Several years ago, Charlie Clark, the owner of successful car dealerships from McAllen, Texas, created an alter-ego that made light of himself as a “gringo” superhero and helped promote his businesses.
“I didn’t want to do typical advertising, ‘Come on in for the best deal,’ ” he said, mimicking a stiff, uncomfortable salesman. Clark has been in El Paso for about five years with two dealerships, Charlie Clark Infiniti El Paso and Charlie Clark Nissan.
That alter ego, Green Ghost (a play off the Latin American slang term for a foreigner, especially an American), was a humorous way to reveal that Clark is at times more in tune with Latin culture than people might expect.
Thanks to his loving nana, a Mexican nanny named Mari Cruz Aurora Aguirre, and her family, Clark grew up feeling like an adopted son of the Latin community. He learned to speak Spanish fluently, laughed along to Mexican TV characters like El Chapulín Colorado and El Santo, and got together with extended family for carne asada.
“Me dio un don de amor. (She gave me a gift of love.) It opened up my capacity to be a loving person,” Clark said of his nana, who along with her mother got him used to big, Mexican hugs.
With a creative spirit, Clark was able to produce short, comedic shows featuring his nana as herself in Mexico.
“I was able to produce a show very inexpensively for 30 minutes on Mexican television that aired from Matamoros back across the border. I did it all in Spanish. It was ‘Green Ghost and MexSican’ and I had my actual nana play the magical Mary Poppins type of character who was giving us our powers, but (my character) could never get it right,” he said.
Now, Clark — with the help of some next-generation Hollywood talent — is taking his self-deprecating, anti-hero to the big screen all over Texas. His movie, “Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone,” premieres Friday, April 29.
Though Clark serves as writer, executive producer and the star of the family film, he managed to meet and recruit Michael D. Olmos, an award winning filmmaker and son of Edward James Olmos, to direct, and David R. Rodriguez, brother of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, to produce.
Also in the movie is well-known Mexican actor Kuno Becker and famed actor Danny Trejo.
Clark said the idea of making Green Ghost into a movie came from news media taking notice of his ability to market his business in Spanish to the Latino population. In 2005, the Wall Street Journal did a story on Clark, “Gringo and Nanny Court Hispanic Market with Car Pitch.”
“That got the attention of Hollywood,” he said. “We got several calls that day about doing a syndicated show or doing a show that would be syndicated either in Mexico or the U.S. with nana and myself.”
Buoyed by the interest, Clark started his movie project with a $500,000 budget in mind. Producers put him in touch with renowned acting coach Aaron Speiser, who has helped Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez and other stars.
From Speiser, Clark learned he is a natural at playing a car dealer.
“That’s what inspired me to move it to the level of a movie, and get it out of my system,” he said.
Eventually, as bigger names joined in, Clark’s budget expanded to about $3.7 million, with a couple of investors.
Clark, who was a college athlete with a swimming scholarship, knows judo. He went to England for a month to train with a martial arts expert who trains actors.
Although he hit his head while falling on a vehicle, Clark is proud of his work and says it was a lot harder than he thought it would be.
“I wasn’t trying to look so good,” he said. “Really, I wanted to look good enough to where I’m still making fun of myself, but I wouldn’t look nearly as good as a real karate guy. I don’t take myself that seriously.”
He managed to get rights to several songs, including “Gasolina,” by Daddy Yankee, and “Eye of the Tiger,” which is performed in Spanish by Robert Rodriguez’s band Chingon.
“It was a lot harder than producing a 30-minute show,” Clark said. “When you’re doing a feature film and especially when you’re writing the script and you don’t have experience in that — wow, there’s a lot of mistakes you can make.”
In the movie, he discovers he has powers tied to an emerald stone and must try to stop the bad guy from destroying humanity.
In the process, Clark makes references to Mexican culture and entertainment and brings the role of his beloved, powerful nana to the screen via actress Renee Victor.
“It’s about family, but not necessarily family that is your own,” he said. “It’s the family that you create, and that’s exactly the message of the movie.”
For Clark, his movie ultimately is a love letter to his nana, her extended family and the culture he’s embraced as his own.
“It’s dedicated, No. 1, to my Mexican nana and in a broader sense to my Mexican family who has taken care of me and my businesses all up and down the border. They’ve always made me feel at home, even if they didn’t know me.
“That’s my world,” he said.
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María Cortés González may be reached at 915-546-6150; [email protected]; @EPTMaria on Twitter.
Make movie plans
What: The movie “Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone” is rated PG-13.
When: It premieres Friday, April 29.
Where: AMC El Paso 16 and Alamo Drafthouse theaters