The young actor Anthony Gonzalez is a magnificent bundle of 12-year-old energy (he actually turns 13 in a couple of weeks). I can’t think of a human being more excited to be a part of a Pixar movie than he is, even three months after Coco’s U.S. theatrical debut and on the day of its home video release. Not only is Gonzalez proud to be a part of Coco, but he seems custom made for the role of Miguel, the young boy who loves to play guitar and sing despite his family’s ancestral ban on music thanks to his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer who left the family for his career (or so the story goes).
Gonzalez was originally brought in to do some scratch vocal recording for a temporary track for Coco, just to see how the screenplay read and get some idea of what Miguel might sound like in the final version of the film. But then the Pixar team (including director Lee Unkrich and co-director Adrian Molina) kept calling him back, and when he revealed that he could also sing, it wasn’t long before he got word that the job was his, with additional songs written for him to perform.
Prior to Coco, Gonzalez had been in a few short films and TV series, but the feature film is effectively his big-screen debut (as well as in the record books as the highest-grossing film in the history of Mexico). Later this year, he’ll appear in the feature Icebox (based on a 2016 short, in which he also starred), a drama about a young boy caught up in America’s sometimes brutal immigration process. I had a chance to sit down with Gonzalez recently to discuss his Pixar experience and what comes next in his life. Please enjoy this talk with Anthony Gonzalez…
You’ve got to be sick of these interviews at this point. You’ve been doing them almost nonstop since like September, October of last year.
Yeah, probably earlier [laughs].
Before you even entered this world, what did Pixar mean to you growing up?
I loved it a lot. I grew up watching these movies. I really loved Toy Story a lot. I even had the Woody toy where you pulled the string, and I had the Buzz Lightyear blanket that said my name on it, and it has the Buzz Lightyear picture on it. Yeah, I was just a fan of all the movies because it really brought many feelings to you—happiness, sadness, joyfulness, and it makes you laugh, and they were always very funny movies that I loved to watch. I never thought I’d be in a Disney-Pixar movie at this age that has made a wonderful impact in the society, in the community, and that was very different than all the other Disney-Pixar movies. It was just an incredible honor to be a part of this one that really showed the wonderful Mexican tradition and the wonderful celebration of the Day of the Dead.
It’s the biggest movie ever in Mexico. That has to be a real point of pride for you.
Yeah, it is.
Speaking of crying, I don’t know a single person who has watched this movie that doesn’t just bawl their eyes out. Did it have that affect on you when you watched it the first time?
Yes, I cried a ton of times. It reminded me so much of my ancestors, and my loved ones passed away.
I also love that the song, “Remember Me,” which we hear multiple times in the film, means something different each time we hear it. Suddenly a new layer of its origin comes to light. When you finally get your chance to sing it, did you take that into consideration and sing it in a particular way that was meant to encompass all of these relatives?
Yeah, I didn’t really know about the other versions of it when I was doing it, but it was a song that I could connect with my family. So when I sing it, it brought emotions for me. I thought of my grandfather who passed away, and he was always there for me and supported me, and singing that song just reminded me of him a lot, and it was a way where I could connect with him and be with him again, so it was very cool doing that song and experiencing something I never thought I would experience.
I’ve actually been to Pixar a couple of times, and I know as a 40-something-year-old who has seen all of those films and all the shorts, that you walk into that headquarters and it takes your breath away. For someone your age, I can’t even imagine. What was that like for you?
I had the chance to go to Pixar when I was 10. The first time was just amazing, I couldn’t believe it. I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe I was in paradise. It was just so cool. The food there is just delicious. And the Pixar store, I just love it so much. I’m a fan of everything Pixar, so I just love getting some stuff from there. They have a big soccer field, and I love playing soccer; there are just so many things that I love to do there. I knew that I was going to get to see the director and the producer and the co-director, so it was going to be so much fun. Every time they told me that I was going to go, I knew that I was going to have a blast and have so much fun.
But at some point, you get there and you’re like, “I’m actually here to work.” That’s the thing that I can’t wrap my brain around is that people actually get work done there.
It’s work, but you have fun doing it. At first, I was nervous, because I was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s a Disney-Pixar movie. This is a big deal.” But I noticed that when I was in the booth, I was really having fun, and it wasn’t really like work because this was something that I loved to do and that I want to continue doing for the rest of my life, and thankfully I had the help from Lee, the director, and Darla [K. Anderson], the producer, and Adrian, the co-director. They were all there to help me and be there for me.
When you’re in the booth recording, do they encourage you to get physical with it and actually act it out and not just say the words? Or is that how you are naturally?
It was something that came naturally because it helped me show the feeling through the voice, and what was so cool is they actually used some of my facial expressions and movements in Miguel. They helped me, they tell me what’s happening in the scene and how Miguel is feeling. Sometimes there’s a scene where I’m out of breath, and they’d tell me to run in place. You can hear and feel the tiredness, the feeling, the emotions. It was really fun doing it.
When was the first time you saw what Miguel was going to look like? How early on did they show you artwork?
It was probably the first time I went to Pixar.
So even when you were just there to do the scratch voice, before you had the job?
Yeah, it was probably then. They showed me how Miguel was going to look like, his family members were going to look, what Coco was about, what’s Miguel’s dream. They basically told me everything about the movie. They summarized it. I was like, “Oh, cool. I love this movie.” It’s really a movie that is very unique, and not many movies show this wonderful Mexican culture and tradition and this wonderful celebration, so it was truly an honor to be doing the voice of Miguel for this movie.
They also told me there was music involved and that Miguel loved music. Originally, he was not going to be singing those four songs. He was just going to be singing “Remember Me,” the sad version. But when I told them I just loved music and I’ve been singing since I was very young, they were like, “That’s so cool,” and they added a couple of songs in there. I’m so thankful for that, because the songs that they added like “Un Poco Loco” and “The World Es Mi Familia” and “Proud Corazon” are so amazing, and I’m so thankful I got to do the role of Miguel.
It’s one thing to read the script, it’s another thing to see the artwork, but when you finally get to the finished animation—especially when you see the Land of the Dead—that had to have blown your mind.
That was amazing. I’d never processed in my brain that I was a part of this movie. I had an idea of the main events that were going to happen since I read the script, but when I saw the finished project, I was just amazed and shocked—the Disney-Pixar magic—I couldn’t believe I was a part of this incredible movie that really showed a lot of colors and wonderful moments. It was just very amazing. I couldn’t believe it and I’m so happy to be a part of this movie that’s very unique. There are many movies that are about Christmas and Thanksgiving, but it’s very rare to see a movie about the celebration of the Day of the Dead, and hopefully there will be more movies after this that talk about the same thing.
I was actually going to ask you that, because when something is this successful, sometimes they make another one or they turn it into a TV series. Have there been any conversations with you about possibly having that happen?
No, no. I really hope it happens! This movie was really loved by many, many people, so I hope that they can do a sequel or a TV series so many people can continue enjoying that and learning about the wonderful celebration and process of the Day of the Dead.
Or some other musical adventures, around another holiday.
I know that you have been singing since you were very young, but do you play guitar, too?
Yeah, I play a lot of instruments. I started playing the viola when I was six, and I decided to start playing the violin when I was 11, and I started playing the piano when I was 11 as well. I started playing the guitar when I was 10, but I decided to focus more on my voice, so I stopped that a little bit. But after this movie came out, I really loved the guitar again and really wanted to learn it, so I’m currently learning it right now.
What is next for you? I know you’re starting to shoot live-action movies now.
I did this feature film called Icebox which I already finished. I did the short as well. It’s similar to the short, but it really expands on the process that kids go through during immigration, and what happens to them, and it really shows the emotion and what happens to their families. It’s really something that will capture people’s attention, because there’s not really a movie that talks about the process that kids go through. I think it will change the minds of many people that thought it was one way, but when they see this movie, they’ll be surprised and shocked, because they never thought it was this way. I finished the short and I finished the feature, which was produced by James L. Brooks. They’re just finishing editing it, post-production. Yeah, hopefully it will be in theaters soon.
That’s a straight-up drama for you.
Yeah, it was very different from Coco.
How is it for you have a toy of your character in Coco? Did Disney just give you the big bag of toys of Miguel?
They did give me a lot. I have Miguel toys that talk and sing with my voice. Yeah, it’s amazing. I haven’t gone to Pixar recently, so I don’t know what’s in the Pixar store. But they told me that it was going to be huge and they were going to have a lot of Coco things. I have like a Dante puppet, a Dante stuffed animal, Hector, and Ernesto de la Cruz, and shirts and water bottles and so many other things.
Are they going to sell that guitar?
Yeah, that guitar. I have it as well. It’s just amazing.
Do you feel like a movie star yet? When people interviewed you before the movie came, maybe you wouldn’t have, but now it’s many months later…
I wouldn’t consider myself a movie star. I really do this for fun because it’s really what I love to do and I want to continue doing it, and hopefully I can be on other projects because it’s for me. Maybe later I’ll consider myself a movie star.
What keeps you humble and balanced?
Oh, my family. My family is always there supporting me and they always treat me normal, and my brothers are always there to mess around with me and play with me. It’s like nothing has changed, besides the fact that I’m in a Disney-Pixar movie, which has completely changed my life, because I’ve noticed that it has inspired so many other kids to want to sing and play the guitar, and that makes me feel very proud of myself that I made a change and an impact in the community.
Had you ever done any animation acting before this?
What adjustments did you have to make?
I thought of it like the same thing. I really just used my facial expressions and my arm movements in the studio, but what’s so cool about it is they actually used it in the characters. I couldn’t believe that.
I know you recorded by yourself, but did you get to meet any of the other actors before the premiere?
Before the premiere, I think I only had met Jaime Camil who does Papa. He’s so nice and humble and funny. I also got the chance to meet Benjamin Bratt, because I got the honor to sing with him at D23 [Expo, the Disney film club convention], so that was amazing. When I was in 5th grade, I think when I was around 10, I filmed an Oscar Mayer commercial [laughs]. I know, it’s so not about this, but it actually kind of is, because I actually filmed it with Renee Victor who does Abuelita, which was amazing. We didn’t even know we were in Coco yet. Then I met the rest at the premiere, which was so much fun.
What did the Day of the Dead mean to you growing up. Was it a part of your life?
It was a part of my life. It was very big for me, because I started celebrating it when I was 6 years old because my grandfather passed away. But really celebrating it brought him back and I could really remember him. Before that, there was really no one that passed away, other than people I didn’t know. But my grandfather was the one who was very supportive of me and helped me. That’s when I realized that I should remember him and connect with him, and I wanted to remember him and connect with him because it was very hard for me to deal with his loss, but I realized that by celebrating the Day of the Dead, he’s still here, and I can connect with him and remember him again, so that’s when I really learned about it.
Do you have to up your game now with the celebrations?
I did learn a lot about it doing the movie, so obviously I will celebrate it differently this year.
In general, what keeps you so positive about everything?
Doing this, I don’t really consider it a job or work. It’s really something that I love to do and truly my passion, and it’s something that I want continue doing for the rest of my life, so that’s really what keeps me happy. I’m following my heart and I’m doing what I love to do. If I didn’t love doing this, if it didn’t put a smile on my face, I wouldn’t be doing this. That’s why it’s so fun for me.
Do you still get to sing regularly or professionally?
Oh, yes. I started doing performance when I was 4 years old, with my family. And recently, like beginning of February, I did a performance with my family at the Placita Olvera again. This is in LA, which is very traditional place for Mexicans, and it really shows the culture, so it was really fun for me to be there. I’m singing the same thing I’ve been singing since I was very little, like Mariachi and Baile Mexicano.
So no pop songs?
Oh, I love pop as well.
Do you get a chance to perform that?
You also have to be excited that this song that you get to sing in the movie, and the movie itself, are both Oscar nominated. Your first big movie gets Oscar nominations.
I know. I can’t believe it. That’s amazing!
Were you watching when the nominations were announced?
I was. I woke up very early, because the short film for Icebox was actually short listed, but unfortunately it didn’t get nominated. But Coco got nominated, so that just brought the excitement back, and it made me so happy.
I have officially run out of questions. Let me ask you this, what is the one question that you wish people would ask that no one has ever asked you?
I think everyone has asked me every possible question [laughs]. I really love when people ask me if there was like a character other than Miguel I would be in Coco. I would always say I would love to be Hector [voiced by Gael García Bernal] because I think he’s really funny. I would love to be Dante [laughs]. He’s so funny, and he’s Miguel’s best friend.
I would be one of those hybrid animals…I don’t remember what they’re called…
Alebrijes. Dude, that’s the question I love the most.
What animals would you blend to make one?
Yeah, I would have obviously something that would fly. Something big—a lion. It would be a lion face with like wings.
Dragon wings or like a bird?
Sort of. Like an eagle mixed with like a lion, mixed with like a cheetah that’s so fast, mixed with like something that can go underwater as well, like a shark, and also like a monkey.
That would be the ugliest creature that I’ve ever seen.
I know, right? So something big, lion faced, fly eagle, cheetah, shark, monkey mix of all of them.
That’s something to pitch for the sequel. Have you seen any of the extras on the DVD?
No. The only thing I know that’s on it is video of the moment I got the part. I remember that because I lived it. It was the best day of my life.
What happened on that day? You’d already been working there for a while just doing voice work?
It was like a regular day, just finishing recording for Miguel’s scratch voice, and after that, the director, Lee Unkrich, told me that they had a Christmas present for me, and the producer, Darla Anderson, came with the Christmas present, and I was so excited, because I thought it was going to be something from the Pixar store. I was like, “It’s so cool. I wonder what it is. I love everything Pixar.” But when I opened it, it’s this big, wonderful piece of artwork that says, “You got the part.” So I was like, “Wow. This is way much better than something from the Pixar store.” I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy and so thankful and shocked.
If you were going in there to do this one particular job with the scratch voice, did you even know you were auditioning? Did they treat it like the audition without telling you?
I didn’t really know. I didn’t know if I was doing track voice or auditioning, but I think I had an idea that they were auditioning me, because I kept going in a lot. But it was really something that I enjoyed doing, so I just ignored the auditioning part and did it for fun. “Just don’t expect anything. Pretend like this is your last day going to Pixar and enjoy it as much as you can.”
What did you do differently between the scratch voice reading and the actual recording? Or did they use some of the scratch voice work?
I think they actually might have used some of my scratch voice. I really don’t know, because I started doing it when I was 10.
And you’re 13?
Thank you so much. It was really wonderful to meet you, and best of luck going forward.
Thank you so much!