I can’t believe this marks the last interview in the Coco press event series I’ve been sharing with you. This journey has been extremely rewarding and to see that Disney/Pixar’s Coco has the most amount of tickets sold in Mexico’s history and it is now the #1 movie in the USA is such a blessing, especially when you know the love and intention that was put into it. It was so incredible to walk the Hollywood Red Carpet along these creative geniuses who created the movie and to enjoy the movie premiere with them!
I’m sure you’ve seen clips and trailers of Coco already and in reading my D23 Expo animation panel recap and my interview with Benjamin Bratt who voices the character Ernesto de la Cruz in this breathtaking animated feature, you will know there’s a special song called “Remember Me” that is very central to the story. It’s De la Cruz’s most famous song and Miguel wants to be just like him!
“Remember Me” was written by Frozen songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (yes, the same Bobby Lopez who won an Oscar for “Let it go!”) The first verse goes:
Though I have to say goodbye
Don’t let it make you cry”
But I warn you, it will definitely make you cry. Especially if you lost someone you hold so dear, or you are an immigrant who had to say goodbye to your country, your friends, your language, and everything you knew, or if you are a mom who is thinking about what will happen when you are gone, or just watched that scene in Beaches where Hillary is frantically searching for a picture that shows her mother’s hands. You know, you’re thinking about how your child will remember you…
That’s why Disney/Pixar’s Coco has surpassed all expectations. It’s an ode to the Día de Muertos celebration, which is centered in an universal principle that anyone can relate: keeping those you love in your heart, in your memories, and through how you live your life.
When we sat down with Edward J. Olmos to chat about his role in Disney*PIXAR’s Coco as Chicharrón, which is the name of a popular dish Latinos love to eat, unless they’re vegan, that is, because it’s basically pork grinds, or chicken, in some cases.
He shared with us the special significance of the making of Coco and what it means to the sacred tradition of the Day of the Dead as a necessary ritual for everyone who wishes to be remembered, and as a compass on our way through life:
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.
He was so excited about making a film that “dealt with family and rememberance” that he said YES without knowing the whole script! He found out about the whole story when we did, because we watched the premiere together (well, I had an earlier screening so I actually saw it before him, so shhhhh!).
But Edward J. Olmo’s part is what truly makes the film so moving. This is what director Lee Unkrich said about it:
It was incredibly poignant and needed to be an important part of the story that we were telling. It took some time over time, but ultimately that notion ended up becoming the bedrock of the story that we told.
Here’s what Edward J. Olmos had to say:
That’s why I took the role. My part is a cameo, but it’s very intrinsic to the story. You realize what happens when no one thinks of you anymore.
That’s a scary thought, isn’t it? I have this mantra I like to share with other moms:
Be The Mom You Want Your Child To Remember…
This mantra helps me keep a wide perspective and to focus on the things that matters, but this interview with Edward J. Olmos and his scene in Coco helped me craft another mantra:
Be A Mom Worth Remembering
It sounds so hard! Benjamin Bratt said eloquently during our interview that this scene “punches you in the heart,” because the thought that you died without truly living is a hard pill to swallow. Edward J. Olmos had some advice to be remembered, rather than forgotten:
Just be happy around those that you love. I’d like to be remembered by 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, I got to do all this stuff, but guess what? I woke up.
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 just being thankful. I wake up in the morning, I go, thank you and when I go to sleep, I’m grateful. And those two moments in my life are consistent. Amongst my family, I hope they’ve shared enough time with me and that I shared enough time with them and remember the times that we spent together. There are so many different stories, but just to remembered in a way that empowers them would be nice.
How would you like to be remembered? How would you like your child to remember you? What do you want people to say about you when you pass on? Yes, it’s all YOUR choice – we all get this choice. It was so moving to hear how Edward J. Olmos remembers the people in his family when he puts up his ofrendas on the Day of the Dead and why he cried watching Coco:
Thinking about my grandparents, my great-grandparents. It 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, especially with your parents. You start with them, but this was very emotional for me. Even right now, thinking about it I get emotional.
Edward J. Olmos shared that he has celebrated the Day of the Dead since he was born and “it’s an integral part of living inside of a Mexican household.” He reaffirmed that it is not to be confused with Halloween, which is why the Coco filmmakers decided to release the movie on Thanksgiving, rather than on November 2 in the USA, even though it had been released in Mexico for almost a month.
We’d always go around where they were all buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in East L.A. It was a party. It was a celebration of life, of living, with 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 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 close, all of us and we all know it and then we all, sit and go, why do you have that, how is that gonna come out? But that’s the reality of our life. We have to celebrate it.
I learned during our interview that Edward J. Olmos was raised by his great-grandparents and most of us were in tears listening to him share a childhood memory:
And my great-grandfather was about eighty-three when I was three. He died at eighty-seven… 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, 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.
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? … That is wisdom and you can only get that from the great-grandparents… that intensity…He knew exactly what he was doing and there were no birds… And there was not a tree. There was sidewalk and you know I was looking around. A sparrow flew by. Say, hey, Grandpa, there’s a bird. 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, 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.
There was so much reverence in that story and he was so emotional, and here I am crying and thinking about my great-grandmother, Mamá Monan, and my Papá Manuel, my mamá Ramona, and my mamá Lidia. I remember them and I have so many of these little moments that shaped who I am and I feel a rush of gratitude.
And just as Edward J. Olmos is blessing so many by sharing the story of his great-grandfather teaching him mindfulness at age 3, we can all keep our ancestors alive by sharing what we learned from them, by living what we learned, and by following their example. I want to be like Edward J. Olmos’ great-grandpa and like all my ancestors who were so wise.
I want to be worth remembering and to be remembered with honor, gratitude, and reverence. I don’t want to be so busy, distracted, and caught up that I don’t STOP to make meaningful memories. I want to seize the right moments.
Edward J. Olmos told us that his father is now gone and he doesn’t just think about him on the Day of the Dead, but everyday. I want my kids to put my picture up on the Day of the Dead and remember me…
If you haven’t taken your kids to see Coco, make an appointment this weekend. It is such a beautiful film in which Miguel learns the importance of family, tradition, and identity… and your family will learn right along with them.
Edward J. Olmos understands that we all (and especially Latinos) tend to be defensive of our culture, but we must all set those feelings aside and understand that this is a message that must be shared:
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 play an integral part to the story, because you really realize what it is that we’re doing and what this is about. This is a great contribution. Twenty years from today, every Latino family and then many other cultures also will have this film in their library and put it in whenever the kids are around. Here, watch this one and they will in turn embellish and bring forth. This is probably the most effective and the most important film that’s come out of the Hollywood system because at this moment and 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. If this is exposed to a two, three, four, or five year old child, it 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… Be happy about something that touches every single person no matter where you come from or what your roots are. It makes you think about where you come from and who you are. Without being able to understand where you come from, it’s really hard for you to be here. You’re constantly wondering. Who am I?
There was so much wisdom in every word Edward J. Olmos shared with us… so willingly, openly, and in the most heartfelt way. We also laughed when he mentioned abuela’s chancleta – the mighty slipper every kid feared but it never caught any of them when thrown. He called it “one of the most priceless moments” in the film.
Coco is a hilarious, heartwarming, and historic film you don’t want to miss!
How do you want your child to remember you? It’s such a vital question to ask and even more important to answer! Go ahead, write it down, and live in a way that makes it true!
Make sure to follow along with me on social media using #PixarCocoEvent for more interviews with the Disney•Pixar’s “Coco” cast and filmmakers, as well as more from Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, #ABCTVEvent, and Big Hero 6 The Series. Check out http://movies.disney.com/coco, Hashtag: #PixarCoco, Pixar Coco Facebook, Pixar Coco Twitter and Pixar Coco Instagram, too!
Interview photos by Silvia Martinez | Red Carpet pictures courtesy of Disney