If you only know Josh Gad‘s voice work as Olaf, that lovably daffy snowman from the Frozen universe, Blood Ties is gonna be a bit of a rude awakening for you. The Wondery-produced podcast stars Gad and Gillian Jacobs as a brother and sister who find out a horrific secret about their father (Wayne Knight), a successful doctor, and must reckon with the consequences in different ways — all the while under the scrutiny of investigative journalist Amy Landecker. Season one crafted quite the captivating narrative, ending on a mammoth twist — and season two dives into all of its implications further and further. If you dig narrative podcasts like Homecoming and Welcome to Night Vale, Blood Ties will be your new bingeable obsession.
I was lucky enough to chat with Gad over the phone about his unprecedentedly dark role on Blood Ties, the joys of making a “radio drama,” the psychological difficulties of being a voice actor, and the methods of choosing different voices for different characters, including Olaf and his role in Artemis Fowl. We also got into the likelihood of a Book of Mormon movie and the status on his upcoming Honey, I Shrunk the Kids franchise re-starter Shrunk.
What initially attracted you to the podcast Blood Ties?
JOSH GAD: You know, I’ve always been very jealous of my friends across the pond who have this tradition in Britain of doing radio plays or radio dramas. [The United States] used to have that tradition, specifically in the forties and a little bit in the fifties — you think of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, as an example — but sort of in the modern era have gotten away from that. I was, therefore, thrilled when I heard that places like Wondery were starting to experiment based on the success of Homecoming and other fictional narratives as told through podcasts with the idea of doing a radio drama genre in the space. Then subsequently when I heard the pitch for the story by Marshall [Lewy], our director, I was really, really blown away. This idea of these two kids, who have been taught to show nothing but admiration and respect for this beloved man in the medical community suddenly having to contend with all these secrets and lies and horrible realizations about their father’s past, felt like something very of the moment, and something unexpected. So, I think it was all of those elements that really attracted me to it. The thrill of believing in something so fully and hoping for the best, and then watching it sort of explode out of the gate was an absolute icing on the cake, as so many people seem to embrace it for all the same reasons.
This is definitely a dark, secretive, deception-filled world. Your character, Michael, is definitely thrown into the center of a big tempest. What is it like psychologically to jump into a darker, more grim world, especially compared to some of the lighter, more fun work you might be known for?
GAD: It’s a really interesting experience to play a darker character in general, but I would say even more so with nothing but a microphone at your disposal. You sort of have to relay so many things with a clarity that allows the audience to feel the nuance without seeing anything.
For the Richland kids, there’s this history and this sort of backstory that you only get glimpses of as they try to navigate the landmines of their current situation. I think one of the really smart decisions on the part of our director, Marshall, was to have Gillian [Jacobs] and I record together. It’s a luxury that you don’t often get when you’re doing anything in this space. So that was, I think, really opportunistic and important as well.
I think you can feel that back and forth. You’re an experienced voice actor. What tends to be, from a practical standpoint, your process for finding a new character’s voice — whether it sounds similar to your own voice, or Olaf in Frozen, or something radically different like in Artemis Fowl?
GAD: Well, I think each one sort of warrants the decision, whether or not there’s a reason to… That the character should yield a different vocal pattern. With Olaf, there were a couple of keywords that the directors, Jen [Jennifer Lee] and Chris [Buck], gave me, “childlike wonderment” and “naivete”` being just a few of them. And so that brought about a sort of brighter, more innocent sound. With Artemis, it was this character in the book who literally consumed the earth. And that idea that it would have sort of ravaged his vocal chords was something that was important to Ken [Kenneth Branagh] and something that felt organic to the character. With Blood Ties, you have a guy who is going nonstop. He is abusing substances. He’s constantly burning the candle at both ends. So there’s almost a drag through his voice. There’s almost a tiredness. There’s a quality about his voice that I think is both worn down, but also, I think, trying to parlay the energy of what he’s trying to put out into the world.
One piece of advice he gets in one of the episodes from his dad was a line that really stuck out to me. His dad, played by Wayne Knight, tells him to just focus on the work when his personal life is falling apart around him. I was curious if that line struck you as being true, as being a way in. What does it feel like to kind of play that philosophy, and how genuine is that? Or is it more like an ill-fitting suit of armor?
GAD: It is a little bit of both. I mean, I think that “the work” really is a code word for “protect the legacy.” I think that what makes this story so complex is [that] Michael and his sister deal with the fallout of the ramifications of Peter Richland’s story much differently. Right? I think Michael is more forgiving, more tolerant, and that obviously comes with a lot of compromises. That comes with a lot of sacrifices, specifically in terms of who you are as a person, your morals. Whereas I think my sister, played brilliantly by Gillian Jacobs, is more aware and sensitive to the fact that there’s a false equivalency to protecting the legacy of a man who is directly responsible for ruining so many lives. So I think that their inner battle, which was clearly navigated in season one as a hostile difference between the two of them fundamentally, actually takes on a more nuanced, similar approach in season two, because Michael has given up those said substances, and she is much more, I think, freer without the constraints of her past and all of these secrets to deal with.
Shifting gears for a second, we’re seeing Hamilton blow up on Disney+ right now. It makes me wonder if there are any conversations happening with a Book of Mormon movie. And if there are, would you be interested in reprising Elder Cunningham?
GAD: (laughter) If there are conversations, they’re way above my pay grade. I would always welcome the opportunity to reprise a character as wonderful and as hilarious as Elder Cunningham. As I stated already, there was a recording of the show with all of us in it. So I hope that one day that has a chance to see the light of day. But I don’t know where it’s at.
I am very interested and excited about Shrunk, the return to the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids universe, especially with the return of Rick Moranis and Joe Johnston. I’m curious what that project is feeling like right now, if there’s any updates. What’s exciting you about it?
GAD: Well, what’s exciting is also what’s heartbreaking, which is we’re supposed to be shooting right now in Atlanta. (laughter) We were very far along on pre-production. Obviously, with cases surging across the country right now, everything’s been put on pause, rightfully so.
So our current plan is to wait until everyone feels safe to make the film. I think all of us are so eager to get back to work, but at the same time, want to protect Rick, want to protect Joe, want to protect me, want to protect everyone involved, especially because there are kids in the movie as well. So we’re not going to do it until it all feels like it’s the right time to step back in, which I hope will be sooner rather than later. But at the rate in which we’re sort of going backwards right now, I wouldn’t hold my breath for any time soon. (laughter) But our plan is still to be on set, I would say, within the next couple of months. But anything can change.
Blood Ties is available wherever you listen to podcasts.