Starstruck by Benjamin Bratt
It was clear that many of us in that room at the Beverly Hilton hotel were starstruck as soon as Benjamin Bratt rounded the corner of that enormous suite, the one we’d been admiring the incredible views from just minutes before.
Truth be told, this was the one interview I’d been waiting on for weeks, since the time I received that pixie-dusted email in my inbox.
Disney*Pixar’s COCO isn’t new territory for Bratt, as many know him from previous movies like Miss Congeniality, Despicable Me 2, and yes, even Marvel’s Doctor Strange. He is no stranger to television either, with his current role on Star, and let’s not forget Modern Family, 24, or even Private Practice.
For me, the role that first captivated me was the role Bratt played so well as Detective Rey Curtis on the famed television series, Law & Order. Alongside actor Jerry Orbach, he was perfectly cast as part of a team that well, is best described in the opening credits of each episode. Can’t you hear it now? … “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.” Boom. Boom.
As you’ll soon discover (this Thanksgiving), Law & Order wasn’t the only project he was perfectly cast for.
Disclaimer: Disney*Pixar invited me to California on an all-expenses paid trip, in exchange for my coverage of events, which included an exclusive interview with Benjamin Bratt regarding his role in COCO.
On Attending the Premiere
Benjamin Bratt came to meet with us just last week to discuss his role as Ernesto del la Cruz, larger than life musician in life and death, in COCO.
As Bratt walked into the room, he was surprised by a group of 25 bloggers eagerly applauding as much for his entire scoop of work as the unbelievable movie seen just the night before.
He flashed his smile. You could tell he was having the time of his life, and the energy that the Hollywood premiere had given him was palpable. Bratt said, “I feel so good today because I went to the most remarkable premier last night.” He soon realized we had been there too. (And if you haven’t seen my Hollywood Coco Premiere post, head there soon to see all the details)
Bratt looked at us for acknowledgement, “Wasn’t that something? I’ve been around the block a little bit and that was probably the most spectacular, most heartwarming, most fun premier I’ve ever been to. I mean where else can you be greeted by a mariachi band and dancers and the whole thing was a celebration from start to finish. I was rocked, dude, by the end. Were you?”
The Beauty That Is COCO
I soon discovered that the night before, when Benjamin Bratt sat exactly 4 rows behind me in the El Capitan Theatre, was the very first time he had seen the film completed in its’ entirety.
For some reason that surprised me. No wonder he had the biggest grin on his face when I turned around at the movie’s end. He was happy. He was proud. And he should have been.
Bratt described the experience of watching COCO, “I think I was most struck by the beauty of the artistry. It’s such a beautiful film to look at. And then when you add like that technical expertise to the emotional depth of the film and what it delivers at the end, there’s no other word for it, and powerful. It was a really powerful result.”
Of course, as you have read in my No-Spoiler Pixar Coco Movie Review, COCO is a surprising movie, one that I will not spoil for my readers. It’s a beautiful journey with twists and turns you don’t expect (and that is the beauty of Pixar storytelling). But of course, we couldn’t help but as Bratt his thoughts on some of those twists and turns. He answered, though those answers are for a post down the road, after everyone has seen the film.
On Illuminating the Latino Culture
No matter whether one has any knowledge about the Latino culture or not, there is no denying the beauty of it as it is clearly represented in COCO. It is the backdrop of one boy’s incredible adventure, one that Benjamin Bratt is proud of.
Bratt remarked, “What I’m most excited about with COCO is, it’s finally an opportunity on a global scale to illuminate the beauty of the Latino culture.”
The Surprising Gift from Pixar
It was clear that Benjamin Bratt was moved upon his first visit to Pixar Studios. I can’t blame him, as I recall the first time I was able to tour Pixar headquarters myself earlier this year. <– You’ve got to see the pictures.
He described the emotional experience. “Way back when, when I was first given a tour of the Pixar Studios up in Emeryville, Lee and Darla and Adrian led me into this room that, from floor to ceiling on every wall was covered in Mexican iconography, Day of the Dead colors and images and some of the characters that were drawn, illustrated that they were going to portray in the film.”
Bratt continued, “And it affected me in a way that actually kind of surprised me because it was in that moment that I recognized these beautiful brown faces albeit they’re animated figures. They looked like people I know, the people I come from. And it underscored the fact that that portrayal hasn’t been done yet on this kind of scale. And so, in a way, it reintroduces who we are as a people in our uniqueness but also in our sameness to everyone else in the world whether you’re from China or Africa or Europe or anywhere else in the world.”
He beautifully reflected, “That at the end of the day, for all the uniqueness that we have, and there’s a lot that’s vibrant and authentic and beautiful about Latino culture, we all at the end of the day are more alike than we are different and this need or sense of wanting to belong to something, to recognize where you come from, to stay connected to the people that paved a path for you before you got here.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Meet the man, the myth, the legend: Ernesto de la Cruz ✨🎸🎶
Benjamin Bratt was asked about his larger than life character, Ernesto de la Cruz, the most popular musician in Mexican history, and where he drew the inspiration to voice his character.
Bratt said, “You know, the truth is, I had never seen a film with Pedro Infante or Jorge Negrete. I was loosely aware of the Vicente Fernandez’s music. But after Lee and Adrian shared with me that those are the people in real life that they were drawing on for this character I went out to YouTube, of course, and studied a lot of it. And what I realized was that, there’s real star power.”
As someone who had never heard of these musicians, I relied on Bratt to help me understand, and he did just that.
Bratt recalled, “You know, they were like the Mexican versions of Frank Sinatra. Someone who is as adored for his musical ability as he was for his movie star magnetism. And that doesn’t happen to everyone. Not everyone possesses that set of talent or that particular personal chemistry. So, you know, you have to create it. And so, I just thought okay, I’ll just try to be larger-than-life. And it’s an even more difficult trick to do it just vocally, you know. Thank God, they draw the guy.”
Then Benjamin Bratt said it all…”That’s a good-looking skeleton. His hair was perfect.” Too funny!
Let’s take a look at Ernesto de la Cruz in action…
Oh, and wait until you hear Ernest de la Cruz sing!
Does Benjamin Bratt Really Sing?
Yes, yes he really does.
I recall sitting in the packed room at D23 Expo this past summer when they were announcing new Disney movies, and Benjamin Bratt came out on stage and gave us a preview of the life, the celebration, that would be COCO. He sang. He sang beautifully.
Was this a secret talent he’d been hiding all these years? We were about to find out.
Bratt said, “Yo, I didn’t know that I could sing.”
He quickly added, “So, here’s the deal. You know, I acknowledge that I’m a fairly decent actor but I’ve always wanted to be a singer. I just admire singers so much and musicians in general because with singing, your voices your instrument.”
Bratt continued, “And it translates across all language, all cultures because a beautiful voice is a beautiful voice. I don’t possess one when it comes to singing. And I’ve always said I’d give my left big toe to be able to be a balladeer like Mark Anthony, say. He’s just a phenomenal, powerful singer and a friend but someone whose talent I admire immensely. So, when I was offered the role, I thought it was a bit ironic that I was meant to play the most, you know, famous singer and musician in Mexican history.”
Now if this was me, I would have been stressed out and afraid. Very afraid. How was Benjamin Bratt handling it?
He explained, “I had a little chuckle for myself. And then, of course, I became immediately terrified because Lee and Darla and Adrian wanted me to attempt it. And so, and what better circumstances could I do that. They provided me with Liz Kaplan who’s the instructor, mentor to the stars in a New York. I had several, you know, sessions with her. And they just gave me the opportunity to fail. And the first few sessions, I’ll tell you, they were horrible. They were really horrible. But, you know, they gave me a shot. I was happy to do it. And that it’s in the movie, I recorded every song, you know, that it’s in the movie, I’m really proud of it.”
I’m impressed to say the least, and happy to know that celebrities are just like us, a little fearful when stretched out of their comfort zone.
How Bratt Wants to be Remembered
We asked some heavy hitting questions in this interview, so much so that even Bratt commented, “Y’all are getting deep today.”
Bratt spent time talking about death, something that is intrinsic in a movie with skeletons, as hilarious as they are in the film.
He commented, “I think people give short shrift to the impact and power of film stories. They really can do a lot to teach young people, whether you want them to or not. And in that, this story views death as a kind of celebration, as a continuation really of what we are and who we are. And it’s not something to be feared but something to realize that it’s part of the natural cycle of life and that you can in fact stay connected to the people that you love.”
And then he got personal, talking about his own mother, as she is getting older.
He continued, “I think there’s a hopefulness in that and a kind of comfort, too, I would say. And I already know that and I already feel that and I already believe that as do most of my family members. But seeing the film reminded me last night as my mother now enters into a certain set of years in her life, she would hate for me to name it, that as we edged closer to our moment of mortality that there will be a kind of comfort in knowing that we can stay connected through prayer, through memory, through acknowledgment, through, even through ofrendas,” – referring to an offering often given during a Día de los Muertos celebration.
How does Bratt want to be remembered?
He said, “If I am to be remembered at all I would hope it would be for, for my kindness or my generosity, for the love that lives in my heart for people that I hold near and dear. And for someone who tried to live his life with integrity. Nothing too deep. Oh, and he’s pretty fun, too. He was a fun guy.”
As someone who clearly told our group that he identifies as a husband and father first, above all, I would say it is evident that he will be remembered one day not only as a talented actor who touched many lives, but as one who loved his family dearly. As a girl who has already lost her mother, I can say that there’s nothing more honorable than that.
Benjamin Bratt was kind enough to take some photos with us after our interview. Surprisingly when I landed back home in Texas later that night, I heard the news that I was on Benjamin Bratt’s Instagram and Facebook page. It’s true…he generously posted our photo there too.
What an incredible experience, one I’ll never forget.
Read my No-Spoiler COCO Movie Review, which answers the questions and also addresses any concerns parents might have.
Now, let’s take a look at the final trailer released just a week ago…
COCO opens in theatres everywhere on November 22nd!
More from this Disney/Pixar/ABC Press Trip (more coming daily):
Pixar Coco Movie Review – No Spoilers, but parents questions answered!
Hollywood Coco Premiere – My red carpet experience!
Interview – Kevin Probably Saves the World – Politics, Religion, and Jason Ritter!
Interview – Designated Survivor – Italia Ricci and more!