Last week, Sony held a press junket at the Griffith Observatory, here in Los Angeles, to help promote their upcoming animated movie Planet 51. Since the film takes place on another planet, I think the location was perfect. Also, almost every press day is held at a hotel, and it’s great to “shake and bake” the junket format. But while the location was different, that didn’t stop Jessica Biel, Justin Long, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson from making all the journalists laugh during most of their press conference. While you may be sick of Justin Long and his Mac commercials, the guy is quick on his feet when reacting to questions. I was very impressed.
Anyway, after the jump to can either read the transcript of the press conference or listen to the audio. While I always think listening to the audio is better than reading a trancript, for this one, it’s almost mandatory. There is just no way to get some of the jokes that were being told by reading them. I promise, if you listen to the conversation, you’ll be laughing as much as we were. Read or listen after the jump:
If you haven’t heard Planet 51:
The film is about an American astronaut who lands on Planet 51 thinking he’s the first person to step foot on it. To his surprise, he finds the planet inhabited by little green people who are living in a world reminiscent of a cheerfully innocent 1950s America, and whose only fear is that it will be overrun by alien invaders. With the help of his robot companion “Rover” and his new friend Lem, Chuck must navigate his way through the world to try and get back to his spaceship before it returns home.
Q: Jessica, your character Neera is one hot alien. How did you add your sultry sex appeal to this green girl?
Jessica: Do I have sultry sex appeal? Thank you! That’s lovely. It was just about trying to create a 16-year-old girl, who thinks she has this confidence and this sexy, “I am a woman,” attitude and, at the same time, is really still trying to figure it out with boys and is still trying to see how far she wants to push the envelope with authority and what people tell her to do. I think I was just trying to create that person that I felt like I was, when I was 16, which was confident, but insecure, and pushing the envelope, but still feeling like she was a little kid, and thinking she was this strong, independent, sexy woman, but still not 100% there yet. That’s what I was trying to do.
Q: Did you think about the history of green ladies in science fiction, going back to Star Trek?
Justin: I’m guessing no.
Jessica: That would be the correct answer. I never thought about that.
Justin: It’s funny because they had originally cast Harvey Fierstein in Jess’ role.
Q: When you saw the final product with the animation, did you see yourself in your character?
Jessica: I think I saw some physical things that I do myself. It was so weird to hear my own voice.
Justin: Yeah. My brother didn’t know that I was in the movie. I don’t know why. And, he heard a commercial the other day and looked up and saw it coming out of a green alien. I’m sure he wasn’t stoned at all. For me, I thought they captured me pretty accurately, from the waist down. I was amazed at how close that was.
Dwayne: I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Is that all you?”
Justin: They did take a mold of my body because the animator does this whole 3-D thing. The process is fascinating. But, yeah, it was pretty close. I don’t know. I gesticulate a lot. I constantly, usually very effeminately, [speak with my hands]. That was nice. It was a nice freedom to have, in the room. I could just wildly use my hands and body, and not be afraid of that.
Dwayne: It was the coolest thing, when I finally watched it. For me, it was the first time that I had done an animation movie and tried to bring a character to life with my voice, pitch and intonation, which I thought was really cool. And then, listening to Jessie and Justin, and even Seann William Scott, I thought they all did a great job of bringing those characters to life. In a movie like this, a lot of times, their facial expressions are over the top, and these guys were awesome. It’s something that jumped out at me, which I thought was really cool.
Justin: I found that you have to be bigger. (Director) Jorge [Blanco] kept saying to do more and go bigger. You need to.
Q: Dwayne, how did doing something like this compare to the computer effect in The Mummy 3?
Dwayne: The difference was that, in Planet 51, I had to bring the character to life with my voice. With that, it was Stephen Sommers saying, “Okay, and you have claws. You’re trying to get Brendan Fraser.” At the end of the day, the process was pretty fascinating. I thought the challenge was pretty cool.
Q: Do you believe in the possibility of intelligent life on other planets?
Justin: I do.
Jessica: I do, too.
Dwayne: Me, too.
Jessica: There’s just so much space.
Justin: It would be arrogant to think that it’s just us.
Jessica: I agree.
Q: Did this movie make you want to be a better person or make you want to contribute to changing the world?
Dwayne: Yeah. It had a utopian sense to it, which I thought was really cool. The writers and producers involved came up with a pretty cool concept. My take away from it was just to be better and wanting to live better. As individuals, everybody wants to get better at whatever it is you want to do, whether it’s a better boyfriend, a better son or a better co-star.
Jessica: What I took was the idea of a more innocent, conservative time. I’ve always been interested in the ’50’s and that feeling of being simpler. For me, the idea with this movie is to be open to change. In our world, a lot is changing and, in this world, a lot is changing as well. You should be accepting of change and something that’s different from you, and be excited to experience that because, only through change, can you grow and learn more about yourself, as a human or alien.
Justin: Because it is set in an idyllic society that is also kind of repressed, since it mirrors our 1950’s, it brings up a lot of issues that we dealt with and are still kind of dealing with, like paranoia in people who are a little bit different, and judging people too quickly and harshly. In that sense, it’s timely. There’s a little lesson embedded underneath all the cute, fun, green stuff.
Q: What was it like to go through the experience of doing an animated film, as opposed to live-action? Can you have more fun and flesh out your characters more?
Jessica: I think, in one sense, you really can. You can just be crazy. You can talk with your hands, you can go really broad, you can take it really small. Really, it’s your director who’s guiding you along because you’re not reacting to anything. Sometimes, I got to see some of the animation that they’d already done and some that was in the process. It was an ongoing process.
Justin: We did an initial pass. This movie has been going on for years. We’ve been doing it for the last three years. Initially, we just recorded it all and they gave us templates, so that we were able to see art. And, as they had our recordings, they started animating to the ones they liked. But then, we’d have to go back over it and fill in little holes, and then they’d rewrite.
Dwayne: At the end of the day, the process was a lot of fun for me, personally. I hadn’t done animation before. At one point, there was about six guys in the room, all giving their directorial opinions, and you had to interpret everything that they were saying, which made it challenging yet interesting and fun, at the same time.
Q: Would you do it again?
Dwayne: Yeah, I’d do it again in a second. Whether it’s a live-action movie or it’s animation, it comes down to the story. If you’re compelled and moved by the story, you think you’re going to have fun, and you think it’s going to entertain audiences, which we all collectively felt that this would, then sure, I’d do it again.
Q: What did you think about this film being done by a Spanish studio?
Justin: They showed me some art, early on, that got me really excited. Some of the illustrations they had done were just beautiful. And then, throughout, they showed me little bits.
Dwayne: We were all shown early stages of the animation and, even at that time, the animation was gorgeous. It was really beautiful. And, you couple that with the fact that those guys are so incredibly passionate about this project. They’ve been with this project since 2002, so it’s been a long labor of love and a passion project for them. So, their passion, in the room when we were doing the voice-overs, was very intoxicating and inspiring.
Q: In this film, your voices sounded quite a bit different. Did they ask you to change your pitch for the characters?
Jessica: My pitch was changed while we were actually doing it. The whole time, Jorge asked me to go higher and higher. That was very hard for me, at first.
Justin: We did it over the course of a couple of years, during which time I apparently went through puberty. I do a voice in Alvin and the Chipmunks, and they’re very careful about the intonation and pitch for that voice. I work with this voice coach and we just did the Squeakquel. That will be coming out in Oscar season. My voice coach told me that my voice, over the last couple years, has gotten lower. I don’t know what’s happened. So, I had to raise my pitch. And also, playing a teenager, I had to raise it some.
Q: How is making a hard-core horror film different from doing family entertainment?
Jessica: It’s the extreme opposite, for me, at least. Making The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was probably one of the hardest experiences for me, emotionally and creatively. It was intense because it was at this high level of freak-out, for about a month. It was just so not this world. That kind of emotional strain was so different. Planet 51 was just fun. I wanted to do it because it was speaking to my inner child. Yes, I want to be an alien. Yes, I want to be green.
Justin: No, I don’t want to wear pants.
Jessica: Yes, I don’t want to have to go through hair and make-up. I want to just go to work. For a girl, you have to go through so much hair and make-up, and so many costume fittings. I have to sit in the chair for two hours, in the morning, and it was so nice not to do that.
Justin: Yeah. I have such a respect for actors who are able to give convincing horror movie performances, as Jessica did in Texas Chainsaw, ’cause it really is exhausting to maintain that. It’s your whole body, too. It was my biggest fear, just being caught in a dishonest moment. There’s nothing worse than bad horror. With Drag Me to Hell, it was really Alison Lohman. I was just the boyfriend. But, I did a few other movies that were that level, and it was just grueling. You go home every night, so drained emotionally.
Q: Did Sam Raimi give you any advice at all?
Justin: Well, yeah. Sam is very hands-on, in the best way. Sam is a good actor. People don’t realize that he acted, back in the day, and he’s very funny, so he gets really into it. But, a lot of that stuff was Alison. With all the green screen stuff, he’d get really worked up and animated. He’s an incredibly passionate director. I just watched a lot of movies that reminded me of the character, so I watched From Here to Eternity and Romeo & Juliet. That helped me out a lot.
Q: This movie really captures that great retro, nostalgia vibe. Do you have any favorite killer robot or alien invasion B-movies?
Jessica: I never really got into those.
Dwayne: Neither did I. Not too much. I love the music in Planet 51. The music was cool.
Justin: I love the old ’50’s monster movies. I used to watch those, when I was a kid. And, I love The Twilight Zone.
Q: If you could live on Planet 51, would you?
Dwayne: I would. I think it’s kinda cool. It’s like back in the days when things were easier.
Jessica: It’s simpler.
Dwayne: It would be cool to visit and then come back.
Justin: Exactly. There are days that I wish I could be on Planet 51, and I only hope I encounter someone as understanding as Lem. I wouldn’t want to be imprisoned.
Q: How did you relate to your characters?
Justin: It’s a pretty easy answer for me. Shockingly, I was a bit of a nerd in high school. I was studious and a little socially awkward. So, yeah, it was nice to go back to that time, before I was all jaded and over everything. That was a more innocent time. I had a very similar experience in high school. I was just not as smart, though, sadly. Lem is a lot brighter than me.
Dwayne: My character is incredibly arrogant and loves him some him. That’s me. No. I would say the parallels were maybe the fact that he was very entertaining and loved to entertain. And, he’s a pretty decent guy. I will say that I really enjoyed the part in the movie where he reveals himself to Lem and says, “Look, I’m not the guy you think I am. I’m not this great guy. As a matter of fact, you’re more of a man than I am. I’m inspired by you.” I love that.
Jessica: I related to Neera because, when I was 16, I was pushing it, on every angle, with my parents and the world. I thought I had it going on. I thought I knew everything. I relate to her feeling of risk-taking. I had a little bit more of a bad attitude, as a 16-year-old. She wants to help this planet and change the world into peace, think for herself and be really independent and a risk-taker. That’s where I really related to her. She’s way more of a positive, charitable person than I was, as a 16-year-old, but the risk thing, the independence and the confidence with Lem, I related to a lot.
Q: Did you feel like the aliens represented other parts of the world that have a love/hate relationship with Americans and American culture?
Justin: I didn’t think much about that, and I’d be afraid to attempt to answer that. There is an element of war-mongering and that jingo-istic quality. I noticed that, for sure.
Dwayne: I’m not quite too sure if they thought about that, in too much detail, when they wrote it.
Q: This was the production company’s first animated movie. Did you notice any nervousness at all?
Jessica: I don’t know. I think they were a mix of different things. I’m sure there was a little bit of nervousness, but more than the nervousness, it was just excitement that they were so close. It has been eight years that everyone has been working on getting this completely taken care of, and they were just excited. They were so giddy with joy that we were almost there.
Dwayne: There was a big combination of that. There was a little bit of nervousness, but they were really enthusiastic, excited and very passionate, and that came out in spades. They paid a lot of attention to minutiae, which we all appreciated. They were really excited.
Q: Were you sought out for this, or did you hear about it and really want to be a part of it?
Dwayne: I heard that Justin and Jessica were interested, and then I was like, “I’m in.” I’m a big fan of Justin’s and I’ve known Jessica for years, so I was in.
Justin: Likewise, I heard about who was involved, and that was the big thrill. That was the big draw.
Justin: Gary Oldman and John Cleese did voices. That’s so cool.
Q: Dwayne, how excited was your daughter that you were involved with this?
Dwayne: It was interesting for her. She just turned eight, so she heard my voice, but in an animated way, and then saw me on screen, white and blonde. That was interesting to her, but nonetheless entertaining. So, she was excited.
Q: Dwayne, can you give us a quick update on a possible sequel for Witch Mountain, Tooth Fairy and Jonny Quest?
Dwayne: I’m not quite too sure about a Witch Mountain sequel. Great success breeds a lot of things, including sequels. The storyline was set up for a sequel, so we’ll see. I’m not ruling it out. I just can’t speak to it because I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to any of the guys up at Disney about it. Tooth Fairy is very funny. I can’t wait. It will be out in January. And, I’m not quite too sure what’s happening with Jonny Quest.
Q: Will we see you in a tutu in Tooth Fairy?
Dwayne: You’ll see me in a lot of things in Tooth Fairy. It’ great. The cast is great, with Ashley Judd, Billy Crystal, Julie Andrews and the great Stephen Merchant.
Q: What do you like most about doing family movies?
Dwayne: For me, the goal was to work in as many different genres as possible and hopefully find good success in them. But, when you make a good family movie, there is an importance of it and great value to it. If you make a good family movie, then everybody in the family can relate to somebody, or in this case something. That’s always enjoyable. There’s always an important place for family movies.
Q: Since you’re playing an astronaut in this, what do you think NASA will think of your character?
Dwayne: The studio has partnered up with NASA, so I had an opportunity to meet a couple individuals from NASA, who love the movie and love the message. They’re great guys. From what I know, they are happy with the movie.
Q: How does that make you feel?
Dwayne: For me, it was just an honor to talk with the individuals from NASA, who are always cutting edge and who are responsible for so much. To put it in perspective, we made a great animated movie and they were happy with the character that we made of the astronaut.
Q: Do you guys have any fear of the unknown?
Jessica: That’s a constant problem. When am I going to work? I don’t know. That’s always there. I try not to think about that too much, but it’s always a little bit there. When will I work and can I pay my bills? Is it going to be creatively interesting? There’s always there for me, a little bit, as much as I try to say it’s not.
Q: Jessica, what can you say about The A-Team and playing Lt. Sosa?
Jessica: It’s going really, really well. It’s been a complete blast. It’s really fun. I’m getting to work a lot with weapons again, which I haven’t done in a long time. That sounds kinda weird, but it’s the best to learn about that kind of thing. The cast is wonderful. Joe Carnahan, our director, is hitting the nail right on the head. We’ve got a really interesting tone going on. I think I was a little concerned, at first, about whether we were going to be really super-cheesy or dark, or what we’d be doing. And, I think we’ve found lots of humor, at the same time that it’s quite emotional with dramatic moments. I think it’s going to be a lot of different things combined into this one movie. But, there are a lot of throw-backs and a lot of paying homage to the original show. We’re in the middle of it, so it’s hard to know. I think it’s going really well. Everyone says it’s looking really beautiful and the scenes are cutting together really well. That’s pretty much all I can say.
Dwayne: That’s a title, by the way, that I was really excited about, when I heard they were going to turn it into a movie. I was such a big fan of the TV series and, when I heard they were going to turn it into a movie, I was really excited. And then, Jessica’s publicist told me that she was on board, and I was like, “Oh, that’s awesome!” I’m excited about it. I think it’s going to be great.