Shane Acker‘s 9 starring Elijah Wood hits theaters tomorrow on 9-9-09! The film is probably the most original and inspired films to hit theaters this year. The film is about 9 puppet like creators in a post-apocalyptic world who have to fight against the machines for survival. That is until 9 comes along with his fearless inquisitiveness and stirs up trouble and possible answers.
We spoke to Wood a little while ago about the dark tone of the movie, which in the US is odd and yet refreshing to see in an animation, as well as what NEVER to do while recording voice overs, Spyro the movie (or lack there of), his random appearance in the Puppet Master and a whole lot more…
For me, one of the great things about the movie was the facial expressions. How much did you get to see in terms of the animation before or while you were during your voice work?
Elijah Woods: A fair amount. When things were even in their rough stages, we got to see them. But, that didn’t really happen until a year and a half to two years in. Largely what we were seeing initially was pre-vis and also animated storyboards. It’s such a gratifying thing because you do spend this time, even though you have a connection with the character and you have a sense of what the character is going to do and look like, it’s another thing entirely when you start to see it physically moving with your voice. It’s such an amazing [experience]. It’s a wonderful part of the process. It’s extremely rewarding. It’s also very solitary. A lot of the time you’re in this booth imbuing this character with a sense of life in a stationary position and then those words get shipped to these animators and sometimes there’s up to 30 people working on your movements and face and stuff. It’s a whole other process that’s totally fascinating and then it all comes together.
How long did you work on this project?
Elijah Woods: Three years.
What is Shane like as a director and what’s the difference between working with an animation person and a feature film director who’s working in live action with actors?
Elijah Woods: Great question. Shane is great as a director. I think we all recognized that we were in the hands of the person that created these characters. I was a real fan of his short which is largely why I wanted to do the film. I understood that he also came from an animation background. He actually worked at Weta Digital on the last Lord of the Rings movie as an animator. I don’t know if anybody knew that. So, working with him, he was able to describe things in a really detailed way. I think he was able to articulate what he wanted from the character, both physically and emotionally, and the arc really well. But, I think also a huge strong point [was] just being that he has the whole world in his mind ultimately of what he wants to describe. He was very good at being able to describe what that was and setting up the environment. I think that’s probably one of the more challenging aspects of doing voice is that you are in a room, you have the script, you have a notion of what’s supposed to happen, but it helps when you’ve got some descriptive words that can describe what’s going on in the scene, for sure, if you don’t have any images.
What was it about the character that resonated with you?
Elijah Woods: Well, I like the journey that he takes. He comes into this world extremely naïve because he doesn’t have any perspective as to what had transpired and who ‘1’ through ‘8’ are and they’ve already established a sort of hierarchy. They’ve established a community that is built on keeping themselves away from what they fear. Then he comes in and says, “Well wait, why have you set this up and who are we and where did these machines come from?” He comes with all of these questions. I really responded to his fearlessness and his questioning and ultimately taking on board the fact that he has to help bring these people together to see what they are and how to ultimately combat the machines. He ultimately becomes heroic and courageous throughout the course of the journey with these characters. But, it’s also a very cerebral one. He’s the one getting them to all answer questions and think outside of the fear that they’ve established.
Which one was more difficult, Sin City, where during the making of it they show that you don’t even go into the same room with Mickey Rourke…
Elijah Woods: Yeah, Mickey Rourke and I are literally not in the same scene.
I was wondering which was more difficult, doing that stuff or voicing characters that you’ve only seen a few images of. Which one was more challenging?
Elijah Woods: They are definitely different challenges. The thing I’ll say about Sin City is, despite the fact that I didn’t work with Mickey Rourke, it wasn’t as if there was dialogue. That would have been different. Jessica Alba did scenes without him where they talked to each other. I can’t even imagine that. Well, I guess I can, because I did some of that in Lord of the Rings. That’s harder because you’re having to carry on a scene with someone who’s not there or isn’t the right actor and they get fused together. Whereas, I was being physical and I didn’t necessarily have to talk. So, at least I got to be physical with someone who was Mickey’s stunt double. That wasn’t super challenging. I didn’t necessarily need the environment around me to be able to do what I was doing.
Whereas, with voice work, there is a lot that you have to create. I think the most challenging aspect of it is making your voice sound like it’s experiencing something that it isn’t. You’re not running, you’re not jumping, you’re not falling, you’re not being ripped from one place to another, so you have to figure out how you do that vocally and that it’s convincing. But I love that. I think it’s a lot of fun.
How do you do that? Are you running in place? That’s fascinating.
Elijah Woods: There’s some of that and I think also, physically, you can’t help it. You can’t help but move. You kind of have to. It’s almost not even a choice. It’s sort of almost like a reflex because you know what your character is doing and so you do something similar to that just naturally because that’s what your voice wants to do. But yeah, you run in place and you try and get a sense of breathlessness.
What are the big mistakes of doing voice over? What are the absolute verboten don’ts?
Elijah Woods: (Laughs) Don’t go in too hungry. You’ll have a lot of problem with stomach gurgles. These are the things… This is the mundane shit that you don’t think about. Yeah, stomach gurgles. It’s so interesting.
It is! What else?
Elijah Woods: Dry mouth. There’s that. There’s water, but then not too much water. You kind of just know. You can’t move too much because if you move too much, then there’s rustling noises of your clothing so that goes into it. It’s interesting. The mic picks up so much so a stomach gurgle there would have been horrible. We’d have to go again.
What about breathing? A lot of it were fight scenes where you could hear two different people breathing.
Elijah Woods: They do like grab bag breathing takes. Oh yeah. We did that sometimes with ADR on movies too where you do a whole wild take of breaths and efforts and they tend to do that towards the end of the day. It’s like grabbing things, falling, being hit [makes different sounds to demonstrate]. You have to get different versions so it’s like long, short, more intense, less intense. It’s the whole world of voice, guys.
Who wins in a fight: the penguin in Happy Feet vs. ‘9’?
Elijah Woods: (Laughing) Well they’re both pacifists! There would be no fight.
There are so many themes in this movie about the apocalypse and what it means to be consumptive and what it means to be a pacifist or not. What were some of the ones that really resounded with you that you thought were the most interesting to put out to an audience?
Elijah Woods: People are connecting certainly to the theme of technology being our downfall and I think that’s certainly in there, but it’s also technology at the hands of greed and it’s at the hands of power hungry people. It’s ultimately humanity that corrupts the machinery to turn on humanity and I thought that was interesting because the scientist creates this machine for peace. The great Chancellor announces this machine that will lead us into 100 years of peace, but then that machine gets circumvented and turned into a war machine and then the war machine turns on man. I just loved that. I thought that was very interesting and I think it’s something that we can certainly relate to – common themes of greed and lust for power, but also technology and what our relationship with technology is and could it eventually turn on us. But, I don’t necessarily think that’s what the movie is about.
There are a lot of films coming out right now with themes of vampirism and the Apocalypse.
Elijah Woods: (Laughing) What’s up with vampirism these days?
It’s the Twilight thing. It’s about bloodsuckers and us being our own downfall and destroying the universe.
Elijah Woods: Right. The Road is coming out. It’s kind of about that same thing.
Zombieland, Carriers, there’s all these films, and this in its own way is about the Apocalypse.
Elijah Woods: It is. It’s about the aftermath of it. I also think that the heart of this movie is ultimately about rebuilding and I think it’s about humanity. Humanity is in these characters. We’re talking about – people have used the word ‘stitch punk’ which I think is kind of funny. It’s in the press kit. There are these sort of mechanized rag dolls but they do represent humanity. I think the movie is really about the aftermath of something horrible that had happened and these characters rebuilding after that has happened and ultimately putting to rest the machines or the creations that had caused that problem. I feel this movie is more about hope and discovery and rebuilding life than it is about the end of life per se.
You did a Spyro Video Game. Are they doing a movie now also?
Elijah Woods: I don’t know. I’ve not heard that.
I saw that online.
Elijah Woods: Really? Spyro, the movie?
Elijah Woods: I don’t know. Maybe. I haven’t heard.
Was there anything in seeing the finished product that surprised you?
Elijah Woods: I was surprised how scary it was. Some of those action sequences are really scary and also the machines. The Seamstress is so creepy. The Cat Beast is really scary. Those action sequences I found to be more visceral and intense than I’d expected them to be.
Was the darkness and the dark humor in it something that interested you in participating in the project? Did that resonate with you?
Elijah Wood: Yeah, totally. I think we have, and we’ve established this over many, many years, but the United States and their relationship with animation tends to be more geared towards families and children. There are exceptions certainly to that rule. Pixar does a beautiful job of teetering on the edge of both. They appeal to families and children, but they also appeal to adults. But, there are so many animated movies that are just for families, it seems, whereas, in Japan, if you go to Japan, there are movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell that are like adult movies in the animation medium. That’s definitely something that appealed to me about this particular film.
It felt like it was separating itself from some of the typical animation fare that we’re used to and appealing to a wider audience, an audience that might go see this kind of thing if it weren’t animated. The darkness, or maybe some of the more intense or adult themes, interested me as well. But, there’s also just the world. Shane definitely created something that is familiar but is also quite different. We haven’t seen these characters before. The fact that he made that short film over the course of four years and it was his college thesis is fascinating. He did it all by himself.
What inspired Yo Gabba Gabba? I have a 4-year-old brother that was watching it and all of a sudden I saw you pop on. It was a complete surprise…
Elijah Woods: Do the Puppet Master.
Just in case you haven’t seen it, here is a boot-legged version, the original seems to be lost in a sea of remakes…
Was there an argument between Lift Your Leg, Lift Your Other Leg and Lift Your Right Leg, Lift Your Left Leg?
Elijah Woods: I don’t know. I came into that because I know one of the producers on it. When they were trying to get people to do the pilot, he asked me if I wanted to do it and I was busy at the time. But then they came back around when they got the deal with Nickelodeon, like “Do you want to be on an episode?” And I just loved what they were doing. I just thought for a children’s TV show, it was pretty amazing to have Biz Markie do a human beatbox of the day and Mark Mothersbaugh doing drawings that come to life. I just thought that’s the coolest TV show ever. They just asked me to do it.
Check out Elijah Wood as ’9′ in 9 on 9-9-09!