It didn’t take much to sell Gael Garcia Bernal on Pixar‘s Coco. The voice of Hector, Miguel’s sleazy guide through the Land of the Dead, Bernal knew the project was something he wanted to be involved with almost immediately.
“When they told me what it was gonna be about and the way they were gonna do it, it gave me the confidence to think that it will be good.”
While he loves his character, Bernal said the main pull was simply the fact that it was a “Pixar movie about the Day of the Dead.” Citing the team’s extensive research into the subject, Bernal considers Coco a “comprehensive movie” about the holiday with “a very personal point of view.” Even though there are a lot of authentic details in the film, like ofrendas with photos of deceased family and marigold petal paths to guide spirits to their ancestor’s homes, Bernal insists Coco doesn’t “impose how the Day of the Dead should be celebrated.” Calling the film’s presentation of the holiday “generous,” he said he felt great being part of a story that’s “not seen in movies a lot.”
Hector plays a key role in the plot of Coco but also provides the audience with a lot of comedic relief throughout the emotional story. Describing him as “a bit of an anti-hero,” Bernal said there are a few characters he thought about when working in the booth. Though Baloo from The Jungle Book, Sixto Rodriguez and Ratso Rizzo from Midnight Cowboy may not have many similarities, Bernal credits all of them with helping him envision Hector. A suave, charismatic individual who walks around with an energetic groove in every step, Hector doesn’t seem to care what those around him think.
Bernal may be a veteran actor, starring in hits like Amores Perros and The Motorcycle Diaries, but Coco marks his first time in the recording booth. Admitting he was curious about the process before getting started, Bernal said the experience was “like doing a normal film because you try out things, you play, you experiment.” Since the audio is recorded before the animation is finalized, he insists he had the freedom to flesh out his character through improv instead of being forced into certain rhythms based on pre-designed key frames.
His experience on Coco was enjoyable enough that he said he’d love to return to the booth. Bernal seems to have a good problem on his hands though, since he started with some of the top creative minds in the animation world.
“I’m spoiled in a way because the way that they do things is really incredible. I really like the process, I really like the pace that they do things, the way that they prepare, the way that they organize, the care that they put into it, the rigor that they put into it as well. I mean this project has been going for six years, every day there have been people working on it, developing the movie, and it shows.”
Animation wasn’t the only new part of the process for Bernal. While the actor may star in the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle, he has no problem admitting he’s no musician. Even though he likes to sing, the fact that he was asked to perform in Coco scared Bernal. He credits the Pixar team with helping him “feel very comfortable” as he experimented with his singing voice in the booth.
“What’s good about me not being a singer is I can sing through a character. There’s people who are singers who can not make a voice of another character because they already have a singing voice and with me I’m a blank slate. The only way I can sing is through a character.”
As we discussed the family oriented movie, my phone placed next to him recording his answers, Bernal noticed a light pop up on the screen.
“Oh, your Grandpa is calling,” he said with a smile.
After we laughed and finished the rest of the interview, Bernal had one piece of advice that echoes the Coco’s familial themes: “Make sure you call him back.”
So if you’re reading this Gael, don’t worry, I called him back and everything is aye-okay.
Coco opens in U.S. theaters on November 22, 2017.