The Disney•Pixar animated feature Coco is an absolutely perfect love letter to family that will make you laugh and cry, want to know more about your heritage, and celebrate where you came from. Despite a generations-old ban on music, 12-year-old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), and in an act of desperation to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead, a stunning world filled with color and beauty. Once there, he meets the charming Héctor (voiced by Gael García Bernal), who helps Miguel learn the real story behind his family history before he returns home.
At the film’s press junket, Collider got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with Gael García Bernal about what it means to him to be a part of a project like Coco, his hope that it will score him some cool points with his kids, how important his own family heritage has always been to him, how collaborative the voice recording process is, and what he hopes kids take away from this film. He also talked about wanting to work with filmmaker Jonás Cuarón again, and what he enjoys about directing.
Collider: After I saw this film, I called it “an absolutely perfect love letter to family” because it’s such a beautiful story about cultures and traditions, with gorgeous songs and characters that will make audiences laugh and cry. What does it mean to you to be a part of a film like this, telling this story?
GAEL GARCIA BERNAL: It means a lot, actually. When films come out, and they are really good, they can surpass every expectation that you have. This film leads you to wonder, even more, even though it sounds a little bit cheesy, about the magic of cinema. I’m in awe of the way the directors managed to put together a film about this tradition, in such a way that it’s very loyal to the tradition itself, but also it engages on a very personal level and it has a very personal point of view. It has all of the good things that you expect from a film.
Of all the characters that you could voice for a movie, could you ever have imagined that you’d voice a singing skeleton?
BERNAL: No! But on the other hand, now that I’ve seen the movie, I’m like, “This has to be!”
Does voicing such a cool character like this give you any cool points with your own kids? Are they excited about this?
BERNAL: I hope so! It’s one of those stories that’s there to be told. When doing the movie, one of the references I had for the character was Baloo from The Jungle Book. I wanted to portray that because Héctor is a similar character, with the singing and everything. Hopefully, my kids will hold Héctor on the same level as Baloo.
Did this experience change the way that you view your own family and heritage, or has that always been important to you?
BERNAL: Oh, it has always been important, absolutely! It’s the hive where we can always go back. I have a huge, huge family, full of characters. It’s where I get most of my ideas and stuff from. The way that I engage with it now, I don’t know how it’s changed, but it must have somewhat.
What did you think when you got to see the look of your character?
BERNAL: I love the ragged aspect he has. Most characters are people that you want to be. You want to live that life. It gave me a chance to think about what it would be like to be a musician.