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Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna and Ice Cube Talk Life and Death

October 16, 2014

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Voicing feisty Maria, her love Manolo and the magical Candle Maker, Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna and Ice Cube were happy to be in a film celebrating one of the most famous of Mexican traditions; the Day of the Dead. Before you get all ready for creepy ghosts and zombies, know that this celebration is all about family; paying respect to departed loved ones by lighting candles, putting up pictures and laying out their favorite things. It’s all about remembering.

Manolo serenades MariaManolo serenades MariaCourtesy of 20th Century Fox

In The Book of Life, the living join with departed family members and rulers of the underworld to save romance, honor and a whole town. We’ll let the actors tell you about their characters, singing in the film, lessons on life and death and more.

  • Zoe: I play Maria and she is this doting daughter that really wants to make her father proud but also wants to find her true voice. She’s a very confident and feisty individual who believes in the power of her convictions and the virtue of her friends. I feel like she just wants to continue to grow and be allowed to be an equal amongst all the men.
  • Diego: I play Manolo which is the best character I’ve ever played. I would love to be Manolo but I am not as romantic (Zoe laughs). First of all, I don’t play guitar. Now I know I can sing but Gustavo Santaolalla (music director for the movie) needs to be close. Manolo is a guy that is completely in love with Maria from day one and he’s willing to do everything to make her happy even if that means let her go. He will do it.
  • He’s the son of a family of bullfighters but he doesn’t like bull fighting. He hates the idea of having to kill the bull. He’s fighting to be who he wants to be. It’s through music that he expresses who he is. He has a fantastic friend in Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) but it’s like a brother relationship. There is always competition and they’ll fight for the love of this amazing woman.

Joaquin, Maria, Manolo and pet pig ChuyJoaquin, Maria, Manolo and pet pig ChuyCourtesy of 20th Century Fox

Q: Have you ever had to fight for a woman and what’s your strategy?

  • Diego: (laughs) I didn’t try the guitar so I failed. But, now I know.
  • Ice Cube: I play The Candle Maker. He’s a God (laughter). He’s over the Cave of Souls and he’s there making sure that all the souls that are remembered stay lit and keep burning, that their flame keeps roaring. He’s so happy to see Manolo because he hasn’t seen anybody for eons so he’s impressed and he’s there to help them get through their journey and extremely proud to be part of this.

Diego Luna voices ManoloDiego Luna voices ManoloCourtesy of 20th Century Fox

Q: Ice, are directors always trying to get you to say “It’s a good day” (his classic rap tune “Today was a Good Day”) and are you okay with that?

  • Ice Cube: (laughs) Always. It’s like every movie I do I’ve gotta make sure I’ve got all my rap lines because they’ll want one of them. I’ve said everything in a movie that I’ve said on a record it seems like. It’s something that directors get a kick out of and I have no problem with it. It they want a little Ice Cube flavor, that’s what I’m here for.

Q: The film is about remembering the dead but living your own life. How do you react to that?

  • Ice Cube: I thought it was important to get this message across to people who don’t celebrate the Day of the Dead. (The movie) is a very comprehensive, inspirational, educational way to deal with this subject and talk about the subject with your kids. It’s just a cool way for us to think about the people we love who passed before us or even our ancestors that we never met, we could still think about them through stories of others and, to me, this is the reason you do movies, to be able to entertain, inspire and teach. So it was nothing but an all around win.

Manolo and his Mom in the Land of the RememberedManolo and his Mom in the Land of the RememberedCourtesy of 20th Century Fox

Q: Was it cool for you to be in a film that kind of explains the Day of the Dead?

  • Diego: Yes. Also (I liked) the chance to portray characters that are Mexican but human first, that aren’t the stereotype that we are always represented with. It’s a big community supporting this film; wanting this film out. We want our stories on the screen and to be represented on film. Coming from Mexico, this is the only chance I’ve had to be part of an animated film. The budget of this film is the budget of every movie I’ve done before put together.
  • (Producer) Guillermo (Del Toro) is so passionate about doing a film about The Day of the Dead, a celebration of life and our culture. Help us tell everyone that this film is cool. It will be a great tool for parents to talk to their kids about issues that are difficult.
  • Zoe: We deal with friendship, we deal with people trying to find their place and their own voice without losing the respect of their peers. You are dealing with the beauty of a culture that, even though we’ve been neighbors since the beginning of time, there is so little that we know. The Mexican culture is so beautiful. There are 250 different indigenous dialects in Mexico; the fact that they celebrate their family should be nothing but an inspiration to all of us as a universal culture to bring levity to life and immortalize our loved ones who have died. What if eternity is just that; keeping alive the memory of a loved one?

Zoe Saldana voices MariaZoe Saldana voices MariaCourtesy of 20th Century Fox

Q: Do you think it will entertain and also help non-Latinos understand the celebration?

  • Zoe: Yes. It will give parents the ability to have that tough conversation with their kids. They understand more than we want them to and it’s difficult for us to communicate with them but they’re ready to listen so, by bringing out this animated film about death, that brings so much peace and purity and color (is great). It’s about another culture but you can identify with them through the loss that you probably share or you will at some point unfortunately. You get to choose a way to cope with it that doesn’t have to be heavy or burdened by it. Everything about this movie is positive and so enlightening for me.

Manolo will do anything do get close to MariaManolo will do anything do get close to MariaCourtesy of 20th Century Fox

Q: Ice, you seem to have so much fun playing this character The Candle Maker. How did you go about finding the voice to play a God?

  • Ice Cube: He’s not THE God. He’s a God. I just wanted him to be fun; somebody you wanted to roll with and who you wanted to guide you through the rest of the story.  I really wanted him to be interesting, dynamic, an all over the place kind of character. I had a ball doing it. I’m available for Part 2. (laughter).

Ice Cube voices The Candle MakerIce Cube voices The Candle MakerCourtesy of 20th Century Fox

Q: Zoe, you sing in the film and nailed it. Guillermo was saying that you should produce an album. Is that something you would pursue down the line?

  • Zoe: I keep saying that I wouldn’t mind going Platinum in Japan. No, but I sang when I shot “Nina” (the story of singer Nina Simone) and I worked vigorously with an amazing voice coach so, by the time I started doing the sessions for Guardians of the Galaxy and we got to sing, it had been about a year so I just sort of remembered all those things. It’s amazing what you discover you’re able to do once you really put your body and soul into a skill and you try nothing but to master it. I realized that I’m not as bad or as tone deaf as I thought I was and some people would appreciate my shower singing (laughs). It was fun.

Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana)Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana)Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Q: Diego, you aren’t known as a singer. When you found out you would have to sing in this, how did you feel?

  • Diego: I felt very anxious for like two months. As an actor, we all tend to say, “Of course I can do it! With a little bit of training, I’ll get there” but then Gustavo showed me the actual songs and they sounded very difficult. The guy’s been doing it for years. He’s the producer of albums that I love so it was very scary. But, I thought about having to tell my kids that Manolo’s voice wasn’t my voice and that kept me going. It would be like my 6-year-old going “Sing, sing” at a party or “Manolo’s my dad. Come to my school and sing for me” and I’d be like “No, it’s not me. It’s another guy” and we’d have to hide a guy behind a table singing. I was gonna get caught.
  • Zoe: So, might as well just do it.
  • Diego: Yeah. Also, these songs I love but the ones Gustavo wrote, whew, those are difficult. The “Toro” one, I still have nightmares about. Then we would record and he would keep all my tapes and ask me to leave the room and that was like a 5 hour wait. Then he would come out like the Pope and “Okay, we’ve got the song” and I would go home and I would say “Okay, five down and one more to go”. So that was the process. It was painful but I loved it.

Manolo waits for MariaManolo waits for MariaCourtesy of 20th Century Fox

Q: Ice Cube, sadly, you didn’t perform music in the film.

  • Ice Cube: Yeah. I was trying to go for that Biz Markie song but they kicked me off it. (Note: “Just a Friend” written by Biz Markie and performed by Cheech Marin). I’m gonna sing in Part 2.

The Book of Life PosterThe Book of Life PosterCourtesy of 20th Century Fox

The Book of Life opens in theaters Friday, October 17th!