An old holiday classic is getting a fresh coat of paint with The Grinch. This animated reboot comes from Illumination, the animation studio responsible for hits like Minions, Sing, and previous Dr. Seuss adaptation, The Lorax.
The original voice of Christmas's most notorious ne'er-do-well was horror legend Boris Karloff, best known for his roles in films like 1931's Frankenstein and 1932's The Mummy. In the 2000 live-action version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, the title character was played by Jim Carrey under layers of make-up, for which the film won an Academy Award.
This time around, the title character of The Grinch is voiced by star of stage and screen, Benedict Cumberbatch. Best known for his roles as Sherlock Holmes in the acclaimed BBC series and as Doctor Strange in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Cumberbatch has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most talented, charming, and utterly likable thespians working in the movie business.
The actor spent some time answering our questions about The Grinch, shared some of his favorite childhood Christmas classics, and expressed his enthusiasm for Netflix's upcoming release of Andy Serkis' Jungle Book adaptation, Mowgli.
Before we begin, don't worry, I'm not even gonna ask about Doctor Strange and The Avengers, since I know I'm not getting anything out of you!
Yeah. That would waste all of our time! (laughs)
You have an incredible voice. You've done a lot of voice acting, from narration and animation to motion capture. So what drew you to this role in The Grinch?
I think the book has certainly been part of my childhood, but it's not as popular as it is in the States. I knew the book, but I didn't know the Boris Karloff or Jim Carrey incarnations, but I was aware of the Carrey one, but I think I was too old to watch it. I mean, I was in my 20s, it was about twenty years ago. Anyway, the point being, I was very flattered. It's Illumination doing an animated feature, and what's not to love about The Grinch? He's wonderful, iconic, and green. It was a joy to be a grinchy Grinch. It was terrific. They wanted me to use my natural accent for the voice, which was very nice, and they said they loved the way I speak, but I thought, he's gotta be American, especially in the context that the rest of the cast is mostly American. It took four of five sessions to get the voice right. The script was so good, and Illumination's back catalogue was so good. The animation I got when I came in was very limited, but it was already very exciting. It was just excellent.
I saw it earlier this week, and it's so charming, I loved it. You've done a lot of motion capture work, The Hobbit, Mowgli, even Dormammu in Doctor Strange. I know this isn't the same as that, but is there a collaborative process of putting you in the animation? You said it wasn't done when you were recording.
You can't really see where it's going. One thing I like about mo-cap and facial cap is, in the way you're creatively morphing, but in animation, you can't do anything about it yourself. It's a really fun thing to rely just on animation and the director, first and foremost, who gives you context to bring you to a place where you're understanding what you're doing, and then it's up to the animators to actually make it look like a real face.
It's been a long time coming, but Mowgli is finally on its way. It doesn't have a date yet on Netflix, but I'm excited to see you in another motion capture role. After Serkis himself, I feel like you're the preeminent ambassador of motion capture, making it mainstream.
That's very kind of you. I think Toby Kebbell is probably way way ahead of me on that, though!
You've got time to catch up! But anyway, what can you tell me about Mowgli?
It's like a battle for Andy Serkis, it's his passion project, and it was so hard when Disney brought out their beautiful, updated version, and it's so hard to have two at the same time. But you know what? It is so different, and it's so much nearer to the book, it will have a wonderful ride, I think. He's a very clever man, Andy; not only is he the godfather of motion capture, but even without the final rendering of the avatars, he's phenomenal, I mean Oscar-worthy. And to be directed by someone in that style was exciting enough, but when it's a friend and someone who is good an actor as Andy, it was just a joy to do, and it was a wonderful, extraordinary role. Shere Khan. Of course, he doesn't have a light side to him, or doesn't learn. He's too far gone, he's a damaged creature.
Before, you said The Grinch wasn't as ubiquitous on your side of the ocean as it is on mine.
Yeah, I don't remember it being featured in our Christmases. I mean, we had A Christmas Carol, which is a very similar story, it's the same paradigm as The Grinch, for certain, the idea of Scrooge's journey.
So, what are some of your Christmas and Holiday favorites from your childhood?
Definitely Scrooge, and the updated Bill Murray version, Scrooged, I absolutely adored that. I was a big Bill Murray fan, growing up, and still am, obviously, but that's something I loved after Ghostbusters, I loved his style. Actually, Ghostbusters is a bit of a Christmas film, but it's not really Christmas-y that much... It's a Wonderful Life, and Trading Places, as well!