Kiefer Sutherland Interview MONSTERS VS. ALIENS

     January 11, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Movie studios are a funny thing. Sometimes they offer the online community almost nothing in terms of interviews and advance screenings for their upcoming projects. Other times, they make their production almost transparent – meaning you get to visit the set, interview all the people involved, and they get you really excited to write about the production.

If you’re thinking it all depends on the quality of the movie…trust me, it doesn’t. I’ve been offered amazing interview opportunities for the worst movies ever made, and when I want to land an interview for some Oscar film, I’m turned down. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I still haven’t figured out why certain things happen.

But for the most part, getting advance interviews or an early look at footage usually means one thing…the film is going to be really good. The studios know when they have a winner, and that’s when they really ramp up the promotional machine.

Which leads us to the next DreamWorks animated movie “Monsters vs. Aliens”. Since before last year’s Comic-Con, the studio has been pushing this film aggressively. As you might remember, I got to see a bunch of footage from the movie and interview Jeffrey Katzenberg last July. Back then, what I saw from the film looked fantastic, and I left the presentation feeling like the studio was sitting on a massive hit.

Recently it’s come out the studio will be airing the first 3D commercial for the movie during this year’s “Super Bowl”. As you all know, those commercials are quite expensive, and you only do it if you are extremely confident in your film.

So you may be asking yourself, what is “Monsters vs. Aliens” about? The first thing you should do is watch this trailer.

As you can see, the premise isthe government has locked up all the various monsters that have been on our planet and hidden them away. But after an alien invader arrives to try and take overthe government is forced to release the monsters to protect our planet. Think 1950’s sci-fiin modern day. Oh, I’ve left out the best part…the President is played by Stephen Colbert!

Anyway…enough of my intro…let’s get to the reason you’re here.

Before Christmas I was invited to a long lead junket for “Monsters vs. Aliens”. While there I got to participate in roundtable interviews with most of the cast and the interview below is with Kiefer Sutherland. In the film, Kiefer plays General W.R. Monger…amd he’s the one that advises the President to release the monsters.

During our interview Kiefer talked about making the movie, what’s up with “24” and a lot more. As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.

Question: I like your voice in Monsters vs. Aliens, it’s very kind of southern and a whole gruff thing going on. Does that come from somewhere deep inside or do you know somebody who sounds like that?

Kiefer Sutherland: No, I think the idea, when we were talking, was that this was someone who had been removed from society for some twenty odd thirty years, because his responsibility is to keep this prison a secret, and I think that kind of isolation makes you eccentric, and I thought as a general it would be cool to give him some southern flair. And, then we just started messing around with kind of those keynotes and when I went in to do the first day, there was a visual representation of every character, which is exactly what they look like today, so those kind of elements combined with the way he looked, and we thought that that would be funny, so we messed around with it like that.

It worked really well.

Kiefer: Well thank you.

Did you think George C. Scott?

Kiefer: No, but somebody brought that up. When I heard it, I was, not even when I heard it, I actually really liked the voice and goofing around at work and I did it for someone else, and I was like, (imitates) hey, he comes in and he talks like that, oh god damn, you can’t do that, (laughter) he’s like, it’s like Yosemite Sam, and I went no, I can’t be doing Yosemite Sam. (laughter) So I had to pull back a bit on some things. Cause I didn’t want to, (imitates Yosemite Sam), bring on the Fearless Freep, I hate rabbits, and (laughter) kind of stay away from that. But I loved those old cartoon voices, so it came out of that, but a few people have brought up George C. Scott which I’m relieved for.

Reese says how funny you are. And says people don’t know how funny you are.

Kiefer: Oh that’s really sweet.

And she thinks you’re hilarious, and I just want to know, is that something that you just hide? Or is it your personality is such, that you don’t want to show that?

Kiefer: No, it’s not that at all. I hope my friends think I’m funny. But being funny at a dinner with a bunch of friends is a lot different than doing it for a living. When I was in theater school it wasn’t the thing that I was most comfortable about. It’s very difficult to do a scene where you know on the fourth line that someone’s got to laugh and if you don’t get them to laugh, it’s an immediate, it didn’t work. And in the world of drama I felt more comfortable in, I felt there was more room to move, and so I just gravitated to doing that kind of work, and marvel at the people that are, I lived with Robert Downey for two and a half years, one of the funniest guys on the planet. But he also has this really unique and faith in it, and that’s the funny thing, he has this unbelievable faith in his own timing and his own thing. So if he doesn’t get you to laugh on the fourth line he has faith that he’ll make you laugh on the fifth or the sixth. And by the time they didn’t laugh on the fourth line with me, I was already trying to figure out how to get home. So it’s a very different thing. And so something like this animated film for me which is so much fun is that I’m not limited by my own physicality. It’s really, it’s just a voice and the dialogue was wonderful and funny and just enjoyed the heck out of it.

How did they approach you and how was the reaction? Is this your first time voice over in feature length animation?

Kiefer: No, I did a film called The Wild, a while back, I did a bunch of different dinosaur movies, The Land Before Time, and a lot of those things, like I did Land Before Time, I did the NutCracker, I did a bunch of different things. And then, those were mainly cause my youngest daughter was still young enough to kind of go see those things. And I wanted to try to explain to her what I did for a living or why I would be gone for sometimes three to four months. And so the way they approached me with this was, we just literally got a call. Would you be interested in doing this kind of a film, and I said obviously if you’re going to do an animated film, there isn’t a better person to work with than Mr. Katzenberg and he understands every aspect of the production, from the development stages to the actual animation, to the casting, to the promotion, to the selling of the film. All those things are incredibly important, and so, the combination of him, I know Reese, and knew that we would be playing opposite each other, and then the way they described the story, I just thought was fantastic. So, all of those things combined made it very easy for me to say yeah, please, I would love to do it.

The director was just actually talking about obsessively watching the DVD’s of 24. That’s something we probably have all done, so the critical acclaim that you’ve gotten for the prequel, how excited are you about that?

Kiefer: Well, we’re relieved. By virtue of the writers strike and Fox’s programming, those things combined kept us off the air for a year and a half. And in a world where there is so much available in entertainment and things to do, I mean I think the television audience in general, dropped 40 percent after the strike and still has not recovered, because people went out, found other things to do and oh my god we like these, bowling, not such a bad idea. (laughter) And so to be able to kind of come back and pull numbers that are least in the ballpark of where you were at before, and to be received as well as we were, we’re just grateful for it, cause we love making the show, and we took a couple of hits in the sixth season and a couple that I thought were very justified. And myself, Jon Cassar, Howard Gordon, we’re competitive guys. And we want another shot to kind of try and make what we think is going to be our perfect season. And so the prequel was a great indication that we would have shot to kind of picked up where we left off.

I’m not allowed to call my parents when 24’s on, just so you know.

KS: Well, cheers.

How did you get prepared for this character?

KS: For Monsters vs. Aliens? It was literally, it was conversations, between myself, the directors, hearing what other people were doing with the character. They would play me some of their stuff back. We as actors, I did not work together with Reese or any of the other actors. Which I was dissapointed in. But they had a couple different actors coming in, that were phenomenal actors that would play three or four characters at the same time, so we could get in doing a scene. Cause I don’t like doing it line for line, I like playing a whole sequence, because I think that that rhythm is incredibly important. And so it kind of developed off of this and it wasn’t an improv cause I’m reading the script and it’s exactly what they wrote. But there is an improv in the texture of the voice, between this other actor and myself, and a lot of the stuff that mattered to me was informed to me by him. And he was amazing. And he actually did a very, very cool Ginormica which (laughter) for a man was pretty cool.

It was difficult because your voice is like not so hard as the character, half the voice. So did you hurt your throat?

Kiefer: You’re right and it didn’t actually, I think over the seven years of doing 24, I think because of the volume and the panic of so much of his dialogue, cause I yell quite a lot in that as well, I think I’ve really strengthened my vocal chords and most importantly kind of the muscles around them, and I know how dangerous that is because my father did the opposite thing when he was in England, right before I was born. He was working on a play, where he actually damaged his voice because he pushed it so hard. And it was the opposite thing and so I think because of 24, cause it’s kind of been a small build to that, that I’ve been really lucky in that way. I remember Robert at one point said do you want to take a break? And I was like no, no, I’ve got to get back, cause I was doing 24 when we were doing this, so I had to get back to work, so I wanted to get it done as quickly as we could and everytime we would meet, and he was always worried that I would back to 24 (whispers) and I’d have to talk like that. (laughter) But it worked out.

Do you have a favorite B-monster from the 50’s, 60’s, B-movies?

Kiefer: I would have to say Killer Tomatoes or The Blob. (laughter) Right in there. And I think one of the things, and it really goes back to what I think is fantastic about films, is that audiences absolute willingness to suspend their disbelief. And there’s no way you’re going to see The Blob or Invasion of The Killer Tomatoes, and not suspend your disbelief (laughter). I think we live in a very kind of cynical world now. And kind of is really telling of the 50s where yeah, we’re going to give up, we’re going to have a laugh, maybe get scared, it will be fantastic, it’ll be cool, there was this kind of willingness to surrender the kind of stuff then that I think is a little more difficult now. It’s certainly something I would do everything I could to encourage in others.

Have you wrapped this season of 24 yet?

Kiefer: December 19th, and I’m not counting. (laughter)

There’s a bunch of movies, assuming there’s no strike, that are gearing up from January to March. Have you attached yourself to anything?

Kiefer: I have not, and again I think everything is waiting on this vote in three weeks. Cause very few have actually gone into pre-production and so…

Is there anything you’re really looking at?

Kiefer: There’s a couple things. There’s a couple things, obviously I can’t talk about them, but there’s no shortage of really great material. Great things that I’ve read out there.

The Mirrors movie…can you talk about that?

Kiefer: Well it came out, it’s made about a 108 million dollars. Around the world. It did about 33 million here. It came out five months ago, something like that.

Do you see yourself and your characters because they videotaped you when you were doing voice overs so when (unidentified words) do you see yourself behavior?

Kiefer: I don’t see myself, I think someone made a comment that when I was doing a character, I actually got quite animated with my hands and things like that, I mean as much as we require an audience to come into a movie with their ability to suspend their own disbelief, I think as an actor, it’s a primary requirement as well. And so in the middle of playing stuff, I often can physically do stuff I’m not even aware of, until after. As seeing myself personally in any specific character, no, those are all manipulations of an intellectual perspective of what I think a character, what is required of a character in the context of the story.

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