Rainn Wilson on Voicing Gargamel in ‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ and Moving Away from Dwight

     March 29, 2017

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Smurfs: The Lost Village is an all-animated CG adventure that takes the Smurfs into the vibrant, exciting and dangerous world of the Forbidden Forest. When Smurfette (voiced by Demi Lovato) discovers a mysterious map, she and her best friends Brainy (voiced by Danny Pudi), Clumsy (voiced by Jack McBrayer) and Hefty (voiced by Joe Manganiello) set out on a journey through a forest filled with magical creatures to find a mysterious lost village where other Smurfs might live, all before the evil wizard Gargamel (voiced by Rainn Wilson) finds them.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Rainn Wilson talked about how he got involved with this new take on the Smurfs, why Gargamel is a terrible villain, what the evil wizard wants from the Smurfs, why Azrael sticks around as a sidekick, whether Gargamel and the Smurfs could ever find common ground, and the tremendous amount of freedom he had in finding the character. He also talked about loving a wide variety of projects, playing the same character for nine years on The Office, and developing a science fiction idea that he has.

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Image via Sony Pictures Animation

Collider: I was a huge Smurfs fan, as a kid, and I had a huge collection of all of the Smurfs figures and the little houses for their village. Had you been aware of who the Smurfs are, before this?

RAINN WILSON: I didn’t really watch the Smurfs cartoon, as a kid, ‘cause I was a little older. I think it started coming out in the ‘80s, when I was already in high school. So, I didn’t have much of a relationship with it. I always loved the illustrations. One of the things I really love about this movie is that it’s gone back to the original drawings, and the animation in this is just gorgeous. It’s incredibly rich blues and greens, and the characters really pop. It’s gone away from the live-action Smurfs movies that came out.

Were you surprised that, when they thought of the perfect person to voice the villain of the Smurfs, they thought of you?

WILSON: Honestly, I just got a call saying, “Would you want to do this?,” and I didn’t even think about it. I said, “Yes! Hells yeah! That would be amazing!” I love how sweet the movies are. It’s really fun kids’ entertainment. It’s really light-hearted and it doesn’t have any dark edge to it, which is nice ‘cause most of what I do has an edge to it. And I love playing maniacal villains. It’s super fun! They’re the most fun roles to play.

What was it that drew you to Gargamel, who’s not necessarily the best at being a villain?

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Image via Sony Pictures Animation

WILSON: He’s a terrible villain. It’s an interesting balance ‘cause he’s gotta be really threatening, to drive the plot and to scare the Smurfs and to scare the 8-year-olds in the audience, but at the same time, he is terrible at what he does. He has no follow through. His ego is so big. His brain is really big, in certain ways, but he’s just an idiot in others.

How does Gargamel fit into this Smurfs adventure?

WILSON: The Smurfs and Gargamel get evidence that there is another Smurfs village out there. Up to this point, in all of the 30 or 40 years of Smurfs, there’s only been this one village, and we all know the inhabitants of that village. So, Gargamel becomes obsessed with this other Smurfs village, and he goes on the hunt for it. The other plot point that’s connected to Gargamel has to do with the legends of the Smurfs and how we’ve come to understand that Smurfette was actually created by Gargamel in his laboratory. Now, there’s the possibility that they’re searching for actual female Smurfs, and not just Smurfette, who was created in a lab, and she has to deal with that and her identity.

When you play an animated bad guy, is there a limit as to how big you can go with your villainy?

WILSON: Obviously, animated is a whole different ball of wax than live-action. You get to really experiment, so you can do a take really broad and you can do a take really comedic. It’s always about finding that balance and figuring out when he is really threatening and when he is ludicrous. It would always weave back and forth. They’d be like, “Okay, that’s getting too silly. Let’s bring him back.” And then, I’d make him too serious and they’d be like, “Okay, that’s too scary. Let’s find some fun.” Fortunately, when you’re doing voicework, you get to really play with those colors.

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Image via Sony Pictures Animation

Even though you are remaining true to the original vision for the Smurfs, how much freedom did you have, in finding who this Gargamel is, and what did you want to bring to the character that wasn’t already there?

WILSON: They gave me a tremendous amount of freedom. I improvised a lot. They even had me do some rewrites and punch up the Gargamel material. So, I got a ton of opportunities to really make him my own. They totally encouraged improvisation and rewrites, and that was really fun. I want to make him really pop out of the animated movie.

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