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The ‘Flamin’ Hot’ story is one of perseverance, not just a snack food

Jesse Garcia stars as Richard Montañez in "Flamin' Hot."
Photo by Emily Aragones. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.
© 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
Jesse Garcia stars as Richard Montañez in "Flamin' Hot."

Texas native Eva Longoria makes her feature film directing debut on this biopic based on the life of Richard Montañez.

Richard Montañez was a former gang member before becoming a janitor for Texas-based Frito-Lay. It was there that he leaned on his Mexican heritage to set the snack world on fire and ultimately became a vice president for multicultural marketing at the company.

“Flamin’ Hot,” a biopic of his life directed by Corpus Christi native Eva Longoria, is now available on Hulu and Disney Plus. Stars of the film Jesse Garcia and Annie Gonzalez, as well as Longoria, spoke with Texas Standard about the film, emoting real people, challenges in Hollywood and the spicy Cheeto controversy. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: I have to ask Eva, I hear this comes from a place in your heart and your mouth. Is it true you were a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos junkie growing up in Corpus Christi? 

Eva Longoria: Yes, I was. I love Flamin’ Hot. I grew up with them, actually. The first time I ate a regular bag of Cheetos, I thought something was wrong with my bag. I was like, “Oh, no, I got a bad bag.” So, you know, this is a multibillion dollar brand. It’s a number one snack in the world. So, you know, to be able to tell this story of the man behind the flavor is really exciting.

Texas Standard: Why was this so important to you? I understand when you first read the script that you were just floored. You had never heard this story before?

Eva Longoria: No. And I was really, you know, blown away that I hadn’t known the story. I was like, wait, “he’s Mexican-American, I’m Mexican-American.” And I immediately felt like I am Richard Montañez. I’ve been told no. I’ve been told opportunities aren’t for people like you or, you know, “you’re a girl. You probably shouldn’t do that.” And I thought, “what a universal story that everybody could learn from and relate to.”

Jesse, you play Richard Montañez in this film. You have some really, really funny parts here. Did you get a chance to meet Richard in person and sort of pick up on who the man is? 

Jesse Garcia: Yeah, we got to hang out for a couple of hours before they flew me out to Albuquerque to start shooting the movie. And he’s a funny guy. He’s quirky and charming.

Eva Longoria: “Like me…”

Jesse Garcia: Like me. So it was an easy transition to drop into some, like, funny stuff.

From left, Brice Gonzalez, Annie Gonzalez, Jesse Garcia and Hunter Jones star in "Flamin' Hot."
Photo by Emily Aragones. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.
© 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.
From left, Brice Gonzalez, Annie Gonzalez, Jesse Garcia and Hunter Jones star in "Flamin' Hot."

Annie, I have to ask you, if you had ever heard this story before, what got you interested in this film?

Annie Gonzalez: You know, I had heard it in passing, but not like this. I did not hear the depth of this story. So, you know, once I read it, I was like, “oh, my God, I have to be a part of this project.” Judy is my mom, is my tía, is me. So I’m so grateful that Eva gave me a chance.

I heard, Annie, that you had some acting inspiration once upon a time, and it was Barbra Streisand and someone else.

Annie Gonzalez: Bette Midler. Yeah.

Bette Midler. That is so interesting. I wouldn’t have guessed Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler. What was it that impressed you about them?

Annie Gonzalez: You know, I mean, so I’m raised sixth generation, and I was raised a lot on musical theater. My mom always wanted to be an actress. She went to Hollywood High. So a lot of the movies I grew up on were like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and “Beaches,” “Funny Girl.” So I was a little hood girl from East L.A. singing “Don’t Tell Me Not to Live.” You know, an interesting juxtaposition and here we are, friend.

Jesse, what drew you to this role? Was there something in particular?

Jesse Garcia: When I first read it, I felt like it was written for me. And I just had to put my work in and convince Eva and (producer) DeVon and the studio that I was the right guy. And luckily it went my way.

Eva, before I return to you, I’ve got to ask Jesse and Annie – pretend she’s not there, OK? What was it like working with Eva Longoria? I hear she’s a taskmaster. Is that true? 

Jesse Garcia: Oh, she is bossy. She’s a visionary. She had a very specific vision for this movie. And her pitch proved that she was the right person for the job. And we just had to come in and kind of like throw down because directors cast you for their particular reason and all she kind of had to do is guide us and give adjustments as we went along. And it was symbiotic and great teamwork.

Annie Gonzalez: Yeah. Very smart, very intelligent with her execution. Very intelligent because you hired us, you know! Just kidding. But truly.

Eva, I noticed Jesse mentioned that you had a vision for this. What was that vision as you saw it? 

“Flamin’ Hot” is Corpus Christi native Eva Longoria’s feature film directorial debut. Photo by Anna Kooris.
Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
© 2023 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.
“Flamin’ Hot” is Corpus Christi native Eva Longoria’s feature film directorial debut. Photo by Anna Kooris.

Eva Longoria: You know, my North Star was authenticity. I am from this community. This is my community. And so I knew that was going to be my superpower. To really make a love letter to our Mexican-Americaness and our Mexican-American brothers and sisters here. You know, we never get these roles, first of all, and we never get a shot at telling our stories. And if our stories are told, they’re not told by us. And this is a movie about us and by us. And so I knew I had an opportunity to create a hero that looked like my dad, that looked like me, that looked like us.

You know, Hollywood defines what heroes look like, and they never look like Richard. So that, you know, really was my vision for the film. Like how do I want to make people feel and how do I want our community to feel? Everything else just fell into place.

I have to ask you about this, because this is something that a lot of folks have been talking about ever since they heard that you were working on this movie, Eva. There was a story in the Los Angeles Times that came out shortly after you signed on to this venture. And it claimed that that Richard Montañez was not the person behind Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. And it’s still being talked about now. I think Frito-Lay says they value the work of Richard Montañez, but that he didn’t invent Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. How have you been responding to those questions? 

Eva Longoria: Well, we don’t. We haven’t responded to it because we’re not telling the history of the Flamin’ Hot Cheeto. We’re telling the story of Richard Montañez and his story. This is his truth. So if you want to know the truth about the story, you need to watch the movie. But it’s 1,000% his truth and his story. And that’s what we set out to do. And we’re really excited. Actually, I don’t know why the new statement has never been picked up because PepsiCo is very proud of the work that Richard Montañez has done. And there’s definitely a more updated statement that you probably should have.

Well, say something more. I think I did read PepsiCo’s statement and they say that they value all that he has done in bringing a Mexican perspective to Frito-Lay, not going quite as far as crediting him with the invention. But maybe you can put that in some context for us.

Eva Longoria: So I will say again, we’re talking about Richard Montañez. We actually had a screening here in Dallas where about 40 Frito-Lay workers who worked with Richard had come, and they were so emotional and happy to see his story finally told. They were there when it happened. (Former Frito-Lay CEO Roger) Enrico’s family was at the screening. So we were very honored to have, you know, the man who really, you know, the visionary of Flamin’ Hot. The visionary that wanted to support the Hispanic market was Roger Enrico and for his family, for them to say, “God, you know, we remember how our dad felt about Richard” was testimony to his story. And we were so honored and proud to share with the people who were actually there and know the truth.

Jesse Garcia: And they were proud to be there and to acknowledge this story.

Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her: