How Does Benjamin Bratt Want to Be Remembered After He Crosses The Marigold Bridge?
Benjamin Bratt voices the charismatic, Mexican singing sensation Ernesto de la Cruz in Pixar’s Coco. See it in theaters starting November 22. Benjanmin’s charisma mirrors the sensation that Ernesto de la Cruz was in life and death on the screen. He was enthusiastic in his interview with 25 bloggers and told wonderful stories and gave us great insight into his role in the movie.
I wanted to know more beyond what it was like to be in the recording booth. I wanted to go deeper. Read on to see what I asked him.
What surprised you most about Coco?
I was most struck by the beauty of the artistry. It’s such a beautiful film to look at. And then when you add like that technical expertise to the emotional depth of the film and what it delivers at the end, there’s no other word for it, and powerful. It was a really powerful result.
Was there a moment that made you cry? What was the first scene that made you get choked up?
A moment? There were a handful of moments. One of my favorite scenes in the film, and this scene was completed when I saw it. 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. But what was complete, and it just reinforced what my initial feeling was, was that seen with that Eddie Olmos plays, Chicharrón.
It’s expository but it also, it just punches you right in the heart because you realize, oh, wait a second, if we don’t stay connected to where we come from, we don’t remember our antepasados, the people who came before us, that’s it, we’re finally moving on to where, who knows. But it’s probably not a good place because you not supported by people in the land of the living. And then the song that Gael delivers, raw, simple, emotional, truly moving.
Dark elements of the film
There’s always this dark element, which probably comes from fables that were designed and written to warn children of the dangers that lurk in darker places. So, we’re still working in those themes but 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.
Your character has the powerful male lead. Did you draw inspiration from any Latin novela leads?
You know, 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.
You know, 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. And so, 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 draw the guy. That’s a good-looking skeleton. His hair was perfect!
It was my turn to ask a question and I wanted to know what characteristics he, Benjamin Bratt wanted to be remembered for. There is a theme that run through the movie that we remember our ancestors and the characteristics they held and the characteristics that are now reflective in us. I asked the question and I am use to the people we interview to have all the answers right away. This was not the case. I went and listened to the audio and there is a seven second pause as he collected his thoughts. Those were a LONG seven seconds. But his answer was worth the wait.
Remembrance of characteristics of our ancestors who have crossed over is a theme that runs through the film. When you have crossed over, what do you want people to remember as characteristic about you?
That’s such a profound question and the first time anyone’s asked it. (insert the long pause here…..) 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.
Talking about death with children can be very difficult, actually, talking about death in general. Do you feel this movie will actually empower parents to approach the subject from a different viewpoint with their children?
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. And in that, 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.
So, my hope is that, 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.
What are your first memories of celebrating The Day of the Dead?
My family doesn’t necessarily celebrate Day of the Dead. It’s not unique to Mexican culture but Dia de los Muertos is principally a Mexican-American, sorry, a Mexican celebration that has its roots in indigenous culture. My mother’s from Peru. So, that’s not a traditional celebration in Peru or necessarily in other Latin American countries.
However, it is now very much a part of Mexican-American culture and you see the iconography all over the place. So, what you’ll find with various forms of worship or celebration or religion is that people kind of cross colonize. And so, I have family members who acknowledge the power in the beauty, really, of creating an altar and providing that altar with offerings to those who have passed on.
I think it’s a beautiful gesture. And whether it manifests itself and anything real or not, that’s up to the person that’s doing it. But if it makes you feel good and if you believe it makes the person that you’re providing those offerings to feel good, that’s a beautiful thing.
What other traditions have you had at home and did any of them in some way showing the movie even though it wasn’t necessarily from your culture?
Well, the funny thing is, I think the general population takes the mistake of seeing Latino culture as monolithic and we’re not. That said, there is connective tissue there that really makes us understand one another, whether Mexicano, or Peruano or Colombiano, and part of that is the language of course. Part of that is the religion.
Very much a part of that is the history of colonization that took place where you mix the indigenous blood with Spanish blood creating a Mestizos race. But a lot of it is easier to identify and relate to. And that’s this notion of family and the importance of staying connected and family first and the little dichos (means “sayings”) that are shared in the kitchen and the importance of food.
How there’s a celebration of food for everything, really, the presence and the threat of the chancleta. Any Latino who grew up with an Abuela, who has a mother of a certain age, you know what the chapeleta means.
So, 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.
‘Seize The Moment’ is your phrase in the film. What does that phrase mean for you in real life or do you actually reflect your life through the seize the moment?
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 know, 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? We want to do it with me? We’ll hold hands or should I go solo?
We didn’t know you could sing! Where did you learn to sing?
Yo, I didn’t know that I could sing.
So, here’s the deal. You know, 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 language, 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 Mark Anthony, say. 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, you know, 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. And so, and what better circumstances could I do that. They provided me with Liz Kaplan who’s the instructor, mentor to the stars in a New York. I had several, you know, 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 it’s in the movie, I’m really proud of it.
What’s the biggest lesson you would like to pass on to your children?
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.
And then we were on his Instagram account! How awesome was that!
Here it is:
Coco is in theaters November 22!
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