Cristela Alonzo was born in the small town of Hidalgo, Texas, the youngest of four children raised by a single mother after her father abandoned the family. She moved to Los Angeles in 2005 and soon found success as a stand-up comic. This led to a brief television series based on her life, and now to a prominent role in Cars 3, playing Lightning McQueen’s personal trainer with a few things to prove. She spoke to the press about the role, her past and her place in Hollywood at a recent junket for the movie.
Question: What brings characters like this to life, in terms of vocal performance, in terms of what you have to do?
Cristela Alonzo: Like any other character, you have to find the truth… and the drive, if you’ll forgive the term. Where’s she coming from? What does she want? What’s holding her back? My character is very good at what she does, but she still has doubts about herself, especially in regards to her skills, which she uses to make the best racers in the world the best that they can be. That’s a great hook. It also makes her very relatable not only to girls, but to boys too. She says the best way to find your success is to just go with your instincts and trust yourself. We all struggle with that sometimes. You think you can do something, but then you have doubts. You have to forget the doubts, just do you best and see what happens.
I grew up in a very poor part of the country. When you live that far below the poverty line, parents work all the time to support their kids. It matters – it always matters when you make things better for your kids – but sometimes its’ easy to forget to tell kids that they matter because they’re too busy trying to survive. I think movies like this can help, not as a stand-in, but just as a reminder that kids matter. That it’s possible to have a dream and to achieve it, no matter where you come from. Families see it together, and they see that together, and it can help remind them of that.
Q: It’s odd talking about gender politics in a movie about sentient cars, but here we are. This movie has some very strong female characters.
CA: One of the fantastic things about these movies is that we tend to forget the gender of the characters, at least in terms of their skills and the way they approach the world. It’s about the best person doing the best that they can, and it doesn’t matter whether that character is male or female. I think one of the best ways to encourage gender empowerment is to remind everyone that we’re all pretty much the same, and we all have the same potential to do great things. One of the reasons why we say “it’s for everybody,” is that there’s room for mentors and mentees, for the girl and the boy, for the champions and the up-and-comers. There’s room for everyone at the table.
Q: This is a film about mentors. Do you have any that you cite as inspiration who helped you get here?
CA: It’s such a rarity, realizing a dream. It makes you all the grateful for the people who stepped in to help, because it really wouldn’t have happened without them. I grew up in a border town surrounded by very poor people. My mother is the first one who comes to mind. She came to this country from Mexico, and sacrificed everything so her kids could have a shot. It’s something we never thought was possible. My drama teacher from school is the other one. He made me go into drama in the eighth grade. He changed my schedule around without my knowing. He saw something in me and made sure I could take advantage of it. Acting is a million miles away from where we lived. I thought I would grow up and taken on some blue-collar job somewhere. He saw something else and made sure I could find it.