Movie Feature

Channing Tatum masquerades as Mexican in 'The Book of Life'

By Zaki JufriMovies - 24 October 2014 7:00 AM

Channing Tatum masquerades as Mexican in 'The Book of Life'

The Book Of Life

When it came to casting the new fantasy-adventure ‘The Book of Life’, director Jorge Gutierrez and producer Guillermo del Toro knew they would need a specific voice for the role of the town hero Joaquin.

As the male counterpoint to the soulful Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna), he is both the best friend and romantic rival for the heart of Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana). 

The two male leads not only put a new spin to the classic "Prince Charming" figure, they also represent the two sides of what it is to be a hero: the poet and the muscle.

Channing Tatum’s ascent to stardom has been built on roles that offered both archetypes at once, a key reason why he was sought for the character of Joaquin. 

With 'The Book of Life', the 34-year-old was thrilled to finally enter the world of animated films in a leading role. 

And, when Gutierrez pitched the role to the actor, Tatum responded eagerly to the director’s impassioned telling of ‘The Book of Life’.  

Gutierrez recalled: "When we pitched Channing the movie, he loved it and was laughing the entire time.

"And then he took me aside and said, ‘You know I’m not Mexican, right?’ We had a big laugh, and Channing just jumped in and made Joaquin his own.

“I told Channing that Joaquin was basically ‘Captain Latin America'. He needed to have the bravado of Argentina, the smoothness of Brazil –and of course, the moustaches of Mexico!" 

To that, the actor quipped: "Oh, so I should just be me." 

Its hard to believe that The Book of Life’ is your first real lead role in animation.

It was fun. I’ve wanted to do it for a while, but the opportunity never came up. I heard the story as to why Jorge wanted to make the movie. I signed up like that (snap of a finger). It’s just so personal to him, you know? It’s his story to tell, but I was pretty honoured to be a part of it.

Channing Tatum and his character Joaquin

What did you want to bring to this role of the dashing and heroic Joaquin?

Jorge was just, like, “There is no wrong here. You figuratively cannot go wrong. Let’s just play." It was always just a really fluid and malleable story process.

I think the pressure was really taken off of the actors specifically. It is up to the storytellers and animators. So, you just kind of go in and they tell you what the situation is and then you do what they’ve written and then you play. 

The recording process is usually a solitary process for an actor, although that seems to be changing. Actors are getting a chance to act” together in the booth. The camaraderie in The Book of Life’ is tangible. Were you able to record with Diego Luna and Zoe Saldana?

I would have loved to have been able to do that, but we didn’t do this one like that. I was always in a sound booth with Jorge on the other end. It’s a pretty unique experience not being able to play off another person.

As the process goes on, you get to play off of other people’s recordings and whatnot, but you never really get to look them in the eye. But it was fun. You get to rely just on the storyteller to be “directed” instead of doing a little bit of it yourself. 

They really know where the story is going, so you just kind of have to surrender to it. The structure of animated movies is like the Wild West. You can do almost anything. You can make up the rules as you go as long as you abide by whatever the rules that you get. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Characters (from left): Joaquin (Channing Tatum), Manolo (Diego Luna) and Maria (Zoe Saldana)

What was the process like for you in finding your voice” as Joaquin?

I didn’t have anything specific in my head that I was going for. I had to say certain Spanish words, like the name of the town. You want a uniform pronunciation.

You want everyone to be saying it the same way, so there were certain things, like how you would say "Maria". You want it to all feel like it is of the same world. But it’s really all just trial and error. 

You can really get wrapped up in listening to Diego Luna’s voice. I love his accent. It was a really safe environment, so you can laugh if you’ve completely screwed something up. Jorge’s obviously on top of it, you know? 

Has becoming a new father played a role in selecting the projects you want to take on as an actor?

I’ve a lot of explaining to do with my daughter, eventually (laughs). A lot of explaining. But, I think just as every parent gets into those shoes, you start to realise that you want something for them to be able to watch before they’re 15 years old.

I definitely didn’t do ‘The Book of Life’ just for my daughter. I really did it because I loved the story and everything that it touches on.

I’d always known about the Mexican Day of the Dead festival and the general emphasis of it. I didn’t know the finer points and the beauty in it. It was just really cool art to me. I probably didn’t even have the real definition of what the day means until I spoke to Jorge.

A key theme in The Book of Life’ is how we should all write our own story. If you review your lifes narrative, what part are you most proud of to date?

I think there’s always more to write. I’m really proud of the story that I’ve written so far. We have to live to the highest extent. Don’t ever be afraid to make a choice because you can always make another one.

I think I’ve done a lot in my life. I can definitely say that I’ve made, not wrong turns, but turns where I’ve been, like, “All right, I don’t want to do this anymore.”

You go on and you learn from every single thing you’ve done in your life. I think that’s reminiscent of our characters in the story. They’re all so alive and they’re all not perfect. They all have a sort of an inner song, their dream or want. You’ve got to just keep moving towards those dreams.

Youve played your share of romantic leads. So, in a perfect world, who should win Marias heart in The Book of LifeJoaquin the hero or Manolo the poet?

I think Maria’s heart always belonged to Manolo. Joaquin is living in a fantasy world, but that’s kind of the way it works though, huh? Man, I don’t know (laughs).

‘The Book of Life’ opens in cinemas 30 October 2014

Interview courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

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The Book Of Life
  • The Book Of Life

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