Opening this Friday is DreamWorks new animated movie “Monsters vs. Aliens”. But unlike the previous films the company has released, this one is in 3-D. In fact, this marks the beginning of a whole new direction for the company as all their future animated films will be in 3-D.
For those that haven’t seen a commercial or heard of the film yet, “Monsters vs. Aliens” features the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Seth Rogen, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Kiefer Sutherland and Paul Rudd and it’s about monsters invading Earth. Here’s the synopsis:
When California girl Susan Murphy is unwittingly clobbered by a meteor full of outer space gunk on her wedding day, she mysteriously grows to 49-feet-11-inches tall. Alerted to the threat of this new monster, the military jumps into action and Susan is captured and secreted away to a covert government compound. There, she is renamed Ginormica and placed in confinement with a ragtag group of other monsters: the brilliant but insect-headed Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D.; the macho half-ape, half-fish The Missing Link; the gelatinous and indestructible B.O.B.; and the 350-foot grub called Insectosaurus. Their confinement is cut short, however, when a mysterious alien robot lands on Earth and begins storming the country. In a moment of desperation, The President is persuaded by General W.R. Monger to enlist the motley crew of Monsters to combat the Alien Robot and save the world from imminent destruction.
Anyway, a few days ago I got to participate in a small press conference with Reese Witherspoon and Seth Rogen. During the interview the two of them talked about playing Ginormica and B.O.B., what it was really like making the movie, and a lot more. If you’re a fan of either of these two, I think you’ll really like the interview.
Finally, if you’d like to watch some movie clips from “MVA”, click here.
Question: Obviously something about this character appealed to you. Can you talk a little bit about the story and all that.
Witherspoon: When Mr. Katzenberg took me around the studio and showed me all the artwork for this movie, first of all I was really into the idea that 1950s B Movie monsters became heroes. I watched a lot of those movies as a kid with my dad. Every Saturday night they would be on so it was a really good modern concept and then to put a woman at the center of the film was pretty amazing because I’ve been offered some animated movies – probably not as many as my counterpart here.
Rogen: I take them all though, that’s the difference.
Witherspoon: But they don’t make a lot of movies with a woman at the center of it and her story so it was a great opportunity to create a female super hero. I talked to my kids a lot about ‘Who’s your favorite super hero?” While my son can name 27 different male super heroes, my daughter is like, “I don’t know. The girl with the … I can’t remember any of them.” So this is hopefully an opportunity that will really start liking and make more of them.
Question: Seth, what is the biggest benefit of playing a character without a brain?
Rogen: I do it often. I like it. I’m good at it. I figure why not keep it up. I found my niche.
Question: Have you heard your voices in other languages?
Rogen: No, have you yet?
Rogen: Is it awesome?
Witherspoon: The really cool thing is that we went to Berlin, Kiefer Sutherland and I went to Berlin, Madrid, London and Paris and Rome and we got to hear all those different – the amazing thing about Dreamworks is they hire actors who are very popular in their own countries so you get the great actors performing and getting to interpret the character themselves. It is all different kinds of performances.
Question: Do you feel like the movie is about Susan becoming herself rather than becoming a super hero?
Witherspoon: Yeah, I think the movie is about a lot of different things. I remember being a kid and how important my friendships were and I think this movie has a really strong friendship message in it and how important those relationships are and if you feel a little different on the outside there is a group of people you fit into and you guys might collectively save the world. Or the internet.
Rogen: Create Apple.
Question: Seth, was it fun to bring out your inner child in this film because you can’t say any of your choice words you sometimes say. What was it like to be the 7-year-old boy in your head again?
Rogen: Normally my roles are pretty intellectually deep so it was nice to shed those shackles and able to be immature a little bit. But, yeah my first concern was how will I be funny without profanity [laughs]. Definitely a real fear I had, but the answer is, if you get very clever people to animate you, it makes up for all the profanity in the world and it actually makes quite a delightful movie. So they did it, those guys did it.
Question: Have you ever been out to Area 51and which kinds of aliens would you like to see coming to earth?
Rogen: I can’t discuss what I’ve done at Area 51 for legal reasons. What type of aliens would I like to see come to earth? Vulcans of course! Silly question [laughs].
Question: Reese, this is the perfect film for your kids’ ages. Any special perks along the way while making this, did they follow the process and did you get them all the toys?
Witherspoon: My kids managed to maintain their coolness for awhile, but literally it has hit fever pitch at my house. They are rabid and they wake up in the morning like, “When can we watch this movie?” My daughter, who’s 9 is trying to be cool, she’s like, “It’s okay, it is just, how many people can I bring to the screening?” I think she invited the entire third grade. I’m really enjoying this moment because usually my kids think I’m a gigantic dork and they are so in love with me right now. It is great.
Question: Have they seen the movie yet?
Witherspoon: They have seen the movie, yeah. They are ready to see the movie again and again. They want to bring friends this time.
Question: What was it like to be a really big girl?
Witherspoon: It was a really unique experience, one I probably won’t have again.
Question: When you were recording the part, did they put things around you to make you feel larger or smaller?
Witherspoon: They had a height chart so we knew how big we were in relation to each other. When you were fighting a really big alien they would say, “No, no he’s much bigger than that.” Like, “oh, okay” and you would look up higher and throw your voice higher. There is nothing really around you to give you any sort of cue.
Rogen: I would get naked and paint my body blue every time. With one eye patch on. It was the only way I could do it, I wish there was another way. [laughs]
Question: What are the pros and cons of doing voices for an animated movie?
Rogen: I don’t think there are any cons. It is a little different than your traditional filmmaking process I guess. It is good, it is very performance based in a lot of ways. There are no technical aspects to consider. There are no marks or cameras or lights or movements, you just stand there and talk. I like it.
Witherspoon: That is hard for some people. If you have other people to act off of they can take part of the press conference from you, but if you are alone it is a challenge sometimes I think. It was hard for me almost like being back in an acting class when you are doing monologues. There is nothing in front of you, there is nothing informing the whole story, there are no other actors to work with. Some parts are hard. Ultimately it is the opportunity to be really silly and good around.
Rogen: You feel really goofy in there. It is you alone in a room going, “ooh, ah, eeh, eh.” It is like, “Is that what want? Is that what you are looking for.” They are filming you the whole time. It is very odd.
Witherspoon: It is like, “where is this tape going?”
Rogen: Yeah, exactly and I’m naked and blue so …
Question: Reese, you are getting bigger next week you are turning 33.
Witherspoon: Am I getting bigger?
Witherspoon: Older, yeah. I think I actually shrink. My mother, my mother is now four feet tall.
Question: You’ve talked in general playing an animated character vs. playing one on screen. Is there a different process for coming up what your character is – did the technical aspects change because the acting is all in your voice?
Rogen: I think, one of the things I Iiked about it is you can slowly develop the character throughout the process a lot more. When you are shooting a live action movie you pretty much have to know what you are doing by the time you show up on set or else the stuff you’re shooting first won’t match the rest of the movie and you’ve essentially failed. With a movie like this, half way through the process you can realize, “oh if I was doing it like this the whole time it would have been a lot funnier and they can say literally, “In three hours we can re-record everything you’ve done up to now.” That’s what I like about it, it is a very fluid process. If you stumble upon a funnier way of doing something half way through – you haven’t ruined everything you can literally go back and redo what you’ve done. To me it was nice because it wasn’t as much of a commitment every time. You can try thing out and test it out and see what worked.
Question: So the voice is not recorded out of sequence?
Rogen: Oh yeah, she was saying she probably went in 20 times, I probably went in 15 times and that’s three or four hours every time and that’s over about two years.
Witherspoon: I didn’t even really know what the whole story was.
Rogen: I didn’t either, I literally had no idea how the movie ended until I saw it.
Witherspoon: When we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, I was like “This movie is awesome!” And I said, “Alright, see you later.” And they said, “No, there are two more acts.”
Rogen: Yeah, I had no idea either. I thought it was the end also.
Question: Seth, how does it feel to be on the cover of Playboy.
Rogen: Good. It feels great it is an honor. I had to date Hugh Hefner for three years so that was a little awkward, but other than that it was fine.
Question: Reese, I really liked Four Christmases but it was hammered by critics. How does it feel to beat the media?
Witherspoon: Beat the media?
Rogen: Beat the media [laughs] that would be you.
Witherspoon: I don’t know, you make different movies for different reasons. I don’t think we were going for Oscars with Four Christmases. There are movies where you laugh and have a good time and movies that you take your kids to, there are movies that people just enjoy the action in them. It takes a lot of different strokes in the movie world.
Question: Reese how did you like working with Paul Rudd?
Witherspoon: I got to shoot one scene with Paul Rudd.
Witherspoon: Yeah, he got to come in and break up with me. He was great and I’ve known Paul for a really long time. We’ve done a movie together. That was weird too because I’ve never had anyone in my tiny room.
Rogen: That would throw me off my game, I wouldn’t like that.
Witherspoon: I had to pause and wait for him to say things. It was really fun we had a good time.
Question: How was it promoting the film in Europe?
Witherspoon: Great, great. Seth went to Australia.
Rogen: That was fun too.
Question: Any sight seeing you recommend?
Witherspoon: Oh yeah. [to Seth] Did you get to see anything at all?
Rogen: A few things. It’s nice. The opera house is still there, the Outback, kangaroos. All of Australia is lovely.
Witherspoon: We got to see a lot of great stuff. In Madrid we went to the Prada Museum, that was very cool and in Paris, we got to go to the Musee D’Orse. Mr. Katzenberg is really nice because you can either have lunch and stay in the hotel or he’ll say ‘Come on! Let’s go see a museum’ and it motivates you to actually do things that are culturally interesting.
Question: Reese, this is the first superhero role you’ve ever had. Have you been hoping one would be offered to you?
Witherspoon: Well, I was hoping people would know my secret identity as a superhero [Seth laughs]. No. I’ve never been offered this kind of thing before. I don’t think they make a whole lot of female superheroes. This is the first one I’ve ever even heard of other than Wonder Woman on television in the ’80’s.
Rogen: Doesn’t help that the two they made movies out of were Catwoman and Electra [laughter].
Question: Do you see yourselves in the character?
Rogen: Yeah. I think, unfortunately, my wide-eyed enthusiasm. That’s what I showed with my character.
Witherspoon: Your joi de vivre.
Rogen: Exactly, my joi de vivre. That’s what me and B.O.B. have. A general good mood. I think I share that with my character also, yeah.
Witherspoon: Maybe sort of at the end, a sort of tenacity, fierceness, taking care of the group. I’m kind of a mother hen that way even on movie sets.
Question: What 1950’s monster or alien movie did you like?
Witherspoon: Oooo, well, like the 1950’s “B” movies. I like The Creature From the Black Lagoon. That was very scary.
Rogen: That’s a good one, yeah. I like The Thing, the John Carpenter movie. That movie’s rad. [To Reese] Have you ever seen Attack of the 50 Foot Woman?
Witherspoon: Yeah. Both of ‘um. The one with Daryl Hannah…
Rogen: The one with Daryl Hannah. That one’s not bad.
Question: Do you guys do any work to develop your characters or just go in there and do it?
Rogen: I went to Northern California and spent months with the animators. No, I’m kidding.
Witherspoon: I went to Fresno and met a lot of people. I met a lot of newly-weds to be. No.
Rogen: I would drive to the Valley where we recorded and that’s about it.
Witherspoon: I ate a lot of M&Ms. And, when I got tired, I drank coffee.
Rogen: Yeah. I would do that too. It’s a lot of fun.
Question: I read a profile about you.
Rogen: Sound like an FBI thing. ‘You are being profiled’. [laughs]
Question: You were talking about, when you first started screenwriting, you wanted to write these big epic sort of action things. Now that you are doing Green Hornet, do you find that the success you’ve had with more comedic stuff, is going to be in there or are you going to stick with the action epic idea?
Rogen: To me, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can have a big action epic with a lot of really funny parts. I’ve seen the early Indiana Jones movies in theaters and they kill. There’s laughs throughout the whole thing. It doesn’t feel like a comedy parse. It just feels like something that’s trying to elicit reactions from the audience. We think of movies like True Lies and stuff like that. That’s kind of more what we’re going for.
Question: What do you think of animation going in a 3-D direction. Seems like that’s the new thing.
Witherspoon: Yeah. Just to hear Mr. Katzenberg talk about it, they’re really doing a lot to make it a completely different movie-going experience. I think before the movies would just jump out at you and scare you like two or three times. Now, this is more like you’re sitting in the middle of the movie and the movie kind of wraps around you. So I think it’s something a lot of filmmakers are going to be doing. James Cameron and Spielberg.
Rogen: Yeah. It’s cool.
Is it fun to do something like this where you can go in and record in your pajamas and the schedule isn’t so demanding in that regard?
Witherspoon: Yeah, it’s certainly great to be able to stay in L.A. too. It’s hard to make a movie nowadays with the current economy. But I though it was great. I’d barely brush my hair and show up. Then I discovered they were filming me the whole time [laughter]. With a microscopic camera, and my vanity went through the roof and, the next time, I showed up in a cute outfit and I was like ‘hey, what’s goin’ on?’
Reese, how did it feel being a heroine and, if somebody would give you a superpower, which one would you want?
Witherspoon: The power to be tall would be a fantastic thing, or invisible. I’d have to go with that. We were in France and someone asked one of the actors who was doing a voice-over, ‘I would like to bounce’. That’s pretty awesome.
Rogen: It’s over-rated.
Question: When you guys don’t get to work together on a movie and only get to know each other after making the film, is that unusual to not to do that movie family kind of thing during making the film?
Rogen: It’s weird to get to know someone through doing press with them. I’m actually really interested in a lot of these questions you’re asking Reese because I don’t know a lot of this stuff about her. [laughs].
Witherspoon: The first time we met, we were like ‘Hi. Nice to meet you’. ‘Okay, rolling’.
Rogen: Yeah, sit down and do an interview with the Lifetime Channel. That was literally it. But yeah, it is a little weird. We do get along so that’s nice. I would love to do a live-action movie with these people one day. But, it’s a little strange.
Question: What toys did you grow up with that fired your imagination?
Witherspoon: Well, my brother was really into Star Wars and he had the whole carrying case. You remember that?
Rogen: Oh yeah. That’s awesome.
Witherspoon: And it had all the characters inside it so we played with that for hours. And, also my son, every morning wakes up with the Monsters Vs. Aliens characters and I have to pretend to be the giant robot [she indicates marching like a robot] and then Insectosauras gets to slam me in the head, so yeah, it’s fun.
Question: Did either of you see yourselves in the characters and, Seth what did you think when you saw yourself as a big blob of Jell-O?
Rogen: People claim that the character does [resemble me]. People are like ‘it kind of smiles like you’. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I’ll take it with a grain of salt I guess, ‘sure, yeah’. But how did I feel when I first saw it? I thought it was a cool character. They explained to me the dynamics of it and it just seemed funny. It seemed like there was a clear joke. ‘He has no brain and he’s hungry all the time’. I get that [laughter]. I got it.
Witherspoon: When I saw my character, I was stoked! From the time she busted out of the church and she’s wearing that mini-skirt , she looks so cute. My girlfriend and I saw it with our kids and she turned to me at the end, when Susan wakes up and she’s in this catsuit, like Ziggy Stardust, she’s like ‘you look so hot!’ ‘I know. It’s so exciting. I would actually wear that outfit.’ It was so excited. It was awesome.
Question: Did you get to improvise a lot when recording?
Rogen: Yeah. Again, there’s no one else there generally so you can kind of just go. I like improvising but you don’t want to waste anyone’s time. There’s a very fine line between improvising and wasting everyone’s time. But, when there’s only like five people in a booth, you don’t feel bad about wasting their time [laughs]. It’s not that expensive. It’s not like a whole movie set. It’s a lot less cost at risk so, we can improvise a lot from my experience.
Question: Seems like it opens up a whole creative pallet.
Witherspoon: I think it does and I think it informs their choices. The more give them, the more choices they have and they bring more writers in and they go, ‘Oh, I like this little riff they did. The whole thing with the Jell-O’. And also the relationship between Insectosaurus and the Missing Link kind of grew into a big storyline. I think that’s the way they discovered they way through the narrative.
Question: Did you practice doing voice over or go back and check the voices in classic movies like Snow White?
Witherspoon: No, not really.
Rogen: I have only one voice I do… this… so. I told them when they first talked to me about it, ‘well, if you want the character to sound exactly like me then I’m the perfect guy for this. If you have any other aspirations, you’ll probably have to get someone else’.