A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to see an incredibly emotional movie, Disney Pixar’s Coco. There were so many emotional moments in the film, but luckily there were a lot of laughs, too! The comic relief from the movie came primarily from Hector, someone that Miguel runs into shortly after arriving in the Land of the Dead and who he ends up teaming up with for his journey. Hector is played by Gael Garcia Bernal and we were able to chat with him about the changes the movie has already brought to Mexico, the biggest challenge of his role, and why seizing your moment may not always be a good thing!
You have such an amazing role in the movie. Was [the premiere] the first time that you saw it here in the States with an audience?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Last night it was the proper first time in the United States, for everybody I think.
Was the reaction very different from the one in Mexico?
Gael Garcia Bernal: It was in English. No, I mean it was as passionate- the applause at the end was fantastic, no? In Mexico it was the same, yeah. Maybe there were some differences but I don’t know, a film’s a film- when it’s good, it transcends anything. People reacted really strongly. So I’m really, really happy about that.
What made you want to be a part of this film?
Gael Garcia Bernal: From the beginning when I heard that, the email said something like, “Pixar wants you in a movie about Day of the Dead.” Like, of course I want to be in it. I went into a meeting with Lee and Adrian and Darla and they told me what the movie was gonna be about and a really wonderful meeting. I was there with my daughter as well and they were very kind because they brought my daughter some Finding Dory gifts.
They just told me what the movie was about, they told me the movie because there was no script at that point, still. They showed me some little images of who the character was gonna be, how he was gonna look like, who was gonna be Miguel, who were the actors that were involved. And also they showed me a little clip- this is one of the ways that they do a casting around who they want- they animate certain interviews or shows or films you’ve done and they put those dialogues into Hector. So there was this interview I did with Chelsea Handler, and they put it as if Hector was going into the show of Chelsea, you know? So, they showed that and it was really funny, it worked.
So, it was an easy decision?
Gael Garcia Bernal: It was so easy. It was daunting, the fact that I had to sing, but I like the challenge of it. That was the one that I was a little like, “Oh, okay. Let’s see what it is,” but I was counting on my postal code, coming from Guadalajara. I think that’s why we are able to do those shouts, those mariachi gritos because if you’re not from there it’s very difficult to do it. You have to be born with it or something, it’s one of the things that I go like, “Okay, that I can do.” Sing properly? Maybe not.
Mexico is very culturally rich. With this movie, is there a take away other than learning about the Day of the Dead that you would hope people will take away?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Some of you must be very familiar with the Day of the Dead celebration, but if you’re not, then you saw the Day of the Dead celebration or tradition is very open and very generous and a very transversal kind of celebration because anything you want to put into the alter is welcome. It invites a very personal point of view because it’s a reflection on death and nobody has the definite answer on what happens after you die, no? So, it is a reflection on death that we all engage in it on a very personal level. We all put our dead people- we put ourselves there, as a calaca, little skulls.
As a little skull with your name on it, you put yourself on the same level and stuff to reflect on death and life and just an open question, no? I feel so lucky to have been born with that and with a family that we always put them out, so the memory, the stories, the storytelling, the tradition behind it.
The reflections on life and death, it is a great way to find a personal question and a personal answer to that. To find your own explanation around things- if not, what’s the point, you know?
So, it is very generous and open and what they did to it is that they grabbed little aspects from each region in Mexico, not trying to get everything in you know, but having a very personal point of view around it. I mean they put Alebrijes into the celebration of Day of the Dead and it is not part of the celebration of the Day of the Dead but it doesn’t matter if it is, no? Because anything flows, so it just shows the complexity of a tradition that is incredibly deep and incredibly profound and necessary. Because ultimately, this reflection leads you to be a better human being, leads you to build a better society, leads you to build a better future as well to live life in a much more essential way. And that’s what I think this film shows about Mexico.
Do you think after this movie your celebration of the Day of the Dead will be a little different, a little deeper, or you changing something because of this?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Well, we were discussing it with a lot of friends and family in Mexico- we’ve never seen the Day of the Dead so celebrated in Mexico. Really, there was not a sense of Halloween at all this year, you couldn’t see it, it was all the Day of the Dead. Now, they’re doing a wonderful Carnival, that is really big.
And it was great to go walking around the streets, seeing people painted, the kids painted, and doing the costumes that is not the most materialistic aspect of Halloween, it is a very deep kind of engaging celebration. So I think it’s gonna be very different, it’s gonna change a lot. Many other cultural activities are changing the way that we’re engaging with it and we’re valuing it even more. I think more and more people are doing it but what’s interesting is that in Mexico when you go to school, in school is where you learn about the Day of the Dead.
It’s not necessarily the families that do it, but it’s at school that you start to build the alter- that’s the way I got into the Day of the Dead, as well.
How are you teaching your own daughter now about Day of the Dead traditions?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Well that’s the thing, because it is a very open ceremony. You start building the alter, for example, and you put your dead people there. This time with the alter we put Beatles photographs. We put some books that we like, we put some toys, we put up a lot of food we put up. A lot of little pieces that we found, Lego pieces, stuff like that. And they start to reflect on them when they invite their friends to see the alter and stuff and they start to explain it to them. It is really interesting what they tell them, about what goes on.
And also that knowledge, that security that there is no concrete answer on what happens when we die, you know? It is a great way to engage into that conversation with kids, as well. I mean, we were all kids and when we’re that age we start to wonder what is going on, no? And it is not easy sometimes to talk about it. And yet it happens, and it’s something that is a great way to open up the discussion really, and to let the kids have their own answer around it.
The movie also talks about seizing your moment, and you’ve managed to cross over from Mexican film to basically being renowned all across the world. So, what is the biggest ‘seize your moment’ episode in your life until now?
Gael Garcia Bernal: Well, this is a very personal opinion about seizing the moment. Carrying the flag of ‘seizing your moment’ I think has been one of the most damaging aspects of western society, the notion of seizing the moment.
It has made us burn the forests that we have in front of us, it has made us live the now as if there was no tomorrow, as if we’re not engaging with a responsibility that freedom gives us to know that there’s a future and there’s people that will come after. It is not a rush, life is more a craft. It’s built little by little and seizing the moment sometimes makes you fall into a trap that it is now or never. And there’s moments that it is now or never, but you know when that is. It’s not that there’s a rule that you have to follow that path. I think it has been really very damaging, that notion. And it is interesting that in the film it kind of comes in play.
Coco comes out in just two days on November 22nd, just in time for Thanksgiving weekend! While you wait, you can follow Disney Pixar’s Coco on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and the hashtag #PixarCoco! Be sure to check out the hashtag #PixarCocoEvent on my Twitter + Instagram accounts to see even more about my experience and keep an eye out for the next few weeks as I share exclusive interviews with the cast and filmmakers and more!