The Frankenweenie actor, and star of films such as Home Alone and The Nightmare Before Christmas, talks to our film editor Barnaby Walter about voice work, 3D, and what it’s like to work with Tim Burton.
How did you feel when you were told by Tim Burton that you were going to play a character called ‘Weird Girl’?
[Laughs] I didn’t know what it was going to be but I said ‘Count me in, please!’
Frankenweenie is a very Burton-esque film in the way it juggles comedy and horror. Do you find your experience in comedy helps when it comes to creating memorable characters?
I’d like to think so, yes. Tim has a great sense of humour and definitely encourages you getting all the humour you can out of the script and coming up with anything else you can. He’s just great fun to work with. He raises your game and my game, whatever my game is, seems to involve humour!
You voiced Sally in the Henry Sellick and Tim Burton project The Nightmare Before Christmas. Was your experience on Frankenweenie different to that process?
It was different, yes, because they are different directors. They have very different styles. Henry Selick is a stop-motion animator too and deals in mili-second by mili-second of shooting and he does the voice-work that way too; especially with a character like Sally – a patchwork being. My dialogue was patchworked together, too, with bits of sentences constructed into ‘Sally speak’. It was very different and I’d say there was more of a natural flow recording Weird Girl and the other characters in Frankenweenie. When Tim brought Marty [Martin Short] in to do the voices of the parents, we got the intimate tone of those scenes. Actually, those scenes weren’t particularly funny! Well, Mrs Frankenstein wasn’t particularly funny. But yes, a different tone and recording style, for sure.
Absolutely. When I was called about being in Frankenweenie it was just fun to go and see Tim! I don’t get to see him that often and I really like him and of course love his work, but I also really like being with him, he’s got a great sense of humour. He’s funny and raises your game, so I was delighted to get the call. Marty I love – love love love him – but getting to know people is stressful! Getting to know people and wondering what they are thinking of you, so I didn’t have to worry about any of that crap. We could just get to it! Have some laughs and get to the job.
The relationship between Victor and his parents is wonderfully brought to life in the film, both through the animation and the performances. How did you go about creating that as voice actors?
Marty and I went in separately to do our scenes, and Tim brilliantly brought us in together, as I did not know what those scenes were going to be before I saw the movie. I knew how I felt as Mrs Frankenstein and I knew what I was supposed to be doing in those scenes, but it was really nice to have Marty there from me, as I got two-for-one direction, and Tim knew how important it was to set the tone. When I saw those scenes I was impressed and moved at how intimate they were; unusually so for animation I think. I like to think I’m a pretty natural voice actor, but throughout recording Tim would be saying ‘OK, even quieter, even simpler, even less’. Then when I saw the movie I really got where he was going, and thankfully he got it out of us!
I don’t think of it as dark at all. If that’s dark, then life is dark! I think he mixes the dark and the light, the serious and the funny, beautifully. And it’s not like there’s one and then the other; they are together. It’s a cliché but that’s what life is! Think of what a dark sense of humour God must have to create teeth! When you watch babies suffer when their teeth come through, it’s the worst thing! Then teeth are nothing but trouble in life! [laughs]But know, I don’t find his movies dark. If Tim wanted to scare you, he’d really scare you! Even in the scares he does put in his movies, there’s always a lightness there too; an immediate kind of lightness, not just a cheap joke after the scare. Something organic to the moment. There is a sweet spirit to his movies. If you look at how he takes care of his characters and how he feels for his characters, it’s really quite loving!
Frankenweenie looks a lot better than other retro-fitted 3D efforts. I wondered how you feel about 3D and its place within the current cinematic landscape?
I think it’s new territory, and I think the people who are doing it are learning how to do it right. Wim Wenders, who did the movie about the choreographer [Pina 3D], in an interview he said it hasn’t been used correctly yet but it is there for a reason; you will be able to bring an audience right into the story. And I think it is, it’s a new frontier right now and I just look forward to seeing more and more of it! When I learned that Frankenweenie was going to be in 3D I thought ‘Oh, more 3D? Why?!’ because I don’t get it, and I don’t make it, but when I saw it I thought it was really beautifully done; tastefully done and it brings you into the story without being distracting. It adds to it. It’s subtle. Like the rest of the movie, it’s subtle.
Frankenweenie is out on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD on 25 February 2013. © Disney