DogFIGHTS and Mexican tough guys worked great together in the hard-boiled drama "Amores Perros" a few years ago. Now Disney is using those elements plus several more family-friendly ones in its new release, "Beverly Hills Chihuahua." Will the combination make viewers sit up and beg for more?
Andy Garcia, George Lopez and Eddie "Piolin" Sotelo sat down recently to talk about making the dramatic comedy, which opened Friday. The live-action film stars a variety of two- and four-legged talent in relating the story of Chloe, a snooty Beverly Hills lap Chihuahua (voice of Drew Barrymore) who goes on a Mexican odyssey with a German shepherd ex-police dog (voice of Garcia) and other anthropomorphized companions. Along the way, Chloe discovers her "true bark" and reconnects with her mythical ancestry as a descendant of the "tiny but mighty" Chihuahuas of Mexico.
Lopez, the comedian and former star of an eponymous ABC sitcom, supplies the woofs and macho wisecracks of Papi, the pet Chihuahua of a Latino gardener (Colombian actor Manolo Cardona), who, naturally, gets caught up in the antics, which include two romantic subplots (one canine, one human) and a posse of bad guys in hot pursuit of Chloe.
Sotelo, host of the popular "Piolin por la Manana" radio program on KSCA-FM (101.9), has a small part, joining a cast that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Eugenio Derbez, Piper Perabo and the voices of Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin and Placido Domingo, who lends his operatic tones to the character of Monte, the regal leader of a lost tribe of Chihuahuas inhabiting a ruined city. Plus, there's scores of trained dogs, a number of them rescued from animal shelters on both sides of the border.
The Times: So did you all meet your dogs before you started?
Garcia: I did!
Times: How was the encounter?
Garcia: He came to my office. I had him over for lunch. We shared oil and garlic and some Purina dog chow. And he was a very noble, very nice, easygoing guy.
Lopez: I heard that you did that. I thought that was really interesting. My dog was being saved during that whole process.
Times: How did you get on with them after you met them?
Lopez: Oh, man, I love him. How can you not? He's looking for another job. We'd like to do another one of these.
Times: What do you think made so many people sign onto this movie?
Garcia: Certainly not the cash! . . . It was a very nice little script [by Analisa LaBianco and Jeffrey Bushell], you know, it really was. It was a very warm idea, very well crafted, the whole conceit of the story kind of immediately brought a smile to your face.
Garcia: Embracing your identity, the cultural identity, there's a lot of strength in that, wherever you're from, that you can integrate yourself into a society. You can be part of a greater society, but you don't have to give up your cultural identity.
Sotelo: We can't forget where we come from, because that's the message that the movie has. It's a great message.
Times: What was it like for you to make the film, given the fact that you left Mexico at 16 and came here?
Sotelo: I remember when I used to watch the Disney movies and I'd say, "Man, I would like to be in one of those movies." And when I received the phone call that I can have the chance to do the audition, I said, "Man, this is a great chance to make my dream come true."
[The actors discuss what it was like to record their speaking parts.]
Garcia: Drew and I did all our scenes together, you know, actually opposite one another. And they recorded us at the same time, they had cameras on us at the same time, I guess to look at your sort of facial expression, your mouth and stuff. Then they assembled the movie, and then we got a chance to come back in and sort of like improvise to picture. It really became a nice collaborative process, the script kept getting funnier . . . . And then you would be able to improvise against the behavior of the dogs.
Times: Your assumption is with the technology and having to sync everything up, it wouldn't leave much elbow room as an actor.
Garcia: I had a lot of freedom in the movie to say and come up with things.
Lopez: I had a couple that were. . . .
Garcia: Off color?
Lopez: Yeah. A couple really good ones. There were a couple with Papi, he gets adopted, and the lady, the dog's kissing this elderly lady and I was like, 'I didn't know you were into cougars!' They took that out!
Times: Our culture more and more seems to reflect the integration, the mainstreaming, of Latino influence.
Garcia: Well, it's the history of America. America is built on integration of different cultures. I think the strength of our country is going to be in the multiethnicity of it, and all the cultures that come together to still honor their culture, but ultimately we all feel American. You don't have to abandon your nostalgic, primary culture to embrace the American culture and be an American.
Times: What is it about this particular dog, the Chihuahua? It is kind of tough and scrappy.