NEW YORK — Like the character he plays in the film “Coco,” Anthony Gonzalez has always wanted to be an artist. But unlike the role he plays, the young actor has been lucky to have the full support of his Mexican family.
“My parents have always been there for me,” said Gonzalez, one of five siblings born in Los Angeles to Mexican parents. “Without them I would not be in a Disney-Pixar movie.”
“Coco,” which opened Wednesday in the United States, is Pixar’s first feature film with a minority lead character, and one of the largest American productions ever to feature an almost entirely Latino cast.
It takes place in Mexico during the holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and follows Miguel, a 12 year-old boy with the heart of a musician born in a family that has prohibited music for generations. After fighting with his family over not letting him make music, Miguel slips into a wondrous netherworld where he depends on his long-dead ancestors to restore him to the land of the living.
“I never thought I’d be working in a Disney-Pixar movie at my age. I grew up watching these films!,” Gonzalez, who recently turned 13, said in reference to hits like “Toy Story,” ”Up” and “Inside Out.” ”Being there at this age is a wonderful, very beautiful experience.”
He may be starting his professional career as a tween, but his path to “Coco” started way earlier, singing Mariachi with his modest family at El Mercado de Los Angeles and competing in singing contests in his hometown, Mexico or Miami — all while his parents struggled to get their children, most of them aspiring musicians, training and financial help. Gonzalez and his two brothers attend the Colburn School. His two older sisters are now in college.
“I have no words to explain this. This is a dream— something you never expect,” Lilian, the Gonzalez’s matriarch, said of her son’s participation in “Coco.” ”You come to this country with so many dreams and what can I say? We struggle every day. To me, this is very hard because, honestly, this is something we never dreamed of, but we always wanted to support our children.”
Lilian Gonzalez, who arrived in America more than 20 years ago and works in the cosmetology field, went to great lengths to support her children’s calling.
“Every time we went to a competition I would lose my job,” she said. “Anthony would tell me, ‘You will be able to get lots of jobs, but I am going to be a kid only once.’ Then, when they wouldn’t go to the next round, we would cry and he would say, ‘Everybody cries, there’s nothing wrong with that! The important thing is to keep going.’”
Pixar started working on “Coco” about six years ago, but its release comes at a moment of tension between the governments of Mexico and the United States because of president Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies and his desire to build a wall in the border.
Lilian appreciates the cultural diversity and the support she has found in Los Angeles.
“Here I was able to teach my children that every culture is beautiful, that you can learn from them, and that, as human beings, we don’t choose where we are born. The important thing is to know what your purpose here is and develop it,” she said. “I told Anthony, ‘You come here with so many dreams, mi amor.’ That’s what the United States is about: Unity.”
Anthony, who while making “Coco” especially enjoyed getting to know the cast, including Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt, hopes that this is only the beginning.
“Since I was 4, my goal was to be a famous singer and a famous actor,” he said cheerfully. “I have achieved it and I want to keep doing this. I want to represent all the Latin people. I want to do this for the rest of my life.”