Natalia Cordova-Buckley, 35, voices the legendary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in “Coco,” which centers on a 12-year-old’s artistic journey revolving around Day of the Dead ceremonies.
The actress feels as if the role was practically spiritually ordained, given the fact that Kahlo helped the actress find her own voice.
Cordova-Buckley was raised in Cancun, Mexico — “a ‘Blue Lagoon’ baby,” she says with a laugh. She was bullied because she spoke with a low tone — deeper than her father’s by age 6, she says — that was judged to be less than feminine.
Despite comments about her voice, she went on to study acting for three years at Cal Arts — which “is basically Pixar University,” she says — so getting to voice Kahlo for Pixar, she says, was a surreal dream come true. In her youth, she had found strength in the story of Frida Kahlo, whose work was such a presence in Cordova-Buckley’s home growing up that the girl practically had personal altars of her. Cordova-Buckley would look at images of such paintings as "The Two Fridas” (personally, “that represents the older me reassuring the younger me”) and "The Broken Column” (with Kahlo’s exposed torso) and find strength.
“Frida chose her strength and was rejected for it — by her husband, by her family, by friends, by society, even by herself,” says the actress. “Her paintings are a way to connect with the pain that lived inside her. To me, that was such a powerful thing, to be able to forgive myself. … She just constantly taught me to love myself.” And Kahlo, she says, made it okay to be described by a male-dominated culture as a woman who is “intense, radical, crazy, dramatic.”
Now, amid the tectonic crack in the culture that has grown as men from Harvey Weinstein to Roy Moore have been accused of a wide range of sexual misconduct, Cordova-Buckley believes speaking out is the only way to topple what she calls “the monster of machismo.”
“We’ve never had a female awakening of this magnitude,” says Cordova-Buckley, whose resume also includes the Disney/Marvel TV series "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which begins a new season next month, as well as its Emmy-nominated web spinoff, “Slingshot.” She cites the historic fights of women’s rights movements in the 1920s and ’60s and ’70s, but says: “This is really unstoppable now.”
Cordova-Buckley declines to comment on Pixar co-founder John Lasseter, who on Tuesday announced that he is taking a six-month leave of absence in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct. She has met him only once, at a premiere event for “Coco.”
In the wake of the sexual misconduct scandals, Cordova-Buckley sees good that can come from what she calls an unprecedented reckoning.