Since going solo following his pot smoking days with Thomas Chong, Cheech Marin has been doing very nicely. Marin says he has no regrets and doesn’t miss his old partner, as he divulged to Paul Fischer who is one of the featured voices in the new Pixar-Disney film, Cars.
Question: So when the folks at Pixar come to you and say we want you to be in our movie, do you sort of talk about how the character has been developed, and do you have a choice of cars?
Marin: Yeah, actually, John and I had a long conversation about what year the car was and I said, well, it has to be a Chevy if it’s going to be a low rider. I wanted a ’58 because that was my dream car. And he says but the look of the film was more because it kind of went with the movie.
Question: Are you a NASCAR fan?
Marin: I’ve never seen a NASCAR race, but I understand they go round and round. Is that the deal?
Question: Do you have to be into cars though to appreciate this film?
Marin: I don’t think so. I think you just have to be into a heartfelt story, which is what this is. I mean it’s really character driven rather and story driven rather than the particulars of NASCAR. But if you know anything about NASCAR it really helps.
Question: A couple of fellow actors who worked on this movie say that doing voice work for the likes of Pixar is actually one of the toughest gigs that actors can do because there’s no one to feed off and it’s not like you can imagine the set. Do you feel that way?
Marin: No. it’s what I was raised doing. I mean Cheech and Chong records were animation without the animation. So I grew up doing that, and I really like doing it – you know, creating the whole world out of voice. It’s a different kind of acting and it’s like sculpting with a chainsaw. The arcs you describe are real big. It’s very broad and it’s very loud. I’ve always found that you can’t get too big in animation because you’re competing with this huge image that you have to match a voice to, and I found that other characters I’ve seen in animation where they try to do kind of a normal voice just… it just falls flat, so it’s hard to compete with that big rambunctious image.
Question: And how do you?
Marin: Well it’s a tone you have to get. It’s pretty loud. It’s like the difference between film acting and stage acting.
Question: Do you miss the Cheech and Chong days?
Marin: Ah, no, actually I don’t. I miss the Cheech and Chong checks but that’s it. I had so much fun there, we did it so long and so many different aspects that it was nice. It didn’t really ever go away. I mean the movies are still more popular now than they were in their day.
Question: How often do you get asked to do a reunion?
Marin: All the time. All the time.
Question: There’s no tempting to take up those offers?
Marin: Well we’ve tried it many times and it just doesn’t work out for whatever reasons. And we tried it once again lately and the same things surfaced and so, you know what, I’m very happy to leave Cheech and Chong right where it is. When I was a kid there was a time when I was a big Laurel and Hardy fan, I used to love to watch them on TV, and then I saw a movie that they made when they were really older and it creeped me out, because they were trying to do those same kinds of kid like routines, and there’s a certain age where I think you do that and then you pass that.
Question: When you went to Vancouver, were you looking at a career in show biz?
Marin: I always wanted to be in show business my whole life. I mean that was very clear from a very early age. But I went to Canada ostensibly to be a potter. I was making pottery, and I was in love with that and my life has been characterised by doing the next thing that’s in front of you from pottery and then I was singing with this dine and dance trio and very slowly got back into show business. I found myself in Vancouver and met Tommy, who was running an improv nightclub and a topless bar so I thought that’s for me! And what heaven have I walked in to
Question: How long were you in Canada?
Marin: Three years total.
Question: Do you think Ramone in Cars is a cute tribute to the low-rider culture and were you part of that low-rider culture?
Marin: Oh, yeah.
Question: Can you describe a little bit of it?
Marin: Well you know the low-riders for me were the coolest guys. I hung out with a lot of different social sets, but a couple of my friends were low-riders and it was just the coolest. But there’s a certain cool factor that comes out of going low and slow, it’s like a low, powerful gear. There’s a certain ‘in control’ factor and that comes out of parading horses, and that’s what the low-rider is the next eventual step from that. But it was cool. You know they had all the coolest sounds, and chicks dug it. [Laughter]
Question: Pixar loves to put the actors’ personalities in the characters too, so were they asking you for some of the old Cheech stuff?
Marin: Well this character had a lot of energy to him. He was very positive and was almost like a salesman because he’s the inferior/exterior guy in town. I think the most salient characteristic is that he was a lover because he was in love with his wife and he geared his life towards that, so that kind of kept coming out.
Question: Are you continuing to look for other television projects?
Marin: Yeah, I’ve actually just sold a project to VH1 who’s just starting to do series. And I pitched them a series, they bought it and we’re in the process of writing it right now.
Question: What kind of a series?
Marin: Basically the concept is Cheech gets elected to Congress, and so I’m going to invade the political realm.
Question: So if you were ever in Congress what changes would you make to the system?
Marin: Oh, boy. How do I get out of this job? When I find out how much it pays I can’t live on this; I’m going to be the most dangerous person in Congress, the guy that doesn’t want the job and doesn’t want to get re-elected.
Question: Speaking of your political side, whenever immigration returns to the front pages, do you stop and look back at Born in East L.A. and wonder if anything has changed?
Marin: Well you know it hasn’t. [Laughter]. It hasn’t changed at all. I mean we’re involved in a very hypocritical stance in this country in that we want cheap labour and we want to persecute it at the same time, so we want it to come in and we want it to go away simultaneously.
Question: Does that to some degree make you want to go back to sort of revisit that world as a writer/director yourself?
Marin: Well, no. [Laughter].
Question: Because I’ve said it. Then there was a problem and it’s up to Congress and our President, whoever our leaders are, to kind of come to a realistic solution. It’s ridiculous. There’s a saying in the Latino culture that says we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us, so let’s send them back to where they belong – well, they’re coming back to where they belong, because this was Mexico.
Question: Is there a solution do you think?
Marin: Well I think they’re on the right track. They’ve just got to convince all these right-wingers that the path to citizenship has to be eased, and there’s a guest worker program. I fully understand about securing borders. I’ve been hanging out with the border patrol and they’ve told me that they had only two classifications for people – they have Mexicans and OTMs, ‘Other Than Mexicans’.
Marin: That was it. They were the only two classifications. And ‘Other Than Mexicans’ had people from 63 different countries that year. If you held a gun to my head I couldn’t name you 63 different countries.
Question: Now that you have teenage kids and they’re the age that they will start watching the old Cheech and Chong movies, do you sort of have a feeling of trying to tell them don’t actually do this stuff ?
Marin: No, I just lie my ass off. You know, kids are very hip, they know a lot more than I did at that age. I have 28, 21 and 14-year-old kids and they started listening to the records first. and it was interesting to watch, a Litmus test to see what they understand and what they didn’t understand, and the things they didn’t understand they just didn’t understand and they didn’t laugh at, but things they did understand weren’t about any kind of dope or anything like those things. So they know that there’s a separation between the character and dad.
Question: Do you worry that there are more avenues for experimentation available now?
Marin: There are always avenues for experimentation. But once your kid walks out the door, unless you have an electronic leash on them, what you want to do is kind of train them in good moral values and knowing right from wrong, so that’s the only thing I concentrate on. When I send my kids out the door you know right from wrong, and if that’s ingrained in you, they get it. They’re going to make mistakes, and they’re going to stick their fingers in the fan no matter what you tell them.
Question: Some would say there’s a touching innocence to Up in Smoke if you look at it…
Marin: Oh, there is. We always considered ourselves middle of the road dopers. [Laughter]
Marin: And we thought that was the norm, and it has proven to be. I mean, we never thought of ourselves as radicals and on the edge, we were just regular guys. This was what everybody’s doing and this is what happened in the culture and we were looked at as rebels but we weren’t.
Question: Are you surprised by the arc of your career in the last thirty years?
Marin: No, I’m not surprised. I’m pleased. But my work has been characterised by doing the next thing. So after Cheech and Chong it was like how you turn that around and go in any other direction. How do you be somebody other than Cher? How does she do it?