Team Turbo (Vertebrates)
Another team -- this one human -- becomes an integral part of Turbo's journey. Meet the colorful shop owners of the rundown Starlight Plaza in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, who become reluctant and then fervent backers of Turbo's quest to race in the Indy 500.
The Starlight Plaza team broadens the film's world, says Soren. "We begin in the snail universe and the film's scope and visuals gradually expand to encompass a much more expansive environment."
The leader of this group is Tito, who is co-owner, with his brother Angelo, of a struggling taco business they call Dos Bros Tacos. Tito's true passion rests not with ground meat and tortillas, but with the snail races he hosts along with his fellow shop owners at the Starlight Plaza, as a means to gain exposure for their businesses. "Tito loves life and adventure," says Michael Pena (World Trade Center), who plays the taco-preneur. Like Turbo, Tito harbors big dreams. "His slogan for the events, which he hopes will also spur the taco business, is 'You come for the snail racing and you stay for the chimichangas.'"
It is Tito who brings Turbo into his world of strip mall snail racing -- and ultimately helps propel him on the journey to Indy 500 glory. It all begins when Tito traps Chet and Turbo and, intending them to be his newest snail racing competitors, transports them to the Starlight Plaza. Tito is clueless that he's captured lightning (as in lightning-fast) in a bottle.
When Turbo zooms into Tito's life at 200 miles per hour, Tito is inspired and the two kindred spirits head off to chase their impossible dreams. Each has a disapproving brother with a more grounded view of life. Chet's counterpart is Tito's older brother Angelo, a taco-maker who implores Tito to stop with the snail races, and just "sell some tacos!"
"Angelo is just trying to run a business," says veteran character actor Luis Guzman, who takes on the role. "He takes great pride in his tacos, and just getting Tito to focus is a job in itself. Tito has a good heart and he has dreams. Angelo has dreams, too, but his are less about racing snails than they are of selling thousands of tacos."
The parallel brother stories provide additional humor and heart, as well as some inventive visuals -- like when Turbo and Tito are simultaneous trying to sell their doubting brothers on the idea of Turbo competing in the Indy 500. "That's my favorite scene in the film," Soren admits. Producer Lisa Stewart is similarly enthused about the character of Tito, which she calls one of her favorites, "because he starts from a place of unbridled optimism and he ends in the same place. It's impossible not to love him."
And Pena has perhaps the most passionate take on the character: "I acted in TURBO for selfish reasons," he notes. "I mean, who doesn't want to be their kid's hero?"
The senior member of the Starlight Plaza group is Kim Ly, a cantankerous and elderly nail salon owner who doesn't mince words. Her expert manicurist skills come in handy when, as a member of Turbo's pit crew, she paints, buffs and polishes Turbo's racing shell.
"Kim Ly is menacing, but mostly adorable," says Ken Jeong (The Hangover Trilogy), who's anything but typecast as an elderly woman. "She has a little bit of a mean streak and can talk smack with the best of them." Kim and the other shop owners bankroll Turbo's trip to Indianapolis, hoping to cash in when he crosses the finish line. But by journey's end, "she really cares about Turbo and the rest of the crew," says Jeong.
About his unexpected casting as an aged Vietnamese woman, Jeong says that when he saw the film, "Somehow it just fit!" But Soren knew he had the right actor for the part after watching Jeong on a national talk show. "He was imitating his mother and mother-in-law, and he sounded like an elderly woman," Soren remembers. "And I said to myself, 'That's Kim Ly.' I talked to Ken about it, and he loves the fact that he's sort of channeling his mother-in-law for the role."
An equally tough, though considerably younger member of the Starlight Plaza ensemble is Paz, who owns and runs an auto repair shop. Street-smart and scrappy, Paz's passion is cars and she's put every penny she has into the garage. She's sharp, has a dry sense of humor, and prefers to cut to the chase.
Michelle Rodriguez, who has starred in several of the Fast and Furious films, portrays Paz. Her connection to that blockbuster franchise and casting in TURBO is no coincidence, according to Soren. "It's absolutely an homage to my love of those movies and a way for us to capture a little part of them, and show our respect for them. Michelle has a great voice -- distinct and raspy, and perfect for Paz."
The Starlight Plaza crew's Bobby is the owner of one of the most underrated (and unfrequented) hobby shops in the San Fernando Valley. He's a gifted model maker and the chief designer of the Racing Snails' shells. Oscar -nominated actor Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) is Bobby.
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