We had the opportunity to speak with the film’s voice star, Kodi Smit-Mcphee (Norman), about working with co-stars Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and newcomer Tucker Albrizzi and his take on this unique tale of friendship, the undead and the power of fear.
You aged a bit through the course of the production. I know one of the things people have talked about is how your voice changed over time, but I’m wondering how your perspective on the story actually shifted over time.
“Yeah, absolutely, my perspective on the movie is quite different because when I started I was 14 years old, and I saw some of the messages in the script, but I saw it more [as] the fun adventure that it was. And then as I got older I see that it’s a big movie about bullying, and staying true to who you are and standing up to your fears and stuff and there’s really a lot of subliminal kind of messages there. And it definitely doesn’t push it, but they’re still there and I definitely saw them as I got older.”
What I like about the story is that I see it as something that’s using the horror genre to look at fear and playing with the popular tropes of horror to illustrate how we often make poor decisions in everyday life based on fear.
“The story is about that fear of the unknown. When the grandma says ‘It’s okay to be afraid, just don’t let it change who you are,’ I think that captures it. Everyone has moments in life when they’re scared, but if you just stay true to who you are, and you stay brave like Norman does, well, that’s how he becomes who he’s supposed to be. The hero.”
I think the other great thing is that it, like most great animated films, works as an adult and child’s level simultaneously.
“It does. It has Jason references and Freddy Kruger and all of those iconic horror movies as well as the ‘Goonies’ and with the van and the mystery it feels like Scooby Doo. So I think for the adults they can kind of reminisce about those things but for the kids it really is taking all of that and mixing it up for them as well.”
I had the opportunity to visit the set at LAIKA and I was just amazed at the intricate, complicated, painstaking process that is stop-motion animation. Did you get the opportunity to visit the production? And if so, did it inform your performance at all?
“I did go, yes. It was overwhelming. I had no idea how much work went into it. And it helped my performance. Being surrounded by the whole town and seeing Norman’s little puppets and Neil it really fills in your imagination.”
Take a look at the short featurette below to get a feel for the work that goes into just one small detail in the film:
I love Norman’s relationship with Neil in the film. My understanding is that you were able to work with Tucker Albrizzi, who voices Neil, in person and do some improv. How do you think that impacted your performance?
“Yeah. I worked with Tucker and Anna (Kendrick) and Chris (Mintz-Plasse). I think it’s pretty rare in animated films for the actors to work together and it really makes the conversations very natural when you actually interact with someone there. I’d love to work with Chris and Anna again. They’ve done some of my favorite comedy movies. My favorite funny scene in ‘ParaNorman’ is when Alvin (Mintz-Plasse’s character) is dancing.”
Has this film inspired you to want to do more comedy?
“You don’t really get to choose what you want to do. You just choose what you want to be portrayed as. I think I’d like to be an actor like Johnny Depp who he can do comedy and people love him and he can do something really deep and people love that, too.”
You play Benvolio in the upcoming Romeo and Juliet. What can audiences expect from this version of the tale?
“If I could compare it to anything it would be Franco Zeffirelli but even he did change the characters a bit. He made them a bit older so this is really sticking to Shakespeare’s original play. All of the characters are really young and it’s really just ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for this generation with people that this generation loves: Douglas Booth, Hailee Steinfeld and Paul Giamatti. I hadn’t been training for it at all but when I read it and read the original and did a bit more research on Shakespeare I really had a passion for it. It was something that I really wanted to do.”
You also worked with Paul Giamatti on The Congress, which looks very interesting. What can you say about that one?
“That one’s great. It’s a sci-fi film that’s half animation and half live-action. It’s amazing. Not 3D animation – hand drawn. Really cool. It’s set in the future and Robin Wright plays herself. Basically people are taking 3D sculpts of humans and using that in movies. So, it does have this 3D animation that is so lifelike that you can’t tell the difference between that and live-action and the hand drawn. It’s a crazy mix of everything.”
That’s one we’ll definitely be looking out for.
ParaNorman is in theaters now.
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