Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan Is Finally Taking the Lead

After five decades, the Cuban icon is soaking up the spotlight.

When I get on my call with Gloria Estefan, I'm immediately blown away and touched by her authentic concern for me. From the second I pick up the phone, she's checking in and asking how I'm doing, all with a gentle, caring tone — something that clearly comes from being a mother and grandmother. While getting COVID for the first time kept me away from her photoshoot, she was quick to share a bit of what it was like for her when she had it and to offer me the encouragement that I would heal soon. It's exactly this undeniably down-to-earth nature and genuine care that has made her a beloved fixture in the entertainment industry, one that paved the way for the Latinx community in music and on TV.

That's why it's unbelievable that her role in HBO's Father of the Bride remake, where she stars alongside her friend Andy Garcia, is actually her first leading role after appearances in Music of the Heart, Netflix's One Day at a Time reboot, and even an episode of Frasier.

"​​And I am glad that it was this one," she says. "I loved the script. The fact that Andy reached out in a text instead of sending a script, I knew he doesn't do that lightly. And it was going to be incredible."

This isn't just any remake of a Hollywood classic. For the first time, it features the story told from an entirely Latinx perspective and features a big Cuban family in the pastel-tinged world of present-day Miami. "Miami's an incredible character. It was incredibly special. She looks beautiful and a lot more people are going to want to move to Miami," Estefan says of filming in her hometown. "I think it was important to the story we were telling. And it was a joy."

The movie tosses viewers into a mashup of Mexican and Cuban wedding traditions (guest lists with more than 500 attendees; parents pushing for more, more, more; and lavish, old-school venues) with modern-day details that just about anyone planning a wedding right now can appreciate: over-the-top Pinterest inspiration boards, imported Wagyu, and the promise of flamingoes and fireworks. Just like each film in the Father of the Bride pantheon reflected a specific moment, Estefan sees this one as an encapsulation of right now.

"They're each of their time," she says. "Because the Spencer Tracy version [from 1950] had some things that now we'd cringe at."

Gloria's co-stars include Garcia; Diego Boneta, from Scream Queens and Netflix's Luis Miguel: The Series; Morbius and Andor's Adria Arjona; Isabela Merced from Transformers, and Saturday Night Live's Chloe Fineman as an acerbic, scene-stealing, clout-obsessed wedding planner. It's the role played by Martin Short in the '90s version of Father of the Bride, only he did it without a smartphone in his hand at all times.

Gloria Estefan
Josefina Santos

The parallels in Estefan's own life and the film are unmistakable. She's a Cuban immigrant, born in Havana in 1957, before Fidel Castro's regime (she refers to it as Cuba "B.C." or "before Castro"). When her family arrived in America, they settled in Miami. While sharing a bit of her story, Gloria cannot help but point out the similar experiences shared between her family and Garcia's in the movie. His character details his family's arrival to the States frequently — and every time, it's met with the eye rolls from his daughters and wife, who have clearly heard the story many, many times before.

It's an exchange that is unmistakably unique to the experience of a child of immigrant parents and shows exactly why telling these sorts of diverse stories is important. For 30-something women who came of age in the 1990s (and developed an affinity for the iconic Nancy Meyers aesthetic), it feels particularly exciting to have a new lens through which to view this classic story.

But, as Gloria shares, she views this new approach to the plot as less of a remake and more of a reimagining (something she's quite familiar with when fans remember her albums of covers and standards, 1994's Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me and 2013's The Standards).

​​"There's always going to be a father and there's always going to be a bride in every culture. And it's a human story," she says. "So, it can be done so many times in different and funny ways. And I think each one of them stands alone."

This time around, with Gloria as a lead, the film also gives more space and layers for the mother of the bride — who does more than just plan the wedding and keep her husband from the brink, which was expertly done by Diane Keaton in the 1991 remake. In the latest version, with her marriage on the edge of divorce, Gloria's Ingrid has more agency over her needs as a woman. When we meet them in the film's opening scene, the couple is in therapy together, a remarkably honest place to start, especially when it's a typically taboo topic amid the Latinx community.

"Ingrid is standing up for herself, She's trying to wake him up and Latin men traditionally don't believe in therapy. Obviously, there's love there and she's not happy about separating, but he's been there in therapy for a year, but therapy has not been through him," Estefan says. "It was important to me, even physically through Ingrid's character, to show her going from being a bit uptight about what was happening in her life, and frustrated, and becoming more free as she realizes there are other options for her."

Gloria Estefan
Josefina Santos

Recalling her upbringing, Estefan credits her grandmother with encouraging her to pursue her passion for music. Initially, Gloria was studying to become a psychologist (and would only take gigs on weekends to keep up with her studies), but her grandmother had other thoughts for her.

"​​Music was my love and my inspiration, but I'm an immigrant. You've got to have a job and that's always a risk. But my grandma told me, 'Unless you do what you are meant to do in this life and share that, you're not going to be happy completely. When it falls in your lap, as I know it's going to do, I hope you pay attention,'" she says. "And that's exactly what happened."

By the late '70s, Gloria was singing lead for Miami Sound Machine, the band founded by Emilio Estefan, who she would go on to marry in 1978 (and prompt her to change her name from Gloria María Milagrosa Fajardo García). The band would produce hit songs such as "Conga," "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," and "Get On Your Feet" — which would become the name of the 2015 jukebox musical telling the story of Gloria and Emilio's life.

In 1990, at the peak of her fame, Gloria would encounter a life-changing accident that would alter the course of her life. While touring in Pennsylvania, her bus was struck by a truck, a devastating collision that would leave her with a fractured spine and temporarily paralyzed.

"It was always my big fear, because my dad was in a wheelchair, so I had a lot of really clear knowledge of the spine and how that whole thing works. And when I was on the floor of the bus, I thought, 'I couldn't get up.' That was really difficult, that 'here it is, my biggest fear,'" she says. "But I would always get this other feeling that everything was going to be OK. I clung to that."

What would follow would be a year of recovery and rehabilitation for Gloria, who says she got through by taking each day at a time, allowing herself to feel her grief over this huge change, and leaning into the power of prayer. She says she could feel it from her fans around the world and their outpouring of support. The accident would also inspire her to create her eponymous foundation for spinal research, which she still runs today.

"Still, even 32 years later, it is something that has resonated with people," she says of the incident. "I try to talk as much as I can when those things come up."

Gloria would continue to partner with her husband to produce music after her recovery. By 1993, now touring under Gloria's name, they would release Mi Tierra, an ode to Cuba.

"It was the first Grammy we ever won and I was so thrilled, because it was in my native tongue and it was a love letter to Cuba and really trying to salvage and reintroduce these sounds that were instrumental in my upbringing," she says. Estefan won three Grammys for Mi Tierra and has been nominated for 15.

Gloria says she and Emilio put five years of care into every detail of making that album, from the music to the stunning album cover, which features Gloria in a 1950s, Havana-inspired hairstyle and white dress inspired by a photo of her mother. ("In Cuba, every year, young ladies would go and take these really incredible pictures," Gloria explains.) The album would become a staple in Latinx homes and remains one of her biggest albums, one she is delighted to say she is able to share and enjoy with her grandchildren, who are listening now, nearly 30 years later.

"That, to me, is probably one of the most special musical contributions that we've done," she says of the album and its legacy. "And I thought of our children and my grandchild now listening to this music."

She filmed the music video for "Turn the Beat Around" while pregnant with her second daughter, Emily. "When we shot that video on top of, at that time, the tallest building in Miami, I had to use a body double because I was so pregnant" she says. And somewhere along the way, she cemented her diva status alongside Celine Dion and Mariah Carey on VH1's Divas Live, wrote a New York Times bestselling children's book, performed at the 1996 Olympics, and branched out into some surprising business ventures, such as owning a stake in the NFL's Miami Dolphins and opening a chain of restaurants (though for many immigrants, that sort of hustle is just a part of life, something else Garcia's character mentions more than once in Father of the Bride).

Since 2021, she's partnered with her daughter and niece on Red Table Talk: The Estefans, where they've tackled topics such as colorism and Emily's experience coming out. In another example of art imitating life, Gloria would play the mother of the late Naya Rivera on Glee in 2012, where an episode would also handle the struggles of her character, Santana Lopez, coming out.

"I know that Emily had a tough time with it, regardless of how open we were and accepting that she saw us growing up. It's still very difficult, I think, for a lot of young people to, first of all, find out about themselves, discover who they are," Estefan says. "And honestly, I got to tell you, I think discovering who you are is a lifelong experience. You hope to be learning until the last day you're alive and growing and evolving."

Gloria Estefan
Josefina Santos

And it's exactly that growing and evolving that allowed Gloria to remain so iconic after all these years. After years of accomplishing seemingly unattainable feats — whether walking again when they told her she couldn't or making it possible for generations of Latinx kids to see themselves in both Spanish and English entertainment — she finally has her long-deserved role as a leading lady.

Gloria assures fans that there's more on the way, though she won't reveal too much too soon. (Perhaps a memoir: "I want to write that. So, that's going to take a minute.") With so much experience in the business, she knows how to keep everyone wanting more. But she is getting what she wants, too.

"I'm trying to do a lot more reaching out to younger people in many different ways," she says. "Both speaking and being present for them, and that really fulfills me. It's focusing more on that part: the entertainment part and the music and the acting. I enjoy it so much."

Photographs: Josefina Santos, assisted by Dana Golan. Hair Styling: Georgina del Pino. Makeup: Elena Miglino Sabean. Creative Director: Jenna Brillhart. Senior Visuals Editor: Kelly Chiello. Associate Photo Editor: Amanda Lauro. Social Direction: Danielle Fox. Booking: Talent Connect Group.

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