Already sporting quite the accomplished voice-acting career, Maya Rudolph will get to cross a very specific role off her list thanks to Sony’s upcoming animated adaptation, Angry Birds. Directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly, this big-screen version of the smash-hit mobile game envisions Rudolph’s character Matilda as an egg bomb-launching chicken who makes her living as an anger management therapist, a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for an actor.
Though Angry Birds centers around the deep-seated anger of an antisocial bird named Red (voiced by Jason Sudeikis), Rudolph’s Matilda has quite the part to play in the way the film’s major conflict plays out. Both Red and Matilda are also aided by the fast-talking and speedy Chuck (Josh Gad) whose antics are sure to delight all the kids in the audience. We heard from Sudeikis, Rudolph, and Gad in a roundtable interview from the film’s press day in Maui, but I also had a chance to sit down with Rudolph for a one-on-one. We talked about crafting her character for the film, her favorite cartoons from her childhood, and more. There was even talk of a possible Idiocracy reunion and road show!
MAYA RUDOLPH: I guess I’m a chicken. And sure enough, I get to be a chicken.
With that out of the way, we talked about Angry Birds and animated movies in general. Rudolph has a long list of voice-acting roles. She revealed why she’s so drawn to the medium:
Animation has been such a fun way of working because you really can truly be anyone and anything. I’ve been lucky enough to get to do really cool movies. It’s such a fun process. I remember when I first started doing SNL, for little things or pre-tapes or some of the commercial parodies we did, they would need a voiceover for the announcer, so you get to go in the booth and record. I remember thinking, “I like this. I want to start doing this more.” I love it, I even just love the studio itself. I actually grew up in the studio because my parents were musicians, so I actually love the ritual of the studio. They’re just strange places for kids. I like recording, the whole process.
Part of that studio process is the isolation needed to record a pristine track. The only problem is that it means the actors are isolated away from each other as well. Rudolph explained why that wasn’t a problem at all:
Because we’re being guided by the people who know every single element of it, we actually have the easiest job of everyone. I think it’s the people who are actually assembling the movie are the ones who are making it flow smoothly. To me, that’s always incredible because you really are doing your stuff on your own in a sort of vacuum, and then when you actually see everyone else, you’re like, “Damn, that was pretty smooth!”
Knowing the cast, some of whom I’ve worked with and some I’m just a fan of, and knowing their voices and then the great explanation you get from the director about every single element about what everyone else was doing, you have an idea. So I knew that Bill (Hader) was going to do something Bill-like and wonderful with his character.
Rudolph did some wonderful things of her own with Matilda. Here’s how she went about crafting the character and her voice:
Her personality was laid out before me in terms of … her profession connotes a specific kind of person and her environment, but the idea was also introduced to me, in what was written, that she was a bit uptight. So, bringing what I thought would be sort of this crunchy, kind of hippy-dippy lady and then combining a really uptight kind of stickler was a fun pairing. Then I had to figure out what that voice was.
It took a little while to figure out. That’s the scariest moment is that you’re sort of free-falling into that and you try it, and try it, and try it, and you have to just trust the other people in the room. You’re all finding it together. The most rewarding part is when they say, “I think that’s it.” Then, once you start to get comfortable, then you can start to speak in that voice. It’s always embarrassing when you don’t know what your character sounds like yet.
Since Rudolph is a mother to young children herself, she talked about the expectations for a film like this and praised the balance of Angry Birds’ humor for young and older audiences alike:
We’re working on these movies that have become so smart and so clever and so funny that they’re written for kids but they’re also written for the people who are driving their kids to the movie theater, or having to sit there and watch it with them 16 times. I’m one of those parents who is watching these things multiple times, so I like that it’s something we can watch together and it’s something that’s entertaining for me, as well. I just think animated movies have gotten so clever and so funny.
One of those jokes aimed toward the older crowd references Rudolph’s popular film Bridesmaids, but it’s one of those easy-to-miss moments so keep an eye and ear out for it. Despite the R-rated comedy experience, Rudolph still has a child-like side to her, as revealed by her recollection of her favorite childhood cartoons:
Saturday morning cartoons were really Saturday morning cartoons when I was a kid. I loved George of the Jungle, Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right. I always watched Tom & Jerry, but I really loved the Bugs Bunny cartoons. My favorite, favorite, one was “The Barber of Seville.” You name it, I watched it: Smurfs…I can’t even think back that far. All the early, beautiful ’40s cartoons, they compile them now and I show them to the kids and they’re mesmerized. It’s so neat. There’s always like a really creepy, mean fox, or some big furry character who comes to steal a female character and she’s screaming, but they’re beautiful. They’re gorgeous and they’re hand-drawn. I’m trying to introduce that stuff because I know it’s going to go away. It’s just not as easy for them to find. We’ve even shown them like Mister T. They love it all.
In a bit of a sidebar, we had to talk about Idiocracy and the film’s 10th anniversary, especially in light of the current political circus. So how often does Rudolph get reminded about the cult classic?
Every time Donald Trump opens his mouth, pretty much.
The upside of the current race is that the comedy might be getting a 10th anniversary rollout towards the year’s end:
I saw Mike Judge recently, who I hadn’t seen in many, many years, and I said to him, “I can’t believe…”
Because the movie was never properly released, it became a kind of cult favorite and over the years I noticed people must have seen it because people would approach me and say, “Oh my god, Idiocracy! That’s so great!” It was so many years later. But recently, it’s been nonstop. And it’s so crazy.
I said, “We should do a road trip or something and then show the movie and talk about it on the anniversary of it.” When we were making the movie, it was so well-written and so sharp and so funny, but it felt like it was so far away. And…
We’re working it out, we’re figuring it out. We’d better hurry up on it though.
Before we had to wrap things up, Rudolph dropped a few teases about the upcoming projects she’s involved in. Check them out below!
The show I’m doing with Martin Short is called Maya and Marty, and that premieres on NBC; that’s going to be a super-fun variety show. The movies that are coming out alongside this are [the R-rated comedy] Maggie’s Plan, [the Diego Luna-directed drama] Mr. Pig, and I got to do a really fun thing in Popstar, which is the Lonely Island movie. And The Nut Job 2; I really like that character. I got to be a dog … a dog and a bird.
Be sure to check out Rudolph’s performance in Angry Birds which opens Friday, May 20th.