Jorge Gutierrez & Kate del Castillo – The Book of Life

October 17, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In “The Book of Life,” director Jorge Gutierrez takes moviegoers on a journey to worlds never before captured in an animated feature film. Inspired by the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, the film tells the story of two childhood friends, Manolo and Joaquin, both attempting to win the heart of the same young woman. Taking an interest in the love triangle are two spirits, La Muerte and Xibalba, who make a wager with each other as to which young man will ultimately win her affection.

During an interview with Gutierrez and actress Kate del Castillo, who lends her voice to La Muerte, we talked about how important Dia de los Muertos was to each of them growing up in Mexico, and how fate brought them together for “The Book of Life.”

Jorge, the last time I interviewed you was back in 2007 when you debuted your animated series “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera” on Nickelodeon. In my opinion, the cartoon was extremely underrated. Why did it only last one season?

Jorge Gutierrez: Honestly, the U.S. was not ready for those flavors. I’m hoping, seven years later, the palate has evolved and now people are ready for something spicy and tasty like “The Book of Life.”

During that interview, you told me you created “El Tigre” because growing up you never saw Latino characters in cartoons that you could identify with. You told me a story about when you were a kid you watched “He-Man” and thought Skeletor was a superhero for Dia de los Muertos. Has the idea for “The Book of Life” been inside you for that long?

JG: Yeah, even before “El Tigre.” I had the idea when I graduated from CalArts back in 2000. When I graduated people told me, “You’re just a kid out of school. Nobody wants to see that subject matter.” That’s what they told me about “El Tigre,” too, by the way. I’m probably the most stubborn Mexican out there. Just like with “El Tigre,” I didn’t give up on this film. Growing up, I didn’t see [Latinos] in television cartoons, but I also didn’t see them in animated feature films. That’s why we made “The Book of Life.”

“El Tigre” was such a passion project for you. You must’ve been really disappointed that it only lasted one season.

JG: It absolutely broke my heart. But, with that said, I was still thankful for the opportunity. Because of “El Tigre,” [filmmaker/ “The Book of Life” producer] Guillermo del Toro found out about me and fell in love with my work. We wouldn’t be making this movie without “El Tigre.”

Kate, growing up, did you identify with any cartoons or TV characters as a Latina?

Kate del Castillo: I only wanted to be Wonder Woman. We didn’t have any money and couldn’t afford a costume, so my mom made costumes for my sister and me. We would go to the rooftop and play and pretend we were Wonder Woman. I think every woman is a Wonder Woman. We all have that in us. We just have to find it.

Since both of you are originally from Mexico, talk about how important a celebration like Dia de los Muertos is for you.

JG: For me, Dia de los Muertos has been a very important tradition growing up. Even though it’s very Mexican, I believe the concept is very universal. As long as we remember those who are no longer with us and tell their stories, sing their songs, cook their favorite dishes, and tell their favorite jokes, they’re here with us. If we don’t say their names and don’t talk about them, then they’re really gone. I think the iconography of the holiday is beautiful, but I believe the message underneath is more beautiful.

KDC: We had a lot of beautiful traditions in Mexico. One of my favorites was going to the cemetery and celebrating all the people who are in a better world than we are. We need to feel good for them. Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of color, love and life.

I really enjoyed how you included 2D animation into this 3D movie. It was definitely a smart way to get the look of “El Tigre” into the film.

JG: And it was the only way I got to animate! I animated a lot of those sequences. For the fans of “El Tigre,” that’s how we snuck in a bunch of “El Tigre” cameos.

Even though there are sequences in both 2D and 3D, the style of the entire movie is seamless.

JG: I’m a lover of animation, so I put references to not only how Sandra (his wife and animator) and I draw, but also to the history of animation. So, I make references to stop-motion and rubber hose [animation] and Japanese animation and basically all the things we love and adore. I figured, this is my first movie, but at the same time, this might be my last movie. So, I put everything in it!

Kate, you’ve worked on animated films before. Have you seen anything like “The Book of Life?”

KDC: I worked on “Cars,” but only the Spanish version. “The Book of Life” went beyond my expectations. I knew it was going to be amazing, but I was chilled to the bone when I saw it for the first time yesterday. I was touched on every single level. I laughed like crazy. I felt so much pride being Mexican. This is a dream come true to be picked to voice this iconic character.

Jorge, what did you see in Kate that made you want to cast her as La Muerte?

JG: When we were designing the character, I kept telling my wife, “You know, Kate del Castillo would be fantastic as La Muerte.” She is not only known as a great actress, but a really strong role model for Mexican women. When I told Guillermo about it, he had just met with her and said, “You have to cast her!” When I pitched her the movie, she showed me a picture of herself from the previous Halloween and she was painted like a skeleton, like a Catrina. Within the first five minutes of me telling her about the movie, she said, “I’ll do it!”

KDC: I was mesmerized by the story! I’m very lucky.

Did the look of the film change in any major way from pre-production to the actual creative process?

JG: You know, every department has a say in the animation. Someone will say, “That’s too hard to animate. Let change this or that to make it easier.” By the end of it, sometimes an animated movie can get watered down. But because I was the director and the main designer, I basically said, “We’re not watering anything down.” You’re all going to hate me at the beginning, but in the end, when the movie is done, it’ll look like nothing anyone has ever seen.

The more papel picado the better, right?

JG: The more papel picado, the more skulls, the more skeletons! I thought, “Somewhere down the line, someone is going to tell me I have to take half the skulls out of the movie.” So I put a billion skulls in there. So when I have to take them out, there will still be 500 million skulls. But that day never came, so we got to show everything.

Kate del Castillo – Under the Same Moon

June 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Like her character in the new film “Under the Same Moon” (“La Misma Luna”), actress Kate del Castillo moved to the U.S. from Mexico City to find better opportunities. It started four years before her official relocation to Los Angeles when del Castillo earned the recurring role of Ofelia on the PBS show “American Family.”

In 2006, she made L.A. her new home and landed parts in a number of films including “Bordertown,” starring Jennifer Lopez and “Trade” alongside Kevin Kline. In her new film “Under the Same Moon,” del Castillo plays Rosario, a Mexican immigrant who moves to the U.S. to make a better life for her son Carlitos (Adrian Alonso), who she has left in Mexico. When his grandmother dies, however, Carlitos begins his trek across the border to find his mother with the help of Enrique (Eugenio Derbez), a farm worker he meets along the way.

During an interview with me, del Castillo talks about taking roles in films with serious themes, immigration, and what she wants to accomplish as an actress living in L.A.

Your last three films, “Under the Same Moon,” “Trade,” and “Bordertown, have covered some serious issues – immigration, sex trafficking in Mexico, and the murders in Ciudad Juarez. What is it about these types of films that attract you to a project?

I know. I think I’m going to have to do something with Disney next time – something lighter [laughing]. I think I am very lucky to have these types of characters in my hands. I am always happy to portray someone in a world that has important issues. On the other hand, “Under the Same Moon” isn’t really a story about immigration. It’s more of a story about love between a mother and a son and all the struggles they go through because they want to be together. I think it’s a movie to feel good about.

Does “Under the Same Moon” hit on a person level for you at all?

In a way it did because I am part of these immigrants. I am like [my character] because she leaves everything behind to find something better. Her instincts are telling her what to do. I have no kids. It’s only me but I left behind my family and my name in a way and my position as a celebrity in Latin America to find something different.

What has been the major difference between having an acting career in Mexico City and having one in Los Angeles?

I was working already so it wasn’t that hard to find something to do. I was already shooting the TV series “American Family” for PBS. As soon as I came to America it was really good. I feel really happy to be doing what I want to do.

Why do you think so many people risk their lives coming to this country instead of getting a work visa to come here?

Because they want to have a job. The problem is we shouldn’t want to leave our country. It is a political issue in Mexico that has been there forever. We don’t have enough jobs and opportunities in Mexico. People would rather risk their lives than be in the same position forever.

The statistic that stood out to me from this film is that 4 million women have left at least one child behind in Mexico to come work in the U.S. What do you think about these women that are coming to the U.S. to work for a better life for their children?

They are looking to be better in one way or another. They are trying to have a better life for their loved ones. They want to improve themselves. I really can’t judge all these women. You have to live in their life in order to be able to understand.

“Under the Same Moon” is really a heartwarming story. I think a lot of that comes from actor Adrian Alonso, who plays your son. Talk to me about this young talent and what he brought to the film.

He’s such a great actor. He is so professional and disciplined. I feel very lucky to be working with him. I think he reflects everything the director [Patricia Riggen] wanted to show in this role. I was there for him. He was there for me. The only scene we have together is the scene where he imagines me in the bed with him, which is one of my favorite scenes. It’s really powerful.

Now in Los Angeles, what do you want to prove as an actress?

As an actor you want to do every single character that is available to you so you can do your craft. As long as it’s a good project with good people around it, I’ll be happy to do whatever.

Under the Same Moon

March 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kate del Castillo, Adrian Alonso, Eugino Derbez
Directed by: Patricia Riggen (debut)
Written by: Ligiah Villalobos (“One World”)

It would be easy to say that “Under the Same Moon” places a spotlight on the immigration issues the U.S. and Mexico are dealing with today, but that’s not all it does. The film follows Carlitos (Alonso), a young boy who journeys across the border to find his mother who has moved to Los Angeles to work for a better life for her and her son.

There is, however, more to this tender drama than talking about border fences, amnesty, and working visas. According to director Patricia Riggen, four million immigrant women leave at least one child behind to come to the U.S. to work. “Under the Same Moon” embraces all the love, sacrifice, heartbreak, and frustration behind this universal story. As a first-time director, it is amazing to see the courage and distinctive style Riggen has injected into the film.

When Carlitos’s grandmother passes away in Mexico, he sets off to reunite with his beautiful mother Rosario (del Castillo) who is earning money as a cleaning lady in L.A. Unfamiliar with the new world he has entered when he crosses the border, Carlitos develops a friendship with Enrique (Derbez), an undocumented worker who initially doesn’t like the idea of a little kid following him around everywhere.

But who can say no to someone as endearing as Carlitos? As the young lead character, Alonso is miraculous. If you don’t recognize him, he played the son of Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in 2005’s “The Legend of Zorro.” Here, he steals every single scene he is in, which is basically all of them. As he and Enrique make their way to California together, the bond that they share is humorous and memorable.

As Rosario, del Castillo provides the best performance of her new-found American career. Known mostly for her work as an actress in Mexico (she stared in telenovelas such as “Azul” and “El derecho del nacer”), del Castillo’s emotions run high to portray this strong and dedicated mother. Unlike her last film, “Trade,” which felt misguided and phony, “Moon” is beautifully written by Ligiah Villalobos, who’s only other work has come from her TV scripts for “Go Diego Go!” Her debut as a feature screenwriter, however, is impressive.

It’s no surprise why “Under the Same Moon” received a standing ovation at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Along with the effective music provided by Los Tigres del Norte (their song “Superman es un ilegal,” which compares a Mexican immigrant to the superhero, is great), the film is a celebration of life, family and the pursuit of happiness.