Stop-motion is a delicate art, where many nimble hands craft many detailed faces. Most films that use this clay or plasticine technology create thousands of expressions and positions for their characters, as well as an elaborate set for them to be placed. One of the heroes of stop motion animation, Peter Lord, and his company Aardman Animation, brought two very cheery, very British pals to life with Wallace and Gromit, a quiet endeavor that sparked and caught fire in the early 90s. Aardman is back, and bigger than ever before with The Pirates! Band of Misfits, a seaward epic based off the children’s book series. Leading the helm is British dreamboat Hugh Grant as the voice of the boorish, bumbling Pirate Captain. Set sail with Buzzine as we ask Lord and Grant about the perks and challenges of navigating the nefarious pirates’ world.
Emmanuel Itier: Tell me about that challenge of doing a movie like this. What type of challenge was it, what difficulties did you both face?
Peter Lord: [Laughs] Scale was a big issue. Because it was a pirate movie, it wanted to be big and colorful and stuff, and crowded, and stop-motion. This style of movie does not lend itself to big crowd scenes. It’s great at chamber pieces and conversation, but scale is tricky for us, I would say.
Hugo Grant: I was very badly cast really. I don’t know why they chose me. I mean, look at a pirate captain – he’s a big, barrel-chested, bearded fellow. That is not at all me, so I actually had to act. So it was a grave mistake to ask me to do that. So I was very challenged.
EI: Was there a particular scene for you that was a little bit difficult to put together? Because I can imagine with all this clay motion, it was nerve-wracking at times…
PL: It’s all difficult, to be honest. In the early days, we had a production meeting, and the producer wanted to know which are the easy scenes, and there weren’t any easy scenes. Everything had problems, whether it would be big crowds of characters or whether it would be the sea with the ships in the sea. There was always something difficult. So the easy scene would be like Hugh, the pirate captain, talking to his loyal number two in the cabin – just two characters in the cabin: that’s easy. But there weren’t many scenes like that, so there were challenges everywhere.
EI: What do you think the movie is about for you? Are there some metaphors?
HG: I think it’s very English in its message really. I think it’s a celebration of failure. But I don’t know if you feel the same. These are the worst pirates in the world, but we love them for it.
PL: [Laughs] A celebration of failure. That is true, but a celebration of optimism. Good humor and optimism. All the bad guys are cynical and effective, and the other guys are actually hopeless, but optimistic and cheerful, and that seems to win, luckily.
HG: I always say that there’s a sort of innocence in all of (these) cartoons. It’s embodied in the eyes. All the characters have these bulgy eyes. It doesn’t matter which character it is; there’s even a lobster in one scene. Someone is hitting someone over the head with a lobster, and the lobster has the same innocent eyes. And it’s absolutely key. Especially when I was trying to act this part – to keep the innocence alive.
EI: Do you think that’s what stands in your art-form – that innocence, that love for life, compared to other animation? How do you explain why people love it so much?
PL: I think loving the material…literally, the stuff it’s made of – the fact that it’s handmade – I think that comes across. I think people sense that. They know it. Even the unsophisticated viewer kind of knows it’s all been handmade. And I like to believe (being an optimist) [laughs] that all the love and effort that goes into it sort of comes out on the screen. That’s what we hope for. And the script-writing and the performance has a cheerfulness and naiveity, that’s true.
EI: Speaking of performance, what did you need to do to make him a pirate? How did you transform him? What were the tricks?
PL: [Laughs] I didn’t do anything. We reached a wonderful accord. Hugh came in, I remember, on the first day, very nobly offering to do a pirate voice, “Argh,” but luckily, that wasn’t required at all, so he didn’t have to do that. We didn’t need that. He was kind of a natural pirate. I’m surprised now you haven’t done more pirate movies before.
HG: It’s astonishing, isn’t it?
EI: Are you going to challenge Johnny Depp now at being in the next Pirate movie?
HG: [Laughs] Well, I certainly think it’s time I do more action movies. When you think of the natural physical presence I bring to the screen, and the natural sense of danger, it’s surprising I haven’t been asked to do more.
Columbia Pictures' 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits' is released in theaters on April 27, 2012.