Franklin reveals the secret to recreating all those Cheetos
DeVon Franklin is wearing a lot of new hats. His film Flamin’ Hot, which he produced, is now streaming on Hulu and Disney+. It’s the real-life story of Richard Montañez, a Frito Lay janitor who tapped into his Mexican heritage to create Flamin Hot' Cheetos. Franklin’s also making his acting debut in the sleeper hit film Jesus Revolution.
“I'm really hoping to capture inspiration, aspiration and the human spirit through entertainment,” He declares to EBONY. “That's been my goal, from day one.” Franklin shares more about the incredible story behind Flamin’ Hot and reveals how his upcoming sitcom about dating is not based on real-life circumstances.
EBONY: What drew you to the story of Flamin’ Hot story that you wanted to produce it?
DeVon Franklin: I was just so inspired by Richard's journey to success. He came into my office about seven years ago and just started telling me his story. His wife Judy was with him. I couldn't believe that he started as a janitor, worked his way up the corporate ladder, and was the driving force behind FLAMIN' HOT® Cheetos. I just was motivated and inspired by it and I felt if it inspires me, then it would inspire others.
There are a lot of Cheetos in the film—a whole factory full! How did that come together?
Every time you see a movie, it's really a mini miracle because there are so many elements that go into getting a film made: the challenge to get it greenlit and then there are millions of dollars on the line. In this film, recreating the Frito Lay factory was a huge challenge because we had to make a factory that actually was functional. We found a newspaper factory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and converted it with machines that made real products, Cheetos and Fritos And Lay's potato chips went through the machines. The cool thing is when people see the movie, they don't even notice it’s not real. That's Hollywood magic right there.
Those are real Cheetos that we're seeing?
Oh yes. We had thousands upon thousands on the set. I don't know how many pounds of Cheetos, but there were a lot.
And how much do you think you ate during the movie?
I will not disclose that information. We all made a pact that we would not talk about it for fear of self-incrimination. Let’s just say it was quite a few.
In the film, we meet Clarence, a Black engineer at the factory who takes Richard under his wing. Is he based on a real person?
Clarence is based on a real Black man who mentored Richard. It’s interesting that life imitates art in terms of me being a support system to Eva Longoria for her directorial debut. Whatever she needed, I made it my priority to get it for her because I believed in what she wanted to do. It’s really the power of the Black and brown connection, that's one of the things I'm really proud of with this film. This is what happens when our communities come together, there is strength in numbers. To be a Black male producer and to be able to tell a Latino story and on some level uplift the Latino community, I think that goes a long way to combat the institutional racism and discrimination that we still face in our business.
Speaking of debuts, you’re making one in the new film Jesus Revolution.
In the late 1960s, a lot of hippies were getting off acid and converting to Christianity. I got offered the part to play a reporter based on the man who covered this revolution for Time magazine in 1971. I was going to turn it down because my first reaction was I’m not an actor. But then I thought, if I'm being offered to do something that I don't know if I could do it, maybe there's something in me that I'm not even aware of. I read and loved the script, so I started working with an acting coach and got really ready for the role. Now the movie is the top-grossing inspirational film this year. That led to me a role in the upcoming season of a show I produced called Kingdom Business, and I'm also co-starring in a film that I just completed, which will be out later this year. The acting thing is something I enjoy. It's brand new, and I'm just having fun with it.
You’re putting together a new sitcom about a dysfunctional dater that you star in as well.
I play his conscience. Whenever he's doing something he shouldn't do, he finds himself transported to a talk show that I host that basically talks about his life. I'm trying to set him straight and get him to be the man that we all want him to be.
You’re getting back into the dating game; will you use the show to help yourself?
No. (Laughs) that's entertainment. In my personal situation, I'm good. I don't need to use the show to help me.
You’re known for your Christian projects, but with all these new projects, you’ve moved into new territories of film and media.
I always want to use entertainment in a positive way to give people hope. To be able to do that, in front of and behind the camera is really exciting because I believe that entertainment is one of the most powerful mediums in the world. And I just want to be a part of making positive change in the world, through uplifting hearts and minds.