Alice Century Unkrich: Growing up in entertainment

Alice and her dad Lee Unkrich at the Coco Premiere Nov. 7. Photo by Lee Unkrich

While others her age grew up watching their favorite Disney movies on TV, Alice Century Unkrich watched behind the scenes as they were produced. Coming to Chapman as a film production major, the daughter of Pixar’s Lee Unkrich was no stranger to the industry. Unkrich worked on “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Cars” and “Ratatouille” as an editor, and was a co-director for “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.” More recently, he was the solo director of “Toy Story 3” and “Coco,” both of which won Academy Awards for Best Animated Film. We caught up with Alice to ask her about growing up in the entertainment industry.

Q: What was it like growing up with a parent in the industry?

A: When I was younger, it wasn’t anything unusual. My dad has been working for Pixar ever since I could remember, so it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. It wasn’t until probably “Toy Story 3” that I realized how cool it was that I was so close to someone who created that, but he was always first and foremost my dad.

Q: What was your favorite childhood memory?

A: When I was in sixth grade, my dad had to do press conferences and interviews all around the world. My parents took it as an opportunity to do a big family trip, so my we went all over the place. We went to Spain, Portugal, Germany, Japan, Greece, Ireland, London and Paris. The hotels we stayed at were all paid for by Pixar. We were in the nicest rooms, there was always food and we were treated better than normal people. It helped me realize that not everyone gets to go on trips and travel the world like that.

 Q: How does your dad working at Pixar affect you?

A: I used to go to the premieres, like “Toy Story 3” and “Finding Nemo” and I remember people lined up against the rails wanting my dad’s signature, which was crazy. My dad had been working on “Coco” since I was in sixth grade, so it’s been a huge, huge part of my life.

Alice Century Unkrich. Photo by Sofia Friedman

Q: Do you receive any perks?

A: Oh yeah, for sure. There is no doubt about that, I’m not going to lie. You could say I had the upper hand getting into film school because of my dad. Applying to colleges, I think it helped, but I also like to think I have talent. However, I did end up switching my major to psychology.

Q: Why did you choose to switch your major from film production to psychology?

A: I realized that film was more of a hobby and not something that I wanted to do as a career. I figured that if I wanted to be successful in the film industry, I would probably have to move to L.A. and start off doing commercial stuff, which I didn’t want to be doing. I personally didn’t like the competitive aspect, and I was worried about how secure I would be financially. The chances of it actually making it are slim to none. So I thought about what else there was for me, and I chose psychology because in the back of my mind, I always wanted to be a therapist.

Q: Why didn’t think you would be successful despite your dad’s achievements?

A: It’s not exactly that I thought I wouldn’t be successful, it was more about me realizing that film wasn’t something I wanted to continue to pursue. I stopped enjoying my classes and looking forward to film projects. Creativity cannot be forced because it just doesn’t work the same way. My successes have nothing to do with my dad’s achievements. He worked incredibly hard to get to the point where he is. To be successful in anything, I would have to do the same, regardless of the industry. I think my dream of becoming a therapist will be more rewarding to me in my life than my previous dream of becoming successful filmmaker.

Q: Did you speak to your dad before switching majors? How did he feel about it?

A: I did not speak with him before I changed it. I spoke with my mom, but it had nothing to do with anyone but me and what I wanted for myself. When I did tell him, he said was he was happy to know that I realized what I’m interested in and passionate about. He would never make me feel bad about any decision or want anything differently for me.

Alice and her mom Laura Century Unkrich at the Oscars March 4. Photo by Lee Unkrich

Q: What have you learned so far through your experiences at Chapman University?

A: College is about discovering what you love and who you are. I realized I can enjoy film without having to make it my own career. I think that there is an indefinite amount of times you can change your mind or realize you want something different.

Q: Do people treat you differently?

A: I get attention. When my dad came here, “Coco” was screened before it was actually released in theaters. It was at Dodge and I remember going and there was this huge line. So, I waited way in the back and some people recognized me, because I had posted on Instagram when my dad won the Golden Globe. So they were like “You don’t have to wait in this line” and I was like “No, I do.”

 Q: How do you know that your friendships are genuine despite your status?

A: You just know. You know when people actually want to hang out with you and when people are just interested in your dad.  But there were times when I would wonder why people wanted to be my friend or have weird exchanges with them. A lot of people in Marin have connections to the entertainment and film industry, so it didn’t happen there but is more common here. My friends here are just openly proud about it. Sometimes I’ll meet somebody and my friend will be like “You know her dad directed ‘Toy Story 3’ and ‘Coco’ and they will be like ‘No way, that’s crazy!’” All of the sudden they will be really interested in me and will want to hang out with me. That’s obvious to me. Once people get to know the real me, my dad doesn’t matter anymore.

Rachael Kaufhold

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