Benjamin Bratt enters the room, his face beaming with pride. We all know why. We screened his latest movie, Coco, where he plays the dashing, iconic musician Ernesto De La Cruz. He has a lot to smile about.
“I feel so good today because I went to the most remarkable premiere last night,” he says. “I’ve been around the block a little bit and that was probably the most spectacular, most heartwarming, most fun premiere I’ve ever been to. I mean where else can you be greeted by a mariachi band and dancers and the whole thing was a celebration from start to finish. I was rocked, dude, by the end.”
We (the 25 bloggers interviewing him) all nod excitedly because we were there too. Where the seats of the El Capitan Theatre were filled with the filmmakers, cast, crew and all their family members. The air buzzed with magic, unity, and love for this project that took six years to finally grace the screen.
Signing on for the role
Bratt, 53, is well aware of all that was involved, and how special his role was to the story. He told us when he first signed on, he visited Pixar Animation Studios to meet the director and producers. As he walked into the meeting room his eyes roamed up and down the walls that were covered with Mexican iconography, Dia de los Muertos illustrations and sketches of characters.
That’s when it hit him.
“It affected me in a way that actually kind of surprised me,” says the half-Peruvian actor. “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.”
His character of Ernesto de La Cruz is pivotal in the film. He is the musical idol of the Miguel, the little boy who dreams of someday becoming a flashy guitar player as well. De La Cruz was created by the writers as a homage to Mexican singers like Vicente Fernandez and Pedro Infante. And like them, De La Cruz oozes with stage presence, on-screen charisma, and charm. Little Miguel is mesmerized by his talent as well as his legacy.
“You know, Bratt explains. “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 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 drew the guy. That’s a good-looking skeleton. His hair was perfect!”
Prepping his pipes to sing
The role required Bratt to develop a new skill – singing. Early on, he chuckled at the idea, even though he secretly yearned to be a crooner like Marc Anthony. In reality, Bratt didn’t think he had the chops. But he pushed through to give it a go.
“I became immediately terrified because Lee and Darla and Adrian (producers and directors) wanted me to attempt it,” he said. “And so, and what better circumstances could I do that. They provided me with Liz Kaplan (instructor). 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.”
One of De La Cruz’s memorable lines is “Seize the Moment.” We asked him what that means to him.
“Seize the moment I interpret as a call to action,” he says. “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.”
And so far, it seems, he is living up to those words. Seeing him talk about the film, it’s clear it’s been a meaningful project that he hopes to share with the world. To him, it’s not just another title to add to his resume, it’s a powerful story about life and death.
“This story views death as a kind of celebration, as a continuation really of what we are and who we are,” he says. “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.”
Because the movie takes place on Dia de Los Muertos and the song he sings in the film is called Remember Me, we asked him what he hopes to be remembered for.
“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,” he says. “And as someone who tried to live his life with integrity. Nothing too deep. Oh, and he’s pretty fun, too. He was a fun guy!”
Coco opens nationwide November 22, 2017!