PHARR - The Cinemark Pharr Town Center held the Valley’s red carpet premiere of “How to Be a Latin Lover” this past Friday. The movie is the latest release from Pantelion Films, the Hispanic-focused collaboration of Lionsgate Entertainment and Grupo Televisa. Along with Salma Hayek and Mexican comedic actor Eugenio Derbez, the film features local students Noel Carabaza of Sharyland, 12, and Manelly Zepeda of San Juan, 10, in their first acting roles.

“What I felt was actually pure excitement. Seeing all the cameras and all the actors and stuff, it was probably the best part of everything,” Noel said of the experience.

Manelly shared her co-star’s enthusiasm, especially about meeting Eugenio Derbez, one of her favorite actors.

“One thing he told us that made him even funnier was that he had to eat a lot so that his tummy would look better, bigger!” Manelly said with a laugh.

Manelly and Noel, who play the younger versions of Hayek and Derbez’s characters in the film, were chosen from among a large group of children who answered the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo area casting call.

“There were a lot of people, a lot of kids. We were there for like 8 hours,” said Briseida Garza, Noel’s mother. “They actually went out and told us that they were not having any more casting for that day.”

Fortunately for Noel, his mother convinced the casting crew to squeeze him in as the family could not make the subsequent casting call.

“Other people were just going in and out, in and out, for about five minutes,” Garza said. “When they called him, he was in there for probably like 20 minutes. The people that were there, we’re like ‘Oh, I think they got him.’”

For Manelly, who sings, models and does folklórico dancing, the casting call was supposed to be a practice exercise for future bookings.

“We just took her so she can experience what a casting was about. It never came to our mind that they were going to choose her,” said Mayra Zepeda, Manelly’s mother.

Since their Hollywood debut, Noel and Manelly both plan to continue pursuing their dream of acting. Manelly recently filmed four more movies and will appear in HBO’s “Games of Thrones” this summer. Noel, on the other hand, is savoring the moment for now, but remains open to future opportunities.

Wherever their acting takes them, Noel and Manelly have casting director and PSJA North alumnus J.C. Cantu to thank for jumpstarting their careers. Through their casting, Cantu is fulfilling a promise he made over 20 years ago to his former drama teacher Gilbert Zepeda.

“He said I’m going to come back here one day, and I’m going to cast people from the Valley and put them on the screen. That was in 1995…,” Zepeda said at the premiere screening. “We are very proud to see our young people showing the whole world that Latinos can be in motion pictures. Latinos can tell their stories. Latinos can be professional actors. And, yes, they can come from the Rio Grande Valley.”

“How to Be a Latin Lover” is in theaters now.