Kung Fu Space Western — now that’s a film genre you’ve probably never heard of. But in the world of Jorge Gutierrez, anything is possible. With a Golden Globe-nominated film under his belt, The Book of Life director is now working on the wacky Western, which was actually inspired by his move to Dallas-Fort Worth from Los Angeles almost four years ago. He and his wife Sandra Equihua — also an animator and painter — have a son named Luka. Now 5 years old, little Luka has a fascination with hibachi-style cooking (yes, he has a chef’s hat and everything) and a penchant for movies, just like his dad.
Where do you live now?
Close to Deep Ellum. I walk to work [Reel FX Creative Studios] every day.
City where you grew up:
I grew up in Mexico City for 10 years, then another eight years in Tijuana and then came to the U.S.
What was the last thing you did before I called you?
I was actually writing the script for the new movie. The ideas sometimes come at the weirdest times.
Tell us a little more about the movie:
All our works have always been inspired by what’s happened to us in our lives. So this new film — it doesn’t have a title yet — is a Kung Fu Space Western. It’s very much inspired by us moving to Dallas. For us, this was the Wild West. And working with people from all over the world, and learning from them and learning new things, that’s what sparked the idea for the film.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
I work out. Now that I’m 40 years old, I have to be a lot more conscious about my health. For me, working out is actually a creative thing because I think of a lot of things and get a lot of ideas.
Last thing you do before you go to bed:
Monday through Fridays I put my son to sleep. We usually talk and listen to music, and I fall asleep with him.
What time is your alarm clock set for?
Last thing you misplaced:
I keep buying movies because I keep losing them. I have a ridiculous Blu-ray collection.
Last activity you did with Luka:
We took him to see the new animated movie Home, and he had a blast. He can now sit down for most of the movie. Before, he would just run around the theater or run outside.
Last home improvement:
My wife painted the portraits of all three of us, and I figured out where to put them (laughs). That was pretty much my contribution: “I think it should go … there!”
What makes someone “super macho” (Jorge’s website is super-macho.com)?
When I was a kid, my grandfather would always say, “Any macho guy can get in a fight, but it takes a super macho guy to walk away from a fight.” And he’d always say that the macho thing would be the easy thing to do; the super macho thing — that’s the hard thing to do, but you know that it’s the right thing to do.
How was your life post The Book of Life?
The movie is about the Day of the Dead, and the theme of the Day of the Dead is remembering those that are not here. The way we do that is by telling their stories, singing their songs, telling their jokes — that’s how we keep them with us. And so one of the things I did not expect was, after the movie came out, we got bombarded with messages on social media by how much the film has affected people, especially little kids writing about understanding a little better where their grandparents might be, and dealing with a loss in a positive way. Getting all those responses from all over the world — that has been more rewarding than any award.
Your favorite cartoon or animated feature film that you had nothing to do with:
The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was a big inspiration for The Book of Life; Pinocchio — when I was a kid, Pinocchio was the first movie I saw in a movie theater; The Incredibles — that was one of those movies where I thought it was good for adults and kids.
Your favorite cartoon on television:
The Simpsons. I was 9 years old when they came out, and it just blew me away.
I’m a huge Pablo Picasso fan. We went to Spain and went to all the museums. I keep reading his biography, and I’m kind of obsessed with him. A lot of his work is really serious, but I think a lot of his work is really funny. I think he was a cartoonist at heart.
If your life were a book, what would it be?
Like Water for Chocolate
If your life were a movie, what would it be?
The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2). That’s what I feel like working in Hollywood!
The top three people on your speed-dial:
My wife, my producer on the movie [I’m currently working on] and my parents.
Aside from credit cards, cash and your license, what else is always in your wallet?
I always have a picture of my son.
Favorite part of the house:
The whole place! We live in a loft, so it’s one giant room.
First thing you notice about someone when you first meet him or her:
Their laugh. With animators, we’re always concentrating on those little details of people, and I’m a fan of laughs.
Holding up my son in the delivery room when they first gave him to me. As an artist, we become obsessed with making things that will outlive us. This was one of those moments where, for the first time in my life, I felt that in the movie of my life, I was no longer the star but the side character. [Luka] is the new star.
One of the coolest things about being a dad:
I appreciate my mom and my dad so much more now. You don’t appreciate your parents until you become a parent. You see all the stuff they must have gone through.
What was your last dad fail?
I’ve been watching a lot of Kung Fu movies, and sometimes I forget that some of them can be a little violent. And so [Luka and I] were watching one, and we were both laughing. Then my wife came in exactly when a guy got his arm chopped off …
I love Mexican food in Texas. It’s so different from, and so much better than, Californian Mexican food. It’s different enough from Mexico that it is its own thing. I’m not even talking about Tex-Mex; it’s just that Mexican food cooked here just tastes different.
Tacos La Banqueta. It’s a little hole-in-the-wall place, and it has the best tacos I’ve had in my life.
Favorite place in Tijuana that you wish were in Dallas:
There’s a place in Tijuana called La Diferencia that has stingray machaca and duck tacos. They have the craziest stuff, and it’s so good.
Who’s the best dad you know?
My grandfather and my dad are the two pillars of what I base being a father on. They’re both very different. My grandfather was very lenient, and my father was very tough. I want to be somewhere in the middle.
Question you’re asked the most:
“Where did The Book of Life come from?” That is a huge, existential question.
Good habit you’d like to pass on to your son:
To be really good about recycling and becoming more green. Growing up, it was a choice. But we want [being environmentally responsible] to be a normal thing.
Your bad habit you hope he won’t pick up:
I know I’m not helping, but I hope he doesn’t get addicted to movies and buying movies. I think it might be too late!
Last country you visited:
Mexico. [I gave] a lecture in Mexico City. It was a big deal, since The Book of Life was inspired by Mexican culture. To go back to the city I was born in and showcase a film that’s a love letter to the country was huge. I was very emotionally overwhelmed.
One superpower you wish you had:
To not sleep.
Best thing that happened in 2015 so far?
We’re getting to spend so much more time together than we have in previous years. A film not coming out this year is the best thing so far.
Best piece of advice you ever received:
I had just gotten in trouble for something. The advice [my father] gave me was, “Jorge, you know all this bad stuff you’re doing, one day someone will come collect for all these things you’ve done. One day you will become a father, and a collector will come.” And the first time Luka broke something important I said, “Oh no, the collector is here. The day has come!” So to me, whatever you do, someone will eventually do to you, so you better do good things!
Published June 2015