The catch phrase “be careful what you wish for” is about as cliché as overcast skies in Portland, Oregon. Ironically, there was nothing cliché about the creators of Coraline using that catch phrase as a tag line of the animated stop-action fantasy horror film set and filmed in the second largest city of the American Northwest. For Teri Hatcher, she could not have wished for anything better, as she landed an A-list role as the voice of Mel Jones, otherwise known as the title character’s mothers.
Performing in her first-ever voice-over role, Hatcher really made an effort to bring her character to life. “When you think about going in to do your first animated movie, you imagine you’re going to pull out every accent you’ve ever worked on as a child and every silly cartoon voice you ever imagined making up,” she said. “It is my first animated movie. I’ve always wanted to be in an animated movie, but I never dreamed that I would get to be in this level of artistry.”
Interestingly enough, Hatcher said she saw her role in its own form of artistry, in that she viewed the mother in triplicate. “It’s really three (mothers),” she candidly said. “I think of it as three. There’s the real mother, the other mother, and the evil mother.” In playing three roles, Hatcher said it was like playing three different levels of people, and the work was not any easier just because she was sitting in a room alone with a microphone and a script.
“It ended up, in a way, being similar to what you would do with any acting job — that you would try to find the motivation, the needs, the desires, the situation of who these three people were and what they wanted and what they needed. And then you sort of distill it all down into your voice.”
Adding to the complexity of the role was the level of physicality involved, which Hatcher did not expect to experience in her first-ever animated role.
“Physically, I think, for the real mom, I had a sort of posture,” Hatcher said, referring to the Mel Jones who existed in Coraline’s everyday universe. “Everyone thinks, 'Oh you work on an animated movie and you just get to wear jeans and wear your hair in a ponytail,' which is true and not bad. But for me, I still put my hair up in a frumpy-feeling way and stood frumpier so that I felt heavy and exhausted to find that voice.”
Of course, when Hatcher got into the character of Mel Jones, the mother in Coraline’s alternate universe, not only did she change her posture, but her voice as well. “The other mother was much more postured and mannered, so there was still physicality to it, although you know you’re not in front of a live camera.”
While she tinkered with variations of her voice and posture during recording sessions, Hatcher never really injected much of her own personality into any of the three mothers. In fact, Hatcher told Buzzine she was completely disconnected from the role, in that she did not draw from her personal experiences to define any of the characters. “I don’t think I hear any Teri in the movie,” she candidly told Buzzine. “I feel like one of the greatest accomplishments that I did in this, and what I like about acting, is that sometimes yes, you draw from things that you know. Sometimes it’s just utter imagination and it doesn’t have anything to do with you. That’s what the journey was for me, in this film. Not only do I not feel like I really see extensions of Teri as a mom, but I don’t see extensions of Susan Meyer (her character on Desperate Housewives) as a mom either.”
Hatcher added separating the three mother roles from her own life was a difficult challenge and a pleasant surprise. “That’s a big hurdle, because that is what people are used to hearing, and I don’t think you hear that cadence at all.” Instead of comparing her role(s) to herself, Hatcher said those struggling to keep pace in current times are likely to identify with Mel Jones. “I think the most relatable character in life, and certainly in our economy right now and our society –- we have a lot of working families, working mothers, that are just exhausted and trying to do it all,” she passionately said. “They are so burdened with worry, and that makes you neglectful, really, of your children, but not in a mean way, but more in the way of survival.”
In that regard, Hatcher points out Coraline is truly about young children and how they deal with trying times. “I think, on its deepest level, the movie thematically shows us that children can be lured away into something that is enticing and seems like it’s going to be better,” she said. “What I love about the ending is that we really see Coraline embrace the imperfections in her parents and understand that love is enough.”
Perhaps the only imperfection Hatch had to embrace about Coraline is how dark the film is. Labeled as an animated stop-motion horror fantasy film, Coraline featured several scary images and thematic elements, making it difficult for some parents and children to endure. Hatcher respected the choices parents made in deciding whether to watch Coraline with their children. “I think it’s really an individual family’s choice,” she candidly said. “I mean, you hear about three-year-olds going to see The Dark Knight, and I didn’t take my 11-year-old to see that movie. I think even if there are scary feelings that come up, I think the communication behind that and the message in this movie makes it worth seeing, as opposed to some of the just scary kind of trash that’s out there on the Internet or in video games, or wherever they’re getting it anyway.”