Going ‘Overboard’ with Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris, and Eva Longoria

Going ‘Overboard’ with Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris, and Eva Longoria

 

After you’ve taught the world how to be a Latin lover, what do you do for a follow up? If you’re an international comedy star, you offer the world an unexpected new twist on one of the most beloved romantic comedies of the 1980s and go… “Overboard.”

Since his groundbreaking American film debut in 2013 with “Instructions Not Included,” Mexican actor and filmmaker Eugenio Derbez broadened his audience further with the 2017 box office hit “How to Be a Latin Lover.” Seeking a new challenge, Derbez and production partner Benjamin Odell knew they set the right course in taking on the famed 1987 romantic comedy “Overboard.”

Several industry heavy hitters had already tried to find the right combination that would take the film from being a mere remake to a filmed entertainment that spoke to a generation that, incredibly, may not be familiar with the original. Recasting the roles played by powerhouse duo Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell would not be enough. The basic premise of sweet, vengeful justice that happened to blossom into an unexpected romance also would need an update.

After much planning and discussion, this bold, new “Overboard” was ultimately set forth on a journey that would reflect the diversifying image of mainstream American cinema. Genders would be reversed, giving Derbez and blonde comic dynamo Anna Faris a chance to put their mark on the characters essayed by Hawn and Russell. More, the identity of the film would take on a multi-cultural one, mirroring the audience that continues to impact more than box office revenue. The end result can only create a splash of its own. Find out how this “Overboard” set sail in the following Q&A with stars Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris, and Eva Longoria.

“Overboard” opens citywide on Friday, May 4th.

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JORGE CARREÓN: What is it about the original that makes people smile, even today?

EUGENIO DERBEZ: Goldie Hawn. I love her. She’s amazing. She’s adorable. She’s charming. She’s funny. She’s everything. And the story is interesting, you know? This clash of cultures is funny when you see the rich against the poor and then they switch, and they torture her.

ANNA FARIS: I love the original so much. I grew up watching “Overboard.” It was my sick day movie! It feels like I watched it every day. It was the movie that my friends and I could all quote.

EVA LONGORIA: It is such a classic film! I love the original. I love Goldie Hawn. I love their love story!

CARREÓN: What makes this take on “Overboard” special to you?

DERBEZ: Flipping the genders was fresh because we wanted to break stereotypes. The normal thing to do is I would play the carpenter and Anna (Faris) would play the billionaire in the yacht. But it’s a different world. When you want to do a remake, you do it because you love the movie. If you start changing too much it becomes another movie.  We were careful in not losing the core of the original story.

FARIS: I’m thrilled to be a part of it. it’s also terrifying because When I was approached with the project, I was incredibly flattered but I also felt like these were huge shoes to fill. But, I couldn’t resist it, so we’ve reimagined it. The Kurt Russell character is played by my me and Goldie Hawn’s character is played by Eugenio. I think we’ve updated it and I hope that it satisfies fans of the original.

LONGORIA: There are movies that you go, “You cannot touch that!” I thought this was one of them. When I first read the script, I wanted to not like it. [LAUGHTER] It’s a reinvention more than a remake. The role reversal makes more sense now if you think back to the original. This role reversal is a little more accepting because it’s the guy who is going to do hard labor in the house. He should. [LAUGHTER]

CARREÓN: The gender reversal of roles is just one layer of this new imagining of “Overboard.” Eugenio, what did it mean for you to take on the role played by Goldie Hawn?

DERBEZ: It’s typical that in Hollywood you always see the Mexicans playing the gardener, the immigrant. But there are other kinds of Mexicans. Many Americans don’t know that one of the richest men in the world is Carlos Slim. That’s why I decided to play this Mexican billionaire as if he were a Carlos Slim type. What I loved the most is I got to play two Leonardos. The Leonardo who’s rich and the Leonardo who’s poor later. But, it was a real challenge playing the billionaire. When I watched the original movie, one of the things that I really loved from Goldie Hawn was that even though she portraying a mean and terrible human being, she was always charming. And I was like, “God, I need to find the way to do the same thing!”

I wanted this guy to be, even though he’s a jerk and he’s always mistreating people, I wanted him to be charming and lovable. That was the challenge. Although, I did love being the billionaire more than the other Leo because it had more room to play.

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Reuniting with the great Anna Faris in Los Angeles.

CARREÓN: How about you, Anna? How did you want to make your role as Kate resonate in this new context? Is she an extension of your real self?

FARIS: I think that every character that I play of course has a degree of me in it because I think that’s how you sort of attempt to embody a character. I love Kate because I could recognize her sort of desperation. She wanted to be able to do the right thing. And yet, there’s this temptation. She succumbs to it and takes Eugenio’s character out the local hospital when he’s suffering from amnesia and convinces him that he’s her husband and that he also has three jobs and must now support her family. [LAUGHTER] That sounds pretty horrendous! But, I like that Kate was very real to me. She’s funny and gritty and she’s working her ass off to raise these kids and to try to make ends meet. It makes me feel like a lot of the people that I grew up with. Hopefully, it’s honoring the idea of how just hard it is for working single women and people.

CARREÓN: It is important to be able to trade comedic dialogue with an actor who’s also adept at bringing the funny. How was it creating a bond as Leo and Kate?

DERBEZ: Anna and I clicked from the moment we met. There’s nothing better than having chemistry with your co-star. Anna was exactly as I imagined. She’s funny, she’s amazing, she’s full of energy, she’s always making jokes. It was easy to work with her because she’s always feeding you with funny stuff. During takes, I’d be enjoying her performance as if I was watching a film! I’m like, Sorry I wasn’t reacting! I was watching Anna!”[LAUGHTER] Besides it is a little bit freaky because she looks like Goldie Hawn. You can’t imagine how similar she is. There were a lot of takes where I was watching her and thinking, “Oh my God, it’s exactly like Goldie Hawn!” I loved that.

FARIS: I couldn’t adore Eugenio Derbez more. He’s got these big eyes. He’s innately charming. He’s hysterical. Our first day of shooting we were stuck in a car on a trailer together. And we hadn’t spent that much time together except for a couple of rehearsals and a couple of meetings before. And I was just like chatting his ear off. And I remember him looking over at me with like sort of this look of confusion. I’d like to think also he was charmed by my chatty Cathy business I was doing. [LAUGHTER] We both come from this comedic background. We both have though dramatic undercurrents in ourselves. We talked a lot about acting throughout the course of the movie. I admire him so much.

CARREÓN: One of the revelations from these interviews is that Eugenio admitted he and Anna are both insecure when it comes to performing. Why?

DERBEZ: Well, she’s so humble. Anna is one of the funniest comedians in Hollywood. English is not my first language. It’s hard for me to perform in English. I was always curious about whether I could be funny in English? People say I’m funny in Spanish, but I’m not so sure I’m going to be able to crossover in English. Every day I would ask Anna, “Was I funny?” She would say, “What are you talking about? You were really funny!” Then she’d be the opposite, “I think I wasn’t funny.” And then I’d say, “What are you talking about? You’re really funny! You’re Anna Faris!” I think all actors in the world are insecure, but probably more so if they’re comedians. [LAUGHTER]

FARIS: I don’t know how Eugenio does it. We were just talking about that just a sec ago. Like, I was like how do you do this. How do you, how do you, it’s just incredible to be able to speak and act in a language that’s not your first!

CARREÓN: Do you think a cross-cultural romance experienced by Leo and Kate is a risky move for a mainstream film today?

DERBEZ: Yes and no at the same time. We’re going through rough, tough times. But it’s time to make a statement. I think America is a great country and it’s built by many groups of people, not just one. I’m Latino and Latinos have been doing great things here in the U.S. In a certain way, we’re telling people that anything can happen. This is America. That’s life in America.

FARIS: I loved the idea. I hope that this movie can touch different cultures, different generations. It feels progressive in that way. I love it that we have these incredible Mexican actors in our movie. I love it that we speak Spanish. It feels like next generation as well and I feel to be a part of that. I think that is something that makes this movie stand out.

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Standing pier side in Vancouver with the great Eva Longoria.

CARREÓN: The new “Overboard” also has a secret weapon that wasn’t part of the original film, which is the scene-stealing Eva Longoria as Kate’s best friend, Theresa.

FARIS: The first day Eva came to set she ran up to me, and mind you, I had never met her before. She gives me this massive bear hug and she’s just like, “You and I are going to be best friends.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh! You are a dream!” I loved acting with her. She’s just an incredible person and an amazing actress. I think that there can be a sense of competitiveness sometimes, which many of us have experienced in the past. It’s wonderful to be at a place in life where no one is bringing any of that to the table. I just love her so much. We should definitely play buddy cops or something in another movie! [LAUGHTER]

LONGORIA: It is just so fun being able to play off Anna. I’ve been such a huge fan of hers my entire life, from “The House Bunny” to the “Scary Movie” franchise to “Mom.” She’s just such a talented comedian. She has this natural instinct for comedy. She’s really great with physical comedy, so doing scenes with her has been a lot of fun. And to play her confidant and to be able to play off each other has been a dream for me.

CARREÓN: How important was it to have all roles not depict a cultural or gender stereotype?

FARIS: There’s been this wonderful sort of awakening, where we have brilliant writers and our directors and screenwriters creating material that’s multi-dimensional and doesn’t fall into a particular category. I love that Kate, my character, had dialogue could have easily been played by a guy. It feels great to have anything that sort of fits into a box that’s conforming in any way. Hopefully, we’ll see more roles played by all different kinds of people.

LONGORIA: We’re taking steps forward in the right direction with diversity in film. We have to do more and it starts behind the camera. Eugenio’s directing and producing. I’m directing and producing. When you have the viewpoint of a diverse person, what’s in front of the camera is bound to be diverse. We are taking small strides, day by day. The landscape of America is changing, and changing in a Latin way, I think that will eventually be reflected in television and film.

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With the seriously talented Mariana Treviño (Club de Cuervos) on location in Vancouver. Mexico in the house!

CARREÓN: What’s been the most compelling aspect of having creative control over a film project? A great example with “Overboard” is its diverse ensemble, particularly with the talents of such acclaimed Mexican actors as Cecilia Suárez, Mariana Treviño, and the great Fernando Luján as Leo’s family.

DERBEZ: I’m basically hiring myself for every project. And I like that because I have a voice. It’s important to have a voice nowadays. I wanted to introduce some of our great Mexican actors to a new audience. They’re amazing! I loved doing that. And if I can be a bridge for all this great talent we have in Mexico, then I’m happy.

LONGORIA: I applaud what Eugenio’s been doing with his films in Hollywood as a Mexican actor. What’s been so wonderful to see is that he brings his culture with him. He brings the actors from Mexico with him. He’s never turned his back on his origins. He’s doing these bi-cultural films really well. They’re funny. They have general themes. Universal themes that a general market can enjoy and I think that’s the key. That’s why “Desperate Housewives” was so successful worldwide because you deal with universal themes that everybody can relate to. If you do movies about love and romance and divorce and heartache and jobs and child raising and death. I mean, those are things everybody can relate to. And then you make it a comedy? [LAUGHTER] It’s enjoyable to watch. I’ve had these moments where I look around the set and I get chills because there are so many talented actors on the set, but there are also so many diverse talented actors on set. It’s very rare that you go onto a movie set and you see actors from Mexico City doing an American film. And that’s really what I applaud Eugenio for.

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Eugenio Derbez made a point to pull together the first-ever gathering of Mexico’s brightest comedic talents in this very American comedy: Adrian Uribe, Jesús Ochoa, and Omar Chaparro. This is my fourth film project with Omar and there is no stopping this man’s trajectory! Si se puede!

CARREÓN: Expectations versus reality. Which did you all enjoy more? The scenes on the yacht or the ones on land?

DERBEZ: We were all so happy the day they told us were going out into the open sea on a luxurious yacht. Then we had to reduce the crew because we all couldn’t go onboard for weight purposes.  In the end, we couldn’t wait to finish shooting on the yacht. [LAUGHTER] It was so hard! The interiors of the yacht were covered in plastic to protect the walls, the furniture. We were standing up most of the time. We’re sitting on the floor. It was packed. You couldn’t walk around. You couldn’t bring food inside or drinks. All of us had to have lunch outside. It’s Vancouver. It’s Canada. It was freezing. It was so windy! The scenes on the jet with the beautiful women in bikinis? We were all shouting and yelling and laughing. When I came back to the yacht, and the crew said, “You all looked like you were having a lot of fun!” I said, “No! We were freezing. The water was cold! Those were shouts, not laughs!”

FARIS: I loved making “Overboard.” Just the thrill of getting to be a part of it is amazing to me, one I could never have imagined as a child. I also loved that our directors and Eugenio gave me a sense of freedom. There was a lot of improvisation, plus the idea that we’re telling a romantic journey in an unconventional way.

LONGORIA: We had a funny scene, Eugenio and I with the condoms. That’s all I’m going to say. I’m going to say is Eugenio Derbez, Eva Longoria, and condoms. Watch the movie. [LAUGHTER] I loved anything with Anna. I loved my screen husband Mel Rodriguez [who portrays Bobby]. You have no idea. Mel and I have known each other for 18 years. Every time we had a scene together, the director was like, “More of that!” Now we have to go do a show together. We’re that good together. It feels like we’ve been married 20 years. We’ve all had a lot of fun, but the water scenes were rough. It was raining, it was freezing. It’s probably some of the funniest stuff we’ve shot, the end of the movie, the little boat chasing the big boat. I think people are really going to enjoy it.

CARREÓN: What do you hope audiences take away from watching “Overboard?”

FARIS: It ultimately becomes a love story. What Kate and Leo bring out in each other is eventually the best in each other. Leo becomes a version of himself that he didn’t know he had in him. And I think Kate’s walls get broken down. There’s something really interesting in the idea that this man who has everything that the world could offer and he somehow finds reward in having a family and a simpler life. It’s the idea of what money can’t buy.

LONGORIA: People can expect a lot of fun out of this movie. They’re going to want to go on this journey with these characters, between Kate and Leo and their families. I feel like there’s a desire for a movie like this right now, especially in the world we’re living in. We want to escape into a beautiful place, a happy place. You want to experience someone else’s journey and not think about your own problems. [LAUGHTER] This movie’s going to do that for you.

DERBEZ: It was a challenge and a great responsibility to do a remake of this great film. When we hired writers Rob Greenberg and Bob Fisher and we read the final script, we were thrilled. We first talked to MGM about flipping roles and they were like, “No! This is an iconic movie. We don’t want to go that far!” They read the script, and they were like, “Oh my God. We love it!” We have a great movie. I think we have an amazing movie. Funny, interesting, and with a lot of heart. It has everything and it’s a roller coaster. It’s a family movie, too, which is a plus. I like doing movies for everyone.

**The interviews with Eugenio Derbez and Eva Longoria were completed on location in Vancouver during production in June 2018. The Anna Faris interview was completed in Los Angeles in January 2018. The transcripts have been edited for this piece. 

The “Overboard” English and Spanish featurettes were produced by Jorge Carreón at Monkey Deux, Inc. for Pantelion Films. 

Edited by Kate Ryan (English) and Steve Schmidt (Spanish), the featurettes are included courtesy of Pantelion Films. 

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Cesar Chavez Day”

Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers. — Cesar Chavez

My family’s activism has never wavered since those first steps towards civic awareness, which took shape at home and in our classrooms at South Ranchito Elementary in Pico Rivera, California. I will never forget that moment in 1977, when those first uncertain steps led me to an encounter with the person who envisioned the path many Latinos remain on today: Cesar Chavez. As we honor this great man today, following is a remembrance piece I wrote for Desde Hollywood in 2014, which was timed to the release of director Diego Luna’s underrated “Cesar Chavez” film.

If you were a Latino (or Chicano) child of the 1970s in southern California, chances are you were part of a bilingual education program that was a glorious but short-lived experiment. Today, I can see it as a powerful opportunity to build a bilingual cultural identity. That wasn’t quite the image I had several decades ago. My parents, both Mexican immigrants, were unusual in the sense that they gave their first generation American children a choice. We could either learn Spanish or not. Sadly, I did not take advantage of becoming bilingual until many years later. Yet, I never lost sight that I was part of something bigger. The question became not just about learning the language, but understanding the importance of preserving a multi-cultural identity. Today, many of us face an additional challenge in terms of what role we should assume as Latinos and as Americans with a voice.

As the rising power of Latinos continues to amass in our contemporary culture, it is thrilling to discover the community at a real crossroads. We will dictate the next election. Immigration reform has never been a more prominent and important issue. The national narrative is being re-written, but how do we make sure we get a chance to contribute to these next chapters in American history? It is about taking those first steps forward to achieve awareness, to educate ourselves on the issues that affect us all.

The arrival of “Cesar Chavez” was a significant achievement for many reasons. Some have to do with the hope of a changing film industry that remains in play, but others are decidedly personal. Hollywood loves telling the stories of ordinary people who stare down adversity to become extraordinary figures in history. We’ve witnessed the return of the Great Emancipator; a king’s struggle with speech, the rise and fall of an “iron lady” and the harrowing 12 years lived by an American slave. Yet, something unusual happened when I viewed “Cesar Chavez” for the first time. This time, it wasn’t a performance or scene that stirred an emotional response. To coin a much clichéd tag line, this time the movie was personal.

In 1977, my entire family marched with Chavez and the United Farm Workers on a sunny April day in the Coachella Valley against the lettuce growers. We all knew the importance of Chavez’s actions would remain far-reaching. By today’s standards of political correctness, the teachers at South Ranchito Elementary could have been charged with imposing their own political agenda on their nine and 10 year-old students. Yet, today hindsight reveals a different scenario. These educators were trying to instill in us the value of community and responsibility we shared in preserving its ideals. We were being taught the power of being connected, very much how Chavez himself went out to speak with individuals face to face. It was that connectivity that created the UFW and changed the political future for Latinos in this country.

I am ashamed to admit that the impact of that April day faded too soon. I was living a suburban life of relative comfort by comparison to the young field workers I met that afternoon in the Coachella Valley. They saw the world a lot differently, but they didn’t shame us for not understanding. We were interlopers from classrooms miles away; fulfilling a teacher’s hope the experience would change us in some way. My adult journey did allow for a sense of community awareness, overreacting to hot button issues, as do most of us. But none of this happened in the way my idealistic teachers hoped. I’m an average American who votes, adhering to moderate political views. As I reach middle age, however, I find I am now questioning much in our modern life. And it is spilling into the contributions I am making as a member of the media.

It would be easy to go off on a tangent about how the industry still cannot understand that a multi-cultural audience wants to see itself on screen in roles that aren’t stereotypes. It is no coincidence that instead of watching films about dead rock stars, films like Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included” are playing favorably with more than just a Latino audience. But the Latino community showed its strength and they were heard. Now, “Cesar Chavez” the film needs that same grassroots support to sustain what should be viewed as a cultural movement.

After watching the marches and rallies depicted in “Cesar Chavez,” my mind went straight to the details of that hot April afternoon. The dusty walk of the countless supporters who joined la causa, their strong voices unified into a choir of peaceful civil disobedience, the annoying splinter in my right hand from the wood of the sign I held straight up into the sky. Even the hideous tartan pants I wore that day seem to take on a “Braveheart” glow. But most of all, I remember the walk to meet Chavez himself at the post-march rally.

My dad was with me, encouraging me not to be shy. We had been waiting for a break in the crowd, all wanting a moment to speak to him. Finally, we had our chance. I walked with the same purpose of my father, my shorter stride valiantly trying to mirror Dad’s more confident steps. Jorge Sr. spoke first, of course. Then, he introduced me to el señor Chavez. I was shaking the man’s hand, receiving that welcoming smile and a kind word of appreciation for being there that day. He went from being a photo in a textbook or news item into something out of a movie. Cesar Chavez was real and he was a real hero.

In early February (of 2014), I had the opportunity to sit down with Luna to conduct the interview that would be used for the “Cesar Chavez” broadcast press materials. He had just flown into Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., where he presented the film prior to moving on to its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. What should have been an easy 20-minute on-camera exchange for the electronic press kit became a 90-minute conversation that covered more than just the making of the film. The candor and sincerity revealed by Luna could not be tempered by exhaustion. Much is riding on the film and he is fully aware of what its success will dictate to him as he evolves from actor to director.

We are taught as journalists to never become part of the story, but this was a unique situation. It is hard to not see this as a full circle experience. Many people will be introduced to Cesar Chavez for the first time after viewing Luna’s film. It is an artistic risk for the Mexican-born artist, particularly with taking on this most American of subjects.

Still, the possibility of this cinematic meeting between Chavez and today’s audiences having the same resounding effect as it did with the hundreds of thousands of men and women who stood by Chavez, his family and the UFW is tangible. Therein lies the power of film. The greatest lesson to be learned is not reserved for the immigrants or American-born Latinos who continue to revere him. All of us must understand the meaning and power of Sí Se Puede. It does not belong to any one era or people. Its purpose applies to all those seeking to make change happen.

To illustrate the point further, here are excerpts from my conversation with Diego Luna on “Cesar Chavez,” exclusive to Desde Hollywood:

JORGE CARREÓN: Cesar Chavez was a truly humble man. How would he have viewed this entire process of making and promoting the film about his life?

DIEGO LUNA: He never wanted a film to be made about him. When people got to him and said, “We want to make a film about you,” He said, “No, no, no. I have a lot of work to do. I cannot sit down with you to talk about what I’ve done. I still have a lot to do. So, no films.” He hated the idea of being recognized. If you wanted to give him recognition, an award, he would ask you to do in the name of the union. He hated to be on the front page.

CARREÓN: Even with the industry’s fascination with biographical films, does his reticence explain why a film about his life has taken such a long time?

LUNA: There’s a reason why there’s not been a biopic about Cesar like the ones normally done in this country. If I were going to come and do a film, why would I try to repeat something that also doesn’t belong to me? To the way I see the world, to the kind of films we want to do? I wanted to make a film that for a moment you could say; “Oh is this going to end right or wrong? Is this going to have a happy ending where they win or not?” I hate films that when they start and you know how they’re going to end it. I’m pretty sure that in the course of these 10 years we cover of his life, he woke up many times saying, “This is not going to work.” I wanted that to be part of the film. If I would have shown a perfect man, making just the right decisions all the time, then you know the end. Why would you pay a ticket to see that? The other answer I have, which is not as beautiful as this one, is because you guys never made it.

CARREÓN: How do you hope the impact of “Instructions Not Included” will increase the marketability of “Cesar Chavez” with a mainstream audience?

LUNA: I hope this film works in that way. Before “Instructions Not Included,” every huge success in Mexico was like a niche success here. But that one was unbelievable. Suddenly on both sides of the border people were saying, “I want to see the same film.” That means something. Things are changing. So it makes sense there’s a Mexican telling the story of Cesar Chavez.

CARREÓN: Hard to believe, but you can see how certain sectors of the Latino American and Mexican film communities may have a polarized view of what you’ve done as director of “Cesar Chavez.”

LUNA: We are two different communities and I have to say there’s a lot of prejudice about Mexican-Americans in Mexico. And there’s also a lot of prejudice about the Mexican experience today from the Mexican-American community. Things have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. This film is an attempt to bring that wall down. It’s ridiculous that we’re not connected. That we are not working for each other, feeding each other. I come here and I go to my favorite two places near my house. One is a restaurant. There’s a family from Nayarit that does the best pescado a la plancha that you can get in California. It’s unbelievable that they’re not in touch with those who cook the exact same dish every day on the other side of the border. Why do we allow this world to really separate us? It’s ridiculous. I think we would be strong, really strong if we would be connected, if we would feel as part of the same thing. It’s like what the film says, “You can think it’s all about you and your life is miserable or you can open the door and say, ‘He probably thinks the same and if he thinks the same, if we all get together we might be able to change things.’” It’s time that we see each other as part of the same people. We would be stronger. We would be able to say we want these films to be made. We want more films like “Cesar Chavez” that would represent us, films that are about people like us.

CARREÓN: The reality is many audience members will be introduced to Chavez’s life for the first time. It is a thrilling prospect to see what they will take from this introduction.

LUNA: I think Chavez showed something very simple, but very difficult to actually believe in, which is even though you think that person doesn’t care about you, he does. He does. We have to work that muscle so we don’t lose that ability to actually care about what’s going on with our neighbors. We’re learning to be around so much violence and injustice and we shouldn’t get used to that.

CARREÓN: With the film now being seen by a mass audience, what impact are you hoping the film is able to make? This is a bold move, away from how the industry views you as an artist.

LUNA: I want to inspire people to say, “Why is there not another Cesar Chavez today in this community? What’s going on? We could be that man.” His life was very difficult. Eight kids. Imagine convincing that amount of people to go back to live in the worst conditions in the fields to bring change for a community that you’re not part of anymore? We should be celebrating that this happened and hope this is the first of many films not just about Cesar Chavez but the farmworker experience and the Mexican-American experience. I truly think we just have one chance. If this film doesn’t succeed in the box office, if people don’t actually go watch it, I’m going to have to rethink what I’m going to do in life or where I’m going to do it. This one shot has taken four years of my life. My son was born here. I opened a company in the States. But my heart, my stories, my father and my friends are in Mexico and I need to be able to keep both things happening. The film is about that in a way. I really hope this shows that cinema should be representing this community today with respect. It’s a very complex community and the need of content is huge. Films like “Cesar Chavez” need to exist and it’s just not happening. So let’s hope it starts to happen.

#SiSePuede #VivaLaCausa

From the MediaJor Vault: Anne Rice

From the MediaJor Vault: Anne Rice

I have to credit Facebook for this profile on Anne Rice. Originally written in 2011 when I was the loftily named LA Personalities Examiner for Examiner.com, the interview was timed to the publication of “Of Love and Evil.” At the time, extraordinary events were unfolding in the Middle East as Egypt struggled with reform. We watched in amazement because it proved  both thrilling and disheartening to contemplate what it would mean for us all.

As we wade deeper into Trump infested waters, seeing this Rice profiler appear on my Facebook feed is almost too eerie. The original Examiner link is no longer working as I haven’t written for that site in several years. Most of my Examiner contributions have been claimed by the ether, to be frank. So, it was a nice discovery to find it exists. Because Ms. Rice had some really interesting things to say about our “eternal struggle between right and wrong.”

I hope you agree.

This eternal struggle between right and wrong is the identifying narrative of our time. Can change survive or will repression continue to get its way? For iconic author Anne Rice, exploring such themes has evolved into the hallmark of her current artistic life. With her latest novel, Of Love and Evil, Rice weighs in on the conflicts that continue to rage hard within us despite living in a modern age.

“What interests me is the war between good and evil inside each person,” Rice said, “and the capacity for good, and the way people fight to be good even when others are telling them to give up.”

Expressing any opinion on the meeting between faith and politics is grounds for certain damnation in today’s conservative media landscape. As regimes, democratic or otherwise, continue their desperate bid for control, the importance of love conquering evil will only increase. It comes down to a simple choice: Take a stand and voice your dissent. In the summer of 2010, Rice ignited a media firestorm when she announced she was excommunicating herself from the Catholic Church. It was a bold decision, one that garnered national headlines.

Later that year, Rice offered her own reflections on that turning point and more in a Personalities Interview via phone from her home in Rancho Mirage, CA. Conducted during her promotional tour for her latest novel in the Songs of the Seraphim series, Rice’s comments have taken on a timely resonance in light of the current political climate. Here’s more with Rice on where she chooses to stand in the battle between love and evil.

JORGE CARREON: Perhaps the most controversial F-word of late is “faith.” It is astounding how we have yet to reconcile the political nature of organized religions. You made a defiant statement to withdraw from the Catholic Church in 2010. How has that decision continue to reverberate for you today?

ANNE RICE: Well, I received thousands of emails in response to the news stories about that. I had no idea when I walked away that it was going to make news. I mean, I announced it on my Facebook page really to tell my readers that I was no longer part of organized religion, and I had no idea that it would be written about in the Washington Post, and there would be so many blog posts about it and so many stories. And thousands of emails did come in, and the vast majority was positive. They were all supportive. They were mostly from people who said that they, too, believed in God, and they too believed in Jesus Christ. But, they, too, did not go to church and would not go to church for various reasons. I found that just amazing. I did receive critical emails, very nasty, unpleasant emails from some people. And, many that simply invited me to a new kind of church that said, “Why don’t you come to the Unitarians? Why don’t you come to the Episcopalians? Why don’t you come to the United Church of Christ? We are inclusive. We accept gay people. We have married gay people. We have gay people who are clergy.” I was quite surprised at how positive the reaction was. I mean, it’s sad in a way. It’s very nice for people to support you in your decision, but it’s very sad that this many people are disillusioned with organized religion. They really feel let down by it, confused by it. And that’s the explanation why my statements struck a chord, because they struck a chord with people who felt the same way or had been hearing from people who felt the same way. It went on for about a month, stories and blogs and so forth. And I shared a lot of it with people on Facebook and got many more comments, and it was great. I can’t say I’m happy about it. I don’t think it’s a happy thing to walk away from Catholicism. It’s sad. I mean, you lose the group, you lose the rituals, and you lose the beauty. You lose all of that. And that had for 12 years been part of my life, just as it had for the first 18 years of my life. And it was very sad to once again step away and say “I can’t support this. I can’t believe it.” But I do feel liberated, and I feel that it was the only thing that I could do, and I guess I’m glad that I found the courage to do it, if courage is the right word.

CARREON: Do you believe religion may never relinquish its grip on global politics and our daily lives?

RICE: I never dreamed in the ‘60s or ‘70s or ‘80s that religion could be this much of our lives, that somebody during a presidential election would ask the candidates whether they believed in God or believed in evolution or believed in Creationism. I mean, I’m shocked that it became that important. I really believe in the separation of church and state. I think we had traditionally two different approaches to the law in Western culture. One approach is by reason. We reason with one another about the law and we evolve our laws based on reason. That’s what I believe in when it comes to politics and law. The other tradition is that law is revealed by a deity, and that one has to stand by those revelations. That’s what a great many religious Americans are trying to tell the rest of us, that the law is revealed and that we have to listen to them on the subject of revelations. I think it’s very dangerous. I think our country is founded on the principle that law is arrived at by reason. I think it’s dangerous, I think it’s bad, I think it’s alienated and upset many, many people, and it certainly contributed to why I walked away. I walked away from religion for theological reasons as much as social and political reasons, but it was all part of the picture. I mean, I simply could not support a religion that relentlessly persecutes gay people and women and children. I just won’t do it.

CARREON: Beauty can still be found in the message of faith. As you continue to write, that message looks to still play a huge part in the narratives you create.

RICE: It’s true.

CARREON: How do you reconcile the two halves of yourself, the narrative mind and your real self, so to speak?

RICE: I finished Of Love and Evil before I broke with the Church and a lot of what Toby (the novel’s lead protagonist) goes through in that book reflects what I was experiencing. He speaks of doubts, and fears, and how even though he’s seeing angels, even though he’s converted and he’s witnessed miracles, he still is subject to doubts and fears. That is something that I was coming to face, that the consolation you receive at the time of a conversion is not necessarily going to stay with you day in and day out. Doubt and fear are going to be part of your life and I was wrestling with it. I think when I get to the third book; I will be able to go into this ever more deeply. I feel a freedom to go into it ever more deeply.

CARREON: Love and evil are small words to look at, but they pack such extraordinary definitions. What do they mean for you?

RICE: Love, I think, can save the world. It can bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth. It is the greatest thing that we are capable of, love. And it can save every single person on the planet in some way, psychologically and socially. It can bring peace on Earth. Love is everything. Evil for me is largely what we’re capable of when we behave in a selfish and greedy and destructive and vicious way. And of course I know many people who are believers of a personified Devil. I’m not sure I do. I think that comes out in Of Love and Evil. There’s a real question as to whether there’s a personified Devil and I’m wrestling with that. Because that’s what evil and love mean to me. Evil means what we are capable of doing when we hurt other people, when we kill them, are violent to them and really harm them.

CARREON: Can atonement still exist in today’s culture?

RICE: Oh yes. Sure. Just go to an AA meeting. Go to an open meeting and listen to people from all over talking about how they’ve made amends with the people around them, how they’ve changed their lives, how they’ve made amends to children and spouses they’ve hurt. And of course, there’s atonement there. You know, the word atonement is a funny word. It means “at one meant.” So, if you think of it as strictly suffering to pay a debt, no. Maybe that’s something we now reject in the 21st century. We don’t think you have to suffer agony to pay a debt. We think you have to do something good about what you did. You have to change your ways. You know, you just don’t go off and suffer for how badly you treated your children. You re-approach your children and try to show them love.

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Anne Rice’s latest novel, Of Love and Evil is currently available from Knopf at Amazon.com and all other booksellers. And, yes. That regal vampire of a generation, Lestat, may be coming back to the big screen sooner than later. Rice confirmed that she is fielding renewed interest in her Vampire Chronicles books.

“I don’t have anything firm yet to announce,” Rice said. “I hope that there will be movies soon and I hope that they will be productions that are true to the spirit of Lestat’s personality. That’s what the readers really want when they see the name Anne Rice and the name Lestat.”

As to who she would like to see take over the fabled role?

“When the rumor came out last year that Robert Downey, Jr. might do it, I thought that was terrifically exciting,” Rice added. “He has such depth. And he has such a mischievous spirit. I could really see him being a great Lestat. But there are many, many other people who could do it.”

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From the MediaJor Vault: Rosario Dawson

From the MediaJor Vault: Rosario Dawson

 

Oscar winning director Danny Boyle earned his master status by never making the same film twice. In recent years, he’s been engaged by decidedly human tales with an edge of romance (“Slumdog Millionaire”) or harrowing survival (“127 Hours”). But what would audiences make of “Trance?” One word: Underrated.

Revisiting the moral grit that made “Shallow Grave” and “Trainspotting” two of his best films, “Trance” emerged as its own entity. An unforgettable, old school psychological thriller that is beautifully sleek and modern, “Trance,” at least to me solidified Boyle’s position as a filmmaker of great muscle and nerve. And, if any actor was born to be part of a Boyle Ensemble, it is the fearless Rosario Dawson.

While Dawson has been firing up the Marvel Cinematic Universe of late as Claire Temple in the Netflix series “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and the new “Luke Cage,” the bigger heat has been reserved for this year’s presidential election. A fervent supporter of Bernie Sanders, Dawson has garnered headlines for her commitment to Sanders’s “party of the people” agenda during the DNC. Earlier this year, she was among the protesters arrested in April during Democracy Spring in Washington, D.C. It is exactly this fervent desire for change and to continue the conversation of creating a civil and honest society that makes Dawson one of my favorite people to interview.

Whether it was on the set of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” in Vancouver or in a hotel ballroom in Santa Monica for “Unstoppable,” she has never wavered in terms of her candor, sense of humor, authenticity or grace. In this edition of “From the MediaJor Vault,” Dawson proved “entrancing” when she spoke about her role in the film during this interview from March, 2013 in Los Angeles.

(Interview produced by Jorge Carreon and edited by Sara Gordon Hilton.)

 

“The Book of Life : The Filmmakers’ Journey” — A MediaJor #featurestory

“The Book of Life : The Filmmakers’ Journey” — A MediaJor #featurestory

“All the world is made of stories, and all the stories are here…

…No matter what’s out there, mijo, write your own story.”

Director Jorge Gutierrez was beaming like a proud father who couldn’t wait to tell the world about his first born child.

It may have been an ordinary Texas morning, maybe a little too grey outside despite its being early August. But no matter, once you entered the confines of the Reel FX Studio, it felt like all the colors in the world were being housed in this one specific location deep in the heart of Dallas. Standing in the midst of production photos and the folkloric garlands of brilliantly colored tissue paper strewn across the entry way, the smiling Gutierrez made it clear that the day’s media visitors were all very welcome.

The morning routine at the Reel FX studio had just kicked into high gear. A few artists and staffers straggled in but most were already hard at work. Even before the department heads gathered to reveal a look at the making of “The Book of Life,” the sense that this was a family gathered with a unified purpose was tangible. It was an important day as Gutierrez and team would also be offering a teasing first look at the feature, fleshing out what the trailers have only promised to date.

It may have taken nearly two years to animate the “The Book of Life” into reality, but the project has been gestating in Gutierrez’s fertile imagination since he was a boy. Born and raised in Mexico, the 39-year old director had long been drawn to the iconography of his homeland’s country’s rich history and cultural traditions. And no tradition resonated with him strongest than that of Día de Los Muertos or the Day of the Dead.

“I always loved Day of the Dead,” Gutierrez explained, “especially growing up. It was a very, very important holiday. I was really inspired by all the stories and so I went through animation school and film school here in the U.S. at Cal Arts. I made my thesis film about Day of the Dead.”

A joyful celebration of the afterlife and the living that occurs during the first three days of November, the Day of the Dead has evolved into one of Mexico’s most treasured traditions. Today, the wildly ornate images of calaveras (skulls), the carefully prepared ofrendas (altars), marigolds and the iconic goddess Catrina have been appropriated by a modern generation of artists and youth culture. Inspired by his personal connection to the holiday, Gutierrez was steadfast that a universal story for all audiences could be inspired by such a poignant celebration. His thesis would be the first chapter in an evolving narrative that would eventually bring him to lead a team of over 400 people in Dallas, Texas.

“It won a student Emmy and I got to go to the Cannes Film Festival and show it over there,” Gutierrez explained. “At that point, an agent said, “You should write a movie about what inspired your short.”

Taking the adage of “writing what you know to heart,” he only needed to look at his whole “crazy family” that had “all these crazy stories.” Encouraged, Gutierrez went to a local bookstore to look for a book on how to write screenplays. But he was still a few chapters away from living out that Hollywood ending.

“I thought, ‘How hard could it be?’ and I wrote the worst screenplay you’ve ever read. I pitched the script to pretty much every studio in town back then and they all laughed at me. They said, ‘You’re just a kid out of school. No one wants to see a movie about this stuff. We’re looking for talking animal movies and none of your animals in your movie talk.’ They basically told me it wasn’t something that they wanted to make.

Undaunted, Gutierrez shifted his focus to pursue other avenues within the animation industry. After marrying his wife Sandra, also an artist, the couple crafted a cartoon pilot that did go to series at Nickelodeon. That show, the critically acclaimed “El Tigre,” was an award-winning hit that benefited from a strengthening, multi-cultural audience.

“It was a love letter to the culture,” Gutierrez continued. “As the show became more popular, it started winning awards, it started winning Emmys and it did really well. The same doors for feature animation started to open again.”

At that point, producer Brad Booker, whom Gutierrez had remained in contact for several years, advised that up Reel FX was ready to start creating original movies. Despite the success of “El Tigre,” Gutierrez was hesitant to revisit “The Book of Life” after his previous experience with other studios. If he was going to bring this passion project forward, he actually wanted to get away from Hollywood and be free to trail blaze, not conform.

“I wanted to go somewhere where they would let us do something different,” Gutierrez said. “This place promised that and they delivered. I came here and we started developing the movie. At that point they asked who would be your dream producer and like all young Mexican filmmakers, I yelled “Guillermo del Toro” at the top of my lungs.

“I wanted to go somewhere where they would let us do something different,” Gutierrez said. “This place promised that and they delivered. I came here and we started developing the movie. At that point they asked who would be your dream producer and like all young Mexican filmmakers, I yelled ‘Guillermo del Toro’ at the top of my lungs.

Well, ask and you will receive because Gutierrez did find himself in the position to pitch the project to much sought after del Toro. (It was a meeting that would be the stuff of legend as Gutierrez recounted later.)

“Jorge arrived with a beautiful trunk filled with skulls, flowers, and amazing images,” del Toro recalled of their initial meeting. “He had some beautiful and very powerful keyframes for his story. When I saw these images, we started talking, and little by little I fell into his trap.”

Gutierrez has compared the experience as “getting a Ph.D. in cinema from a very loving but strict professor” because of del Toro’s involvement in the picture. Once the collaboration was in place, “The Book of Life” had found its place in the world to be cared for and nurtured by a team of like-minded individuals, very much a family.

“Being a young, leaner studio really sort of created an atmosphere,” Gutierrez said with a smile. “We were the town and the bandits were the production schedule and the budget. We knew if we worked together that we might survive and we did.”

“Jorge is his movie,” del Toro added, “and the movie is an imprint of his personality.”

When it comes to magical realism in Mexican literature, fate is very present in the sometimes outlandish journeys experienced by its characters. The film industry, which already possesses its own brand of surrealism, is no stranger in calling the destiny shots for the countless dreamers who make their way west. Once Gutierrez’s goal in collaborating with del Toro was real, “The Book of Life” had found its place in the world to be cared for and nurtured by a team of like-minded individuals, very much a family.

“Being a young, leaner studio really sort of created an atmosphere,” Gutierrez said with a smile. “We were the town and the bandits were the production schedule and the budget. We knew if we worked together that we might survive and we did.”

So how does an incredible animated fantasy-adventure that spans three fantastical worlds in manner never before seen by today’s audiences? Find out as Gutierrez, del Toro and members of their creative team lead you into the heart of what makes “The Book of Life” a vivid celebration of the past traditions that looks to the future of what animated entertainment can offer audiences.

BOL Mediajor

QUESTION: “The Book of Life” is being praised for offering a visual aesthetic that is truly singular, which is saying something in a genre that never stops evolving. What inspired your journey to become an animated filmmaker?

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER JORGE R. GUTIERREZ: Having grown up in Mexico, I saw the golden era of Mexican cinema. They would first show all these cartoons and then the cartoons ended and these movies started. I would just keep watching whatever the TV showed and so the cartoons and the movies kind of melded. Then my father introduced me to the movies of Sergio Leone, so “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is my favorite movie of all time. I might have seen it when I was a little too young, but it made a huge impression on me. It was a fairy tale. There’s good people, there’s bad people and there’s people who are defined by their choices. I’ve always loved that idea. As a kid, I loved Greek mythology. This movie is lie Orpheus. My favorite mythology has always been the stories where mankind teaches the gods a lesson, which to me is a fantasy of children teaching their parents something.

QUESTION: “The Book of Life” embraces the folk art of not just Mexico, but of Latin America and the rest of the world to create a universe audiences have never seen before. And yet, the colors, the shapes, everything is rife with subtext. Cultural veracity aside, was it enough to just tell the team, “Be different?”

PRODUCTION DESIGNER SIMON VARELA: I grew up with black and white films pretty much because that’s what they showed in El Salvador. I was into a lot of comics. A lot of comics. I also looked at a lot of artists that had nothing to do with painting. I looked at sculptors, architects. Because it’s still an art. It’s an art form and we are creating worlds. We wanted to be so different, right? Every director says they want something no one’s ever seen before and you’re like, “Okay here we go again!” But you do the research and then you try to figure out what it is that they want. Jorge wants everything. (Laughs). We needed to figure out what percentage of that “everything” we put it in a drawing, in a piece, in a design.

ART DIRECTOR PAUL SULLIVAN: To start off, Jorge gave me 11 eleven DVDs that I had to watch. So I watched all of them. I also have been around the culture and I knew what he wanted. The culture inspired me also, so when he said “folk art,” I knew everything about it because I do collect folk art. I did do some research because even though you’ve been there, you know the spaces, you do want to get involved a little more visually. You get on Google and start looking for images. Jorge will come out with some crazy idea where you’re like, “What? Okay, how do we do this?” (Laughs) Then you start exploring. You look at his characters and you go from there because you’re creating a world where these characters are going be working on. What we do is secondary to the characters, but they still have to live in that world.

GUTIERREZ: We are giving you an artisan’s version of real history. We are able to get away from all the sort of realistic things about it by making the good guys made out of wood, the bad guys are made out of metal, so metal can hurt wood. When you go to the Land of the Remembered, you turn into stone. All of the objects and the materials become really important, but it was all of us going, “Why not? No one’s done this. Let’s do it.”

QUESTION: Still, how do you balance the desire for originality with creating a project that is also commercially viable?

GUTIERREZ: The goal of the studio is for the movie to be seen and by the most amounts of people and be the most commercial the movie can be. I think the goal of the filmmakers is to make the movie as good as it can be and finding that balance I think is really hard. We’ve been able to navigate all that and say, “Okay, if we get a big star like Channing Tatum that allows us to have more indie actors in other roles. If we get a big song from this band that allows us to get more indie songs from these other bands.” That’s been a tricky thing for me, as a director, trying to figure out how it can’t just be for film nerds and animation nerds. It also can’t just be so commercial that it doesn’t connect emotionally.

QUESTION: You mentioned the dream of collaborating with Guillermo del Toro earlier. How did he become part of “The Book of Life” family? What made that first pitch so unforgettable?

GUTIERREZ: Like Batman, we turned on the “Guillermo del Toro Sign” and he showed up! (Laughs) At the time, he was working on “The Hobbit.” I was under the impression that there’s no way he can produce this, he’s so busy. But he said, “No, no, no, I’m coming back.” We all scrambled to put together this presentation. Then, we kept getting invited to pitch to him and he kept canceling because at that point, everybody wanted to work with him. Everything was getting pitched to him. He kept putting us off until finally I guess he felt so bad, he said, “Come to my house and pitch it to me directly over there. So, we go to his house and it was very overwhelming. It was like in August, it was like a 110 degrees. He opened the door and a little steam came out because it was cold inside. He lets us in and his house, which is so full of artwork that we said, “We can’t put all our artwork up because there’s so much artwork it’s going to blend in. Let’s pitch to him outside. That way it’s not competing.” We had maquettes and we had these beautiful paintings that (art director) Paul (Sullivan), (production designer) Simon (Varela) and Sandra and I had done at this point. We go outside and we put all the artwork up. He has a pool that has a life-size statue of Ray Harryhausen and it felt like the statue was judging me the whole time. (Laughs) They had told me, “Pitch it to him in 20 minutes.” Guillermo goes, “Pitch it to me in five minutes.” He’s already sweating and I’m already sweating and just as I’m about to say what the movie’s about, three lawn mowers go on at the same time next door. It’s super loud and Guillermo goes, “Just yell it to me.” I’m red and sweating. I think I had a heat stroke. Worst pitch in the history of pitches. I’m drenched in sweat and ready to just shake his hand and say, “Thank you for taking the time.” We sit down and he goes, “That was a terrible pitch. But I know there’s something amazing in there. I have two daughters and on Saturday mornings, we would get up to watch your cartoon “El Tigre,” so I know your style. I know your sense of humor. I know exactly who you are and of course I want to produce your first movie.”

QUESTION: Animated films tend to embrace a more homogenized world to ensure mainstream appeal. How did you intend to preserve the cultural elements that are central to “The Book of Life?”

GUTTIEREZ: I never wanted the movie to just be with Mexican actors because I didn’t want the movie to just be for Mexicans. I wanted it to be for the whole world. Certain roles should absolutely be a Mexican actor, but other roles were opened up like other movies like “Kung Fu Panda.” These are movies that are very specific to a culture, but feature actors that are from everywhere to let everyone know, “This is a universal story.”

PRODUCER GUILLERMO DEL TORO: If you’re telling a story and want it be universal, then you have to be specific. If the filmmaker loves the story and characters, then audiences will love it. And if a filmmaker feels it’s powerful, more people will love the story he or she is telling because it’s powerful. And that’s exactly what Jorge has done with “The Book of Life.”

BOL Junket

QUESTION: How did your principal cast of Diego Luna, Zoë Saldana and Channing Tatum come together?

GUTIERREZ: With Diego, I did write the role for him. I’ve always loved “Y Tu Mamá También.” I didn’t know if he could sing, but I specifically wanted him to sing because I didn’t want the singing in the movie, especially from the main character, to sound overly produced. I wanted it to sound like a real guy who grabbed a guitar and went to sing for his girl in a human and organic way. Diego and Zoë knew each other and I knew they had chemistry. When they got to speak together for the first time, we recorded them together because it was kind of a reunion. She speaks perfect Spanish and she understood the culture really well, bringing all this fire and feistiness to her role. After that, I said, “Well, (the role of) Joaquin needs to be a really big presence. Someone that everyone goes, “That’s a hero!” When we discussed Channing, I had never thought he would say yes. I really didn’t. We went to Chicago. He was shooting “Jupiter Ascending.” We pitched to him in his hotel room. He hadn’t slept. He had done a little cameo in “The LEGO Movie” as Superman, but this was going to be his first animated film lead role. He really got behind the idea and then at the end, he took me aside and he said, “Jorge, you know I’m not Mexican, right?” (Laughs) I was like, “Yeah, but you’re going to be Captain Latin America! You’re going to have the swagger of Argentina, the smoothness of Brazil, the machismo of Mexico! You’re going to be every country in one!” He said now that he’s a dad, he wanted to make movies that his daughter can see and so this was the perfect movie. He loved the idea that he could make fun of that persona that people see. That’s how it all kind of grew.

QUESTION: With so many working parts to keep moving forward, how important is it to maintain a sense of focus?

GUTIERREZ: As you can see by my weight, I have no control over what I do. I fall in love with everything! (Laugh) With the help of Brad and Guillermo, they keep me in line. It’s my first movie, so I want to put everything in there!

QUESTION: You aren’t kidding about wanting everything. While “The Book of Life” is not exactly a musical, music definitely expresses the hearts and souls of several characters. You chose to have new interpretations of classic rock songs interpolated throughout the film? You don’t always think, yeah, Radiohead/Día de los Muertos!

GUTIERREZ: Well, the original music will be from Gustavo Santaolalla and there will be little reinterpretations of various songs from different people. We got to do a more Latin American version of Ennio Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold,” which was amazing. The movie has a lot of spaghetti western references, too. At first, the people in the legal department said there’s no way any of the bands will give us the right to use any of their songs. But they started with the hardest one of them all, “Creep” by Radiohead. It’s a really complicated song because they don’t always play it. It kind of represents the “one hit wonder” era for them, so they don’t really like it. We sent them a description of how it was going to be used in the movie and what it meant and how it expressed the frustration of a teenager who couldn’t fit in with this world, couldn’t fit in with his family. The band said, “Yes! This is why that song was written and this is kind of what it means.” From that point on, any band that would give us any trouble, we would say “Oh, so you think you’re better than Radiohead?” (Laughs)

DEL TORO: Gustavo Santaolalla is known to mix the sound of Latin America with Northern influences, including electronic, punk and rock. That became the sound of The Book of Life. It’s the idea that these songs from all over the world, and from different eras would go through the film’s “sound machine” to sound authentically Mexican, but at the same time have a global reach.

QUESTION: Was there any song that required a little more effort to secure?

GUTIERREZ: The Mumford & Sons song, “I Will Wait.” That song is about faith and so when I first asked the band if we could use it to express Manolo’s waiting for Maria, the band said no. They felt it wasn’t a love song, that is was about faith. They said they would offer another song that hadn’t been released. We listened to the other song and it was beautiful, but it didn’t work as well as how “I Will Wait” would, so we went back. We hired a mariachi band to stand behind me and we shot an iPhone video of me begging the band, saying, “I understand this song is about faith, but you guys are artists should know that once you release a song, the audience will make the song into whatever they want. So when I heard your song, I heard it as a love song and in our movie, our characters will use it as a love song and love is about faith. And, if you guys love the children of Mexico, you will let us use your song.” Then the mariachi band started playing their song. This was on a Thursday when we sent it, and on Saturday the band said we could use the song.

QUESTION: Risks have always existed in breaking new ground, which seems even more challenging in today’s economic landscape. Still, now that “The Book of Life” is nearing release, how do you want this journey to be remembered?

GUTIERREZ: I’ve come to terms with that. I can only worry about what I present and then what the audience does with it. I would love to be able to tell them, but I feel like good artwork should speak for itself. But before we got here, I did say that if even if I never get to make this movie, there’s something really good here. I don’t mean “good” creatively. I just mean “good” for humanity. There’s some goodness in this idea that I got to pass on to non-Latino people and non-Hispanics. They need to know what’s happening out there. We live in such troubled times, but this is a huge reminder, “Hey you guys, there’s beautiful stuff out there, too.”

 “The Book of Life” opens everywhere on October 17.

Written for 20th Century Fox. Posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA