As far as press conferences go, it was pretty epic. Not in its size—it was actually pretty small—but in its hilarity.
Director Chris Wedge (“Ice Age,” “Robots”) and actors Colin Farrell (“Total Recall,” “Phone Booth”), Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia,” “Les Miserables”), Aziz Ansari (“Parks and Recreation,” “Funny People”), Chris O’Dowd (“Bridesmaids,” “Girls”) and Jason Sudeikis (“Saturday Night Live,” “Horrible Bosses”) were sitting in front of us in the Lotus Room of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at Columbus Circle, New York, ready to answer questions. They had just come from walking the grassy green carpet at the premiere of “Epic,” their new animated film.
The movie is a 3-D CG adventure-fantasy-comedy that tells the story a teenage girl (M.K., voiced by Amanda Seyfried) who finds herself in a battle between good and evil in a secret universe hidden in the deep forest. Inspired by 100-year-old paintings and William Joyce’s children’s book “The Leaf Men,” Chris Wedge and his team at Blue Sky Studios brought this unseen realm to life and to the big screen.
Beyonce Knowles (“Dreamgirls”), Josh Hutcherson (“The Hunger Games”), Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Django Unchained”), Blake Anderson (“Workaholics”), Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Pitbull, provide the other voices for this interesting band of characters.
“Epic,” which opened in cinemas yesterday, is a feel-good family film that allows audiences to lose themselves in its colorful world for 102 minutes.
The movie is rated General Patronage, but the press con was not.
And just like what their slug and snail duo did in the film, funny men Ansari and O’Dowd stole the show at the media gathering.
A lot of you are known for edgier projects. Is it nice to be able to do something the younger members of your family can enjoy?
Chris O’ Dowd: Normally I hate kids, so doing something they’ll be able to watch is very pleasant. But just to keep up with the vision, I would be at every screening just cursing in the background.
Colin Farrell: It’s lovely to be able to do something the kids can go and see, for sure. I have two sons and it would be nice if they liked it. They do like “Ice Age.”
Colin, where did you get the inspiration for your character Ronin?
Colin: It’s all there on the page. Chris (Wedge) has a really specific idea on how he wants everything done and everything to sound. I did a radio play back when I was in Ireland (but) it’s the first time I had done anything like this. The level of attention that Chris had—I’d do 15 takes and then on the 15th take, he’d go, “That’s it, got it, done.” It was fun, it was very liberating not to have the judgment of the camera there.
Can you take us through the whole process? Were the actors allowed to see their characters as they evolved in the recording booth?
Chris Wedge: Every animated character is a collaboration. Usually the voice actors come in a little bit later. We’ve got the thing all written, the character design, we’ve got some animation tests. We try to pitch to these guys an idea of what the movie is and what the character is going to look like, but when they go into the booth the first time, it’s kind of up to them to dig deep and come out with something. You try to surround everybody with artwork but the fun thing about the process, the fun thing about working on the same character for a year and a half, I’m hoping, is that we come back a couple of months later and they see their voice coming out of a character and they see it interacting with other characters and they see it in the scene. That’s kind of where it gets workshopped, and that’s where the lines change and these guys can really interact and add and do their own stuff.
For a lot of you, this is your first animated movie. Have you seen the finished film? What surprised you the most?
Aziz Ansari: I didn’t know it was animated. I really did not. I thought I was playing a slug. Also I thought it was all gonna be CGI around me. So that was a little shocking.
I loved the three-legged pug. Did any of you have a squirrelly old pet growing up?
Colin: I had a four-legged dog, it wasn’t that different.
Amanda Seyfried: I have a one-eyed, deaf cat. You have to be wary of them because you can step on them. Fran, I think she must be like 15. She has big tumors around her but she’s fine, she’s great.
Is she a Siamese cat?
Amanda: I love the fact that we’re going to talk about my cat. I guess I really want to talk about Fran. She’s a black and white… she’s a street cat.
Aziz: I think we just heard a great pitch for a new animated feature. Fran. I see the poster in my head right now.
Chris W.: I think we should hurry and shoot it.
Amanda: She reminds me of that dog.
Chris O.: I have a one-eyed trouser snake. He’s fun to play with.
Amanda: Did you bring it with you?
Colin: Is he or she playful?
Chris O.: You can easily step on it.
Colin: Does it like to have its belly rubbed?
Amanda: What’s his name?
Chris O.: Tiny Tim. Unfortunately.
For Amanda and Colin, as the story unfolded for you, how did you relate to believing what you can’t see?
Amanda: It was hard at first. I think as actors we are expected to have these crazy, wild imaginations. I like to dive into reality as much as possible. I really don’t know if I could have done it without Chris (Wedge) because he’s the most animated person I know. The whole world is in his head and he was able to convey that world to me so well, the way he spoke, and the way he used his hands.
Chris W.: I used my hands a lot with Amanda.
Amanda: It was really magical. He created a really, deeply, magical world. It was amazing.
Chris W.: I was going to say, Amanda was amazing when she got in the booth. There was no calisthenics or jumping jacks like most of these guys had to do to get ready to speak into the mic. It just came right out of her. Whatever scene we were working on, we had a little conversation about what was going on and then, bang, it came right out.
Colin: I can’t believe you’re judging me for my calisthenics.
Jason Sudeikis: It’s process, it’s your process.
Colin: I thought it was a safe and creative environment. What happens in Blue Sky doesn’t stay in Blue Sky.
Chris W.: You’ll get the DVD extras.
Colin: It’s all make-believe, whether you have tangible material or a physical space of an environment to inhabit, or it’s an animated film, it’s all an extension of your experience multiplied by your imagination. It was fun to do. I love nature. Nature is a great and exciting thing to pay attention to. There are so many things that I believe in that I can’t see, like compassion and kindness and the emotional life of every single person in this room, and so on and so forth.
Aziz: Man, that was deep.
Amanda, your character MK falls in love with a boy who’s from another world, who’s unattainable. Have you ever fallen for someone who’s unattainable?
Amanda: Yeah, an idea. You fall in love with ideas. You fall in love with your fantasies. That happens all the time and it’s depressing.
The movie says, “The good guy needs all the help they can get.” Why is this? Why do good guys need more help than the bad guys?
Chris W.: That was a line that Amanda reads in the voiceover in the beginning of the movie. I put that in, just so people would be rooting for the good guys.
Amanda: Because sometimes you don’t.
Chris W.: Just so they know they’re the underdogs.
Aziz: Like Fast Six, Toretto, he’s a bad guy but I’m enjoying what he’s doing, he’s committing crime but I’m still enjoying watching them. But I also love The Rock, he’s the good guy, and then they team up at the end of Fast 5, that’s why it’s so great.
Chris W.: Thanks for giving that away.
Aziz: That’s Fast Five! You should have seen it by now, Chris!
Jason: Anyway, “Epic”…
Colin, this is your first family film, is this a new direction for you?
Colin: I’m going to be animated from here on. I’ve actually painted the inside of my house in Los Angeles a luminous green so I can shoot myself. I don’t know, I got bored of carrying guns, I think. I’ll just do different things, I think.
Chris, what point in your life did you realize that animation was meant for you? And what makes an animated film a classic?
Chris W.: I grew up in the middle of nowhere, I had time on my hands and my friends were a long bike ride away. I got into animation when I was around 12. The truth of it is I didn’t really prepare myself for anything else in life, so hopefully it’s going to continue to work out. When you’re inside making a movie, you don’t know how your movie is going to turn out… if it’s going to be good or not. But every day you do what you can to make it something you believe. I think that’s the biggest thing. You just want to believe. Unfortunately in our culture, people think it’s for kids. I was a kid once but I didn’t necessarily watch the stuff that’s for kids.
Now I’m a grownup and I don’t watch too many cartoons anymore. I want to make a movie that’s for a broad audience, I want to make a movie that excites me. When I was a kid I liked the movies that I didn’t understand completely. Things that my parents were watching. Situations between the adults, that moment at a drive-in theater where my mother always said, “Maybe you should take the kids to the snack bar now.” I wanted to see what was going on there.
Jason: I’ll give you some websites. You have a credit card? You don’t need it, but…
Chris W.: (laughs) I want truth on the screen. I don’t want to talk down to anybody.
Amanda: There was one thing you said to me before I signed on to this project that stuck with me. It was one of the main reasons I jumped in. You want this film to get kids outside in their own backyard and try to find that world within what they have around them. I used to do that. And I think it’s lost now. You see these children grabbing their parents’ cell phones because we’re all distracted by them and they want that. It used to be different. This movie brings us back to the wonders of nature and the universe and what we have all around us that we forget about. When I watched the movie, I was like, God, there is so much that’s going on with these strange-looking leaves. Everything has a story to it.
Jason: And now you’ll be able to watch it on a cell phone.
Chris O.: The point is, cell phones are great.
Colin: My three-year-old never tries to grab mine because he has his own.
I was curious about the comedic element of this film. How much of it was improv?
Chris O.: A little bit. 90 percent of it was scripted. I did one session with Aziz and then I kind of left the country. Um, due to some… they dropped the charges, it’s not even a thing anymore, it’s fine, I shouldn’t have even… Don’t print that. (Laughs)
Chris W.: We took Chris’ words and rearranged them to make them funny and make different sentences out of them while he was gone.
Chris O.: For the other characters.
Aziz: The first long session that we did together was really fun. It was fun to play off each other and be in the same room.
Jason: I will say that those guys (Aziz and Chris O.) carried the weight of a lot of the humor. My guy introduced M.K. into this world, I’m probably more the heart and soul of it, you probably misread it. It was a Jimmy Stewart take. But if you laughed at it, then whatever. That’s cool, too.
Epic is now playing in cinemas nationwide from 20th Century Fox distributed by Warner Bros.