Audiences across English-speaking countries are already familiar with Anthony Gonzalez’s voice as the vivacious and musically inclined Miguel in Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina’s global animated phenomenon Coco; however, there is more to this over-achieving 12-year-old than heartfelt songs in a colorful story. Aside from wandering around the Land of the Dead side by side with Gael Garcia Bernal’s Hector, Gonzalez also stars in Icebox, a short that is currently among the 10 Oscar-shortlisted films in the Best Live Action Short category.
Originally intended as director Daniel Sawka’s thesis project at the American Film Institute (AFI), Icebox centers on Oscar (Anthony Gonzalez), a Honduran boy who gets caught by border patrol when trying to cross by himself into the United States. Terrified of the gangs back home that threaten to hurt him if he doesn’t engage in criminal activities, his perilous migration quest becomes his only chance at survival. On American soil, Oscar is put in a warehouse-like detention center with other boys his age, all of whom complain about the freezing temperatures inside the facility. In the dance between phone calls to reassure his mother, impromptu brotherhood with other kids there, and a remote trial, the protagonist’s destiny is decided by a mechanized system that ignores his circumstances.
Maneuvering emotional nuances with expertise beyond his years, Gonzalez portrays Oscar as a proud pre-teen holding fast to his courage in order not to break down. There are long and complex takes throughout the short, which required the breakout performer to hold a level of heightened sensitivity for extended periods of time. “I was very nervous coming into it, because I know a lot of actors, grown up actors, that would really struggle with that method, but Anthony was great,” said Sawka about the young actor’s performance. For the director, the limited budget and ambitious nature of making a film in Spanish were major hurdles in a process that has lasted more than three years. Icebox originated in 2015, went to numerous festivals, is on its way to an Oscar nomination, and is now being adapted into a feature, which will also star Gonzalez in the lead.
Remezcla met with the infectiously energetic Anthony Gonzalez in Los Angeles to chat about an amazing year in his acting career and addressing the debate on immigration from a compassionate standpoint.
On How His Parents’ Experience Crossing the Border Inspired Him
I was proud to be doing this role because I can teach so many about what people go through and what kids go through, especially since my parents went through that. I thought it was great for me to understand what they went through. It made me realize that I’m very fortunate in life, and I thank God for that, because there are other people who suffer a lot and have to go through many difficulties in life, and that’s what I learned. Since my parents went through it, they knew everything and they explained what happens. I was happy to be doing this role because I can serve as a role model.
— Lee Unkrich (@leeunkrich) January 4, 2018
On Learning to Speak with a Honduran Accent
My parents are both from Guatemala, so Spanish is my first language. It wasn’t difficult to act in Spanish. But for the feature I learned a lot more about the Honduran accent, because it is different from other types of Spanish. I didn’t know about that when I was filming the short, but now, I’m glad that I know about the Honduran accent for the feature.
On Launching His Career at Univision
It all started with my older sister. She auditioned for a show on Univision to read books in Spanish every Thursday in the morning, and she started doing it with other kids as well, and then my siblings and I started doing it too. It was just a routine, every Thursday going to Univision and reading books in Spanish. One Thursday when we were all there, a casting director called Blanca Valdez [saw us] and she told my parents that she thought we’d be good actors. She gave us an agent, and we’ve been with him ever since. Ever since my first audition, I knew that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life, because it was just so much fun. When I act, I can do anything, I can be anything, I can do infinite roles. It’s just so much fun.
On the Latino Actors He Looks Up To
I look up to many people! Like Gael [Garcia Bernal], and I actually did Coco with him, I love Gael. I’ve seen him in many things, and it was just awesome to be in a film with him. Also other actors like Diego Luna as well. I think they’re great actors, and I aspire to be like them one day.
On What He Learned from His Character in ‘Icebox’
I know that he’s very brave and resilient, and he really loves and cares for his family. I learned from him that I care about my family a lot, and I learned to have the courage to be strong and not let anyone tell you what to do. Be brave.
On Choosing Roles That Have Something to Say About the Latino Community
The topic is definitely very important when I choose my roles. For example, Coco is about the wonderful Mexican culture of Day of the Dead. For me, I thought that topic was very important, because I celebrate it, because my grandfather passed away, and Day of the Dead was a day when I could connect with him and be with him again. For Icebox, I thought this topic was very important, especially now. My parents, they went through it, so I thought it was important, and I wanted to know what kids my age go through.