Acclaimed actor Diego Luna had never before sung in a movie, and no one was more surprised and thrilled when he pulled it off in the colourful and vibrant world of “The Book of Life” (3D) directed by Mexican auteur Jorge R. Gutierrez.
“Diego called me [after the first song recording session] and was very, very happy,” Gutierrez recalls. “He said, ‘Jorge, I can sing!’ And I love his voice in the movie.” Luna takes on the role of Manolo, a conflicted hero and dreamer who sets off on an epic quest through magical, mythical and wondrous worlds in order to reunite with his one true love and defend his village.
As voiced by acclaimed actor Diego Luna, Manolo is the heart and soul of “The Book of Life.” Manolo hails from a long line of bullfighters, and he has the potential to become one of the greatest ever. But what he really wants is to play the guitar and sing. And sing he does – to an ultimately wondrous effect. “Manolo reveals his heart through music,” says Luna. “And he dreams about Maria and being with her; he thinks she’s the most amazing woman.”
To that end, Luna notes that “The Book of Life” is about friendship and true love. While Manolo comes into his own as an adventurer embarking upon a heroic quest, the actor insists that Manolo is not your typical movie hero – and certainly not your typical “Prince Charming.” “He just happens to have an amazing talent, which is singing and expressing himself through music, but he’s a regular guy. Manolo doesn’t have special powers, but he is remarkable in that he is the first one to write his own story,” which is such an impressive accomplishment that an ancient god is willing to bend the rules to help Manolo on his journey.
Music is a big part of the magic of “The Book of Life,” and the production was lucky to land the formidable talents of two-time Oscar® winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla, the father of Latin alternative music, making his animated feature film debut. Manolo’s soulful singing of Radiohead’s “Creep” emanates from what he thinks is a quiet moment of solitude – though Maria (Zoe Saldana) is listening. He then embarks on the time-honored tradition of serenading the girl of one’s dreams. Accompanied by his rotund mariachi friends, the Rodriguez brothers (voiced by Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias and Ricardo Sanchez “Mandril”), they try fun, though hardly romantic versions of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” – the latter to the accompaniment of a toy piano.
These are great songs, to be sure, but Maria is unimpressed. That is, until Manolo, absent his three pals, warbles a new song, “I Love You Too Much” (music by Gustavo Santaolalla, lyric by Paul Williams), which touches Maria’s heart. “Manolo realizes he has to sing from the heart and not use someone else’s song,” the director explains. “‘I Love You Too Much’ is a love song that pours out of his heart and soul, and it works!”
A filmmaker in his own right, Luna shares more than just a nationality with Gutierrez and producer Guillermo del Toro. The Mexican born actor-director has become an international star by taking on projects that are both complex and fulfilling. Now a young father of two, the arrival of “The Book of Life” offered its own set of creative challenges. But the opportunity to honor a rich cultural past, as well as the vocal encouragement of del Toro, ultimately sealed the deal.
Luna further shares that his work in “The Book of Life,” while gratifying, was ultimately eclipsed by something profound. He found much in common with Manolo’s journey, understanding the poetry of what it is to be a dreamer. But the sweeter gift was having the chance to create a role in a film that could be embraced by his children for the first time. For Luna, writing that colorful new chapter in his life’s story only reinforced the message and appeal of “The Book of Life.”
“The Book of Life” (3D and 2D) opens October 16 (Thursday) in cinemas across the nation from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.