For voice actor veteran Hank Azaria, his part in Happy Feet 2 provided a career-spanning challenge. Elijah Wood is back as Mumble, but now he’s a father. And a newbie to the franchise is Common, who relished his opportunity to enter the world of moviemaking. The three actors spoke with Movie Fanatic about making Happy Feet 2 and the finer points of animated acting.
Wood, Azaria and Common are joined by Robin Williams and songstress Alecia “Pink” Moore in Happy Feet 2 -- a film that is equally as toe-tapping as the original and possesses a story that surpasses it.
Movie Fanatic: Was it a difficult task coming up with your voices in this film?
Hank Azaria: I worked with a vocal coach. I like to do that, when it’s an accent. Scandinavian was a new one, on me. We worked to make it really meticulous and get an authentic Scandinavian accent -- and then, we realized that it was funnier, in many places, to have a bad Scandinavian accent, so we went in and out.
Elijah Wood: I just had my own voice, really. This time around, the register was a little bit lower because he’s older. That was the only major difference.
Common: I wanted to bring a new voice, but most of the time George (Miller, director) wanted me to stay in my voice. For some reason, when I hear it now, it doesn’t totally sound like me, so I’m happy about that. I love just being a character.
Movie Fanatic: Can you guys compare the Happy Feet 2 experience with your other experiences, in doing animated films?
Elijah Wood: Going to Australia, this time around, made the experience more immersive. We weren’t in Los Angeles, going home at night to our own homes. We were all staying in the same hotel and it was more of a collective, immersive experience. I loved that about it.
Hank Azaria: This was the most soulful animation experience I’ve ever had. We all recorded together, and we all went to Australia to record together. Not only did that free us up to improvise and bounce off each other a lot, but it became a very intense character exploration. It was one of the most gratifying creative experiences I’ve ever had, in any medium. I really, really enjoyed it.
Common: For me, this was my first film where I got to do voice-over work for an animated character. It was an incredible experience. I was so looking forward to working with George Miller because I just love his creativity. Being able to improvise and be creative, in that creative space, definitely provided me with one of the best creative experiences that I have ever been in. It was a great way for me to start my voice-over, animated acting career. I had a great time. Plus, I got to bring the musical element to it. George wanted my character, Seymour, to be soulful and have a certain essence. I was like, “Man, this really has heart to it. This has meaning to it.” It was really great for me to get into it and use my imagination, in a way that you’re able to when you’re doing this type of work. It was very new for me, and refreshing.
Movie Fanatic: In Happy Feet 2, Mumble’s kid is drawn to an enigmatic figure... As a dad, Common, have you had to compete with anyone with your child?
Common: I have a daughter who’s 14 years old. Being that I’m a musical artist too, she definitely loves what I do, but she always brings up other artists and says they’re getting a little better than me now. That definitely lessens the presents that she gets now. But overall, she’s just trying to keep me sharp and keep me on point, so I’m cool with it.
Movie Fanatic: Common, where did that electric personality for Seymour come from?
Common: From what I got from George, Seymour is somebody who has compassion and is a leader, in his own right. He is a fatherly penguin, but he’s cool too. He has something cool about him, and is about the community. I felt, to the core, that that’s some of the elements of who I am, in many ways, and I felt that I could bring that essence to Seymour. Along with that, just being able to bring hip-hop to it was really cool for me because George allowed us to do improvisation for different things that would come about from the other actors that I was working with. Everybody was bringing something, and it just allowed us to go forward with it. And then, if George heard something that he liked, he would say, “Yeah, that’s it. That’s it, right there. Stay with that.” It was really like being in a freestyle session, to a certain extent. You could improv and come up with great songs and riffs, and different things like that. When I got to know what a lot of the music was going to be, I was really overwhelmed. I loved how the music had a universal tone to it. No matter what walk of life you’re from, you can appreciate the music. Even if you don’t know a particular song, these songs resonate in your soul and your heart, and they really express the universal appeal of the film and what the story is about. It relates to so many walks of life. I love being able to be a part of that type of music. As an artist, that’s the type of music I want to create. It was great to be a part of this.
Movie Fanatic: Hank, since you have considerable experience doing animation work, in a booth by yourself versus with an entire cast together, which do you prefer?
Hank Azaria: In my cranky old age, I actually prefer recording alone now, on The Simpsons, for example, because I find that the director can just focus on what I’m doing and I can do a lot of variations. A lot of times, when I record with a group, I’ll stay after class for another hour or two and go, “Let me try a bunch of things I was thinking of, as you were doing that.” I wasn’t reluctant to do it. I’ve also done a lot of recording together, and that can be more fun. But, I had no idea how much the community of us being together would make a tremendous difference. Not only was it fun, and a very warm, fantastic experience, but we were exploring the characters together, as we were doing it. I was really just trying to find my character. I’ve done theater experiences, where you’re obviously with each other, that have been less united and less of a gratifying experience. That’s George. The environment that he set was extraordinary. A lot of the work was very emotional. It wasn’t just funny. And, both for the improvising and the emotional stuff, it was a tremendously supportive, creative environment. I’ve never experienced that before, in any other situation, honestly. Also, we did so many takes and explored so much. There were two people there, just in charge of keeping track of what was going on in each take, so they could somehow find it again later. Especially with Robin [Williams], you need to keep track of what’s going on. It was fantastic. It really was extraordinary.
Movie Fanatic: Have any of you worked in that manner before with other voice actors in the same room?
Hank Azaria: I had never done that before. A few times, we’d be recording across the room from each other, and then decide to get on the same mic and be close, at George’s suggestion. It was exciting when I got to work with Pink. I’m actually not joking. That was a first for me. You have to always physicalize, when you do animation recording. Otherwise, you won’t get the performance right. But, that was unique.
Elijah Wood: Sometimes, George would grab ahold of me. I had to react to something physically, and he was down there, grabbing onto my leg for a reaction. Sometimes we would get on the floor to record things. It was incredibly physical. For some of the emotional bits, I remember sharing a mic. I think E.G. Daily and I shared a mic for a scene with an emotional moment, and that was beautiful. It really went far and above the standard recording process. It was very immersive.