Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Cheech Marin

Alongside longtime partner Tommy Chong, actor, writer, musician, and comedian Richard “Cheech” Marin has been synonymous with pot comedy for generations. After parting ways with Chong following 1984’s disastrously received The Corsican Brothers, the stoner icon continued to be a ubiquitous figure in popular culture, both as a prolific character actor and a voice artist. He’s appeared in movies like After Hours, From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids,and Tin Cup,and lent his inimitable voice to The Lion King and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. After decades apart, Marin and Chong recently reunited for a national tour and a television special. Marin can also be seen in the recent DVD set Nash Bridges: The First Season, where he plays Don Johnson’s cop sidekick.


Nash Bridges (1996-2001)—“Joe Dominguez”

Cheech Marin: It came about because I was working on a movie with Don [Johnson] called Tin Cup, in Houston. Don and I had known each other for 20 years before that, before he was on Miami Vice or any of that. We’d hung around in Hollywood, being young actors fond of fun. So when we were on Tin Cup, the very first day, we got together and started doing a scene and telling jokes. Don looks at me and then he disappears into his trailer. After lunch he comes out, he hands me this script. He said, “I’m going to do this TV show. I want you to do it with me.” I said, “Oh, okay, sounds good. I just have a couple things to clear up first.”


The A.V. Club: What did you have to clear up?

CM: Well, I was under contract to another show. They had an option on me, and I had to get out of that option. Eventually I had to go to court and went against the studio and against the network, but I prevailed on my own dime. So now I didn’t have to do that other show, and I was free to do Nash Bridges. I was three or four shows into it without a contract. I was very clearly the costar of the show, so I was in a very good position.


AVC: I just recently read Tommy Chong’s memoir, Cheech & Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography. Have you read that one?

CM: No, I haven’t.

AVC: He talks about how he was offered a cameo on Nash Bridges, but said he didn’t want to play a police officer, that that would not be in keeping with the Cheech and Chong legacy.


CM: Ah, there you go.

AVC: Is that something that ever entered into the equation for you?

CM: Not at all, not at all. It was an actor being offered a really good part in a really fun series. I could bring something to it. I jumped on it. And I had the best time. For six years, it was like a perpetual party. It was wonderful.


AVC: Speaking of Chong, how’s the tour going?

CM: It’s going very good, we’re getting a lot of dates and selling them all out. Crowds are enthusiastic and young. It’s a pleasure to be on the road right now. It really is, especially in these tough economic times, where a lot of acts are having trouble. We’re doing very, very well.


AVC: Are you doing any new material? Is it all golden classics?

CM: Mostly classics. We’re doing a lot of material from our catalogue that we’ve never performed onstage before. A lot of music, so it’s a very musical act this time.


AVC: What’s it like performing with Chong after all these years?

CM: It’s like we never left. It’s like we’ve been off for a week, not 30 years.

AVC: Why did it take so long for a Cheech and Chong reunion to happen?

CM: Oh, because we kept arguing all the time. We’d get together every once in a while and try to work out something where we could make a project, and we’d always end up arguing, “You did this, and I did that.” Or he would go to jail and I was busy working on something else. We never got together. So we decided one more time [during] our annual conversation, “It’s now or never to do something, because we’re not getting any younger.”


Up In Smoke—“Pedro De Pacas” (1978)

CM: That was great. It was our first movie, the first time I’d ever been in a movie, or Tommy either. We were just thrilled to be making a movie. It’s like a first love. There’s no better feeling than that. You’re up there with this big crew and you’re making this big thing out of nothing. We went through trials and tribulations trying to get it to the screen, we hung in there with it the whole way. When it finally came out, it was this enormous hit, and it was really, really satisfactory. There was a great deal of satisfaction.


AVC: The studio apparently didn’t have high hopes for Up In Smoke, did it?

CM: Yeah, they didn’t know what they had; they kind of maybe knew. They just put it in a couple test markets in Texas and the thing blew up, and they couldn’t make prints fast enough.


Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie—“Cheech/Dwayne ‘Red’ Mendoza”

CM: Uh-huh. And that was for Universal, and that was great. In the meantime, between Up In Smoke and Next Movie, we were involved in a very long lawsuit with our ex-producer, Lou Adler. That took a couple years to get out of, we had this giant hit movie and we couldn’t move forward. Eventually we did, and we started making movies one after the other, Next Movie being the next one, and it was funny. I like that movie a lot, had a lot of funny stuff in it.


Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers (1984)—“Corsican Brother”

CM: It’s the least favorite of my Cheech and Chong movies. I didn’t like it that much. It was kind of the beginning of the end, or the end of the end, for Cheech and Chong. We kind of split up after that movie. Tommy stayed living in France, and I moved back to L.A. I was going through other turmoil. My marriage was breaking up, and my marriage with Chong was breaking up. I had to come back and kind of start on my own again.


Born In East L.A (1986)—“Rudy”

CM: Born In East L.A. was a labor of love. I loved writing the script. I worked a lot on it, and kept changing and changing it. I loved shooting it. It was really a test to see if I could stand on my own with my own character. It was very successful. I had great adventures shooting mostly in Mexico and back here. It was one of the highlights of my career.


AVC: In Chong’s memoir, he mentions that you offered him a cameo in that film.

CM: I don’t remember doing that.

AVC: He said he was offended that you’d offer him a cameo, and that it contributed to the breakup.


CM: No, we had broken up for a number of reasons, which I’ll delineate when I do my own book. But I don’t remember ever offering him a cameo in the film.

AVC: Have you thought about writing a memoir?

CM: Yeah, I’m sure that eventually I will, if only because everybody expects it.

Yellowbeard (1983)—“El Segundo”

CM: Yeah. That was funny. It was a request we got out of nowhere from one of the guys from Monty Python, Graham Chapman. They were trying to put together this all-star cast, and they asked us to come down to Mexico and shoot this part. It was great. We had a lot of fun. We had fun hanging out, we had fun with the role. And then, you know, the movie came out. [Laughs.]


AVC: You’re talking about one of the all-time great casts: half of Monty Python, James Mason, Peter Cook. Did you get to work with a lot of those people?

CM: Yeah, exactly. It’s not work, it’s just hanging out, which is even better.

AVC: What was the vibe on the set?

CM: We were in Mexico, we were staying in this great hotel. And it was just one adventure after another, mostly off hours. I remember it was very hot there. When we were filming, we were dressed in long woolen robes. And I remember thinking, “Oh, this is a lot of fun. I can hardly wait to get off so we can go drinking with Peter Cook.”


After Hours (1985)—“Neil”

CM: Yeah, that was great. I got a call one day from Martin Scorsese. He says, “Hey, this is Martin Scorsese, remember me? We met in Cannes.” I say, “Oh yeah, little Italian guy, I remember.” He says, “Listen, I got this thing, this movie I’m making. I kept saying, ‘Well, these guys are like Cheech and Chong,’ and everybody was saying they’re like Cheech and Chong. So I said, ‘Hey, I know Cheech and Chong, I’ll just call them!’” So he called us and asked, “Would you like to come and do it?” It was great, I had fun doing that. It was this really wonderful script, and Marty made a really good visual presentation of that.


AVC: After Hours has a script that’s just about perfect, as does Being There, which featured one of your songs.

CM: “Basketball Jones.”

AVC: I understand that you were friends with Peter Sellers.

CM: Peter was a good buddy of ours, we knew him from the very beginning of our career. Lou Adler, who was our record producer, he was hooked up with an actress named Britt Ekland, who used to be married to Peter Sellers. When Lou was visiting Britt in England, he would stay at their flat, and he had left our test pressing of our very first record over there. Peter picked it up and heard it and fell in love. He said, “Oh, this is the greatest thing since the Goons,” and so he became our number-one fan. When we came over to England, he met us at the airport and introduced us to the press and went to all our shows. He was just a buddy of ours from then on in. Whenever we were in the same town together, he would always leave us messages and he would come and hang out, which we did until he died. It was very cool to have Peter Sellers meet you at the airport with a bar of hash that looked like a Hershey bar, you know. [Giggles.]


Rude Awakening (1989)—“Jesus Monteya”

CM: Yeah, that was fun. I had a good time working with Eric Roberts, we became buddies. We worked very closely. That was a great cast, too: Andrea Martin, who was fun to work with, really a lot of fun; Bobby Carradine; Julie Hagerty, who was a doll. I had a lot of fun with that.


AVC: Rude Awakening was the first produced screenplay of Richard LaGravenese, who would go on to become one of the top screenwriters in Hollywood.

CM: Yeah, he was good. He had a partner. I can’t remember the partner’s name [Neil Levy], but I remember Richard. We kind of worked together, because I had this notion that my character was in this parallel movie and he would come and split off as soon as the action started. They started incorporating that into the script when they were doing rewrites every day. It was interesting working with Richard. He was a very good writer. Not that he has called me since. Dick! After I saved his ass on that movie.


Far Out Man (1990)—“Cheech”

CM: Tommy called me and asked if I wanted to do a cameo in his movie. I wasn’t insulted by doing a cameo in his movie. [Laughs.] I got 50 hours of court-mandated community service wiped out for doing that, too.


The Golden Palace (1992-93)—“Chuy Castillos”

CM: Yeah, that was an interesting little year. [Laughs.] It came at the end of a long and boring Hollywood story of doing development for different people. I got offered this part after Bea Arthur left. It was me and Don Cheadle. We were the cook and the manager of this hotel that the girls moved into. It was like being the Afro-Cuban rhythm section of the Lawrence Welk Band. Donnie and I were in a parallel show too. [Laughs.]


AVC: That must be very, very strange to be working on, essentially, The Golden Girls.

CM: I always wanted to work with Betty White, because she is one of my heroes of all time, and I just love her. I jumped at the opportunity to work with Betty White. I thought, “Well, this is going to be interesting.”


AVC: Was there a lot of sexual tension going on in The Golden Palace?

CM: Oh yeah. [Laughs.] The three of them could get together to have one sexual tension. But Betty White is very funny. She has the greatest sense of humor. She is wonderful to work with. The rest of the girls are good too, but I love working with Betty.


The Lion King (1994)—“Banzai”

CM: Boy, that came out of nowhere. That was so nice. Jeff Katzenberg, who I worked with when he was at Paramount on Up In Smoke and Still Smoking, called me up and offered me this part. He had told me about it more than a year before. We were skiing in Deer Valley, and riding up lifts. He said, “I got this thing I want you to do. It is going to be animated and you are a hyena and Whoopi Goldberg is going to be in it, and I know you’re going to do it.” More than a year later, he finally called and said, “Okay, we’re ready to that thing I told you about.”


AVC: There was a little controversy at the time, because people said it was racist that the hyenas were voiced by a Chicano and an African-American actor.

CM: Fuck ’em. [Laughs.] Fuck those morons. It was two voices. We just did two voices and tried to make funny characters out of those hyenas. That’s all that was involved.


AVC: When you were recording it, did you have a sense of how big the film would eventually become?

CM: No, not really. When we first started it, the script wasn’t… It was okay, but once I saw the illustrations and the animation, I thought, “Oh hey, this looks pretty good.” We did it forever, and every time we’d do it again, I would see more and more of it, and I would think it was going to be pretty good. You can always tell when something is good, because the studio senses it has something good, and you can see them pour more and more resources into it. The promotion gets bigger and bigger. It’s like Beverly Hills Chihuahua. I just did that, and it has been number one in the box office for the last couple weeks. You could sense that Disney thought it had a big hit on its hands. They start putting more and more promotion into it, and that whole machine starts really gearing up, and there’s nothing that is going to be able to stop this one.


AVC: There has been some talk in the media about how the popularity of escapist movies like Beverly Hills Chihuahua might be linked to the scary economy and the rocky stock market.

CM: Yeah, I think you can directly link chihuahuas to Dow Jones. No, it’s a fun movie, and parents think, “I’m gonna go watch a movie and take my kids. I hear this is something really good, and everybody I like is in it, and it’s fun.” What I think it proves, since it came out the same week as Body Of Lies—the big Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe movie—that people don’t want to see white guys in movies anymore. There’s just no audience there. That’s what they say about a Latino movie. “Well, it failed because there is just no audience there.”


AVC: In the late ’80s, it seemed like every black movie became a referendum on whether people wanted to see black people in movies.

CM: Yeah, maybe the movie just sucks, or maybe it was good. [Laughs.] It has nothing to do with whether Body Of Lies was good or not, it has to do with people don’t want to see white guys in movies.


Married With Children (1991-93)—“Buck The Dog”

CM: BUCK THE DOGGG!! That was fun to do. I would come in there every once in a while, and I would hang out with the Married With Children cast and crew. They were great guys. I love them. I’d sit there and do that voice. I would do that two or three times a year, and it was a fun gig.


Desperado (1995)—“Short Bartender”

CM: It is always so fun working with Robert [Rodriguez], because there is no tension on the set. The thing that makes Robert different, and why I really like working with him, is that he operates the camera. So he is looking through the viewfinder and talking to you at the same time. He is a very visual director. So you find out what face you have to make for him, at what angle and what lens. It really helps the process.


AVC: He does special effects himself as well.

CM: You know what the thing is? He does it because he can. He is the first one to say that anybody can do something. You just have to put forth a little effort to learn how to do this technical aspect. He told me this story about when he was a kid in high school, and he was working in a camera store. This was when digital cameras first came out. The owner of the store told him, “Hey, listen, I want you to take this digital camera home and take some pictures and do some stuff, because you are going to have to explain this to the customers. I want you to know how to work it.” When he came back and showed the owner what he had done, the guy said, “You have a talent for this. Do not be afraid of this technology. It is just a brush. Learn how to use this brush.” Robert grew up in that milieu—not being afraid of digital anything, and seeing how it can be easy and fun and accessible. He went through all these different programs you can do with special effects and music and editing. He was never afraid of it.


From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)—“Border Guard/Chet Pussy/Carlos”

CM: I liked that one. I’m reading the script, and okay, these guys go on… and there’s a heist… and then everybody turns into vampires… What? I had to go back. What did I miss? No, everybody turns into vampires. Okay, well, this is going to either be a big cult favorite, or it’s going to throw a big pail of cold water on everybody’s career here. So I decided, “Hey, man, this sounds like a lot of fun.” I got to play three roles, so away we went.


AVC: Though he’d done a segment for Four Rooms, it was also sort of Quentin Tarantino’s follow-up to Pulp Fiction.

CM: Yeah. It was very cool. You go back on the logic, and that’s probably how it would happen if you walked into a bar and everyone turned into vampires. There is nothing to prepare you for that. It’s like, “Huh? Everybody’s a vampire? Wow!” It happened midway through the screenplay. It’s not like that’s the premise of it from the beginning. It’s off in this totally other movie. That just cracked me up. And it gave it a whole other energy, too.


The Great White Hype (1996)—“Julio Escobar”

CM: Yeah. That was an interesting movie, in that it was two scripts in a row that I did that were written by Ron Shelton. [The other was Tin Cup. —ed.] Of the two, Great White Hype actually had a much better script. It was written much better, but it wasn’t the better movie. I went from Great White Hype right into Tin Cup. The difference being that Ron Shelton directed Tin Cup and didn’t direct the first one, because [the studio] wouldn’t wait for him. It’s interesting how the script really is a blank canvas, depending on who’s steering the ship there.


AVC: What do you think went wrong with Great White Hype?

CM: I think that what [director] Reggie [Hudlin] did is, he let the comedy go really wide, and he let everybody kind of improvise. The script was very taut, and all you had to do was follow that script. I think the river lost force when it widened.


Picking Up The Pieces (2000)—“Mayor Machado”

CM: Oh yeah. Worst movie I was ever in. Everybody in the movie was somebody known, somebody very famous. You know you’re in a bad movie when the Catholic clergy is being played by Jews. When Fran Drescher is a nun, you’re in trouble. [Laughs.] It had everybody. Vittorio Storaro was the DP, and Alfonso Arau was the director. It just went to shit. It was so bad I couldn’t watch me in it. Man, I can watch me in anything.


AVC: Did you get to work with Woody Allen on it?

CM: Yeah, I did. We were both confused as to why we were there.

AVC: What did attract you to Picking Up The Pieces?

CM: The chance to work with Woody Allen. I saw him in New York and I said, “Hey, Woody, you owe me one now for being in this movie with you.” It was all the best ingredients in the world mixed up in a cup full of vomit.


Masked And Anonymous (2003)—“Prospero”

CM: Yeah, that was fun. I mean, I just worked a day on it with Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan, I’ve known for a long time. We were neighbors, and the same guy built both of our houses. You know, we hung out a little bit in the day. It was fun working with him. I hadn’t seen him in a long time. So we sat around the whole day talking about old folk stuff, which I knew very well. We were just like two old buddies who hadn’t seen each other for a long time.


AVC: Is it safe to say that people were in that movie because they wanted to work with Bob Dylan?

CM: Yeah, exactly. Bobby Dylan.

Pinocchio (2002)—“The Fox”

CM: I love voice work. But it’s not easier to do. It’s actually physically much harder. They run you through, you’re there all day for a year. But I like working with it. It’s like carving with a chainsaw. You have to describe that character so large. For me, the voice has to be very large in order to break through on the screen and assume its own characteristic. You find a lot of these actors that do voice work, they do their characters with their normal actor/actress voice. It just lays there like a lox. Every medium has its own projection, and I find animation is much bigger than normal.


Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003)—“Belini”

CM: Yeah. That was great. I love working with Robert. He always kills me in the movie, and I tell him, “Robert, once you kill me, your movie is over, man.” [Laughs.] I want him to kill me later.


AVC: Why do you think that is? Why does he have such a compulsion to kill off your characters?

CM: I wonder, “Do I make it to page 28 on this one?” [Laughs.] But it’s always fun working with him. He can kill me any time he wants.


Cars (2006)—“Ramone”

CM: I love working with John Lasseter. He’s so enthusiastic. He’s like a kid with all this knowledge, but the enthusiasm of a kid. A very intelligent movie. I’m really honored to have been in Cars.


AVC: You can’t go wrong with Pixar.
CM: No. They’re really good.

AVC: Did you work with the rest of the voice cast, or did you record separately?

CM: No, in Cars, you record by yourself. Usually in animation you’re always by yourself.


AVC: So you didn’t get to meet Paul Newman?

CM: I did at the opening of it, during the press tour in North Carolina.

AVC: That must have been very exciting.

CM: Yeah. He was very nice. It was like meeting your dad.

Lost (2007-)—“David Reyes”

CM: Yeah. That’s been fun. I just did a new one right before I started this tour with Tommy. It’s good. I told the director that we’re going to find out in the end that David Reyes is secretly behind the whole thing, pulling the strings. [Laughs.]


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