Cheech Marin Interview

The comedy legend talks about working with John Lassiter and re-uniting with Tommy Chong

The name Cheech Marin means comedy! From his days with Tommy Chong to his solo stand up routines to his role in Nash Bridges, he's always brought laughter to the world.

His voice is so recognizable and kids of all ages knew who Banzai the Hyena was in The Lion King. Well, now a whole new generation of fans will once again get to hear Cheech in Disney/Pixar's latest collaboration, Cars.

He plays Ramone, the low rider in the animated film. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cheech for an exclusive interview. I walked into the suite at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina and there was Cheech; he looked completely relaxed in a green t-shirt, jeans, and sandles.

We sat down and chatted about getting in so late the night before from California, but then got right in talking about the film. Here's what he had to say:

What was your first reaction when you first saw it?

Cheech Marin: I just loved it! You always look at Pixar and know it's going to be good, but you don't know it's going to be 'that' good. And then you look at it and you go 'Wow! They've really exceeded themselves technically and story wise.' But the story really had a great heart, but it still has all the 'gee whiz' factor and all the comedy. It really has that good heart, and gets you really hooked into the ending.

Are you a low-rider at heart?

Cheech Marin: I am; I was the low rider in high school - low and slow is how I liked to go. So, going fast is good, but I like to cruise.

What was your first car?

Cheech Marin: My first car was a '56 Ford station wagon - cost 100 bucks.

What's your best story with that car?

Cheech Marin: Only that it was really loud cause it had a hole in the muffler and everyone could hear me coming from blocks away.

What do you drive now?

Cheech Marin:I drive an S80 Volvo; it's one of those real flashy cars. No, I just like it because I like a nice, cush ride; the Volvo is really cush, and it's powerful and fast.

How did you get involved in this movie?

Cheech Marin: John Lassiter came to me; he was a Cheech and Chong fan and he was a fan of some of my other work. I was living in San Francisco doing Nash Bridges at the time. Then, he came to see this play I was in; he came to me after I was in the play and asked me to do this part and I said, 'Absolutely, my pleasure.'

When you were in the booth, did you read the lines as is, or make the in your own style?

Cheech Marin: A little of both; the great thing about this flick is that John Lassiter directed so he knew the script, he knows the lines, he knows exactly what he wants. You try it both ways; they're very open to improvisation and rhythm. It's mostly a rhythm thing; you do takes of three in a row, and you try to get a different rhythm on every take to give them a choice. Then you do it again, and do it again, and again, and again, and again until they call you.

What would you say is your favorite scene that you got to completely improv?

Cheech Marin: I think the one where I got to get with Flo and we're at the parade; I like that one, we went back and forth a lot on that.

Are you a NASCAR fan?

Cheech Marin: You know, I've never seen a NASCAR race; I've seen an Indianapolis 500 race. But I'm going to see my first race this weekend.

Looking out this window, this is crazy.

Cheech Marin: Yeah, 250,000 people; this is just huge. I was at the Indianapolis 500 last year, and it's twice as big; the track is 5 miles and there's 450, 000 fans.

Have you seen your car out here?

Cheech Marin: No, not yet; but I know it's here, they're off-loading it somewhere.

The Hudson drove by as I was waiting for you.

Cheech Marin: Isn't that the coolest! Growing up in Southern California, it's all car culture. When I was a kid, I knew every single model of every single car dealer; I knew every style of every year. You really can't tell cars apart now; they all seem to look the same. But you could tell a Chevy from a Ford and a Buick.

Describe the car you play in this movie.

Cheech Marin: My car is a '59 Chevy; it was the first year they really came out with the tailfins, that was the big thing. 'Wow, look at those things, they're so space age!' But he's the interior/exterior guy in town so every time you see him he's got a new paint job and a new interior - like a close horse and he's hydraulically jacked, so he's got a lot of fun there. And he's a lover, he's a lover not a racer; he's in love with Flo, who runs the Diner. He's a typical low rider, low and slow, good times.

Was the relationship between you and Flo written in there?

Cheech Marin: Yeah, that was all John, he said, 'You're really in love with her; she's your babe.' And that really works well for me.

After reading the script, did you talk to John about changing some of the lines?

Cheech Marin: We were trying to decide what year the car was; my ultimate favorite car is the '58 Impala cause it had those scalped tail lights and you could really get it low to the ground. But he said, 'We're really trying to do the next year when it had fins, cause fins is more Americana.' So I said, '59 works for me, man!' And it worked better cause it was jacked; the '58 was really low to the ground and then the tail fins really worked well.

Do you miss Nash Bridges?

Cheech Marin: Oh yeah, we had so much fun doing that; I just saw Don (Johnson) yesterday or the day before and he's doing great. I miss doing that, I miss going there every day; I miss having a job that you go to work every day. I put on the suit and say the lines; I'm trying to get back into that.

Do you still talk to Tommy?

Cheech Marin: Every once in a while.

Is there ever talk of a reunion?

Cheech Marin: You know, we've talked about it, and tried it, but a lot of things have prevented it. So we gave up on it; I'm very happy to leave Cheech and Chong where it is.

What are you working on right now?

Cheech Marin: I'm starting a series for VH1; they're starting to do series' now, so I'm in the process of writing that right now.

Is it a music show?

Cheech Marin: No, it's actually a political show. Yeah, I get elected to Congress.

Are you political?

Cheech Marin: You know, I'm a-political, but a keen observer. That's what this guy is; he's a real political guy, who's not registered to vote - typical American.

So you're writing and starring?

Cheech Marin: Yeah.

Is that a good change?

Cheech Marin: Actually, that's what I've always done; it's going back to basics

Are you a music fan?

Cheech Marin: Oh yeah.

What's your favorite style?

Cheech Marin: I like everything; I sing and play. Right now, I'm doing a bunch of standards because the chords are cool. My girlfriend is into classical, so I've been getting into the classics.

Do you play the piano?

Cheech Marin: No, just guitar. I can just play three chords - C,G, and F.

Have you thought about going back into directing?

Cheech Marin: Well, I've been doing that; I co-directed all the Cheech and Chong movies. I just did a play this year on Broadway called Latino Logs with 127 performances.

How different is doing movies and TV compared to Broadway?

Cheech Marin: I loved directing for stage, it was great! It's what I did growing up, and I didn't have to perform, so it was even better. You can see it, and you can see the actors working, creating the music; I loved that.

What do you want people to think of when they think of you?

Cheech Marin: I want them to think of everything and they do; people come up to me and say, 'I remember you from this,' or 'I remember you from that.' I'm just glad they don't remember me for just one thing.

What do people mostly come up to you for?

Cheech Marin: Everything, which is great! I have a fan base that goes from 'womb to tomb.' Some people just know me from Judging Amy or Nash Bridges, and there's a whole segment of people who know Cheech and Chong from just the movies and don't know the records and concerts. So it's amazing.

Are you going to go back into recording?

Cheech Marin: I doubt it; I'd like to do more kids stuff. I have this character 'Cheech, the bus driver' and it was a big hit. We're doing a series of books and I'd like to do more.

So you're really multi tasking.

Cheech Marin: Yeah, baby! Well, Mexicans always have to have three jobs at the same time. I carry out that tradition.

What do you want people to know about this movie?

Cheech Marin: I think it's amazing looking and it has heart; I think people will really come away with how much heart it has.

You can check out Cheech as 'Ramone' the low-rider in Cars. It hits theaters June 9th; it's rated G.