there's anything left to say. You know, the show was ground-breaking in its moment in time, but now he feels like... I think that moment has passed."

Still, Longoria looks back very fondly on her time on the show and credits it with helping her get to where she is now as a director.

“I used Desperate Housewives as my film school," she says. "Everything I learned about directing was from that set, all those directors that came through."

Away from both acting and directing, Longoria was recently seen in a presenting role on the documentary series Searching for Mexico, which aired on CNN in the US. A spin-off of Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy series, the show follows Longoria as she travels around Mexico exploring the various cultures, cuisine and history of the nation – and it's been a richly rewarding experience for her in a number of ways.

"That was so fun to do – to eat my way through Mexico," she grins. "And I really felt like doing that show will hopefully improve the relations between the United States and Mexico because when you're talking about the food of a country, you're talking about the people. The people of Mexico are wonderful, beautiful human beings and I was really happy to present that show to the world."

For now, though, the main focus for Longoria is seeing Flamin' Hot released to the world, and so far she's been hugely encouraged by the feedback. The film made its debut at South by Southwest back in March, opening to strong first reactions and even collecting the festival's Headliners Audience Award. Longoria's reaction to watching that warm response from festivalgoers, she says, was "tears, tears, tears."

She continues: "Every moment landed with them, they laughed in the right place, they cried in the right place, they had reactions in places that we hadn't had reactions before. It was like the best audience I could ever ask for.

"And as we've been screening across the country since then, the communities viewing of this movie has been really something that fills my heart with gratitude and happiness, because the movies landed in the way that I intended and that makes me so happy."

Flaming Hot is streaming on Disney Plus – you can sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 for a year now.

Looking for something else to watch? Check out our list of the best movies on Disney Plus and best shows on Disney Plus, or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what’s on tonight.

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