Three Great Things: Cheech Marin

The legendary actor-comedian, who’s currently playing Jennifer Lopez’s dad in the romcom Shotgun Wedding, on the best that life has to offer.

Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To mark the January 27 release on Prime Video of Shotgun Wedding, the new romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Coolidge, Cheech Marin and Lenny Kravitz, the legendary comedian and actor Marin shared some of the things he loves most in life. — N.D.

I learned the basics of cooking when I was living in Canada for a while, so I’m the cook in our family and I cook every day. That’s the best part of the day for me. It goes on all day, really, because when we wake up, I ask my wife, “What do you want for dinner tonight?” She usually says she wants to go back to sleep, so I say, “OK, I’ll check in with you again at noon and see if you’ve got any inclinations.”

The great thing about being a cook is you get to eat what you want, for the most part, so I like thinking about cooking all day. And then I like cooking the meal, eating it and enjoying a movie or TV show after. My wife and I have a perfect situation, which is that I cook and she doesn’t mind cleaning up. She’s very meticulous. I say, “Oh, you want me to get out of the kitchen as soon as I finish cooking? Yes, I can do that!”

Cooking is very relaxing for me. I generally don’t listen to music when I’m cooking; instead, I watch TV. My favorite show is Cops. It’s nostalgic for me, because my dad was a cop for 30 years, so it takes me back to my childhood, and those are good memories. When I cook, I love choosing the ingredients. In the morning, I’ll open the fridge and say, “What do I have? Ooh, I could do that …” Cooking is really gratifying for me, very fulfilling.

One dish I discovered which I love is Chicken Marbella. It’s Spanish, but it’s influenced by Moroccan cuisine too – Catholicism meets Islam. It’s made with prunes and olives, so there’s a lovely sweet and sour thing going on. Every time I make it for somebody, they say, “What is this?! This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life!” Which is the same reaction I had myself when I first had it. It’s from The Silver Palate Cookbook, which I always want to plug.

Cooking for me is really about discovery. For example, rice can be made in a lot of different ways: you can have Chinese rice, or Mexican rice, or Middle Eastern rice, etc. And if your mind is open, you can learn a lot about other cultures that way, by finding out why they make rice the way they do. Cooking is always unconsciously fulfilling to me – and also I get to watch Cops!

I love playing music. I’ve been a guitar player most of my life and I play every day, plus I write and sing. I was also a singer from a very early age – I made my first record at five years old – so I sing all the time too. My wife is a professional musician, a classical pianist, and she just completed her doctorate in piano performance from USC. She is the first wife I’ve ever had who didn’t mind me singing and playing all day; if somebody’s not into music, it gets annoying after a while. But she plays all day, the same piece over and over again, and I love listening. And she takes requests – that’s the best thing.

I have a zillion songbooks, and I need to learn them, but I don’t know the middle eight of any song. If I say to my wife, “Can you play this?”, I can hear exactly the way a song was written, which is usually different from what I know, because standards evolve. When Frank Sinatra sings a song and another great singer sings it, those versions are always going to be different. But that part of it is fun!

Music is a huge part of our lives. All my children play and sing, and it’s great to have them join in the company of my wife’s classical musician friends, who are all incredibly gifted. At one point, we were organizing salons where I would introduce Chicano artists and some of her classical friends would play also. They would mostly take turns playing, but sometimes they would come up with stuff to play together. I didn’t play with them because I’m not in that league and I can’t read music, but they’re all in prestigious orchestras around the world, so these guys know a few chords!

My Desert Dacha
In life, most people are not fortunate enough to have two houses, but I do. I have one house in Los Angeles, in Pacific Palisades, where my wife and I live, but we also have a desert place out in Joshua Tree. My wife came up to me one day and said, “If you want me to stay with you for the next 30 years, I want to have a dacha.” And so I said, “OK, I’ll get you five! Wait, what is a dacha?” She told me, “All Russian people have a country house where they go for the summer and grow cabbages and carrots and raise a rabbit. And there’s usually a lake there, too.” So now we have this place in Joshua Tree where we go and spend half the year.

The great thing about the desert is you don’t have to do anything when you’re there. You just immerse yourself in that air. The desert air is another element, and it’s like having 365 different cashmere sweaters. It’s a little bit different every day, because the temperature can change very suddenly. It’s very calming for me, there’s no stress, and we do the same things we do in the city: she plays, I play, we read a lot, and then we go for walks in the desert and never say a word and come back, totally fulfilled.

We have a lot of quail on the property, especially during the summer. I like to cook and I like quail, so I decided at one point that I’d try to combine the two. I didn’t want to indiscriminately slaughter a big flock of quail just because I was hungry, so I got a book which told you how to make the traps to catch them, how to pluck them – everything. As I was reading through this book, I was telling my wife what we were going to do, but at the same time, she was on her phone. As soon as I’d finished telling her my plan, she said, “OK, six quails will be here Tuesday.” She had just ordered some! So the quail at our dacha were granted dispensation and are still alive.

The desert is really nice for me. Some people are desert people and some people are mountain people. I’m a desert person.

Featired image, showing Cheech Marin in Shotgun Wedding, by Ana Carballosa, courtesy Prime Video.

Best known as one half of the hilariously irreverent, satirical, counter-culture, no-holds-barred duo Cheech and Chong, Cheech Marin is an actor, director, writer, musician, art collector, and humanitarian, a man who has enough talent, humor, and intelligence to do just about anything. He can currently be seen in the romantic comedy Shotgun Wedding, also starring Jennifer Lopez, Josh Duhamel, Jennifer Coolidge, Cheech Marin and Lenny Kravitz, which is now on Prime Video. His long-awaited memoir, Cheech is Not My Real Name…But Don’t Call Me Chong!, was released in 2017. (Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikipedia.)