(Pictured above: Kate del Castillo on the red carpet at "The Book of Life" movie premiere.)
As a first generation American, I grew up watching a few staples on television with my family: cartoons in the mornings, and telenovelas with my abuelita in the evening. To me, watching a show like “Muchachitas” or “Imperio de Cristal” was my way of getting to hang out with my grandmother and mom every evening, and it created access to a set of stories outside of my Los Angeles neighborhood. The world has evolved since then, and more stories from Latin America are being told to a much wider audience.
“The Book of Life” is one of those films, and it seems only fitting that one of the lead roles belongs to Kate del Castillo — a well-known actress in the telenovela world. Recently, I got a chance to sit down with Kate to talk about her role as “La Muerte” in the film and what it’s like being a Latina in Hollywood.
“The Book of Life” stars Diego Luna (Manolo), Channing Tatum (Joaquin), Zoe Saldana (Maria), Kate del Castillo (La Muerte), Ron Perlman (Xibalba), Christina Applegate (Mary Beth), Ice Cube (Candle Maker), and has a host of cameos by other famous voices such as Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, Eugenio Derbez, Gabriel Iglesias, Cheech Marin, Plácido Domingo and Sandra Echeverría, to name a few. The film is directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo del Toro.
Q&A WITH KATE DEL CASTILLO
Q: As a Mexican, how did you approach playing a figure so iconic in Mexican culture as La Catrina, or “La Muerte”?
Kate del Castillo: La Muerte, I was so afraid because I didn't want to go to the dark place. It's La Muerte! Then, when [director Jorge R. Gutierrez] just explained to me exactly what he wanted — and he's so passionate about it, and it's so much light in him — I understood what he wanted. Jorge lets you really play; he knows exactly what he wants, but he still lets you play.
Q. Were there any particular elements from the Día de los Muertos folklore of La Catrina that you wanted to make sure to bring in or use?
Kate del Castillo: In all the stories, La Muerte isn’t scary — she is beautiful, fun and an object of light. That’s what I wanted to make sure to keep. And I loved it because she's feisty. She's kind of sexy. She plays with Xibalba. And I just had fun.
Q: Did you get to record with Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana or Ron Perlman at all?
Kate del Castillo: No, I didn’t! I actually just got to meet them [for the first time] at the premiere! But, I’ve talked to Diego several times, online though, over Twitter. He’s very supportive. If I need him to tweet something, he always says yes. I adore him, he’s wonderful.
Q: Speaking of social media, I’ve spoken to a few actors in the past who have said that they either have gotten a role or seen someone get a role based on their following. Is that something you have seen as well?
Kate del Castillo: Actually, yes, I have seen it a few times. I don’t necessarily think that it is right, though. I think parts should go to actors based on their talent, not because of their following, or even because they are Latino, Caucasian or whatever. I just did “No Good Deed” with Idris Elba, and my role had originally been written for a non-Latina. Well, I went in for the part and they ended up casting me because they liked my work and my performance. That’s how it should be — because of your talent — nothing else.
Q: Latinos in Hollywood are either very underrepresented or given limited roles such as maids and criminals. Everybody has a story to tell, but that said: How do you hope a film such as “The Book of Life” will change that?
Kate del Castillo: I agree we all have stories, the maids, the criminals, even las putas — because I’ve played them and I love las putas — they all have stories to tell. But I think a film like this can show the beauty of our culture. The love, the light, and the heart. I hope more stories like [this] will be made because these are the stories we need to share too.
Q: So, as a Latina actress, do you see a shift already?
Kate del Castillo: I have seen a change. It’s slow; very, very slow, but it’s definitely changing.
Q: Although you’ve had many roles in films and TV, this is your first big lead role, do you feel like it may be your, what they call, “crossover” role?
Kate del Castillo: You know, over the years I have had several moments where I thought or I was told, that that would be my “crossover.” But what does that really mean? I have been on many shows and just did a blockbuster thriller, and now with “Book of Life” … I don’t really think there’s a crossover moment. I just want to work — doesn’t matter where, in Mexico, Miami, Los Angeles — as long as there is a good story, I want to work because this is what I do.