It’s always fun for me to interview people but this time was especially fun because Tomas is a friend and fellow obsessive pop culture nerd. He’s also a screenwriter/producer who wrote last year’s MTV movie musical, The American Mall.
This Friday, May 15, the supernatural thriller he co-wrote and associate produced, Not Forgotten (see trailer below), opens at the Mann’s Chinese theater in L.A. The film stars Simon Baker (who has shirtless scenes), Paz Vega (Sex and Lucia, Spanglish), Michael DeLorenzo (New York Undercover), and features Claire Forlani (Meet Joe Black). It’s about a man who seemingly has the perfect life in a Texas border town until his young daughter is kidnapped. The incident is tied to his dark, secret past involving his faith in Santa Muerte (Saint Death), something he must invoke again in order to get his child back.
In between writing American Mall 2 and a post-apocalyptic teen comedy, Tomas agreed to answer my nerdy questions.
PCN: There are a lot of whores in this movie. Was it a fun set?
Tomas Romero: I believe they prefer the term “working girls,” but yes, the Mexican whorehouse scenes were just as fun to shoot as they were to write. It’s funny, though, I kept apologizing to the actresses on set, like, “I’m sorry I didn’t give you a name, Curly-Haired Whore or Grabby Girl #2, but I must say, you look awesome in that pink halter top.”
PCN: Oh, I’m sure that made up for it. The movie also includes lots of details about death cults. Research or personal experience?
TR: No, man, I gave up death cults in college. Seriously, though, we did loads of research and even though much of what my co-writer, the film’s director Dror Soref, and I unearthed about the very real cult of Santa Muerte was fascinating. I think the thing we found most interesting about Santa Muerte is that she is a street Saint, a down-and-dirty version of the Virgin Mary if you will. And though she is invoked most famously by criminals, gangsters, and prostitutes, she is also a very real part of many people’s lives in Mexico. We found several instances where policemen in these areas actually prayed to Santa Muerte for protection before their shifts. I mean, how cool is that?
PCN: Um, pretty cool, I guess, but she still looks super creepy. You started writing this script many years ago. Why do you think it came together now?
TR: Ha! If I had an answer for that, I’d have a lot more produced movies under my belt. I’m kidding, kinda, but the reality is that getting a movie made these days, even at a studio level, is very difficult and taking a truly independently-financed film from page to screen is next to impossible. Luckily for us, we had a small army of very talented folks behind the scenes. Not counting myself, there is like a baker’s dozen of producers on this movie and they all rocked.
PCN: How did they get the financing?
TR: Santa Muerte!
PCN: Dur! OK, you didn’t have children when you wrote this but now have a baby daughter. Do you look at your own script and say, “Oh, crap! I just created my worst nightmare!”?
TR: OMG, I know, I can’t even imagine. Some of the things we put poor Chloe Moretz—the crazy-talented young actress who plays Baker’s kidnapped daughter Toby—through in this movie, I was like, Please don’t watch this movie ’til you’re, like, 30. She was fine with everything, a total pro and hilariously funny to boot, but I was a wreck during all her scenes. And now that I have a daughter of my own—forget about it.
PCN: By scene 10, Jack and Amaya are in a steamy sex scene. Did you put that in before or after you knew you’d landed Simon Baker and Paz Vega?
TR: That scene was always there. The casting of Paz and Simon just made it that much steamier, so, yay for us!
PCN: My friend Carmen Serano is a gorgeous actress and model. Why’d you cast her as a gimpy prison warden with a unibrow?
TR: I know. What were we thinking? Clearly, Carmen would have made a much better whore. Ha! Totally kidding. Carmen was awesome to work with and her character does get some of the biggest laughs in the movie, so, unibrow or not, I think she’ll be very happy with how she comes off. Your other friend, Benito Martinez, is also fantastic in the movie. Benito plays a sleazy Mexican police chief like nobody’s business and the dude steals every scene he’s in! He’s great. OMG, and [your other friend] Greg [Serano] is so badass in the movie!
PCN: That’s hilarious, because I think Greg is goofy. And I mean that in the best way.
TR: He has this one great scene where he is grilling Jack and Amaya and he holds his own, baby. If this whole acting thing doesn’t pan out, which it obviously has since he’s been working non-stop, the dude would make a truly scary policeman! Yikes!!
PCN: You also wrote the story for MTV’s original musical, The American Mall. Any similarities between singing mall rats and chanting death-cult followers?
TR: Totally! MTV’s standards and practices made us cut the death cult chant from Mall but it was so cool! Seriously, the movies are a lot more alike than they seem. I mean, deep down, both films are about staying true to your authentic self at all costs, and the steep price you pay when you don’t. The female leads in both movies know this from the get-go, it’s the male leads that have to learn this lesson the hard way. And though the mechanics of their situation are very different, the journey both Joey in Mall and Jack in Not Forgotten take is essentially the same.
PCN: How do you feel about Not Forgotten opening on the same day as Angels & Demons? I feel like I should wear a giant cross around my neck if I go to the movies this weekend.
TR: You should totally wear your cross, because there is gonna be a whole lotta death cult and demon love going on at the movies this weekend.
PCN: Some people I know saw the trailer and said it’s too scary for them. Give them one reason to go see it anyway.
TR: Well, it is kinda scary, but, I think it’s important to differentiate between scary movies that exist solely to scare and scary movies that have a little bit more going on. Take for instance, The Exorcist. On the surface that movie scared the crap out of me as a kid—and still does, actually—but I kept watching because I really, deeply cared about what was happening to this poor woman and her daughter. Not Forgotten is kind of the same way. You might wanna cover your eyes sometimes, but at its core, it is a movie about a father struggling to hold his family together despite some spectacularly tall odds. And, Mexican death cult or not, who can’t relate to that?