Coco Interview

From Pixar Superfan to Their Newest Superstar: Actor Anthony Gonzalez on Taking the Lead in 'Coco'

November 20, 2017Ben MK

Pixar movies have a long-standing history of endearing protagonists, but if you count how many of them are humans, the examples are few and far between. With their latest, Coco, however, they've found in its lead character, Miguel, one of their most relatable heroes yet. And it's due in large part to the performance from 12-year-old actor Anthony Gonzalez, who not only voices Miguel, but also lends his musical talents to the part.

I had a chance to sit down with the enthusiastic, young actor during his recent visit to Toronto, to chat about his experience landing his dream role in a Disney Pixar film, what it was like meeting some of his acting idols, and what some of his favorite memories, characters and songs from the movie are.

So, tell me, were you a big Pixar fan before working on Coco?

Gonzalez: Oh, yes, yes! I was a big fan of Pixar. Ever since very little, I would watch a lot of their movies. I grew up with Toy Story; I have a blanket that has Buzz Lightyear and it has my name, and I have a Woody toy. And I actually never thought that I would be in a Disney Pixar movie at this age. It's just been a dream come true.

Is that what made you want to be in the movie, because you're such a big fan?

Gonzalez: Well, at first I actually had no idea I was auditioning for a Disney Pixar movie, but I found out when I was 10 when I got to go to the Pixar studios. I also wanted to be in this movie, not only because I was a fan of Pixar, but also because of the message this movie gives. And it also has music involved, which is very special to me, because I've been singing since I was 4 years old, and to be in a movie where I can sing and act is just amazing.

What do you love more? Acting, singing, or playing the guitar?

Gonzalez: [laughs] So I used to take a couple guitar lessons, but I really wanted to focus on singing, so I stopped doing guitar and I started doing more singing lessons. But now I'm going to come back to the guitar, because I really think it's a wonderful instrument. Then I can play guitar and then also sing, which I think would be great. But I do play the violin, and I played the viola for about 4 or 5 years, and I also play the piano, which is so cool. And, yeah, I've been singing since I was 4 years old, so music is a part of my life.

When did you know that you wanted to pursue acting?

Gonzalez: Actually, I had no idea that I wanted to be an actor. All I knew is that I wanted to be a singer, but a long time ago my sister auditioned for this show in Univision, where every Thursday in the morning you would go and read books in Spanish. And my other sister started doing that, and my older brother started doing that, and then I started doing that as well.

And one day a director came to the show and she saw us and thought that me and my siblings would be great actors, because we use a lot of our facial expressions and we use a lot of our hands. And she told us about an agent, and we've been with him since I was 4. And every since my first audition, I knew that I wanted to be an actor for the rest of my life because it's just so much fun.

When he was here in Toronto earlier this year, your co-director, Adrian Molina, shared with us some video of when you were told you had the part. Tell me more about that moment you were given the good news.

Gonzalez: So I got the part when I was 11 years old, around Christmas, and I couldn't believe I was [going to be] part of this Disney Pixar movie. I grew up watching these movies, and all I could do was thank God. And I thank my family because without them I wouldn't be here. And I was just in shock and I couldn't believe, [because] my life would change from here on out.

How has your life changed since you got the role?

Gonzalez: Oh, in many ways, because I'm here in Toronto [and] I never thought I'd be in Toronto. And I went to Miami, I've gone to different places, and I actually got a chance to go to a cruise, which I never thought I'd go to, to do some promotion. I've actually seen some Miguel action figures that have my voice in it, and I see kids dressed up as Miguel, and it's changed my life in an awesome way. I never thought this would happen and I'm just so thankful.

There are quite a few Oscar-caliber actors in this movie. What was it like being in a film with actors like Benjamin Bratt and Gael García Bernal? Did you record any lines with them or meet them?

Gonzalez: So the process — it was just me in the booth and the director, Lee Unkrich, the producer, Darla Anderson, and the co-director, Adrian Molina, and a few other people who were listening, and I didn't get the chance to work with the other actors, unfortunately. It was just a lot easier for me, and Lee made my job a lot easier. I don't even call it a job, because it's what I love to do. And, yeah, without him this film wouldn't be what it is. I'm just so happy to have worked with him, someone who directed Toy Story 3. And also Darla Anderson, who worked on Toy Story 3 as well. I'm glad to have them in my life.

I actually got to meet Benjamin Bratt at D23, which was amazing because I got to sing "Remember Me" with him. That was an honor; I never thought I'd be singing with such a person who has been in this business for a long time. And I actually met Jaime Camil, who plays my father in the movie, around a week before the premiere, and I got to meet the rest of the cast at the premiere.

But I had met Renee Victor previously because I actually did an Oscar Meyer commercial with her, which was so cool. And just working with her again was amazing. I [also] got to meet Gael García Bernal at the premiere, which was so much fun. It was an honor to meet him, because he's been an actor for a long time, and I've seen him in a lot of things, just like Benjamin Bratt. Just to meet him and just to be part of this amazing cast has been an honor.

Did any of them give you any advice?

Gonzalez: I did a couple interviews with Benjamin Bratt in L.A., and I really learned a lot from him, like how he talked and his experience. And he's a good role model for me that I look up to, just like [how] Ernesto de la Cruz is a role model for Miguel.

Other than your character, Miguel, do you have a favorite character in the movie?

Gonzalez: I just love Dante so much! [laughs] But besides him, I love Mamá Imelda because she's the person who started this family business, and she's the leader of the family. And I really love Héctor because he's a funny, silly guy. I also love Ernesto de la Cruz because he's Miguel's idol, and if it weren't for him then Miguel wouldn't be who he was. He's really someone who Miguel just looked up to, and I thought that was amazing.

Did you identify with any of these characters? Did any of them strike a chord with you, personally?

Gonzalez: I did connect a lot with Miguel because we both love music, we both love our families, [and] we both celebrate the Day of the Dead. I really connect with him a lot — I felt like I was Miguel, which was so cool. And I also love how Miguel can be a role model for other children who have a dream that they want to pursue and [that] they want to share with the world. Because Miguel, even though there are many obstacles in his way, including his family, he still didn't give up and he didn't let anything stop him from doing what he loved, which is to be a musician.

And what was your favorite thing about working on Coco, or do you have a favorite memory from working on Coco?

Gonzalez: I just loved every time they would tell me, "You're going to sing when you go to Pixar." I'd just be so happy because I just love singing so much, especially these wonderful songs in the movie. They have been an honor to sing because they're just so good, and I love the lyrics and the messages. And just the making of it was just so much fun, alongside with Lee and Darla and Adrian.

Do you have any favorite songs from the movie?

Gonzalez: Oh my gosh, they've asked me this a lot, but it's so hard to decide. I love "Remember Me" since it's very emotional and it's a wonderful song. I also love "Proud Corazón" because it's a song that has great melody and rhythm, and I love to sing that one. I love "Un Poco Loco" because it's very silly. [laughs] And I also love "The World Es Mi Familia" because it gives a wonderful message; [that] the world is our family and we should all stay united.

What about the flip side? What was the most challenging thing about working on Coco? Because you said when you're acting you use a lot of facial expressions...

Gonzalez: Yes, that is pretty challenging. The challenging thing about this is that you're not with other actors and you don't know how they're saying their lines [and] you're not really using your facial expressions and you're not really using your arms. All that it is is your voice, but what I did is I would use my facial expressions and my arms a lot, and they actually told me that they used some of my face and some of arms in Miguel, which was so cool.

So Miguel has a dream, and your dream is to act and sing — but do you have any bigger dreams, in terms of acting? Are there any dream projects that you would like to work on?

Gonzalez: Yeah! Well, what I really want to continue doing is just continue acting, because that's what I love to do, and especially now that I'm home-schooled, I can do it a lot more often. I want to work on a lot of shows, I want to work on big shows and big movies. That's really what I love to do, and I just want to continue doing it.

Coco is in theaters everywhere November 22nd.

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