We had the awesome opportunity to interview Edward James Olmos who is the voice of “Chicharron” in Pixar’s Coco while in Los Angeles a few weeks ago for the movie premiere. I am excited to share this amazing interview with you and hope that you enjoy it as much as we did.
Exclusive Interview with Edward James Olmos
Q: Did this movie make you cry?
Thinking about my grandparents and my great-grandparents conjures up the reason why we are who we are. You start to get into your memory of where you come from and who made you that way and especially with your parents. You start with them, but this was very emotional for me. Even right now thinking about it I get emotional.
Q: How do you want to be remembered?
Amongst my family hopefully they’ve shared enough time with me and that I shared enough time with them and remember the times that we spent together. I mean, so many different stories, but just to remembered in a way that empowers them would be nice.
Q: What statement does the film make?
It’s pretty simple. The film itself is very direct in making you feel that the Day of the Dead is a very needed moment in everybody’s life. Everybody has their own way of dealing with their past and where they come from and each culture has their own way of doing it and it’s wonderful when you learn about it, but this is the first time that I’ve ever seen this explained so simply. That’s why I took the role. I mean, my part is a cameo, but it’s very intrinsic to the story. I mean, you really realize what happens when no one thinks of you anymore.
Q: How did you draw on your own experiences for the role?
I didn’t have to go write a Bible about this character. I didn’t need to do research. They had it all written, so I was brought into this and they invited me to Pixar and asked me to come down and they wanted to ask me about this movie that they were making and I said I’d love to and I went down and I saw their studios and I saw their creative space and it’s beautiful. I mean, it’s just wonderful. If you ever have the opportunity, go, but I went down there and they told me the story. I didn’t know the whole story. I never read the whole script, so when I sat down, I was just like you. I sat down and I knew my little portion of it which was directly related to the characters I worked with. Hector and little Miguel and those, that was it. That’s what I knew and they had told me, it dealt with family and it dealt with remembrance. I know about the Day of the Dead and we have celebrated the Day of the Dead since I was born and it’s an integral part of living inside of a Mexican household. Halloween was different. You know, using the moment of Halloween as a celebration of our death. Life and death situation here in this planet and our life, but we would always go and celebrate the Day of the Dead with my great-grandparents, my great-great grandparents. We’d always go around where they were all buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in East L.A.
Q: What message do you have for people who may be scared to go see the film?
I think we have right to be defensive of our culture because the art forms have a tendency to exploit. They romanticize, glamorize, exploit the material. They try to make money with it and in a way, that’s what it is. This is a business. The entertainment business, but in a case like this, this is probably the most effective and the most important film that’s come out of the Hollywood system because at this moment in time especially, no one knew six years when they started to do this that it would come out in this year, this month and the situation would be what we’re experiencing right this moment. So I mean, for us to be at this level right now and be able to sit here and be happy about something that touches every single person no matter where you come from, what your roots are. All it does it make you think about where you come from and who you are. Without being able to understand, you know, where you come from, it’s really hard for you to be here. You’re constantly wondering. Say you’re an orphan and you don’t know anything about your past. You have no idea. You’re constantly searching for that reality and trying to find out something to help me nail me down a little bit more, understand myself better. Who am I? Those of us who, I was raised by my great-grandparents. Forget it, guys. I just had a very emotional experience upstairs talking about this because I’ll tell you the story that I told them because it’s a story that I think really personifies what this movie represents. To talk about these people that don’t want to give it a chance, fine. Don’t. I can’t help them. Sadness is that this, if exposed to a two or three or four, five year old child, will burn itself into their system and their whole way of being and will end up making them whole. They’ll never forget the people who took them to see it. Let alone, they’ll never forget who they are, where they come from. They’ll constantly be looking for that. Just like the final when he’s there telling his sister and his is your da da, and this is, you know, oh, my God, it’s so emotional, but to tell you the impact of story and to be able to relate to stories and be able to understand the great-grandparent and the grandparent and the parent.
My father and my mother gave us as much time as they could. My father’s gone and everyday I think about him. I don’t just think of him on Day of the Dead. I think about him every single day and it comes in. I’m emotional about it and but when I was about three years old, and I remember very well, walking with my great-grandfather, walking and when you’re that age, you ask tons of questions and what’s that, what’s that. Hey, what does that say? What does this? Where we going? You know, constantly. My great-grandfather was about eighty-three. He died at eighty-seven. I was about seven when he died so he was shuffling and we were walking along the street and I was asking a thousand questions. Constantly talking and he would just listen and move along and one day, I said, Grandpa, Abuelito, Abuelito, what, what is that? What does that say? What is that? And he looked at it and then he looked down and me and now we’re here on First and Indiana which is the heart of East L.A., Boyle Heights and he says, whenever you see that mijito, you look for the bird. You look for a plant. You look for a flower. You look for a tree. You look for grass because, mijito, that’s a stop sign. I said, okay. That’s how I learned what a stop sign was. Now, my grandfather wouldn’t have said that. My father would not have said that. They would not have understood that moment in time and what it meant to resonate. Now, when I see a stop sign and I’m going down the street at seventy, who do I think about? You can’t get it from the grandparent and you don’t get it from, that intensity, you know, he knew what he was doing. He knew exactly what he was doing and so, you know, there was no birds. I think there was no trees. It was First Street. There was not a tree. There was sidewalk so I’m looking around. A sparrow or something, you know, flew by. Say, hey, Grandpa, there’s a bird. Okay, great. Great. We never talked about it again. Didn’t have to. I knew it. I knew what that was. It was a stop sign and when you see that, you look for the grass. You look for nature. You look for life and so I’ve carried that with me and here I am at seventy, telling the story that I received, you know, and those are the stories that when you pass them on, like what it did to you when you heard it for the first time right now. You realize wow, that’s really interesting. You know, that’s what this is. That’s what Coco is. That’s what our people who don’t want to see this because they didn’t make it or it wasn’t made by a total Latino structure. I’m in it. Maybe that’ll help, but that being said, this is a great contribution. They don’t even know yet. They won’t find out. I mean, they being the structure of Pixar, the directors, the non-Latinos that have learned about this now.
Pixar made this movie really entrenched inside of what it means, but they don’t have, they don’t have the faintest idea what’s going to happen with this movie. Twenty years from today, every Latino family and then many, many other cultures also will have this film in their library of, and put it in whenever the kids are around. Here, watch this one and they will in turn embellish and bring forth. That’s why, Selena is a perfect example. Selena, who’s been dead now for twenty-two years. What a sad story. Pathetic, difficult movie to watch, but you love watching it. People love that movie and they watch it over and over and again and then when they get to the point when she’s, they kill her. When you have children, six, seven, twelve years old that are sitting in the room with you and you’re watching it and then they turn and they’ve been laughing, having a good time watching this beautiful story about this little girl who becomes, you know, living her dream and all of the sudden, bingos.
Q: Do you have any special memories of Day of the Dead from growing up?
It was a party. It was a celebration of life, of living, with bringing, conjuring up the understanding of those that got you there. You’re just saying thank you to them. Thanks for bringing me to this space and here we are around your, your tomb or your gravesite and we put flowers and little candles and you know, their picture and their food. I bring my dad his menudo. We just sit there and laugh and cry. There’s a lot of crying and especially the older you get. The closer you get to being in the hole, the closer you are to understanding what life really is and we’re all that close. With the situation in North Korea, we are very, very close, all of us and we all know it and then we all like, sit and go, oh Jesus. Why do you have that, how that gonna come out? But that’s the reality of our life. We have to celebrate it.
Q: Why is Chicharron forgotten and what do you think we can do to avoid being forgotten?
Just be happy around those that you love. I’d like to remember the fact that I always try to be happy and I was always up because it’s a choice. I could have woke up this morning and said, oh, God almighty, I have to do so much of this stuff. I gotta do this, oh, God, what a day, but instead, I woke up and I said, well, I got to do all this stuff, yeah, but guess what? I woke up.
Q: How is this movie now shaping your own experience with your family?
It always has been a part of my family. Day of the Dead has always been an integral part of our family, but in essence, this is an ability to understand that this will live for the duration of humanity. This piece of art will be around as long as any piece of art can be around. It’ll be passed on, so I’m very grateful. I mean, I play an integral part to the story because you really realize what it is that we’re doing and what this is about. When I finally said to Hector play me my song. That’s when Hector says, well, that’s what happens when people don’t think about you anymore. You disappear. And where’d he go? I don’t know. You know, and it’s not about religion, you know. Far from it. It’s not about belief in heaven and earth and all that. It’s all about just the understanding of what we conjure when we’re here. Not one of you can be here without thinking about who got you here and if you don’t do it daily, you’re missing the day and that’s really the key to, you know, just being thankful. I wake up in the morning, I go, thank you and I, when I go to sleep, I’m grateful. Ahh. And those two moments in my life are consistent and it’s like, when I wake up in the morning, the very first thing I do is make the bed. I don’t know. I think that came from my great-grandmother. I’m sure of it. That’s what I do, so it’s an integral thing. As soon as I wake up, I don’t know, and I can’t even go through the room without the bed being made. I don’t know. There’s something about that. I think they talk about that, you know, and there’s something to that, I know, psychologically.
Oh, the chancleta, well, forget it. That moment in the movie is probably one of the most priceless moments. For those of you that don’t know anything about it, I got to tell you. If that’s a first experience you’re ever heard about the chancleta, the shoe. In, very seldom do they hit anybody with it like this. Hit like this. It wasn’t, they couldn’t catch the kids. They couldn’t catch them. They took out the chancleta to throw it. Do you remember when she throws it and she goes, okay, now, go get it and she’s walking around barefoot and like that, that was the epitome and when she gets the mariachi with the sticks up his nose, I almost died. That would never happen, but man, that’s funny.
ABOUT PIXAR’S COCO
Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Héctor (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.