It was an honor to be invited to LA for the Pixar Coco Event, and Disney/Pixar press junket for the movie Coco. There I joined a select group of bloggers in celebrating this year’s most meaningful family film. The junket was an incredible experience, as the focus was not just film making, but on family as well. The cast and film makers were relaxed and incredibly generous with sharing their experience working on the film, along with some of their own family stories, as you will see posted here over the next two weeks.
Our morning began with cast interviews, including actor Benjamin Bratt. Chances are you know who Benjamin Bratt is, and if you’re not sure, let me remind you – his resume is filled with an impressive variety of television and movies going all the way back to 1988, Traffic (2000), Law & Order (1995-2009), Private Practice (2011-13), 24: Live Another Day (2014), Ride Along 2 (2016), Star (2016 – present), just to name a few of my favorites. Benjamin Bratt also stars in the new Disney/Pixar movie Coco, as the voice of Ernesto de la Cruz (the most famous musician in the history of Mexico), in theaters on November 22.
Below is some of the highlights of our interview with Benjamin Bratt.
With a big smile, Benjamin Bratt entered our room: “What a warm and beautiful greeting this morning. How are you all? I feel so good today because I went to the most remarkable premiere last night.”
We agree, because we also attended the premiere.
Benjamin Bratt: Wasn’t that something? I’ve been around the block a little bit and that was probably the most spectacular, most heartwarming, most fun premiere I’ve ever been to. I mean where else can you be greeted by a mariachi band and dancers and the whole thing was a celebration from start to finish. I was rocked, by the end. Were you?
Q: Absolutely. It was amazing. What surprised you the most actually?
Benjamin Bratt: I hadn’t seen the film in its completed form yet. So, there was a lot about it that affected me but I think I was most struck by the beauty of the artistry. It’s such a beautiful film to look at. And then when you add that technical expertise to the emotional depth of the film and what it delivers at the end, there’s no other word for it, than powerful. It was a really powerful result.
Q: Was there a moment that made you cry? What was the first scene that made you get choked up?
(this answer is edited to not share spoilers)
Benjamin Bratt: A moment? There were a handful of moments. When I first saw the film, it was about two thirds animated so a lot of what happens at the end were basically sketches and stick figures but it still packed and emotional wallop.
On his character being inspired by Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete or Vicenter Fernandez..
The truth is, I had never seen a film with Pedro Infante or Jorge Negrete. I was loosely aware of the Vicente Fernandez’s music. But after Lee and Adrian shared with me that those are the people in real life that they were drawing on for this character I went out to YouTube, of course, and studied a lot of it. And what I realized was that, there’s real star power. They were like the Mexican versions of Frank Sinatra. Someone who is as adored for his musical ability as he was for his movie star magnetism. And that doesn’t happen to everyone. Not everyone possesses that set of talent or that particular personal chemistry. So, you know, you have to create it. I just thought okay, I’ll just try to be larger-than-life. And it’s an even more difficult trick to do it just vocally, you know. Thank God, they drew the guy. That’s a good-looking skeleton. His hair was perfect.
Q: When you are gone, what characteristic would you like people to remember about you?
Benjamin Bratt: That’s such a profound question and the first time anyone’s asked it. If I am to be remembered at all I would hope it would be for, for my kindness or my generosity, for the love that lives in my heart for people that I hold near and dear. And for someone who tried to live his life with integrity. Nothing too deep. Oh, and he’s pretty fun, too. He was a fun guy.
Q: Talking about death with children can be very difficult. Do you feel this movie will empower parents to approach the subject from a different viewpoint with their children?
Benjamin Bratt: I hope so and actually think so. I think people give short shrift to the impact and power of film stories. They really can do a lot to teach young people, whether you want them to or not. This story views death as a kind of celebration, as a continuation really of what we are and who we are. And it’s not something to be feared but something to realize that it’s part of the natural cycle of life and that you can in fact stay connected to the people that you love.
I think there’s a hopefulness in that and a kind of comfort, too, I would say. And I already know that and I already feel that and I already believe that as do most of my family members. But seeing the film reminded me last night as my mother now enters into a certain set of years in her life, she would hate for me to name it, that as we edged closer to our moment of mortality that there will be a kind of comfort in knowing that we can stay connected through prayer, through memory, through acknowledgment, through, even through ofrendas.
My hope is that children will see it as a reminder of what already exists, which is just the next step in this cycle of life.. Y’all are getting deep today.
Q: What does the phrase “seize the moment” mean to you, and how does it reflect on your life?
Benjamin Bratt: Seize the moment I interpret as a call to action. I’m a little more pensive before I make a decision and I think I’ve gotten more cautious as I’ve gotten older. But what I can relate to is, and it’s always held particular importance for me, but it is the most important thing in my life right now and that’s my family, my immediate family, my relationship with my wife and my two children, my daughter Sophia and my son Matteo. They take precedence over all else, even at work, and that’s how I self-identify. If someone says what are you, I don’t even start with man. I say I’m a husband, I’m a father first. And with that kind of clarity, you can really take on any challenge that’s presented to you. But as far as seize the moment goes, you know, if you ask me to jump off a 50-foot cliff I might have done that when I was 25. But now I’ll take a pause and, do I do this with my shoes on my shoes off? Do I wear a life jacket? Do you want to do it with me? We’ll hold hands or should I go solo?
Q: What about Miguel?
Benjamin Bratt: For someone like Miguel, it’s the perfect motivator because he’s young and has all this potential and he has a dream that is burning inside him. So, it makes sense for him.
On what he is must excited about with Coco
What I’m most excited about with Coco is it’s finally an opportunity on a global scale to illuminate the beauty of the Latino culture. Way back when, when I was first given a tour of the Pixar Studios up in Emeryville, Lee and Darla and Adrian led me into this room that, from floor to ceiling on every wall was covered in Mexican iconography, Day of the Dead colors and images and some of the characters that were drawn, illustrated that they were going to portray in the film. And it affected me in a way that actually kind of surprised me because it was in that moment that I recognized these beautiful brown faces albeit they’re animated figures. They looked like people I know, the people I come from. And it underscored the fact that that portrayal hasn’t been done yet on this kind of scale. And so, in a way, it reintroduces who we are as a people in our uniqueness but also in our sameness to everyone else in the world whether you’re from China or Africa or Europe or anywhere else in the world. That at the end of the day, for all the uniqueness that we have, and there’s a lot that’s vibrant and authentic and beautiful about Latino culture, we all at the end of the day are more alike than we are different and this need or sense of wanting to belong to something, to recognize where you come from, to stay connected to the people that paved a path for you before you got here.
Q: Some of us saw you at D23, and were like, I didn’t know Benjamin Bratt could sing!?
Benjamin Bratt: Yo, I didn’t know that I could sing!
So, here’s the deal. I acknowledge that I’m a fairly decent actor but I’ve always wanted to be a singer. I just admire singers so much and musicians in general because with singing, your voices your instrument. And it translates across all languages, all cultures because a beautiful voice is a beautiful voice. I don’t possess one when it comes to singing. And I’ve always said I’d give my left big toe to be able to be a balladeer like Marc Anthony. He’s just a phenomenal, powerful singer and a friend but someone whose talent I admire immensely. So, when I was offered the role, I thought it was a bit ironic that I was meant to play the most famous singer and musician in Mexican history.
I had a little chuckle for myself. And then, of course, I became immediately terrified because Lee and Darla and Adrian wanted me to attempt it. So, what better circumstances could I do that. They provided me with Liz Kaplan who’s the instructor, mentor to the stars in New York. I had several sessions with her. And they just gave me the opportunity to fail. And the first few sessions, I’ll tell you, they were horrible. They were really horrible. But, you know, they gave me a shot. I was happy to do it. And that it’s in the movie, I recorded every song, you know, that’s in the movie, I’m really proud of it. I chose to seize the moment.
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you would like to pass on to your children?
Benjamin Bratt: To have compassion, to be empathetic, to recognize that wherever you come from, whatever your gender is, whatever your sexual orientation, whatever your religion is, lead with kindness, lead with empathy and lead with love.
Benjamin on the chancleta!
Any Latino who grew up with an Abuela, who has a mother of a certain age, you know what the chapeleta means. These are the things that are, for any audience member, easy to identify with but probably hold a special significance and a bit of a wink for Latinos in particular.
“Mariachi Plaza” Clip (featuring the chancleta):
About the movie:
Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.
Like COCO on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PixarCoco
Follow COCO on Twitter: https://twitter.com/pixarcoco
Follow COCO on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pixarcoco/
Visit the official COCO website here: http://movies.disney.com/coco
COCO opens in theatres everywhere on November 22nd!
Watch for more on Disney/Pixar’s COCO to be shared here soon, including interviews with the other cast and film makers, and a look at fun, new Coco products.
Disclosure: Travel, lodging, events, and meals during this trip were provided courtesy of Disney/Pixar, Disney Studios, & ABC. All opinions expressed are still honest and my own.