In the family comedy Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, the eternal battle between cats and dogs turns a new corner when one crazed feline takes things too far. Faced with the immediate threat, cats and dogs are forced to work together for the first time in history, to save themselves and their beloved humans from Kitty Galore and her diabolical plan for world domination.
During a press conference at the film’s press day, voice co-stars Christina Applegate, James Marsden and Bette Midler talked about doing voice work, what they liked best about their character and how they channeled their “inner animal.” Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: What was the best quality about the cat or dog that you voiced for this film?
Bette: I play Kitty Galore, and she is an Egyptian sphinx cat. She’s hairless except for a little hair on her tail. She’s very cranky because she’s been rejected by her beloved human family and she’s determined to rule the world. I came in for a number of sessions and it was really curious because, when I first started, it was just a sketch. As the time went on, the backgrounds of the other characters got more and more filled in. That was very, very exciting to watch. I’ve never experienced that before.
James: I play Diggs, the German Shepherd. He’s a dog that worked for the police force, but was rejected because he had difficulty following orders. He has a lot of raw ability and talent, but unfortunately his ego eclipses all of those natural abilities. He’s hired or recruited by this separate group of dogs to thwart Kitty Galore and, ultimately, has to team up with cats, which is the end all, be all. He has to overcome his own sense of pride to work together with them. I like his confidence and his boldness. He doesn’t really know about teamwork so much, but he’s very comfortable in his own skin.
Christina: I play Catherine, who is the agent from Meows. She’s an incredibly sophisticated, smart agent who’s very spy-like. And, she begrudgingly has to be teamed up with these dogs, in order for her to stop Kitty Galore, who is about to destroy her universe. I love her. I think she’s a really wonderful, rich cat.
Are you a cat or dog person?
Bette: In real life, my pet passed. I’m a non-pet person, at this point.
James: I’m a dog person. I’m allergic to cats so, by default, I’m a dog person.
Christina: I am a both person. I love all the animals. All shapes, colors, sizes and species.
What was the process of doing the voices for this? Did you all get to work together? Was there a big moment where you discovered your “inner animal?”
James: It was an interesting process. When you’re in a film or doing television and you’re in front of the camera, you have a tool box. You have your expressions in your face and your body language. This experience for me was challenging because you really do rely on your voice to convey emotion, to play a scene. It was definitely a journey. Early on, we had some scratch track sessions, where we were just finding the voice of the character. It was important to find the voice that matched the physicality of the dog, and to match the energy that was needed for the animators. All of that was very new to me and it was a big learning process. It was a great journey where we went many times, all over the place, to try to find the voice of Diggs. For this type of movie, you’re in a dark room with a microphone sitting in front of you and not a lot of imagery to go along. We just had Brad, the director, saying, “Say that again, but remember that what you’re yelling at, that you can’t see right now, is actually 50 meters ahead of you, so you need to be a little louder.” You put a lot of trust into Brad because he is the guide. It was unlike any experience I’ve ever had before and it was very gratifying to see the final picture with all these puzzle pieces coming together. It’s great because you don’t always have that luxury on film sets, to be able to play and go here and there. You’re not burning film. You’re just burning time in the studio.
Christina: It took me a minute to figure out exactly what was going on. My first session with them, I had worked on Samantha Who? until 9 in the morning, and then I had to be there at 11, so I wasn’t in the best possible condition to start doing this kind of voice, and Brad kept saying, “More energy, more energy.” With a lot of other animated movies, they can animate thought in the eyes of the character, and they can animate physicality and all of those things, but for this, these are real dogs and cats. With our characters, at least, there was very little that was enhanced, so it really was a cat sitting there. What we really had to do is convey so much through the voice, and I think that’s when I finally understood when he said, “More energy,” it wasn’t “Louder, bigger.” It needed to be so full because that cat is not gonna swerve a certain way, or cock their head, or do the things that you want it to do. It took me a minute to get used to it, but I think it turned out really well. I was happy with it. I’d like to go back and change a couple of things, for myself, but I truly enjoy doing this kind of work. Even though it’s a little isolating, it’s quite gratifying to then finally see the picture and see what they’ve been so busy doing, all these months and years.
Bette: Actually, it’s not just isolating, it’s a little bit lonely because it’s just you in a dark room with a sketch of a character, or sometimes a filled in scene, but still you don’t work with the other actors. It’s like one long looping session. I was like, “Oh, my god, it’s ADR for days.” The real thrill comes from seeing the finished product. The fact that Brad could keep all these balls in the air and make all these elements that would form into one movie was absolutely staggering to me. I can’t imagine how he did it because he was working with live actors and with animals. There’s nothing harder than working with animals. Those animals really looked like they knew what they were doing, but honestly, they’re animals. I worked with animals before and it’s like, “Oh, god!” He was working with live actors and live animals, and then the robots and the cartoons, and it all melds together and you say, “Well, I can’t tell which part is drawn and which part is a robot and which part is a real animal.” I couldn’t get over it. I think it’s really an extraordinary achievement.
Christina: With our characters, at least, I was nervous because Bette’s character had to do all this stuff that a cat wouldn’t be able to, like pet a mouse. That would be dangerous. I thought, “Oh, god, this is gonna look ridiculous,” and it didn’t. It was really incredible, how he was able to get that done.
Bette, did being a singer help you get a handle on voice work?
Bette: There are some parts of it that are quite musical. The timing is very important, in this kind of work, because the phrasing works with the mouth of the character. Once the mouth of the character is moving, you have to phrase along with the character that’s drawn. That is musical and, if you listen to that, you can hear where the beats are skipped and where you drop a beat, or when you rush and catch up a little bit. I will say that the fact that I’ve sung for a long time has really helped a lot with that. I don’t think it helped the character, but it helped me get through the sessions.
Did you channel anybody to play evil?
Bette: No, I’m just plain evil. It’s true. Now you know the real me.
James, what is it about voice work that appeals to you, at this stage of your career?
James: It’s the fact that you can just roll out of bed. Vanity gets set aside. You really don’t have to worry about going through the works. I’d be lying to you, if I told you that wasn’t a part of it. One of the fun elements of it is definitely that you get to go and really focus on one tool, which is your vocal performance. Voice work is usually not that big of a time commitment. You can go in for a couple of days or a couple of months, here and there, and just go in and play. I like being able to do that. You don’t have that luxury on film sets or television sets. Time is money. Time is money in the studio as well, but one of the great things about getting in there and working with Brad was that we just would run the gamut. What didn’t work would be set aside, and what worked would be enhanced and embraced and then given to the animators. You don’t get that safety net, when you’re working on a film set. It’s about needing the shot before lunch, and needing the lighting set-up to be a certain way. It’s all you, when you go in and give a vocal performance. There’s a playful element to that, that I like. I would love to continue doing voice work.
Bette, if anything happened to your fabulous hair in real life, would you also go maniacal and try to destroy the world?
Bette: No, no, no, never. Something happens to my hair in real life every day and I don’t. A long time ago, when I first worked in the theater, I was in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I think I was 19 or 20, or something like that. One of the girls who was in “Fiddler” was a brazen Puerto Rican girl and she was famous. The reason she was famous was because, the opening night, she had done something to her hair. She had tried to straighten her hair and her hair fell out, literally, and she didn’t even blink. She went out, got a piece, slapped it on and went out and gave the performance of her life. She went on and became a really famous opera singer, and I never forgot that. I thought, “Wow, check that out.” She didn’t waste any time. From that time on, I never thought twice. I just look around, grab a piece and put it on.
How is your activism going?
Bette: A couple years ago, I teamed up with the New York City department of parks and recreation to plant a million trees in New York City. We’ve planted about 375,000 so far, in the last two years. I also am the founder and chairman of an organization called New York Restoration Project . We clean abandoned parks and public places, and we also own 55 community gardens where people in the community grow their own food. We teach kids about nature, environmental science and all that sort of thing. This is our 15th anniversary this year, and it’s been fantastic. It’s been one of the great projects of my life.
Christina, could you compare doing this to being a Chipette?
Christina: It was very different, considering the Chipettes could be anybody. You really don’t recognize it because it’s just high-pitched gibberish. That’s a little bit more taxing, as far as doing the Chipmunks, because you have to talk a lot higher than you normally speak, and really slowly. Everything has to be incredibly exaggerated, so you really feel ridiculous, and the process is a little bit longer to do that. And then, they just speed it up and it doesn’t sound like you. You try to put as much personality into that slow speaking, so that when it speeds up it sounds like something great, quirky and sassy. But, with this, I found I didn’t want it to push too much. What’s great about these movies is the human quality that all these animals have. That’s why kids love it. They can just think, “Oh, this is really happening,” because there’s this human inside there. There’s this real person that I can relate to. It took me a minute to really find what that was and to get Catherine as strong as she was, but not make her unlikable as well.
James, what do your kids think of your family roles?
James: They’re sort of over it now. The whole thing’s been demystified for them. I have a 4-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. What’s really interesting is that my daughter is four years old and, when my son was about that age, I got excited because I thought, “Oh, they’re going to get to see their dad in this film.” You forget that a child’s mind, at that age, believes that what they’re seeing on screen is real to them. They don’t see the manipulation. They don’t see the smoke and mirrors, and the Hollywood of it. It’s very real. So, I remember thinking, “Oh, they’re going to love this. It’s going to be great.” My son, when he was that age, was freaked out by it. When he saw me in X-Men, which he probably shouldn’t have been watching, I later realized just the concept of seeing me in person and then seeing me on screen is something that he’s over. Now, I’m this dorky dad in the movies. But, my daughter is getting a kick out of it now. One of the reasons why I like doing these types of films is so I can be a part of something that I can enjoy with my kids, if they’re into it.
Christina, your character has a mission and you’ve had a personal mission yourself, being a breast cancer survivor. Do you try to work with people who have had similar struggles?
Christina: I actually have a foundation with EIF that we’re launching, in probably September, called Right Action for Women. It’s program where we’re going to be giving financial aid to high-risk women who can’t afford to get MRIs, which is how I found my cancer. It’s unfortunate that insurance companies don’t cover the cost of that, and it’s such an incredible device because it can find it at a stage where you can stop it before it stops you, basically. So, my mission has been to stop that completely. We’ve already started our pilot program, and we’re starting to help women already, even though we’re not launched completely. That’s one aspect of the foundation. The other is to do genetic counseling and really help women understand what being BRCA positive is, or having high-risk in their family, and helping them understand what foods are good for their bloods and how to prevent this disease from happening. That’s been my mission, and that’s what I’m working on really hard right now.
Christina: I remember having all the dolls from El Coyote, the restaurant. I don’t know if they even have dolls anymore. I didn’t have Barbies, but I had hundreds of these Spanish dolls that were dressed like the waitresses there. I loved my little Conchitas. I had a few of them.
Bette: I had some toys. I wasn’t totally and completely deprived. Actually, my mother made our toys. She made a rabbit for me, and I still have it. He had little corduroy overalls. My mom was really a seamstress. She was fantastic. But, in those days, they used to have patterns and all the women would buy them. The pattern would come with the fabrics and you would put it together. The stuffing too. That was a great little enterprise.
James: I had Star Wars action figures.
Bette, is the Divine Ms. M in Kitty? Was world domination always your plan?
Bette: Oh, always. I think a lot of female entertainers think about that, when they start out.
What is your next project?
Bette: I don’t have one. I’m on hiatus. Nothing is what I’m doing.