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 Edward James Olmos (who voices Chicharrón, a friend of Héctor that is fading as his family’s memories of him fade) about what it means to him to be a part of a project like Coco, how he got involved with the film, how his character evolved, why he never felt that he needed to develop a full backstory fo Chicharrón, outside of what was in the script, the importance of knowing where you come from, and why he wishes the President would see the film. He also talked about signing on for the Mayans MC TV series from Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy) and FX and the unusual decision to reshoot the pilot, as well as what it means to him to have been a part of the groundbreaking TV series Battlestar Galactica.
Collider: How did you get involved with Coco?
EDWARD JAMES OLMOS: They came to me and invited me to Pixar, where they literally wined and dined me at their studio, and then they told me about the story. They didn’t tell me everything about it and what the twists were, which I’m very grateful for. That way, I was caught just like everybody else. I remember sitting there in heaving sobs, thinking about my own grandmother, my own relatives and those that have gone already. Emotionally, it was just like, “Wow!” The whole idea was achieved and attained. My character, which I was very proud of playing, is in one scene, but people who see the movie understand the depths of what we’re talking about, in that moment. If no one thinks about you anymore or remembers you, you disappear and vanish. I hadn’t thought about my grandparents in awhile, but I started to think about the stories that I could tell about my life with them and what I remember. My father is gone and my mother is 91, and we already tell stories about her. It’s fun!
This film is an absolutely perfect love letter to family, and it’s such a beautiful story about cultures and traditions that we haven’t gotten to see, in this way, with gorgeous songs and characters that makes audiences laugh and cry. What does it mean to you to be a part of this film?
OLMOS: I think it’s the single most effective movie that I’ve seen in recent memory, that will allow the unification of people not only to their families, but to humanity. Everybody has their own way of remembering and every culture has their traditions. When you compare the similarities and differences to other cultures, you start to learn about them and appreciate them. Whether it’s the Japanese or the Africans, they all have ways of conjuring spirits and the support of those who have gone before them. This is so unique and so colorful, and it’s very true to exactly what happens. We do it every year, and it usurps Halloween. Halloween is a different kind of feeling, and it usurps it because it’s so much more fun. We all get together and talk and have a party, remembering and telling stories, and we all laugh because the stories are hysterical.
When did you get to see the look of your character? Was it prior to starting your voice work on the film?
OLMOS: They had talked to me about it, and then the stuff that I saw when I got there was light sketches of character, but they hadn’t really finished it yet. I did the film two years ago. They’ve been worked on it for about six years. It took them a long time. When I did the voice, I went in to do it by myself with the director, and it came to life and went from there. They photographed me while I was doing it to get some mannerisms and intent from me, and drew from there. The character was already well designed and was totally written already, so I had the responsibility of creating a reality for the words they had written down. I loved it. I found it to be a wonderful process.
Did you ever think about who Chicharrón was in life, and how do you think that affected who he was when we meet him in the state that he’s in?
OLMOS: I didn’t go back and build an entire bible on the character. It was so well defined, what the situation was, that I didn’t have to invent anything. I just used myself and realized what the moments were and what was happening when he asked Héctor to sing the song. When you hear that love song to one of his great loves, who knows what love that was. Was it the first attempt? Was it his wife? Everything about this movie is endearing. You leave feeling really good about yourself and you really think about your ancestors.
You were announced as doing the Mayans MC TV series with Kurt Sutter and FX, and then they decided to reshoot the pilot. Are you still doing that?
OLMOS: Yeah. Talk about the dark side of the culture! It doesn’t get darker than Sutter and motorcycle gangs. Sons of Anarchy was just incredibly dark.
Is it challenging to sign on to something that you presumably believe in and see the potential of, shoot a pilot, and then have to go back and reshoot it?
OLMOS: Yeah, I’ve never done that, and I’ve been doing this a long, long time. I’ve had shows that didn’t go forward, but to actually shoot the entire pilot over again, I’ve never done that. I’m sure it’s been done, but I hadn’t done it. It’s amazing that they decided to do that.