From Cheech & Chong to the Priesthood
In 1957, Cheech Marin was a 12-year-old kind playing Little League® baseball when the Monterrey Industrials won the Little League® World Series. This story that inspired the film The Perfect Game was one Marin knows inside and out. "I told the producers 'Absolutely. Yes,' immediately," he said in a recent interview. "This story was a big part of my life. I was exactly the age of these kids, and for me, they were my heroes, because they looked exactly like me."
A Renaissance Man Wide Selection of Roles
Passionate About Education Synopsis
"I would have participated in it for nothing because it was such a great story," he said. "I knew everything about [this story]. I saw every piece of footage that I could find of the kids. I read every single article that I could find. I was so proud because these players were kids; they were just like me. So to tell this story now is just amazing. It's serendipitous, a blessing. Who gets this in their life?"
Though you might not think of Cheech Marin as a priest, this is his fourth role as one. The man who might be better known as half of the comic duo Cheech and Chong is somewhat of a maverick, a Renaissance man. William Dear, the film's director, was set on casting Marin in the key role of Padre Esteban. He explained, "I knew Cheech was the actor who could use his warm-hearted comedy and make Padre Esteban an inspirational presence with a twinkle, one that could harness the spirit and energy of these kids in a very human way."
Marin was raised in the Catholic church, so playing a priest is not too much of a stretch for him. "I was going to be a priest," Marin said, "and was accepted to the junior seminary, but then I discovered girls and change my mind. I was an altar boy and a choir boy, so I knew up close and personal lives of priests.
"I grew up with Irish priests," Marin said, "and they're very different from Mexican priests. They were more avuncular, more easy going, so I modeled my behavior after that. Mexican priests had a softer demeanor, and that's what I tried to present."
A Renaissance Man
Marin is artist, a Renaissance, who can sing, dance, write songs, author children's books, and collects Chicano art. So it's no surprise that he compared preparing for this role with playing a guitar. " It's almost like finding the right tone when you're playing guitar. Each instrument has their particular tone, and each character has its particular tone. This priest wasn't a father figure to the boys, but more of an uncle, and that's what I tried to get across."
Marin is a mentor to many comedians and actors, and during the filming of The Perfect Game, he had an opportunity to give some pointers to the younger actors on set. " I tried to pass on simple things because they're early in the learning process. Some of the kids had no professional experience, and some had minimal experience. Some were good little actors that could be brought along.
"For those that would listen, I'd give them some pointers, but mainly try to show by example within a scene something they could do and then emulate." The biggest challenge he remembers about filming with so many kids? "Having nine kids in the same scene. It was like herding cats because their concentration level wasn't the best."
Wide Selection of Roles
Marin's career shows a wide span of roles, and he's known as someone who's willing to take any assignment that comes along. "I get these offers out of the blue," said Marin. " When someone asks me to do something, I generally say OK. I've kind of reached this point where people realize I can fit into different roles in different genres because I've demonstrated it over the years. I think I've escaped being pigeonholed.
"I'd still like to work with [Steven] Spielberg. [Call me, man!] We've talked about it a couple of times, but nothing has really worked out. I'd like to be in one of those big adventure films that he does. I'd like to work with Woody Allen, too. I'm a big fan of his. I actually worked with him once, but he wasn't directing. I'd like to work with him as a director."
One of Marin's favorite directors is Robert Rodriguez, with whom he's done eight projects. The latest one is Machete, and again he plays a priest.
As much as he loves acting, Marin's heart is still in comedy. "Comics are a dangerous breed," he said. "[It's because] they elicit laughter by telling the truth, but it's really a disguised truth. People will laugh at something because they know it's funny, but then stop and say, 'Hey, that's the truth.'
"A comic can go up to someone and tell them exactly what they think, and if they do it in a funny, they'll laugh. You still got to tell them exactly what you thought, and you got away with it. That's cool."
What gives Marin the ability to have insight into truth? He believes it's education. " I think by and large comics are highly intelligent people, maybe the most intelligent of all acting genres, because in order to elicit something funny, you have to be able to see the truth. It requires perception.
"It's not just learning how to tell a joke. Real comics are very insightful, and the more laughter they get, the more insightful they get."
Passionate About Education
A graduate of California State University Northridge who majored in English, Marin acknowledges that he's uncommon. "My cousins and I were like these little Chicano anomalies because we were very academic kids. We were raised in this Catholic school and it was a big part of our lives. We were competitive with each other, so it was a contest of how good we could do."
One of his current passions is education. " I'm on the board of directors of a Hispanic scholarship fund," said Marin, "and I work vigorously for them. I like to encourage education among Latino people, because that's the answer to everything. The more education we can get, the better off we all are.
"I was just reading about the trials and tribulations of Jefferson High School, an inner city high school here in Los Angeles where my parents went. 58% of the student body drops out before they complete their education. I was raised in the same place, but there was no question that I was going to go to high school and college. It was absolutely a given.
"I'd like to spread a call to education as much as I can. I think once you take care of that, everything else takes care of itself. It will eliminate a lot of ills.
"A lot of kids think because their dad didn't get an education, they don't need to. They can follow him in his work in the fields. It's easier than the discipline of studying and learning. Part of it is seeing examples of people that can do it and part of it is getting them motivated."
When asked what motivated him, Marin laughed. "My dad's hand on my backside."
In 1957, a barefooted, rag-tag team of boys from poverty-stricken Monterrey, Mexico defy extraordinary odds to become the first foreign team to win Little League® World Series – doing so in a perfect game, the only one in championship history. Based on a true story, The Perfect Game tells the tale of how their miracle changed not only their lives, but an entire city’s destiny.
The Perfect Game opens Friday, April 16, in theaters nationwide.