From director Thea Sharrock and screenwriter Mike White (who also voices Frankie the seal), and based on the best-selling book by Katherine Applegate, the family adventure film The One and Only Ivan tells the story of a very special gorilla. The 400-pound silverback gorilla named Ivan (voiced by Sam Rockwell) shares a habitat in a shopping mall with an elephant (voiced by Angelina Jolie), a dog (voiced by Danny DeVito) and a variety of other animals, with which he must perform for an audience under the direction of mall owner Mack (Bryan Cranston) and where he soon realizes that his dreams are bigger than being the main attraction of a circus show.
During a virtual press conference to promote the film, co-stars Bryan Cranston, Angelina Jolie, Chaka Khan (who voices Henrietta the chicken), Brooklynn Prince (who voices the young elephant Ruby) and Ariana Greenblatt (who plays Julia, the young daughter of one of the mall employees) talked about the important messages in the story, why they responded to the book, elephant onesies, running away with the circus, and embracing who you truly are.
Collider: In the film, Bob says, “We’re all a little artsy.” Outside of your acting, how are you a little bit artsy?
BRYAN CRANSTON: I’ve started baking sourdough bread, and I’m quite proud of it, actually. It’s fun. In our world of self-motivation and developing your own characters, it takes a lot of energy, but you don’t really follow any rules, so a recipe is fun in that regard.
CHAKA KHAN: What first came to mind with me is, when I first ran away from home at 16, I actually joined the circus. I met this guy named Robert, who was lovely. I was with the Barnum & Bailey blue circus for about six or seven months. We took a train. I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going, but I met Bob at a club and he was with the circus. He asked me to come along, and I went. I was a rope girl, and I rode an elephant named Calcutta. It was really cool. Doing this film really brought back memories of the circus.
ANGELINA JOLIE: I feel like I’m really boring. I spend a lot of time studying foreign policy. My creativity is my kids, being with them and making up stories before bed or just being silly with them. It’s really nothing I’m doing, just watching each of them become uniquely who they are, and being around it, and going into each of their rooms and talking to them. It’s about the conversations you have or the parts of their minds that you develop.
Brooklynn and Ariana, what did you love about the book, and what do you think adults need to understand about the environment?
ARIANA GREENBLATT: Well, I actually read the book before I even started acting. I read it in third grade. When I got the job, I was looking through my camera roll and I saw a picture of me reading it to the class and I was like, “No way! That’s crazy!” It was actually one of my favorite books that I’ve ever read in my entire life. I’ve always been an animal lover, and I’ve always wanted to help animals in any way that I possibly can, so reading it was very touching to me. And I loved Bob. That was definitely one of my favorite characters. But as a kid, I wanna spread awareness for kids my age to help animals, in every way possible way. I learned a lot from [the book]. I thought it was a really cool story. I love art and painting, so combining the animal loving side of me and the art side of me was really cool. I’m just very thankful to play the character.
BROOKLYNN PRINCE: I read the book with my grandma, but also I read it out loud to my brother and my mom when my brother was really young. I honestly loved Ruby. I think it teaches us a good lesson about keeping our promises because Ruby would have never gotten free if Ivan didn’t keep his promise to Stella. I think that’s something very beautiful. I loved the book so much that I lent it to my best friend and told her to read it because it was something so special. I also loved Bob ‘cause he was so funny, but I loved the sentiment of love. Ivan doesn’t care about Ruby in the beginning, but when he makes the promise to get Ruby out in the wild, he works his best to do that. That’s a lesson that we can all take in.
Angelina and Brooklynn, is it true that you had a special outfit that you did your voice recording in?
PRINCE: That is confirmed. I saw Angie two times. The first time I met her was at the Governor’s Ball, and then I saw her at the Critics’ Choice Awards. When I saw her at the Critics’ Choice Awards, I was like, “Hey, we should wear elephant onesies in the recording room.” And then, I went home and was like, “Mom, please buy me and Angie elephant onesies.” And my mom was like, “I’m buying Angelina Jolie an elephant onesie to match my daughter. What size does she wear?” So, I was there, in the onesie, bouncing around. And then Angie had hers on, and we have a selfie together wearing our elephant onesies. In the end, it got hot, so we just tied it around our waists. Angie also bought me this stuffed animal of a little baby elephant and a big elephant holding each other’s trunks for Easter.
JOLIE: It’s safe to say that we became like the elephant family in the [movie]. We got really into our characters.
Chaka, is there a particular aspect of Henrietta that you feel a connection with?
KHAN: Henrietta and I are very much alike. I’m usually the one that people come to when
they want the truth, but they want it told in a funny way. But they know, if they don’t want the truth, then don’t ask me. That’s just how I am.
Bryan, the character of Mack is a really interesting one because there’s a lot of pressure on him. What did you think of him?
CRANSTON: Well, it started with Mike [White]’s script, which resonated with me, and the plight of not just the animals and their particular emotional journey, but also with Mack. I met with (director) Thea [Sharrock] a couple times before we started shooting, and we really discussed how we’d lay this out. I saw him as a man who has flaws, but also is attempting to make things right. Ivan was like a child to him, so he wasn’t about to abandon his child. He wanted to figure out, “How do I embrace the fact that he’s now a full-fledged silverback gorilla and how do I live with that?” We had to discover those nuances and allow for the character to be vulnerable, so we talked about it. I pitched the idea that Mack wears a wig and that, at one point, the wig flies up and he’s bald, and it embarrasses him. I also had a stomach pad and a girdle. Those were personal vulnerabilities that he didn’t want people to see, so he was presenting himself as someone he wanted to project, but it wasn’t really him. He has to embrace who he truly is and allow himself to show who he really is, with no more wig, to have it come full circle.
How was it to ride the tiny bicycle?
CRANSTON: You look at a bicycle and you go, “Oh, I can ride that.” It’s actually much harder than it appears. It was difficult, but it was fun. I fell down several times because it was slick. Your knees are basically up in your face when you’re riding the thing. When I first saw the bicycle, I noticed, on the side of it, it said, “Property of Danny DeVito.”
Angelina, what was it about this project that made you want to take on a producer role, in addition to lending your voice to a character?
JOLIE: Well, one of my children read the book and said that they loved it, so I read it and we talked about why it was special and why it meant so much to them. It is charming and fun and full of life, but it is deceptive in the packaging. So, I thought it was very, very important and wanted to get involved. I liked the messages in it. And I’m excited about this young generation who’s really very aware of what is happening in the world to our natural habitats and these animals. They’re angry and they want to really be clear about what kind of treatment is appropriate and what kind of captivity is appropriate. I think Ariana’s character represents them, and that’s important for them to see because their actions can affect change.
The One and Only Ivan is available to stream at Disney+ on August 21st.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.