Happy Thanksgiving everyone! With the holiday in full swing today, and countless families gathering for turkey and stuffing, I wanted to bring you the final interview for Tangled. This is Disney’s 50th animated feature film in the Disney film canon, and it truly deserves some praise because it is one of the best animated films to come directly from the Mouse House in years. I sat down with Donna Murphy, the voice of the deceitful Mother Gothel, and we had a great discussion about what this type of role means to a mother and how it affects children. I must warn you now, as one publicist put it: Murphy doesn’t know how to give sound bites. She is quite a talker, which is a great experience when you hit on the right subject. Hit the jump to see my entire interview with Murphy, two fun videos, and a recap of the recent Tangled coverage.
I want to first say that if you haven’t seen the film and are a fan of classic Disney, Tangled will be right up your alley. I mention in my review that Disney has lost its stranglehold on the animation genre, but this shows the pedigree and pride that still exists. I had the opportunity to speak with directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, animation director Glen Keane, and stars Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, so I hope that you check them out once you have seen the movie. As I mentioned, after the interview transcript I have a clip recorded at Disneyland in front of a green screen, which was pretty awesome. I also have a fun clip featuring Mother Gothel, of course.
With all of that, let’s get the interview going. As soon as I arrived, Donna and I started talking about the day to that point and she mentioned that her five-and-a-half-year-old daughter was eating lunch with Goofy earlier that morning and how much fun she was having. Of course, I had to jump on that subject.
DONNA MURPHY: Yeah, and I was concerned about her seeing the film because of that. It was interesting because I was asked to do some approval on footage in a little featurette that goes out prior to the release of the film and it has interview footage with myself and other people affiliated with the film, in addition to some actual footage. So it came attached to an email and I was in my office at the computer and my daughter came in and said, “Mommy, what’s that?” It’s not like I’ve been keeping it a secret that I’ve been doing this film. She knows that I’ve been coming out and I told her about the project and a little bit about the character that I play, and she knows the Rapunzel fairy tale in a general sense.
But she’s like, “So you’re the witch?” And I said, “Well, she’s not a witch. She doesn’t really have any special powers.” So she said, “Oh, Mother Gothel doesn’t have special powers.” So she watched a few moments of this featurette, and it was great because she saw one clip and she said, “Oh, she’s mean.” Then she saw another and said, “She’s funny!” And then she saw me, talking about it, and goes, “And there’s mommy. And you’re voice is like a little different but I can tell it’s you.” So they just did a lot of work for me because seeing that all and separate from us, on this screen, in a way helped her put it together in a way that I could never have done just describing it.
Then we got here and they gave her a little goody bag that had the character play set, and had my figurine and an advance of the soundtrack. So she was listening to the songs and said, “Mom, I’m Rapunzel.” Of course she’s got big, brown eyes, long, dark hair, and she is dark complexioned, but she goes, “I’m Rapunzel, and you’re Mother Gothel.” And I said, “But I’m not.” [Laughs] “I’m not Mother Gothel, but you know that.” “Just pretend, mom. I’m not Rapunzel. And you’re not Mother Gothel; we’re pretending.” But it was a weird pretend to get into. I had that character sort of… once I start going a little bit with it, I can just do itis a mother/daughter relationship, so it’s one thing if I was like a goblin in the woods or something, or a… horse. But we’re playing out a mother/daughter relationship that’s kind of warped in the film and so I was sort of sweetening Mother Gothel up for our play time. [Laughs]. because she’s now a part of me in a way; part of my little bag of characters. And there were things that I thought, “This is just too bizarre to be doing this with my little one.” And it
That being said, her experience with other Disney villains… villainesses, even with the films she wants to see, we would get to a part that would be scary and she would say, “I don’t want to see this part.” So I would say that it was fine, and of course in modern society you can skip that part. And then, with time, she would say, “I’d like to see a little Ursula because I know she’s make believe and know that people who are mean are mean because they want something and nobody ever taught them how to get it in a nice way.” This comes off conversations I’ve had with her. So she says that she’s not really scared of Ursula anymore. So she’d watch a little bit and go, “OK I’m scared now.” But she would just gradually be able to handle more of it. I certainly was never forcing it, I always let her kind of call it and then would give it in small doses. Then, at a point, she was just ready to watch the whole film. So I thought, “Am I going to have to wait until this comes out on DVD so we can do the same?” [Laughs] And I’m not really sure.
We’ll see. But she has the book. She went into Barnes & Noble one day with a friend of mine and she came home with the book, so she knew plot. She was like, “Mom, when she does this with her hand she really does look like you.” I said, “Really, you think so? Or maybe I just do a Mother Gothel kind of thing?” and she said, “But you’re not really Mother Gothel, remember?” So it’s interesting to watch a kid process that. I remember yesterday, a journalist came in with her six-year-old to the screening and said, “You did your job because within a few minutes his head was in my lap and he didn’t want to look. And then at the end, when I asked who his favorite character was he said, ‘Mother Gothel, she was scary and funny.’” So, that’s what you hope for. I also think there is this thread of a kind of love that she does have for Rapunzel. It’s not what she set out. But she does raise this child and it’s the most intimate and certainly the most sustained relationship I think the woman has had in her 387 years or however old she might be. So as deep as the need is to get something for herself, she can’t help but fall in love with her. She’s spirited, creative, and charming and I think that stirs something in her that is confusing for Gothel. And Gothel has to keep reminding herself of what is most important, which is taking care of herself. But I think there is a genuine kind of humanity. It’s by degree, it’s not unconditional love but there is a love that develops.
MURPHY: Yea, it’s juicy because when you’re playing a villain… I think all villains have something in common: they have something that they need or want very, very badly. The stakes are very high and they are not bound by moral codes or being ethical, so they can do anything and will do anything to get what they want. I think that’s the difference between someone who is very ambitious or focused on a goal and a villain. Because a villain, it doesn’t matter who they have to hurt or what the consequences may be for someone else. It’s all about them. They will resort to being wicked if they need to. But the most interesting villains are people who also use other resources to get what they want. They don’t think that they’re wrong. They absolutely think that they are doing the right thing; they’re righteous. It’s great fun as an actor because you can do just about anything and justify it. It’s not just about twirling the mustache that’s fun. It’s about being able to go all over the map. It’s justified, especially with a character like this because she uses humor and uses charm. She is almost like another kid at times with Rapunzel; nurturing her. It’s not always using, I think she is genuinely doing that because it’s something coming out of her. I love that outlet and had such a fun time doing it.
Here’s two videos. The first is me at Disneyland, the second is a fun clip.