Simply put, Monsters vs. Aliens has a monster cast. Academy Award-winner Reese Witherspoon and mega-writer/actor Seth Rogen talk about their favorite super-heroes and the particular challenges of working on an animated feature.
Emmanuel Itier: Reese, since you're 5'2", how was it playing a woman that was 430-feet tall for a change?
Reese Witherspoon: [Laughs] It was an interesting challenge because my character goes from being a regular-size girl to being this giant superhero girl. They wanted me, at the end of the movie, to talk with an action star voice, which is not a voice I know or have in my repertoire. So they kept trying to coach me to be more like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. So that took me a long time. That was probably the hardest thing for me to do.
EI: Seth, you've proven you're a very funny guy. Does it change for you when you're just using your voice? Was this a different perspective for you?
Seth Rogen: I think it’s actually a lot easier to be funny when you have, like, hundreds of geniuses who are paid to animate your every facial expression with painstaking thought and minutiae. I just mosey on set, most of the time, and spit out the lines and pray something good happened. These guys really put a lot of thought into every second of the movie that winds up in front of you guys, and I think they add a lot of the humor that’s in it. I actually didn’t even know a lot of the stuff that Bob [Rob Letterman] did until I’d seen the movie. I would watch it and say, “Man, this is hilarious. I wish I was that funny.” But no, it’s them.
EI: What did each of you enjoy most about playing your respective characters, and what was the biggest challenge you faced?
RW: Well, like Seth was saying, it was such a different movie when I actually saw it. They put together a rough cut, and I had to go in and animate all the “effort” noises and that kind of stuff, so that is always so disorienting and strange. I guess this was the first movie I ever did that had this much action in it, so I think I was surprised about that and kind of thrilled, because I can’t imagine any other world in which that opportunity will present itself to me. So it was awesome to realize I was creating a female superhero. It feels like a unique opportunity for me and my daughter, who was really into this movie. I was with my son and my daughter, we were walking, and I was like, “Who’s your favorite superhero?” And my son was like, “Well, there’s Batman, there’s Spider-Man, there’s Robin, there’s…” And I was like, “Well Ava, who’s your favorite superhero?” “I don’t know. The girl who’s in the Justice League? I can’t remember her name.” So it’s cool to be able to create that kind of character.
SR: I enjoyed the whole thing. It’s fun to see yourself thrown into these worlds and hear your voice coming out of these hilarious creatures. It’s a great movie. I enjoy watching it. There was nothing really that difficult about it. Some of the effort stuff, like trying to verbalize what it might sound like to get stretched out by a monstrous shoe or something like that, can become... It’s not that difficult. It’s not that bad. It’s a lot of fun, I’ve got to say, and I enjoyed every aspect of it.
EI: Reese, now that you've had the experience of playing Ginormica, have you been a lot more aggressive in the supermarket? And if you could be Ginormica at will, what are some of the things that you would do?
RW: The first thing I’d do is put on that cat suit and never take it off.
SR: [Laugh] Me too!
RW: No working out, no dieting... She just looks hot all the time. I was like, I’m into this. My girlfriend and I saw the movie together and she brought her kids, and she turned to me halfway through the film and she was like, “You look really hot!” [Whispers] “I know. It’s not me! It’s awesome.”
EI: Are you more aggressive in the supermarket, now that you're taller?
RW: Oh, I don’t know. No. It’s still me at concerts or the supermarket, dealing with people’s backs and their armpits and stuff. That’s sort of the challenge of being 5' 2".
EI: Your character comes into her own in the movie. What would you hope little girls that see this character will get from it?
RW: I think it’s got an incredible message about finding yourself and your identity. I think everybody -- not just girls but guys too -- struggle with "who are you?" Are you a person who lives in the shadow of another person just so you don’t have to be alone or afraid or find your own strengths, or are you someone who is willing to take a chance on being a little scared of the unknown and maybe possibly accomplishing great things in your life?
SR: I’m going to take a moment from that. I’ve been leading my life all wrong, guys.
EI: You've lent your voice to a couple of animated things lately, Seth. Is this the first time you've done this, Reese?
RW: Yeah, this is the first time.
EI: Can both of you talk about what the creative rewards are and how important being involved with animated films is to you, career-wise?
SR: It’s fun. It’s a different process entirely. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression that acting is reacting. Well, if you remove other actors from that equation, then the art of reacting becomes quite different, I would say, but it is a different thing. You go in there and you play around, and you have a lot of time to experiment and it’s just a lot of fun, I think. It feels much more like playing than acting. There’s not a lot of technical aspect to it. There’s no lights or cameras or physicality you have to be aware of, or even other actors that you have to be aware of, for the most part.
RW: You don’t have to be sensitive about their light.
SR: Exactly. Nothing. You can just take as much time as you want. You can spend, like, three hours doing one line if you really, really wanted to, which I would never do on a set with other people whose time I was wasting.
RW: I’d be really annoyed.
SR: She would kill me. [Laughs] But she wasn’t there, so that was nice. As far as career-wise, there’s no conscious importance to these movies. Personally, I just think they’re cool movies and it’s fun to see yourself in them.
RW: It’s a great opportunity, I think, to reach a wider audience. For me, I just love to travel internationally. This is the first movie I’ve done that transcends language, because I’m always talking and talking and talking in movies, so it’s nice to actually be able to go to other countries and have them completely understand the concept of the movie and enjoy it in the same way. That’s a good thing for me. That’s the first time I’ve been able to travel and they get when I’m making the movie, so that’s great, and also it’s a great opportunity to work with a lot of great comic actors. We’re all so busy doing other kinds of movies that it’s only ever possible to work with this many amazing talented people in this capacity because it doesn’t take up a huge amount of all of our time.
EI: Seth, how does doing a cool movie like this fall into Playboy's contention that you're the luckiest man on Earth? And Reese, as a preemptive measure, do you want to say anything to the good people of Fresno?
RW: We’re sorry. Fresno is a lovely place.
SR: Fresno’s nice.
RW: We killed San Francisco. We didn’t bother Fresno.
SR: [Laughs] Exactly. Fresno comes out unscathed. Thay have a little crater, that’s all. It could be a tourist attraction. Yeah, I think I’m lucky to be in a movie like this. I don’t want to talk too much about Playboy, though [laughs], 'cause it’s filthy and this is a kid’s movie. Don’t do that -- keep your mind out of the gutter, dude.
EI: For both of you, what was the best part of making this film?
SR: I like watching it. I’ve got to be honest. I’m kind of an end-results kind of guy. To me, it’s cool to be able to sit in a movie theater and see the movie in 3-D and have people, for once in my life, of all ages laughing at the content of the material. To me, that’s the most fun part of it.
RW: Probably getting to take my kids to a movie that I’m in and having them really enjoy it and having them think I’m actually kind of cool, because usually they think I’m a really big dork. They’re like, “Mom, stop singing in the car because you’re really annoying me.” But now they’re like, “Hey Mom, can we go see your movie?” So that’s good.
EI: Which of the big summer movies are you looking forward to seeing?
SR: That’s a good question. What have we got? We’ve got Wolverine Origins. That’s coming. I’m in. Transformers, I’m in. Star Trek, I’m in.
RW: Oh, I want to see Star Trek.
SR: Every one. I’ll see every one. [To Reese] Which ones do you want? All those? Are you going to see them all?
RW: I like J.J. Abrams. I think Star Trek will be very cool. I think that will be interesting.
SR: That will be good. I’m excited. Good pick.
EI: Seth, this is one of these times when you'll be opening in two movies close together -- one a venture into raunch, the other family fare. Do you actually have a preference? Do you ever worry about being locked into the adolescent raunch image? Will Green Hornet be a fusion of both?
SR: Yeah, honestly, I’m very thankful that people are allowing me to do this. I’m shocked that I’ve gotten away with it -- that I can do a movie like Observe and Report and a movie like Monsters vs. Aliens -- one which has been described as transgressive, and the other which is a delightful family romp. So I personally am very thankful. I do like both those kinds of movies. I try to do the types of movies that I like to go see, and I genuinely like to go see both those types of movies. Being responsible for the writing of a majority of my movies, I don’t feel typecast, and if I did, I’d probably write myself a different role. As far as Green Hornet goes, yeah, it will be a PG-13 movie. I think it has a lot of the humor that people are used to from us, but obviously finessed so that more people can enjoy it. It’s a big action movie also, so that helps it round itself off.
EI: Who were your comedic influences?
SR: I don’t know. All the funniest guys ever: Bill Murray, Jerry Seinfeld, The Simpsons and Jim Brooks... Everyone: Chevy Chase, Lorne Michaels, Kids In The Hall... Everyone who’s funny.
EI: Reese, I'm sure you've been approached to do other kids of animated films in the past. What made this one so special for you?
RW: Yeah, I’ve been offered a lot of animated films. Sometimes they were playing the girlfriend and sometimes the girl who got rescued by a guy, and I just felt like this was the first opportunity that was presented to me where the woman was at the center of the movie, so that’s a unique opportunity for me, to create a character that had strength, had a journey, had a whole storyline... So that’s what really appealed to me.
EI: What do you have coming up next?
RW: I’m doing a movie with Jim Brooks next, and Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson and Bill Murray. I don’t know what the title is.
EI: Are you filming it now?
RW: Someday... [Laughs] I’ve been talking about it since September. I’m starting to feel like one of those people that goes to Hollywood parties and goes, “Yeah, I’m making movies with Jim Brooks.”
SR: [Laughs] Exactly. For six years.
RW: I’ve only been making movies with Jim Brooks for about two years now, and one day we’ll start filming and it’s going to be fantastic...maybe.
EI: What's your role?
RW: I play a professional athlete. There’s comedy. There’s definitely comedy and drama -- all that stuff.
EI: What sport?
EI: Word by word, we're getting it. [Laughs]
SR: Exactly! [Laughs] It’s awkward when you don’t know how much to reveal. That’s what I always do when people ask me. Look, I have no idea what to say. No one else has said anything.
RW: Am I allowed to? Am I going to get fired? They can still fire me. We haven’t shot the movie yet.
EI: Seth, can you bring us up to speed on The Green Hornet? What's the deal?
SR: Michel Gondry is going to direct it. Me and Evan (Goldberg) are in the process of rewriting it with him right now. We should start shooting it in the end of June.
EI: How is it changing from what it was before?
SR: You can’t have a guy like Michel around and not get a bunch of new ideas thrown at you. As soon as he’s in the room, anything seems possible. It’s really exciting to work with a guy like that. We hire directors specifically who we think are smarter than us and who can do things that we can’t do, and he more than fits that criteria.
EI: The funny aspects that we normally see in your characters -- are they directly related to who you really are? Are you that funny normally?
SR: I’m hilarious every second of the day, my friend -- a non-stop roller coaster of laughter. I don’t know. I guess it depends. Some of the characters feel closer to me, some of them feel farther, but it’s not like working coal mines or anything. I mean, we make goofy jokes all day. It never feels like it’s that difficult a job. I have to be honest.
EI: Which ones are closer?
SR: I think the guy I play in Knocked Up is probably the closest to me, in a lot of ways, and all the other ones are not that much like me. That’s not a great thing to admit, but not anymore. None of them are like me anymore because, as you can see, I’m amazing.
EI: Do you guys remember the first animated movie you saw as a kid, and was there anyone that scared you?
RW: Oh my god, I saw The Hobbit once.
SR: Oh, that one’s really scary.
RW: Golum pulls the eye ball -- that’s so scary.
SR: Yeah, The Hobbit was scary.
RW: That scared me for a good long while.
EI: Seth, this is kind of a follow-up to that previous question about the characters who are like you, especially because yo're in great Green Hornet shape. When you get the call, "Hey, Jeffrey Katzenberg wants you to do a voice in a movie," and then you see that the character is a gelatinous blob with no brains and he says, "We thought of you right away." Is that good news or bad news?
SR: Exactly. I was glad to see that it was animated first. That was nice. But yeah, I figured I’ve played a few gelatinous blobs with no brains; it’s time I do it in the animated world as well as the live-action one. Yeah, I’m in on the joke. I get it. I was flattered more than anything. It’s just nice to talk to Jeffrey Katzenberg to his face and not just send him love letters behind his back.
EI: Did either of you have any input into your characters? Also, how long did it take? Animation might take two or three years. Did you have to go back and pick up where you left off?
RW: Yeah, the input came, I think, when my character kept evolving. When I first saw the artwork on the movie, I think I was the fourth lead or something. And then slowly she became a bigger part, and I guess they really liked her story-line, so it came forward a little bit more. I saw the first artwork about four years ago. I only started doing the voice two years ago. But yeah, we did a lot of time.
EI: How long did it take you guys to do it?
RW: I think I had about 20 sessions in two years.
SR: Yeah, I probably did it between 10 and 15 times. It’s quite an elaborate character I’m doing, so it was pretty difficult to get back into that — the vocal exercises. [Laughs] Where was the range? What octave? Was it a D Flat...?
EI: Reese, one of the lovely consistent things about you is that you've always been involved with charities and it's always been very important for you to give back. In this difficult economy, charities really seem to be under attack. Do you find that personally challenging, and how pro-active are you?
RW: I think there are some amazing people out there doing work with different organizations. There's also a wonderful organization called Service Nation which is organizing an opportunity for people to give back through service work, which I think is economical in these times. It’s a great way to get kids involved, and they work in everything from Habitat for Humanity to Teach For America and stuff like that. So I think it’s not just about giving money, it’s about giving time and energy and effort.
EI: Do you find it challenging, in this environment?
RW: I think the need is there, more so than ever, and I think what people crave more even than financial means is the idea of giving your time and support. People need other people’s support at this time, and that hands-on, face-to-face is what I think we’re missing. Sometimes I feel like we’re so connected to the Internet and talking on cellphones that there’s a lot of space between people, and hopefully this is going to bring communities together and create more of that kind of feel in the world...hopefully.
EI: Do each of you have a favorite superhero?
RW: I liked Wonder Woman as a kid. I watched Linda Carter over and over and over again, and I had my Golden Lasso and my whole costume. I think I wore it for seven Halloweens, so she’d probably be my favorite.
SR: Oh, I don’t know. Batman?
EI: Has there been talk of a sequel? Obviously, Ginormica wants to go to Paris, so there might be a possibility of her going to Paris. Also, how do you guys feel about 3-D?
RW: I haven’t heard anything about a sequel.
SR: The movie should come out first, probably. [Laughs] That would be rad if they decided to forego that step in the process.
RW: The 3-D is really interesting. I think it’s kind of different than 3-D you’ve seen before, where it kind of jumps out at you. This more surrounds you. You feel more immersed in it. I’m excited. My kids have seen the movie, but they haven’t seen it in 3-D. They’re going to see it in 3-D as soon as possible. My son wakes up every morning and he goes, “When do I get to see the movie in 3-D?” [Laughs] “I don’t know. Somebody call somebody and tell them you’re in a hurry!” I’m really excited because I think it’s a new moviegoing experience for them, and with what I hear Mr Katzenberg talking about, it seems like it’s going to be definitely a new cinematic experience that a lot of filmmakers are going to be incorporating in their films.
EI: Seth, I was wondering about your feelings about Jell-O. Are you a big fan of Jell-O? What kind of Jell-O do you like?
RW: Jell-O is lying and very deceptive.
SR: Yeah, just say that. Exactly. If it’s nice to me, I like it. I give what I get when it comes to Jell-O. I will say that the notion of things floating in a Jell-O mold is a decidedly American invention, and as a Canadian, it’s something I’m a little disturbed by and don’t quite understand. How does it get in there? What is the point of it? What is it? What are those things? What is that? Is it food? Is it marshmallow? What is that? I don’t know. But other than that, I’m pro-Jell-O, ultimately.
EI: Did this film happen to inspire you to maybe want to play more superheroes? Maybe Wonder Woman in its new version?
RW: I don’t know.
EI: Would you like to?
RW: I don’t know. [Laughs] It seems challenging. Maybe Seth can let me know how Green Hornet goes.
SR: Physically, it already sucks, I’ll tell you that.
RW: It’s so hard. I’ll be totally honest with you. If I never had to see the inside of a gym again, I’d be a very happy person. The idea of it... There are people who love it and it’s just their thing, and I can do it and I can do it for my job because I’m really lucky to get this job and have a job, but it’s not my first choice of morning activity.
EI: Were there any funny or memorable moments when you were doing the voiceovers that you would like to share?
SR: Well, apparently, when the other actors aren’t there to read with you, there’s a delightful man who’s very talented who does impressions of the other actors, and he’ll read the lines with you. And apparently he does a great impression of me. Reese actually had the bright idea to ask him to impersonate her for me, and he actually does a pretty good you. I actually met him before I met you, and then when I met you, I was like, “Hey, you’re kind of like the guy I read with.”
RW: I have that weird red Mohawk.
SR: Exactly. He has kind of a weird faux hawk.
RW: He has a Kramer doo.
SR: He does have a very Kramer-ish hairdo. My one regret is that I didn’t ever get to hear him do me. I wish I gotten to hear him do me, but he does you fantastically.
RW: He wouldn’t do my voice in front of me. I don’t know why. He was shy.
SR: It’s great. It’s dead-on. He’s could be doing your press right now. [Laughs]
'Monsters Vs Aliens' is in theaters now