As the press conference for DreamWorks’ “How To Train Your Dragon” began last Friday, an unpleasant noise echoed through the hall. Anyone familiar with the sound a mobile device can make near speakers knows the chirp. Recognizing it immediately, someone asked, “Does someone have a Blackberry on?” The assembled cast – which featured Craig Ferguson, Jay Baruchel, America Ferrara and Gerard Butler – all gave each other quizzical looks until Ferguson shouted, “It’s the Tweeters! You people are nothing to me; only tweeting! You are the old way! Tweeting is the new way! So long, suckers!” His phone was immediately confiscated. Following that silliness, CBR News listened in as the group discussed voicing animated characters, relating to awkward characters and, of course, Scottish accents.
“Why would you choose me, when these guys were doing a fucking American accent?” joked Butler when asked about using his natural tone. “That’s the least Viking accent you could imagine.”
Baruchel added, “If anything, theirs are closer to how they actually would have sounded than us. We sound like we’re from the fucking food court at the mall.”
Turning to something slightly more serious, Butler related a startling discovery he made while listening to his vocal tracks. “This was the only movie that I’ve ever made or will make that, after watching it for the first time, made me realize that my accent was not Scottish enough. I realized I was doing this kind of mid-Atlantic thing. I was like, ‘What is that?’ I was kind of stuck in the middle. I felt that it needed a bit more. I think a strong Celtic accent lends itself to Viking-ness. [It] lends itself any kind of warrior breed. It was the same in ‘300’ as well.”
Butler’s role as Stoick the Vast, leader of the Viking tribe of the film, marks his first entry into providing a voice for an animated character, an experience that the actor said he found to be freeing. “You’re not constrained by false beards and uncomfortable costumes, and you can do what you want in there. You don’t have to look at a hundred and fifty extras, who you know are sitting there going, ‘What the fuck are you talking about? You look like an idiot who’s wearing leather underpants, right now,'” he joked.
“What movie could you possibly be referring to?” Baruchel asked
Butler smiled and answered, “Nimm’s Island” before continuing with his point. “But then again, sometimes you miss the opportunity to be out there, actually on location with the true environment around you. More than anything, it was cool because it was different. It was something that I’d never done before.”
“I’m a better actor for having done this movie because having to only speak, it robbed me of some of my crutches. I gesture like a son-of-a-bitch and I am real fidgety,” said Baruchel, who plays Hiccup, the film’s protagonist. “When it was just my nasal-ass voice, I had to figure out a way to sell stuff. So, it was like going to acting school for three years, in a way. And then, to see how it turned out..I had real high expectations, but this just shattered all of them”
Ferrara plays Astrid, a new character added into the film’s story. Doing the character’s voice was a discovery process for the actress. “It took awhile for the filmmakers and for us – at least with my character – to figure out who and what my character was, and how tomboyish she should be. Did we want her to be softer? Did we want her to be rougher? How much did she like Hiccup? How much didn’t she? Over the course of three years, we really played with that.” While most of the final dialogue is pulled from tracks the actors performed separately, the schedule allowed for different groups of actors to record together. Ferrara recalled a group session being key to forming Astrid. “I didn’t feel like I knew who my character was until I got in the booth with Jay.”
Ferguson added, “I’m actually Scottish, so it was pretty easy for me to do that voice. It was fun to work on something like this. My signature thing is that I’m usually in crap, so to be in something good is kind of ‘off the brand’ for me. I think that’s fair to say; it’s usually crap,” the late-night chat show host joked. “But, I think I’m not in this enough to ruin it. Which, I think [the directors] just judged it right. It’s like if you put the right spice in a dish, it’s terrific. If you put too much in, it’s terrible and inedible. They had just the right amount of me. You don’t need much.”
When asked if any of the actors related to their characters, Baruchel responded, “Look at me,” referring to his slight physique. “I always spent plenty of time behind closed doors, writing and drawing, or doing whatever, and just escaping into my daydreams. Any of us weird kids can identify with that. Hiccup (short, scrawny and has trouble picking up weapons) is a great analogy for every kid that isn’t playing sports in high school.”
The more athletic Butler offered, “I actually think Hiccup is a great analogy for every kid, even if they’re playing sports. There’s still that coming of age thing where you want to get the girl, you want your friends to like you, you want your family to be proud of you. I don’t think there’s a teen in the world who doesn’t go through that process of feeling awkward and being the odd one out. It’s very in accordance with history that we all go through that same thing.”
“I was always the girl who, when I was younger, I played baseball with the boys,” Ferrara recalled. “So, I think I definitely related to Astrid, and I thought it was so cool that Dean [DeBlois] and Chris [Sanders, the directors who came onto the project in 2008 and were asked to tweak the material in an effort to broaden the age of the audience] cared enough to amp up Astrid as a character. They made Astrid and Hiccup’s relationship stronger and they really gave that character a purpose.” In the film, Astrid hopes to be the best of the new dragon slayer recruits. “So, I totally related to the character. I was super-happy that girls can now go watch this movie and say, ‘I can train a dragon, too.'”
The actors all agree the best aspect of being involved in an animated project is that first time they get to see the finished product. “When you see it, you go, ‘Wow, I didn’t know thiss1ennaaa magical, spectacular, wonderful world that we all entered into was there,'” said Butler.
“It’s unbelievable,” agreed Baruchel.
Ferrara added, “The animators do their work and create the humanity in the characters through their animation. They’re more than half of the performance, I would say.”
“How To Train Your Dragon” opens Friday, March 26.