From co-writer/director Will Gluck, Peter Rabbit tells the story of the mischievous and adventurous rabbit hero in the blue jacket that was made famous in the books by Beatrix Potter. Peter (voiced by James Corden) is playful and charming, and so driven to get his hands on the vegetables in the McGregor garden that it not only puts his family – which includes triplets Flopsy (voiced by Margot Robbie), Mopsy (voiced by Elizabeth Debicki) and Cotton-tail (voiced by Daisy Ridley), as well as cousin Benjamin (voiced by Matt Lucas) – at risk, but jeopardizes the budding relationship between new neighbor Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) and sweet animal lover Bea (Rose Byrne), who watches out for the rabbits.
At the film’s press junket, James Corden, Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie and Elizabeth Debicki spoke at a conference about finding their character’s voice, working opposite CGI characters that weren’t really there, Flopsy’s lisp, the similarities between General Hux (in the Star Wars films) and Mr. McGregor, the mystery of why these rabbits where jackets, and what they would like children to learn from seeing this movie.
Question: James, how did you channel your inner bunny to voice Peter Rabbit?
JAMES CORDEN: In the conversations that I had with (director) Will [Gluck], it was never really about channeling an inner rabbit. It was mostly about how to find a way to honor this character from Beatrix Potter that is so beloved and how to unlock this lovable, mischievous character that has been created in those beautiful books, and honor that in a film. I just feel very fortunate that I was able to work with a director and writer like Will, who just understands the legacy of that character and the world that it lives in and, more than anything, just wants to reintroduce this character to so many young people who hopefully will leave the movie theater and go and discover these incredible books. I feel like a fraud, between Domhnall [Gleeson] and Rose [Byrne], who were out there doing all this proper acting, where I was able to turn up in my pajamas and do this for a couple of hours at a time.
Did you really show up in your PJs?
CORDEN: Well, it didn’t matter what I wore. But I was clothed, throughout the entire process. That would have been really strange.
Margot and Elizabeth, you play two of Peter Rabbit’s three sisters, along with Daisy Ridley. What was the recording process like for you, in finding the voices of these bunnies?
ROBBIE: It was very fun. I haven’t been involved in an animated/live-action film before, so it was a new process for me. It’s liberating, being the voice of an animated character where you can concentrate on the voice, as opposed to your physical actions. But I was very jealous that I was finally a part of a film where at least some of it was shooting in Australia, but I didn’t get to be there for the Australia portion. It was just fun, exploring being a rabbit.
DEBICKI: I had a really lovely time, as well. It’s so interesting when you make animation because you contribute some, and then you see what the character starts to look like, as the animation grows, and that might change what you’re doing with your voice, a little bit. I love that, when we’re recording, they film us. When I watched the film, for the first time, I could see us in the bunnies, which is such a lovely thing to see. I have to say that I just love Flopsy so much because of her sweet little lisp. It’s the sweetest little voice that I’ve ever heard. I’m so in love with her. Mopsy is not nearly as cute or adorable. She’s bossy and more strong-willed. It was a really fun process.
Rose and Domhnall, you’re the live-action representatives of this film. What was it like to work opposite CGI characters that weren’t really well? What were you actually looking at?
BYRNE: It was tennis balls, men in blue leotards, or a blue stick. You start to get like, “Where’s the blue ball?! That’s my scene partner! Where did it go?!” You adjust to it, and then occasionally you catch yourself going, “What am I doing?!” But you’ve gotta commit.
GLEESON: One of the central [aspects] of the film is that humans don’t know that animals can talk, in the world that we exist in. That was good, in a way. There wasn’t a lot of going back and forth in conversation scenes with the rabbits. That helped a little.
James, Margot and Elizabeth, were you able to improvise in the recording booth, for your voice performances?
CORDEN: The first thing we did was lay down a voice, and then the animators started to work to that. It’s not really until it gets to the very, very final finished thing that you have to start syncing to any particular animation. I don’t know if you’d ever call it improvisation. It was much more Will and I discussing whether certain things felt right and trying stuff. And then, you’d watch a cut as a whole and go, “No, that doesn’t feel quite right. We should take that bit out and change it.” It was constantly evolving, which actually made the whole thing feel very organic. It never felt like you were tied into speaking to what had already been animated. It always felt like it was moving and evolving.
DEBICKI: Part of Will’s genius is that he’s so spontaneous when you’re recording, and that was really fun. We would try a line, but then maybe there was a funnier version. As an actress, it’s a real workout, vocally and mentally, because you’re just throwing things all over the place and seeing what sticks. That’s the joy of watching it, for the first time, to see what ended up being used.
Margot, where did Flopsy’s lisp come from?
ROBBIE: I think the lisp was always in the script. I loved it. There’s something quite enduring about a character with a lisp. You also can understand where her frustration comes from sometimes, if she can’t actually articulate herself, in the way that she wants to. More than that, she’s trying to win the status quo with her sisters sometimes. I grew up in a big family with lots of brothers and sisters, and I love that dynamic of, “Who gets the front seat? Who’s the oldest?” I could relate to it. I had a lot of fun with that. I’m the third of four, so I know what it’s like to try to find the power play in that dynamic.
Did you take anything from playing Harley Quinn that you put into Flopsy?
ROBBIE: I can’t think of a correlation between Harley Quinn and Flopsy. They don’t have too much in common. But what I always enjoy is playing someone so different from myself, and getting to say and do the things I can’t do in real life. That’s the joy of acting. It was also nice to be in a film with Domhnall again (after making Goodbye Christopher Robin together). We didn’t get to physically work together in this one because I was doing the animated portion and he was doing the live-action portion, but I’ve always enjoyed Domhnall’s comedy, so much. Getting to see his physical comedy shine so much in this movie was particularly enjoyable for me.