Miguel is a boy with a dream to become the greatest musician in Mexico. He’s inspired by the films and musical stylings of his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. However, due to his family’s generations-long ban on music, he’s unable to chase his dream with as much gusto as he’d hope.
However, when Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead, he takes the opportunity to track down his long since dead idol, in hopes that he’ll send him on the right path.
LRM had a chance to sit down with Benjamin Bratt, the actor who brought the larger than life Ernesto de la Cruz to life. In the interview, we discuss the cultural signposts and overall relatability to a film like Coco.
Tell us a bit about what the film is about from your perspective.
Bratt: The central importance of family and how wherever you go, however you choose to make your mark on the world, you’ll always have something to return to, you’ll always have something that gives you and identity, and there’s comfort in that. [I think the film] professes a lot of the things, a lot of the beliefs that she grew up with and that I think a lot of us Latinos share, obviously the film is quite specifically about town in Mexico and yet, there’s a lot of cultural DNA in there, that is relatable not just for Latinos in general, but I think for all humans.
The genuine side we seem to kind of neglect at times, I thought. The movie brings that back, when it comes to family and tradition and stuff like that. So that’s what I loved about the movie, the perfect time for the release, I mean Thanksgiving.
Bratt: I know.
It’s awesome, it’s perfect.
Bratt: Yeah, I can’t wait. My wife hasn’t seen it nor my children.
You have this smile, just thinking about it, when they see it.
Bratt: I do, because there’re little things that are humorous to everyone but there’re also little cultural signposts that have specific resonance or meaning. I just love…this image keeps coming to my mind of Abuelita, with the chancla.
I know! Signature of the Abuelita.
Bratt: What Latino doesn’t know the resonance and the importance of the chancla?
Bratt: It’s just so fun, it was such a fun experience to see it with a full house like that last night. I hadn’t seen the completed film until last night.
Bratt: So, I was quite moved by the end.
It was great. Tell me about your character, tell me about Ernesto de la Cruz.
Bratt: Ernesto de la Cruz is, as we come to learn, the most famous musician, singer in all of the Mexican history, and he is arguably more popular in the Land of the Dead than he ever was in the land of the living, and he was an international star when he was alive.
Part of what made him successful was that he has a larger than life persona. He is a true star, in a sense that not only is he talented, but he loves the adulation, he loves the attention that that kind of success brings and he thrives on it, and what we discover, that’s what keeps his spirit alive in the Land of the Dead.
I don’t really identify with the quality at all, but what I do identify with is this — and really I’ve found it in recollection of my father — this larger than life persona, this expression of who is, really where he’s on some level, in Ernesto’s case he’s drunk the Kool-Aid. There’s a saying, “He thinks who he is.” What we learn, without providing any spoilers, is that he might not necessarily be the person we hope or think him to be.
As for the voice, how did you prepare your voice for that character? ‘Cause I hear your voice now, but in the film it was like, “Wow!”
Bratt: What, deeper, richer?
Yes, how did you?
Bratt: [Putting on a voice] More suave. More like this.
Oh yes, here you go.
Bratt: It’s an acting exercise, for an actor, and particularly for an actor who’s doing an animated performance, all you have to rely on is your vocal tool. When you’re on camera, there’s your body and there’s your face as well as your voice to express emotion or anything that you’re feeling. It’s quite a different process when you’re just recording your voice. And to whatever degree the words on the page are your guide, it’s up to you to create, and sort of in a vacuum, ’cause you’re not performing with any other actors in the room. You’re in a booth with a director and he’s feeding you off-camera lines. It’s up to you really to create something that they can then animate to.
So you do one, you do any given line 50 different ways. Angry, upset, funny, low, high, and the director then picks out the performance that he likes and cobbles together a performance that way.
Got it, awesome job with the voice I have to say.
Bratt: But they also pointed, the filmmakers Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich, they pointed me in a great direction. They said, “Look, this character partly drawn from famous actors and singers,” in their day from Mexico, Pedro Infante, who makes the appearance in the film.
Bratt: And Jorge Negreti, guys who were as famous and as talented as Frank Sinatra was in his day. Men who were equally famous for their singing abilities as they were for their performances in classic movies, and so I did a lot of research, watching these guys. There’s a kind of swagger they all have, and so I tried to put swagger in the voice, by kind of making it low and a little bit sexy, you know?
So I know in the movie there was like spirit animals. Which one would you say is your spirit animal?
Bratt: I don’t know. Yeah, that’s a hard one to answer. It wouldn’t be Dante.
No, not Dante.
Bratt: He’s too much of a payaso (clown), he’s too much-
Payaso, good one, yes.
Bratt: I guess mine would be some version of an águila (eagle).
Bratt: Yeah, something that could fly, something that’s fierce but something that also has beauty and grace in it.
Coco hits theaters tomorrow!