I think it’s a safe bet that not a lot of kiddos in the audience would know the name Josh Gad, but if you ask them who Olaf is, they’re almost certain to know the famous snowman from Disney’s Frozen. At the risk of confusing children everywhere with his voice-acting, Gad will now be known for the fast-talking, speedy character Chuck from Sony’s animated Angry Birds movie. And there’s every possibility that Chuck might be your kid’s next favorite big-screen toon.
At the film’s press day in Maui, I had a chance to sit down with Gad to talk about the Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly-directed film, the creation of Chuck, and his favorite cartoons from childhood. For the trivia hounds out there, Chuck once sounded a bit like a caustic New Yorker, at least until Gad saw Bradley Cooper’s performance as Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy and decided that the voices were too similar. Check out what he had to say about that and more in the following interview, and be sure to take a look at our roundtable interview featuring Jason Sudeikis and a one-on-one with Maya Rudolph as well!
In all honesty, I found Gad’s character to be the funniest aspect of the film thanks to the actor’s comedic timing, zany delivery, and ceaseless energy. I told Gad as much to kick things off:
JOSH GAD: It was one of those things where, I knew we were going to do this interview two years ago when I signed up, and I was like, “How am I going to get Collider to ensure that people know I’m the best part of the film?” So that’s played a role in my choices.
You were playing the long game.
Yeah, I was definitely playing the long game. ::laughs:: No, the truth is that the writers were genius. They gave me incredible stuff to do. My fear when I was first pitched Angry Birds movie were the words “Angry Birds movie,” and I was like, “Eh, not so much.” And coming off of Frozen, I was like, “Do I want to do another animated movie? Is it going to be confusing?” I have such a distinct voice, I don’t want to confuse children all over the world.
John Cohen, who’s a producer, did this 20-minute pitch that was inspired. He did all these storyboard and all this rough animation and took me through, beat by beat, what the movie was going to be and what each of the characters were. I was really surprised that they were able to creatively mine the hell out of something that would seem, on its surface, not entirely adaptable in a compelling way. So what struck me about the character was, this guy’s the complete opposite of Olaf. He’s a speed demon, he thinks faster than he can speak, he moves faster than he can think, and he’s somebody who is literally operating in streams of consciousness.
I know people like this. In fact, one of my best friends in the world is this guy named David, who I’ve known since I was a kid; in school, we used to call him Motor Mouth. So I sort of based the character on him. I feel bad saying that because I know he’s going to ask me for money if the movie does well, so I just need to speak to a lawyer after this interview. I’m happy that, hopefully, it works for people.
Gad’s soon-to-be-rich friend may have served as the inspiration for Chuck, but it was a team effort bringing the character to life:
It was a really collaborative effort. I mean we played. The first time was so funny. When I originally started doing it, I did it with like a kind of New York sensibility to it, and he was a very caustic sort of bird. And then I saw Guardians of the Galaxy and I’m like, “Fuck you, Bradley Cooper.” But when I saw Rocket Raccoon, it sounded too much like that character, so I was like, “Let’s go back a little bit.” What I realized was, it wasn’t the dialect that was the fuel for this character; what was important was the speed. So I started to focus on two things: one, the pitch, and the velocity of speech. So literally by every third take my mouth would be numb and my voice would be gone because I was speaking so high and talking so fast that it was just shot. So it became a battle to just get through the two-hour sessions. That’s how we developed it.
With Gad poised to have two beloved animated characters under his belt, one wonders if he’s interested in pursuing more voice-acting work in the future:
I’m in love with everything that I get to do; whether it’s stage, television, live-action film, or animated, it’s the challenge that I really enjoy. In this case, it’s the challenge of separating…of doing a character that was distinctly unique from Olaf and really playing in this speed-demon mentality. I look for those opportunities, so it doesn’t really matter what the medium is as long as I feel like there’s something I can bring to it that’s unique and that’s a fun challenge. But I’m good right now. ::laughs:: I’ve done a couple of these, and I feel like I’m good. My kids love it and that’s part of why I do it. It’s cool for a kid to say, “My daddy’s Olaf,” or, “My daddy’s Chuck.” But it’s weird to say, “My daddy’s Chuck and Olaf,” that gets confusing for two-year-olds. So if I keep adding on characters, that’s just going to [lead to] my children being accused of lying.
Gad revealed the surprising fact that he hasn’t read the entire script for any of his animated movie work, not for Angry Birds and not even for Frozen. This allowed him to be fully surprised by moments in the finished film. I also asked him just what his expectations were for the final version:
I’ve never even read a script, for any of these. For Frozen, I was sitting in the audience and I was shocked when Hans betrayed Anna–spoiler alert–I didn’t know that that was coming. So my expectation is always, as it is for any other project that I’m doing, “Man, I hope this is gonna be good.” But especially with animation, it’s so out of my control. There are so many moving parts and I’m just one little spoke in the wheel that every time I see something, I can only work on what I’m doing. I try to limit my expectations to, am I making this character as fully dimensional and entertaining as possible, and translating his journey emotionally. My expectation is that the movie is so frickin’ funny and ultimately so relatable, and with the cast, I think it’s one of the strongest comedic casts of the year. You’ve got [Danny] McBride, [Jason] Sudeikis, [Bill] Hader, [Maya] Rudolph, [Kate] McKinnon, Sean Penn for God’s sakes, Peter Dinklage! It just makes my job easy. I get to sell something that I’m really proud of.
While voice acting is inherently done in isolation, Gad finds this to be freeing rather than limiting:
It’s you and the creative team and you guys are bouncing back and forth. There’s also something liberating about that; you get to just go, right? You get to let loose. I think of voice-over as therapy sometimes because it’s like I’m a five-year-old at heart and I get to just throw out craziness for two hours and they’ll let me know if I go too far or it’s getting too insane.
Because of the liberating environment that Gad experiences in the recording booth, sometimes things can get a little out of hand. There’s almost certainly dialogue out there that will never be used in a family-friendly movie:
There are some tangents. There’s probably hours and hours of nonsense. When I get really loopy, it goes into x-rated territory, especially as Olaf, because I really like to just get the Disney people to go, “Oh God, we have to burn these tapes.” With Chuck, it was a similar thing where I just sort of pull the string and let me go. I think that applies to pretty much everybody in this cast. So much of what these people do is improv, right? So in a way that’s what you’re hiring these actors for. It’s a testament to the creators that they all trusted us enough to let us go.
Just for fun, Gad and I chatted a bit about our favorite cartoons from our childhood, many of which are probably your favorite, too:
It ran the gamut. I really, really loved Animaniacs, Tiny Toons. I loved Ren & Stimpy, Beavis & Butthead. The after-school…we don’t have this anymore! Coming home, second grade, I would watch DuckTales, TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, all these amazing shows. My daughter, I wish she had some of the same kinds of shows that I had as a kid. The original Smurfs was just brilliant, and although it wasn’t animated, Fraggle Rock. That was my jam. It was dark, it was scary, but it was so compelling. From a TV perspective, I’m sure everybody says this, but I feel like we have the Golden Age of kids’ animated TV fair.
Though Angry Birds opens Friday, May 20th, Gad has a number of other major projects coming up. Here’s just a sample:
I’m really excited. I start on this amazing project called Marshall with Chadwick Boseman, who’s amazing. Gearing up for that. It’s going to be a pretty incredible film about Thurgood Marshall in 1940, working for the NAACP to defend this African-American who’s accused of raping the woman that he chauffeurs, and because it was an all-White court, Marshall could not defend him without having a White attorney with him, so he finds me, this young Jewish lawyer who’s really done insurance court stuff and is now going into his first criminal case ever. The two of them have to team up to defend this guy. And then I’m doing Russ & Roger with Will Ferrell.