Jason Lee ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED Interview

     December 13, 2011

In Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, actor Jason Lee returns as Dave Seville, the father-figure for not only Alvin (voiced by Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney), but now Brittany (Christina Applegate), Jeanette (Anna Faris) and Eleanor (Amy Poehler) as well. While taking the Chipmunks and Chipettes on a luxury cruise liner was meant to be a much-needed vacation for all of them, naturally chaos ensues and they become “chipwrecked” on a remote island, left to fend for themselves until Dave can find them.

At the press day for the film, Jason Lee talked about why he thinks the Chipmunks have had such longevity, which Chipmunk he most identifies with, learning how to emote to a brown bean bag in place of a talking chipmunk, perfecting his “Alvinnnnn!” scream, and working on a Carnival Cruise ship. He also said that he’s currently developing some television comedy projects, he hopes to do some more episodes of the NBC series Up All Night, and that he hopes director Kevin Smith will have a role for him in his upcoming hockey movie, Hit Somebody. Check out what he had to say after the jump:

alvin-and-the-chipmunks-chipwrecked-image-5Question: What do you think it is that makes Alvin and the Chipmunks so enduring with such longevity for so many generations now, and what is it that endears them to you?

JASON LEE: That’s always hard to answer. The easy answer is that they’re cute. I think kids like chaos, in an interesting way, and The Chipmunks certainly create a lot of chaos. I think kids like to push buttons in adults. They like to antagonize and cause trouble, and certainly Alvin does a great job at that. Dave gets driven crazy, and I think kids like to do that with adults, so they identify with that. I think it’s the kid-like spirit that kids respond to. These guys also get away with lots of things, and kids feel like they represent childhood. I think it’s also the heart of it. These guys are likable kids. It’s very heartfelt and heartwarming, and there’s an accessibility to it.

When you’re holding The Chipmunks, what’s actually there?

LEE: It’s usually a little tan bean bag.

Now that you’ve done two films, is it easier to relate when The Chipmunks aren’t actually there?

LEE: It’s probably a little bit easier because I’ve done it for three movies now. But, it’s always a bit surreal when you’re looking at pieces of tape and stuffed animals and bean bags. You’re like, “Theodore, I miss you!,” and it’s a bean bag in your hand. That’s kind of strange.

alvin-and-the-chipmunks-chipwrecked-image-4You have some really emotional scenes to essentially nothing. Is that difficult, or is it a great challenge to have that all in your head?

LEE: It’s a good challenge. You get over the embarrassment factor, pretty quickly. You realize there’s a bunch of gruff crew dudes, standing around, watching you emote to a bean bag, and you’ve gotta just go, “What the hell? This is a part of the gig and I want to make it real.” You just pretend that it’s that thing, and you just go for it. It is a nice thing when you do see the movie and you go, “Wow, it really looks like I’m talking to these Chipmunks.” That’s a great challenge. That’s something I never thought I’d do, as an actor. I get to check that off my list, so to speak.

What’s the relationship between Dave and The Chipmunks?

LEE: They feel more like kids, which says a lot about the performances of The Chipmunks and the animation. The whole thing is really surreal because he lives with talking chipmunks, and I don’t think that happens often. It’s cool that you see that these chipmunks are more like kids then animals. I think it’s really just the furry little, chubby Theodore, who makes the whole thing cute.

In terms of your own experiences as a dad, do you feel that the father figure you play is authentic?

LEE: Yeah. I don’t know that I necessarily think too much about it, but being a dad, I certainly know what it feels like to give lots of love and understanding, and I also know what it feels like to be antagonized or to have my buttons pushed, at midnight when one of my kids just will not go to sleep. It’s that thing with The Chipmunks too, where you’ve gotta just let them be what they are, ultimately.

alvin-and-the-chipmunks-chipwrecked-image-2What was the biggest physical challenge for you?

LEE: Probably the running action, looking for The Chipmunks, grabbing them and that kind of stuff. It’s the eyeline marks. When the volcano is erupting and you have to yell really loud and stuff is falling down, you’re trying to remember which one is Jeanette. That stuff gets a little tricky, at times.

What was your approach in perfecting the way that Dave screams, “Alvinnnnn!”?

LEE: I don’t know. I just did it. The only time I ever got any kind of direction, outside of the director, was with Ross Bagdasarian, helping me with that. I thought that was cool. He’d say, “Can you do it longer? Do it shorter? Do it louder?” Ross Bagdasarian had to carry that torch, after his dad, so he felt it only necessary to give me some direction with it.

What’s it like, hanging out with David Cross, in a duck suit?

LEE: He’s awesome, in a duck suit. He’s real crotchety and grumpy.

What was it like to shoot on the Carnival Cruise ship? Did that get old?

LEE: We were only there for a week, but yeah. My idea of a getaway is not being on a cruise ship with thousands of people, personally. You eat all day and all night, and you’re out at sea. It’s quite surreal, the cruise thing. But, we were only on the ship for about five or six days. It was interesting.

If you were a Chipmunk, which one would you be?

LEE: They each represent something that we all have. We get the chaos from Alvin, the smarts from Simon and the innocence from Theodore. Together, they make a nice combination of what we all have, so we can identify with each one of them. I would say, for me, I’m a little bit of all of them.

Who’s easier to parent, The Chipmunks or The Chipettes?

LEE: The Chipettes. Women are certainly more well-behaved.

alvin-and-the-chipmunks-chipwrecked-image-3Would you be down with continuing to make Alvin and The Chipmunks movies, indefinitely?

LEE: Sure, why not?

What kids’ shows were you into, when you were a kid?

LEE: I really liked Tom & Jerry. That was huge for me. I watched it every morning, before I walked to school. Even as a kid, I thought there was something really smart about it. I thought it was very clever. I still watch it today, when it comes on. I love that old animation.

Does this make you something of a hero at home? Is it nice to have something that you’re comfortable with your kids watching?

LEE: Yeah, absolutely. I always set out to just work, as an actor, and try to do as many different things as I possibly could, and not be too selective or too careful. I think just working is fun. I like that I did My Name is Earl. I like that I’ve done kids’ stuff. I like that I’ve done more dramatic stuff. I like that I did all the Kevin Smith stuff. I like that I’ve bounced around a lot. But, as a dad, it’s nice to have movies that my kids can watch because they certainly aren’t watching Chasing Amy.

Which do they love more, The Chipmunks or The Incredibles?

LEE: They love The Chipmunks because you can really see it and it’s cute. Especially my 3-year-old daughter. She’s very much into saying, “Aww!,” which is really cute. But, they love The Incredibles, and that’s certainly a proud one for me. The Chipmunks is just such a classic thing. To have my kids be able to have that, and then have their kids have that, I think it’s really cool.

alvin-and-the-chipmunks-chipwrecked-image-6Have you kept in touch with Kevin Smith?

LEE: Yeah, we email each other sometimes. I run into Scott Mosier, his producer, who produced everything from Clerks, on. We see each other sometimes. And, I see Jason Mewes, from time to time. I think Kevin and I will always be somehow connected and a part of each other’s lives, even if five years passes without seeing each other.

Could there be a role for you in Hit Somebody, his hockey movie?

LEE: I didn’t know he was doing a hockey movie. I thought he retired from directing.

This is supposed to be his last movie.

LEE: Oh, okay. Well, he better call me up for it.

Are you still skateboarding?

LEE: Yeah. Not lots, but my son and I go out, cruising around on the boards.

Is he as good as you?

LEE: He’s getting better than me.

How would you feel, if your kids wanted to go into the business?

alvin-and-the-chipmunks-chipwrecked-posterLEE: I would definitely encourage whatever they want to do, but I might make them wait a little bit.

You talked about the joy you take in your work, but what about when the aspects of business get in the way? When you want to do a project, and then there are all these snags, is it easy to just walk away?

LEE: It depends on how passionate you are about the project, but that happens all the time. Pilots get made, and they don’t go to series. Stuff gets written and never gets made. I’ve tried to develop stuff that never went. It comes and it goes. It’s a part of the process. That’s why you can never put all your eggs in one basket, and it’s good to bounce around and work and keep moving, and keep that momentum going.

Would you go out for pilot season again?

LEE: I’m actually developing some things now, and that’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been meeting with writers and trying to get some things on the air, as a producer and as an actor. But, in the meantime, I’ve been having a lot of fun on Up All Night. That’s been a good show to be working on. I’ve done four episodes of that so far, and I may be doing more. Those guys are great to work with. Maya Rudolph is fantastic.

You’ve done comedy and an hour-long drama. What sort of things are you looking to develop?

LEE: More comedy. I love the half-hour comedy thing. It’s great.

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