Danny DeVito is one of those actors who’ll entertain you, your grandpa, and the 5-year-old in your family. Whether he’s playing the delusional Frank Reynolds on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia“, or voicing some cute animated character, he’ll be sure to entertain just about anyone. That’s what happens when you’ve been making movies for over four decades. In his latest, Mr. DeVito takes on Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. We recently got the chance to speak with him about voicing the incredibly cute, wise and fluffy Lorax, the environmental message behind the movie, and the future of Frank Reynolds. Find out what he had to say below…
You just saw a screening of the movie. What did you think of it?
Danny DeVito: It’s fantastic. I was so excited to see it. They did such a great job in 3-D and the whole deal.
Was the first version you saw in English?
DeVito: I had been looking at the film in Spanish, Italian, German and Russian and I dubbed my voice in all those languages. This is the thing, I don’t speak any of those languages. I speak a tiny bit of Italian, but I did it all with coaches and phonetically. It was a lot of work. It was something that once you cop to it and you say, “I’m going to do it”, but the water is really cold when you get in. You go, “Oh my God, that mountain is high.” You’re at the plateau and you say, “Okay we can rest here”. You look up and there’s the tip of the mountain and you go “Okay, we did German and Italian and there’s Russian.” But we had a great time.
How did you actually record in all those languages?
DeVito: Oh no, we did the whole thing in Spanish and Castilian; Spain and Mexico are too different things. I did both. There are about 40 words in Spain that are different but they don’t say Thneed. They say something else for that. I would tackle one (language) at a time. Chris Melendandri, who produced the movie, he brought in people from each country so I had two Italians with me, one on either side who spoke English and Italian and a technician in the back working. Sometimes the lines were very long so there was no way for me, in German or in Russian to get through that entire line without messing up some intonation. I really wanted to capture the performance and I didn’t want people to think I had an accent.
So are you getting angry letters from other voice-over actors because you took their jobs?
DeVito: No. I did some Russian interviews on the phone and I said, “I know you guys have great actors to do this”. It was just one of those things where I got it in my head to do it and once I said I would do it, I didn’t want to back down even though I did think this time I’m taking a job away from (other actors). It’s a fun thing but it’s time consuming. I thought it was going to be a couple of days. I’d do German in a couple of days. Right! It took more like a week.
Was it hard to concentrate on the other languages and keep the spirit of the character?
DeVito: It wasn’t hard. The way I did it, I learned phonetically the lines first, I got them comfortable where I was making one, two mistakes, and then I listened to what I had done already in the movie, and then I remembered where I was. The spirit of it and the intonations. It was fun, something that had never been done before, and I thought it was really cool to try.
Having just seen the movie, what’s your takeaway?
DeVito: I was pleasantly surprised. Now like I said, I’d been seeing little scenes while doing the dubbing in different languages. The first thing that knocked me out was how rich and beautiful it looked when they were going down the streets and seeing the trees. The fact that the characters were true to the people who played the parts; with Taylor, Zac, Betty and Ed, everything was falling into place. I felt very happy about that because I set out to speak to not only the kids in the audience and their parents but I also wanted my fans who know me from other kinds of movies or other TV shows, like say for “Sunny”, I wanted them to think, this is like Frank Reynolds doing The Lorax. I felt we captured that thing really well.
Frank Reynolds likes to hang out under a bridge, The Lorax evidently lives in a tree stump, where would you prefer to hang out?
DeVito: Either place is fine as long as it’s sheltered from the cold. A bridge, a tree, a pool hall (laughs). I thought that was cool when he came out of the stump. That was really fun. At first, when I read the script, I thought he was a guy who lives in the forest, and he does, but he’s magical and comes out of a tree stump. That’s big, with all the lightning and thunder.
What are your thoughts on the green message in the film, and what do you hope people take away from seeing the film?
DeVito: It gave that message and offered it to folks. It wasn’t like beating them over the head. It was a really nice presentation of that. The only thing the Once-ler did wrong besides got greedy with the Thneeds is that he didn’t provide for the Earth in any other way. That’s when Ted, the Zac Efron character, comes to him, and he redeems himself because he saves the seed. That’s a message we can all take away. It’s not saying we can’t be inventive and still think of things to sell or make or manufacture, but the idea is that if we’re going to take the goods from the Earth, the supplies, the materials from anywhere, we should think about the sustainability of it, the replenishing of it. That’s why the focus goes to “Unless”, as Dr. Seuss said, “unless someone like you,” meaning everybody out there, all of us, meaning me. I was the first person on my block to have an EV1 (electric car) way back when, but then they took it away. We do a lot in our house. There are no plastic bottles, paper towels or napkins. It’s all cloth. It’s a little bit more work but it pays off in the environment in the end. We also use Seventh Generation toilet paper. I don’t know what else to operate that function with (laughs). Last month I bought a Leaf. I don’t have any cars that are gas-guzzlers now in my entire family now. We had the Prius, which is a really good car. There’s a Chevy Volt out that has a 40-mile range on electricity, and the rest you can travel on gas. I wanted to go all they way, all electric, so I got rid of the cars. We still do have a Prius, and my daughter drives the Prius, but I drive the Leaf, and it’s a fantastic car. You plug it in at night, you get at least 80 miles of charge and you run around Hollywood or wherever you’re going or back and forth. I just did a movie downtown. I drove it downtown, put it in the parking lot and had plenty of juice left. It drives on the freeway. It’s a really fast car, and quiet as can be. I’m just hoping everybody goes out and explores the possibility of getting a car with zero emissions because it’s a great thing, but back to the movie, I’m really quiet pleased with it. I think people all over the world are going to like it. I’m excited.
Did you notice any of your movements in the Lorax?
DeVito: Yeah. I’ll say something and make a move or do a gesture and that was all in there. The other stuff I found surprising was the sweetness kind of worked out too. I felt like the Lorax had a sweetness about him.
Had you done any other voice over work prior to “The Lorax?”
DeVito: I was in “My Little Pony,” and I also did Philoctetes in “Hercules.”
So, what’s coming up for Frank Reynolds?
DeVito: We start again in July. We have two more seasons that we made deals for, and I think it’s just going to get wilder. When I left the show, this year, this 7th season, my hair was different. It was black. I bleached it blonde, and cut it all off right after the show, and I went back to them and said, “What are we going to do?” I don’t know what’s going to happen. Probably in the Spring we’ll start thinking about crazy stuff to do. Let’s see what happens in the world, because a lot of it has to do with what’s going on in the world so we’re really happy about what happened with Bloomberg and how he dealt with that situation, not politicizing the health of women, which is a good thing. It was a nasty thing for them to do, but a good thing that came out in the open, we see what people are made of out there in the world. They don’t think in terms of individuals and their health, they think about their few radical, extreme base points or whatever it is that they are trying to make in their political careers so that they could become millionaires.
Greed, like in this movie.
DeVito: Yeah we humans operate most of the time on greed and fear. Somebody will scare the hell out of us and we’ll follow them anywhere. We’ve all experienced that where we blindly follow. I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan and he always talks in the middle of his (songs), and there was one that’s probably on “Born In The USA”. He gives a little talk to the audience about blindly following our leaders. It’s so prophetic because it was done like so many years ago, and it’s true. You have to be aware of it and sensible and we all have to get involved and make sure we’re calling people on stuff. You can’t just say, well just because he’s wearing the shiny hat, he’s the guy that knows everything. That’s certainly not true. Not to get all political, but we have to clean up our messes.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax opens March 2, 2012.