Produced by Laika and based on the children’s novel Here Be Monsters by Alan Snow, the stop-motion animated feature The Boxtrolls is about a young orphaned boy named Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright, who plays Bran Stark on Game of Thrones), who is raised by underground cave-dwelling trash collectors who he must save from evil exterminator Archibald Snatched (voiced by Ben Kingsley).
While at Comic-Con for a presentation in Hall H, co-stars Isaac Hempstead Wright and Elle Fanning (who voices Winnie Portley-Rind) spoke at a roundtable interview about why they wanted to be a part of The Boxtrolls, how they got their roles, how amazing they think the finished film is, how they feel about the way their characters turned out, what they did to prepare for their roles, recording one voice session together, what they most identify with in their characters, and getting to visit the stop-motion set during production. Fanning also talked about possibly playing Mary Shelley in a film and doing How to Talk to Girls at Parties, written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell from a short story by Neil Gaiman, while Hempstead Wright talked about how he’ll get to do some more action stuff on the upcoming season of Game of Thrones, what he thinks about the show’s massive popularity, and how he’s Googled what happens because he doesn’t read the books. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
ISAAC HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: It wasn’t really as if they’d said, “Do you want to come and do this movie?,” and I was like, “Well, maybe.” I said, “Yes!,” the second they asked. When they offered me the part, it wasn’t a matter of me saying, “Well, I quite liked it.” I jumped on board. To be a part of Laika’s universe is an opportunity not to be passed up.
ELLE FANNING: I was familiar with it because of Coraline. My sister (Dakota Fanning) did the voice of Coraline, so I knew how long it took and how they made everything. I’ve always been really interested in miniature things growing up, so it was so intriguing. They sent me this script and a big booklet of all these drawings of what they wanted The Boxtrolls to look like and the world they created and the colors and a sketch of Winnie, which was not quite what she’s turned out to be. It was in the beginning stages, and they were trying to figure out her clothes and her hair. So, right away, I wanted to do it. I haven’t done much animation. I like trying all things, so I thought, “Why not do this?”
Did you actually audition for these roles?
FANNING: Because they knew my sister, I didn’t have to audition, so thanks Dakota.
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: I auditioned. I actually did a self-tape of just my voice. I recorded an MP3 of it.
FANNING: They don’t care what you look like.
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: That’s a good point. If you’re ugly, it doesn’t matter.
What did you think of the finished film?
FANNING: It’s amazing! It’s so funny, and there are a lot of details in it. You can watch it again and again, and you’ll see little guys in the background and funny little mannerisms that they do. They could not even add those guys in there because it takes so long to make someone blink, but they put that guy back there because they want to make it special, and that little guy is needed to make the movie special. I appreciate that.
How do you feel about the way your characters turned out?
FANNING: Winnie is nine and she’s very spoiled. Her dad is the mayor of the town, but he doesn’t do his duties. He just eats cheese, and loves cheese. He definitely loves cheese more than his own daughter. She’s always trying to get someone’s attention. She’s also very obsessed with grotesque things, even though, on the outside, she’s very girly and has curly Shirley Temple hair. She’s actually, deep down, kind of tough, which I like.
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: I think Eggs looks great, with his mucky face with dirt all over it and greasy hair. He’s the ideal boy Boxtroll, really. It’s quite difficult to capture a boy who’s grown up as a Boxtroll. So, he looks good.
Isaac, how does the fantasy world of The Boxtrolls deal with the fantasy world on Game of Thrones?
What were you given, prior to doing the voice-work, to get you into character?
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: We each got sent a book with all of the character art.
FANNING: I had to do an English accent, so I had to have a dialect coach with me. There would be times when I would ruin a word. Tony [Stacchi], the director, would be like, “That was a perfect reading!,” but then the dialect coach would be like, “No, it didn’t sound English.” And I’ve have to go back and do it again. The first day, going into it, I had no idea what Winnie was gonna sound like. I didn’t really know what she was gonna look like. But I worked with Tony a lot. I’m also playing a little younger, so I made my voice a little higher and a little more younger girl. My voice was cracking a lot, and it wasn’t really intentional, but it really added to her. When she screams, it’s like a crack and a hiccup. That became her thing.
Did you get to do any voice recording together, or did you record separately?
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: Most of it was separate, though. We didn’t have much time, but you certainly notice when you get to do it with another actual actor. You always have a reader there, but when you do it with the person that you’re conversing with on screen, it does feel a bit more like acting, if you will. It feels like you’re there, doing a real scene.
FANNING: And the scene we did wasn’t just a funny scene. There’s a more intimate scene where they’re talking about what a father is supposed to be like. It was a softer, wordier scene, so it was nice to have the actor there to talk to and bounce off the emotions, more than just saying the words.
What do you most identify with, in regard to your character?
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: My sphere of existence is fairly far away from Eggs because there’s not a pest exterminator trying to kill me and my family. But, we’re the same age and I’d like to think that we’re both leaders. Eggs is great at leading The Boxtrolls, and that’s probably my favorite trait of his. He is a Boxtroll, but he hasn’t lost all of his human virtues. He can get out of his box and he can fight back, which The Boxtrolls can’t.
FANNING: On the outside, Winnie is so girly and wears frilly dresses, but she likes such gross things. She wonders if that’s a forbidden thing and if she should not like that stuff, but she does. For me, on the outside, I’m blonde and blue-eyed, and I’m very happy all the time. I smile a lot. But I really love depressing movies, like Blue Valentine. Those are my favorite, which is so weird. I love to cry and feel emotions. I’m very sensitive, in that way. I don’t think people would ever really suspect me of liking deeper things. They think of me as more surface. But, people think that of blondes sometimes. To be an actor or actress, you have to feel on a deep level and tap into emotions that you’ve never felt before. You’re imagining how something would feel. You have to use your imagination so much. Also, with the people around you on set that are in the crew, you feel like you’re showing these people, who are strangers to you, the deepest emotion that you’ve never shown your own family before. You have to get really close, really fast to your directors and crew because you have to go into a scene where you’re baring your soul. It’s funny.
How do your characters end up crossing paths?
FANNING: Winnie is very curious, and she wants to be in everybody’s business. Everyone is terrified of The Boxtrolls that live in Cheesebridge. They are the evil of all evil. There’s this tale of the baby that The Boxtrolls stole, killed and ate. So, she’s obsessed with that. And then, one night, she’s out late and she sees Boxtrolls and a boy that’s with them, and he’s in an eggs box. She does some snooping, and they bump into each other.
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: For Eggs, it’s an exciting prospect because he’s been stuck with scaredy cats, for years and years. So, to meet someone as tough as Winnie is, it helps him transition from Boxtroll to boy.
Since you both started acting relatively young, have you done any training, as your career has gone on, or is that not something you’re interested in?
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: Every day that you’re on set is a new day to learn something. Every time you’re there, there’s something new that you’ll notice, or something that you’ll miss, and you think of something new that you can do. For me, it’s more just about having a go at it and seeing how it goes, rather than trying it extensively.
FANNING: I started when I was so young. I was two when I did I Am Sam, and I don’t remember doing that, but my mom told me about it. It was cool. I got to sleep in the grass with Sean Penn, and swing on a swing. As I’ve gone on, I’ve gotten to work with a lot of great directors and big actors. Just looking at them, they all have different processes for what they do. For me, I feel like I have my own thing, as well, or I’m developing my own thing. It’s work. It’s super fun to me and I love it, but it’s work, as well. You have to really do your research. It’s all about imagining to me. I just get inside my head a lot.
Did you get to visit the stop-motion set, during production?
FANNING: I did.
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: We both made it out there.
FANNING: It was the most incredible thing. When my sister did Coraline, I went down and saw all the little puppets for that. And then, I went back for The Boxtrolls, and it still blew my mind. I know it takes so long and I know they move everything, but there are fingernails on those puppets that are painted, and each little joint moves. It’s so incredible. I think everyone should go there and visit it, once in their life, but I’m sure it’s so top-secret. We’d walk around the hot set and you can’t move.
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: I was chatting with Travis [Knight], who’s the lead animator, about what happens if they do knock a puppet over or something goes terribly wrong, and he said they have to just carefully get it back up again. I guess sometimes the arms will break, so they have to take the puppet off, half-way through a scene that they’ve probably been doing for weeks, and they’re thinking, “This could be the end of my life. The scene that I’ve been working on has just been ruined.” They’ve got a special frame-checker, so that they can match everything up to the last frame that they took, and they have to carefully do it. It’s such a process, and they’re such patient and talented people.
Elle, are you going to play Mary Shelley in a film?
FANNING: Yeah, that’s a possibility. I don’t know when that’s gonna go. There are a lot of things. Next up is this movie called How to Talk to Girls at Parties. John Cameron Mitchell wrote it and is directing it, and it’s based on a short story by Neil Gaiman that he expanded. It’s so eclectic, but I’m excited about that. I’ll probably do that next year. There’s a lot of prep work for that one.
Isaac, are you excited for what is coming up on Game of Thrones?
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: Yeah. There’s certainly some more action stuff, rather than sitting down in various forests, all over Westeros.
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: It’s bizarre. It is slightly odd. You don’t ever really get to grips with it until you come out to [Comic-Con]. My face was in an elevator, which was really bizarre. I had to take a quick selfie with it.
Because you don’t read the books, do you worry about being spoiled?
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: Oh, no, I like being spoiled. I’ve Googled all of the final stuff that happens, as far as the books go. I know where it goes, up until that point.
When do you start shooting the new season?
HEMPSTEAD-WRIGHT: They’re actually filming, at the moment.