Paula Garces her role in Man of the House

Paula Garces laughed at the silliness of cheerleading . . . until she became one herself. In the new Tommy Lee Jones comedy Man of the House, Paula stars as one of five University of Texas cheerleaders, forcing her to rethink all of her stereotypes about pom-poms and twirling batons.

This gorgeous South American actress, who has also starred in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and Clockstoppers, sits down for a one-on-one phone interview. In between her trademark laughter and giggles, she gives us the juice on Man of the House.

Oh, and since I went to school at the University of Texas—and spent four years ogling the cheerleaders—I am not in any way biased.

I should warn you, I went to school at UT, so this all hits close to home.

Paula Garces: [Laughs.] Wow, you had fun!

It was a good time. What'd you think of Austin?

Paula Garces: Austin was amazing—so much great music and entertainment. I was shocked. I had no idea Texas could have such a cool city.

You think Texas, you think oil and cattle, right?

Paula Garces: Yeah, I'm South American, and growing up in New York, I had the total stereotypical way of thinking of what Texas was about. I'm like, Texas. Big. Cows. Cowboys. Cowboy hats and cowboy boots. And barbeque.

But I was so wrong. I was wrong about everything. And I was wrong about cheerleaders and football.

You hit the bars on 6th street?

Paula Garces: Not as often as you'd think. We had a lot of long hours. We had a month of cheerleading camp. And when they told me about cheerleading camp, I'm like, okay, cool, we'll learn about twirling batons and pom-poms and some cute routines. I had no respect for cheerleaders whatsoever. And I was wrong. I was so wrong.

What was the biggest surprise?

Paula Garces: How physically demanding it was. I really thought I was going to die. On the first day I was like, okay, I'm going to die, or I'm going to break a leg. [Laughs]

I had no idea what school spirit was about. I had no idea what Longhorn spirit was about. And how, you know, the football players and the cheerleaders are rock stars, man. They're the rock stars of Texas. And even just playing one, you become a rock star. It was cool!

I hear you worked with the real cheerleaders. What were they like?

Paula Garces: They're the real deal. They were awesome. We're the first movie that the University of Texas let use their logo, so we were really honored by that. Their traditions are really important to them. And I can see why. Their traditions go a long way back, from grandmothers to mothers to daughters. It's really important to them to be academically superior and physically superior. It's a focus and a drive that I haven't seen in girls in a really long time. I don't know how they do it.

So what's this about the cheerleading "Two and a half foot pyramid?"

Paula Garces: [Laughs.] It was scary. I've never cheered in my life. But once we got the focus and saw that it's safe, and that we're in good hands—and the bottom half of the pyramid was the real cheerleaders—it made it a lot easier.

Were you ever the one on top of the pyramid?

Paula Garces: Yeah. We all took turns.

You scared out of your mind?

Paula Garces: The first time it's really scary, but it's also a rush. And then you train your body so that it becomes second nature. So you know how to dismount and land property. And if something goes wrong, there are always spotters around, ready to catch you.

Any close calls?

Paula Garces: I had a couple of falls where people didn't catch me [laughs], but luckily I didn't break or hurt myself too bad. Just a couple of bruises.

What was your favorite cheer?

Paula Garces: Something called the Wall-bash. It was really energetic and fun, and it was fast, and kind of dancy and kind of sexy. Very Texas. Yee-haaww!!!!! [Laughs.]

One of the school songs is "Give ‘em hell, give ‘em hell, make ‘em eat shit!" You guys have to do that one?

Paula Garces: Oh my God, check you out! [Laughs.] I don't even remember! I was hoping you wouldn't ask me, because I don't remember. [Laughs again.] But yeah, we had to learn all of the school songs.

You guys filmed during the games, right? What was that like?

Paula Garces: Yeah, we filmed during the game. And after that, they just did lots of tricks with cameras and stuff. There were a couple of days there where we had thousands of extras. The city really embraced us and really wanted to help out. A lot of people showed up that didn't even get paid—they just wanted to be in the movie and see Tommy [Lee Jones] and see the girls.

Something tells me that people were showing up to see you and the girls, not Tommy.

Paula Garces: [Laughs.] Thank you!

Speaking of, what was it like working with Tommy?

Paula Garces: He was really fun. I guess in the beginning I thought, "Man, he's going to be uptight. And he's not going to talk. And he's going to be this cranky guy like the character." But just like the character, we cracked him, man. I mean, he's a legend in Hollywood. He's done it all. And he's old school Hollywood. What more can you ask? I mean, Al Gore's roommate in Harvard!

And he's completely fluent in Spanish. Who knew?!? He was awesome. He wanted to practice Spanish with me. And he knows a lot about South America. He's been to Argentina a bunch of times, he's been to Columbia a bunch of times. I found it really cool and respectful that he would take the time to speak with me in Spanish and wanted to know things from me about South America.

Along those lines, what do you think are the biggest challenges out there for Latino actors, and why do you think there aren't more roles?

Paula Garces: I've been really, really lucky. I haven't found it to be a challenge, but more an added flavor to me. Obviously there aren't enough Latino roles out there—I wish there were more of them—but there's got to be more in the future. I'm sure there will be more in the future. The public is asking for it.


Paula Garces: I think the reason why a lot of the Spanish films do so well, and are so well done, is because the public really respects it and wants it. We're all so integrated right now—it's a part of America that they need to see and know more about.

Now you're playing a cheerleader in this movie, and I understand that your next role is a sorority-girl in the upcoming "National Lampoon's Pledge This"...

Paula Garces: [Laughs hard.]

So Paula, you're really branching out there!

Paula Garces: [Laughs.] To my defense, in the movie "Pledge This," my character does NOT want to pledge. I don't want to pledge. But I love my friend so much, I decide to pledge, just to help my friend.

What else can you tell us about "Pledge This?"

Paula Garces: It's basically about this girl who gets a scholarship to the University of Miami for fashion. When she first gets there, a whole bunch of things happen to her dorm, which makes her friends and her homeless. And one of the girls has the bright idea, "Hey, why don't we just pledge through one of the sororities?" And one of the sororities is the one that Paris Hilton is the head of. And the minute that Paris sees me in class, and sees her boyfriend checking me out, she becomes passionate about making my life hell.

That's gotta be kinda cool, having Paris Hilton jealous of you . . .

Paula Garces: Yeah, and she decides, "Okay, they can pledge," but she puts us through the ringer. So it's sort of like "Old School" meets "Revenge of the Nerds" kind of thing. . .

What was it like working with Paris?

Paula Garces: She's just fabulous. That's another book that I judged by its cover. She's a really sweet girl. Really funny. It was really cool doing that movie with her.

So after being the cheerleader and then the sorority girl, what's next?

Paula Garces: Oh, I'm dying for a horror flick. I'm putting the message out there. I want a really intense horror movie. I like doing drama, but I want something really dark, something with horror. I want to watch it and be like, "OH MY GOD!!!" freaked out.

And your favorite horror films?

Paula Garces: The all-time scariest scariest film is the one where her head spins . . . "The Exorcist." That movies still freaks me out. "The Omen." "The Birds." Anything Hitchcock.

Speaking of scary stuff, is there any chance we'll see you in "Ghost Rider?"

Paula Garces: No, I wish. A very lovely lady, Eva Mendes, just got that role. She's on the role and she deserves it, so I wish her well.

Wait, there isn't room for two lovely ladies?

Paula Garces: [Laughs.] If they have something else, I'm here. They know I'm open for it!

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