'The Book of Life:' Hector Elizondo on Playing Father-Son Role with Diego Luna and Exploring the Human Condition with the Help of Jorge Gutierrez and Guillermo del Toro
Celebrated actor Hector Elizondo, who was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors in New York, takes his roles very seriously, whether it's on the stage, the small or big screen, or on the radio as a member of the distinguished L.A. Theatre Works for National Public Radio.
The Golden Globe-nominated and Emmy Award-winning actor recently sat down with Latin Post to discuss his most recent role in the beautifully animated film "The Book of Life," directed by Jorge Gutierrez and produced by Oscar winner Guillermo del Toro.
Elizondo, who is of Basque and Puerto Rican descent, was honored to take on the role of Manolo's (Diego Luna's) stoic and proud father, Carlos Sanchez, who wants his son to carry on the family tradition and legacy of bullfighting.
"It was delightful. Mr. Gutierrez is such a lovely man, and working with the great Guillermo del Toro is always a pleasure. I realized that I was in the presence of someone very, very special. After seeing [Jorge Gutierrez's] book -- he has this wonderful book of his drawings and his ideas, and it was just very stunning. He just has an imagination that is beyond the norm, it crosses the line in a wonderful way. So, doing the movie was a no-brainer for me," Elizondo told Latin Post.
"The Book of Life" takes viewers through the vibrant fantasy-adventure of the legend of Manolo, "a conflicted hero and dreamer who sets off on an epic quest through magical, mythical and wondrous worlds" -- The Land of the Living, The Land of the Remembered and The Land of the Forgotten, to return to his true love, Maria (Zoe Saldana).
Manolo's childhood friend, Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) is the ego-centric "town hotshot," who is also vying for the attention of Maria. He soon learns that his machismo won't get him too far, so he takes a humble cue from Manolo.
The 20th Century Fox and Reel FX film highlights life's lessons and the bond between family and friends, and it delves into the human condition. The film also celebrates Mexican culture and its sacred holiday, the Day of the Dead (el Dia de Los Muertos).
"It's a mythological tale; the contradictions, the journey of a young man, at the same time fulfilling his own dreams ... There are great adventures in-between, the great battle against evil," Elizondo added. "The father and son, they take care of business; they fight the bad guys together. And there is not a dry eye in the house, and Chuy the pig is wonderful."
"Everyone is in it. We've got Placido Domingo, Ron Perlman, Channing Tatum ... It was a delight, and of course Diego Luna, who is a wonderful talent. "El es un actor completo (He is a consummate actor)," he said of Luna.
Taking on a film, "the challenge is always, is it well-written," Elizondo points out, "but I love father and son things and the resolving of conflict."
Elizondo had a personal take on the role of Carlos Sanchez, for he had an early start on fatherhood. "I was a father at 19 and I raised him myself, so I was a single father at 19," he explained.
Like the philosophy of his character, Elizondo recalls his own father's impressionable words, "don't bring shame on the family, whatever you do," regardless of your occupation. Needless to say, Elizondo has made his family very proud.
"I insisted on respect without being disrespected. I insisted on being dignified," he added as he discussed being selective in his role choices and not conforming to stereotypes throughout his career.
In "The Book of Life," Elizondo's character eventually makes his way to the "Land of the Remembered" to reunite with his wife, Carmen (voiced by Ana de la Reguera).
If Elizondo were to travel to the "Land of the Remembered" what would he want to be remembered for?
"[His character Carlos Sanchez] was concerned about the human condition ... We're not very nice primates. When push comes to shove we seek one thing, power over others. Whether it's gender power, political power or religious power ... It's all a matter of avoiding absolutist, fundamentalist thought ... Pride used to be one of the seven deadly sins," he said.
"We need a lot of work in terms of connecting our humanity, so I hope that if I am remembered for something that's in my own way, in my work and in my life, is reminding people that we all have something in common. We're all going to die ... and life is a brief pause in-between two mysteries -- don't mess that up too much," he said.
Elizondo is most known for his Golden Globe-nominated role as the hotel manager in the timeless classic, "Pretty Woman," as well as his successful and prolific career not only in film, but theatre, television and radio that has spanned over 50 years.
A favorite of director Gary Marshall, Elizondo has also starred in "Steambath," which won him an Obie prize that honors the work of actors in off-Broadway productions. (He recalled meeting the legendary Rita Moreno, who also has theater and New York and Puerto Rican roots.)
Elizondo also played the sinister hijacker in the original "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3," as well roles in "American Gigolo," "The Flamingo Kid," "Runaway Bride," "Love in the Time of Cholera," and "Princess Diaries" (I & II), "Valentine's Day" and the follow-up film, "New Year's Eve." His role in "Chicago Hope" won him an Emmy. He also appeared in "Grey's Anatomy," and now stars in the sitcom "Last Man Standing," which airs on ABC.
While Elizondo is thirsting for another "interesting and complex" role, he has a great affection for radio. As a member of L.A. Theatre Works, which Elizondo calls "the most important radio group in America" with "the best actors in the world," he admits that he prefers being behind the mic.
"On the radio, you are dealing with the material ... you are a shaman, and you are painting a story with your voice. I prefer that, quite frankly. I prefer the microphone to the camera. I find the camera a little intrusive," he admits. "I find you have to work harder with camera." For that reason, Elizondo feels at home being a voice actor in animation, such as in "The Book of Life."
"I love the animation. I love being silly."
Check out the official trailer for "The Book of Life," which hits theaters on Friday, Oct. 17.
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