Benjamin Bratt voices “Manny” in Sony Pictures Animation’s “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.” (Photo/Courtesy Sony Pictures)

Benjamin Bratt on “Cloudy 2,” family and keeping his street cred

Benjamin Bratt’s eight-year-old son has just started up school again and the actor says that he’s quite pleased that his “street cred on the school yard is huge.”

“Most dads of eight and eleven-year-olds don’t get any credit whatsoever – they’re to be avoided like the plague,” laughs Bratt. “But when his friends recognize me because of movies like ‘Cloudy 2,’ that’s fun.”

Bratt – who became a celebrated star on the television drama “Law & Order” and who most recently has starred in “Modern Family” and “Despicable Me 2” – is returning to family fare with the sequel to 2009’s “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” He’ll be resuming his role as Manny, a do-it-all  filmmaker whose talents help main characters Flint Lockwood (voiced by Bill Hader) and Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) in their quest to save the world from an epic invasion of oversized living food creatures.

“You know, the first one was so much fun in terms of the creativity – the play on situations and comedy that comes out of the creation of blending food and the weather,” says Bratt of “Cloudy 2,” which opens in theaters nationwide on Sept. 27.  “As a viewer, I fell in love with the band of merry misfits and the chance to get on that ride again was the big draw.”

And with the chance to return to the film was the opportunity to flesh out Manny, a man of many skills, but few words.

“Fans will find him more talkative this time around,” shares Bratt. “He’s not a chatterbox by anyone’s definition but he says more – you’ll just have to see!”

With the chance to voice an animated character, get creative in the studio booth, and of course, become an even bigger hit among his children’s friends, Bratt – who has starred in films like “Traffic” and “Piñero” – says that he’s busier than ever.

“I’m on the move so much these days as an actor; I end up traveling a lot,” says Bratt, who’s been married to actress Talisa Soto since 2002. “So at this point in my life, what I treasure most is time with my family. I make it sound idyllic and perfect, but being a parent is a hard gig. But at the same time, there’s nothing more rewarding than those treasured moments – the down time, kicking a soccer ball, building a fire in the house or making a meal.”

That’s right: one of Latino Hollywood’s original heartthrobs likes to cook. In fact, the actor (as self-described “cheese fanatic”) says he even has a favorite specialty: organic bison burgers which he grills and tops with blue cheese, purple onions and a “dollop of relish.”

But still, life isn’t all about the next project or family cookouts. Bratt – who has produced several films with brother Peter – says he’s more mindful than ever about Latino representation in media.

“I really try to come from an optimistic place but I feel that Hollywood has a long way to go before they demonstrate what’s equitable when it comes to Latino representation on film and television,” says the 49-year-old actor. “It’s 2013 and we’re the largest ethnic population. We’re going to be the majority by 2050 and the fact that you can’t name one Latino actor who can green light a film in this day and age speaks to the unfairness and racism that exists within the industry.”

It’s a strong statement coming from Bratt, who over the course of his 25-year career has starred in both dramatic and comedic roles, animated films and television shows aimed at mainstream audiences. He says he personally encourages his children to concentrate on academics – not acting – and believes that despite the recent success of films like “Instructions Not Included,” Hollywood executives need to take note.

RELATED: Mexico’s funny man Eugenio Derbez tackles bicultural issues in new movie “Instructions Not Included”

“People were saying that Latinos had arrived in Hollywood with the 1987 movie “La Bamba,’” recalls Bratt. “They said our influence was present but 25 years later, that transformation hasn’t happened. I don’t think we can pin our hopes or dreams on any one product or story. We literally have to take it day by day.”

And if there’s one thing that defines Bratt, it’s his ability to evolve as an actor. His success hasn’t been deliberately planned, he says, but he loves the challenge of presenting new stories to new audiences.

“It’s only as of late that I’ve started to dip my toe into comedy and I have to say, I dig it,” explains Bratt. “I’m known as a dramatic actor and that’s where my strength ultimately lies. But I like to experience new things.”

“And trying new things comes with a challenge – I love that.”

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