- Category: Interviews
- Published: Tuesday, 12 July 2016 07:46
- Written by Justine Browning
THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS offers family-friendly fare with a touch of adult humor.
With characters voiced by an impressive cast that includes the likes of Kevin Hart and Lake Bell, each vividly drawn animal is skillfully brought to life.
After Max (Louis C.K.), a terrier finds himself separated from his privileged life in New York, he is aided by Snowball (Hart), a rebellious rabbit, and sets off on the path home. Yet he soon learns that he must return the favor by joining Snowball's gang of abandoned pets.
During a recent press day for the film, held in Jersey City, Bell and costar Bobby Moynihan discussed their connection to their pets, the challenges of working on an animated film and what entertained them as children.
When you got the opportunity to do this, did you think about what animals, what cats what dogs, you knew that you would be able to imbue into your character? Did you decide whether you wanted to own yourself? If you had an opportunity to own that dog or cat, would you want to have that particular dog or cat?
Lake Bell: Interesting question. I play a cat, and I don’t know many cats, like I don’t have any dear friends that are cats. In playing this cat, I have learned a lot about cat culture and the cat community. What I have learned is that their complexity is what makes them great. That’s what I’m going with. I’ve been campaigning so hard for a cat to my husband, just because they’re fluffy, and cute. I also follow a couple cats on Instagram; I don’t know their names, don’t ask. In general, I’m a pet lover. I’ve been trying to get a cat in the household, and I can’t do it because my husband is staunchly a dog dude. That’s kind of where I am right now.
Bobby Moynihan: I never had a dog, but I google images of pugs because I want to find one that looks like my character because I would like to own that dog. I probably won’t, I should never own a dog because I can hardly take care of myself, but I would totally own a pug dog and name it Mel.
Lake: Well guess what, under this table…
Bobby: That would be the greatest!
Now, as to imbuing the character with your inner pugness, do you have anything to add to that? And the same to you Lake, any inner catness?
Bobby: Yeah, I think whoever decided to send the email that I should audition for this went like “It kind of looks like him a little bit.” I feel like maybe that, yeah. I’m a hyper-energetic person sometimes anyway, so it kind of comes across.
Lake: Um, cattiness… The thing that I am different in my Chloeness is that I’m kind of an optimist personally, and Chloe is the antithesis of that. She is a pessimist at all odds. She does enjoy eating, and that is something that I love.
Bobby: We should have switched roles.
Lake: What, are you catty?
Bobby: I’m very catty, I’m always eating, and I walk very very slowly.
Lake: Alright, well we settled that for the sequel.
Do you guys have a favorite pet in the movie?
Lake: Chloe. The cat. Whoever played the cat was great.
Bobby: I’m a big Chloe fan. I always have been, even before I knew you were playing it. It’s just an adorable little cat. When they put out that first trailer with none of our voices, it was just the animals doing stuff, that cat steals that thing. Now, after seeing the movie--
Bobby: Oh yeah, sorry. Now I don’t like her. Doing these interviews, my mind has changed. Just kidding, just kidding! I saw the movie recently and there’s a little silent character, I don’t think he says a word in the whole movie. He’s about this big and looks like a little chihuahua and he’s got giant eyes and he’s just shaking throughout the whole… Something will be going on and he’ll just lean in for a second, and it’s my favorite. It’s absolutely adorable.
How did you get into character?
Lake: When you’re doing animated work, it’s not like you put on a cloak of understanding of this person. What did she eat for breakfast this morning? It’s not like that. It’s a little more lax and it’s definitely fun. There’s not the pressure to delve into your soul to create something. You kind of bring yourself to it and use your own cadence. I certainly enjoyed her sarcasm. We did one incarnation of the characterization and then rethought it and tried something new, and the second version was actually closer to just me versus like “beep boop beep.” I did it as a robot at first and it didn’t work.
Bobby: That was a weird choice. I liked it, for a different movie. I knew I had to be this energetic dog, so a lot of preparing was just coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker so I would just have a cup of coffee before and then I would last as long for screaming for two hours. On the walk home I was very tired.
Lake: I did a lot of shrugging. Like a lot of sighing and shrugging. That was helpful.
Was there any scene that was particularly difficult or challenging for you? Like, you were laughing all the time?
Lake: Because you’re in the booth alone… I would be kind of a crazy person if I just kept laughing by myself. It’s just weird, it’s awkward, because you’re improvising and you’re sort of thinking about what the other person might hypothetically say, just to give the editors options. So if anything, it’s fun because it’s a wonderful and very different exercise for an actor to not have to go through hair and makeup and not have to be conscious about what they’re doing in front of the camera. You’re just free to play with it, even being weird and making funny faces and gesticulating in strange ways. It’s a different experience.
Bobby: You’ll just be standing there and they’ll be like, “alright this is super easy, your character Mel is now on the top of a skyscraper and he’s going to fall down a long yellow tube and then he’s going to come flying out of the other end.” They explain the action that’s happening and you’re like, “alright, wow!” You’re trying to picture all that stuff and then do it, and two years later you get to see it and it’s amazing.
At what point during the process do you get to see what your character actually looks like? And do you get any input as to the look and personality?
Bobby: I got an email saying “would you like to audition for this,” and there was a picture of the character. I saw the picture of the character and I was like yeah, this is absolutely adorable. I love this.
So that early on?
Lake: Yeah, early.
Bobby: That was one of the first things I saw, maybe even before lines or something for me.
Lake: Yeah, it’s basically in your first record. You have to kind of look at that image and think about how that animal would talk. You get that imagery really early on.
Bobby: I’ve had ones where I’ve went in for an audition for something and did a voice, or sent in what I thought was good, and you get there and you get the part and they show you the thing and I’m like “oh, I’m going to do something completely different now.” Because now you see it, and that does inform it.
And do you get any input on what the character looks like or what you think the personality would be like, or is already all in the script?
Lake: The personality: you do your version, like any sort of first take of anything, you’re like, “alright, I’m just going to take a stab in the dark. This is how I think it should be read.” And then the director works with you on notes and stuff. But I think you can kind of get a sense-- we both got to see that visual, so you kind of look at that image of Chloe and her round physique and her smug face, and you go “alright, I understand what the game is here.”
Which kind of animation movie did you love, and which kind of animal, from Bambi to so many others?
Lake: Good question. That’s deep cuts.
Bobby: All I did when I was a kid was watch cartoons. I was super into it. I wanted to be a cartoonist, for a very long time.
Bobby: Yeah, I wanted to draw comic books. That’s all I did as a kid, draw.
Lake: So did I. Big drawer.
Bobby: We should do an animated movie together.
Lake: Oh my god, that’s happening.
Bobby: It’s a great idea. Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies, all that stuff, I think that’s where some of us got our comic timing from.
Lake: Sure, yeah.
Bobby: That kind of comedy I still love, but then I was very into GI Joe and Voltron and those--
Lake: Jem and the Holograms.
Bobby: Jem and the Holograms. Stuff like that.
Lake: He-Man, She Ra.
Bobby: I remember Dumbo having that big effect. But as far as cartoon animals as a child… Winnie the Pooh?
Lake: Tom and Jerry, for me. I remember I recently--
Bobby: Ren and Stimpy.
Lake: Ren and Stimpy was great, as well. Tom and Jerry I looked back on recently and I was like, I wanted to see a Tom and Jerry thing, seeing if I could show it to my daughter, and it was so violent. I was like “oh my god, this is crazy! I’m not showing her this.”
Bobby: Same thing with my sister! She had a kid, I wanted to show him Tom and Jerry stuff but you go like “it is crazy,” but then they have a new Tom and Jerry that I just saw the other day. It’s a 2 hour Tom and Jerry, it’s just an animated version of the Wizard of Oz, but with Tom and Jerry in the middle of it causing problems.
Lake: Say what?
Bobby: All the music, the same plot of Wizard of Oz. It was fascinating.
Lake: Well now we’re plugging that.
What was it like for your audition, and during the production, did you do rehearsal together?
Lake: We literally didn’t meet anybody from the cast, until today. You don’t get to interact with any of the cool people that are in the movie, which is a huge bummer, because I love this cast.
Bobby: I’ve met pretty everybody individually, but just not on this job. Kevin Hart hosted us in [10:47], a bunch of people… I’ve met Jenny Slate, Hannibal Buress, all those guys. I’d met Lake before.
Lake: I just knew Bobby and Jenny.
Bobby: Yeah. But yeah, no rehearsals or anything like that at all.
Lake: It is kind of insane. Really, we are a small part of this process. Really, the heavy lifting and all of the deep, creative, painstaking process of actually making a movie is left to the animators, the editors, the director… that’s where it’s really built. We’re like the seasoning, that just starts the sauce.
Hypothetically, if suddenly in a wild, twisted world, one of your pets would start talking, how would you react and what would you ask it? What conversation would you start off with?
Lake: First of all, I would be like, “listen. I’m not going to tell anyone about this.” That was the first thing that I would say, “I’m going to keep it between you and me. No media, I’m not going to pimp you out to the media.”
Bobby: We’re not going to the government.
Lake: No, we’re not going to go on talk shows.
Bobby: You tell one person you talk, then they’re going to come take you away and do experiments.
Lake: Yeah, I would just make sure that it was a serious secret between the two of us.
Bobby: I would say “What have people been saying about me?”
Lake: Yeah. “When I leave the room…”
Bobby: I would take them to SNL, I would ask why my sketch got cut, and then I would leave the room and send my dog in to find out why.
You kind of touched on this earlier, but when you were recording, did you still find yourself doing facial expressions, doing hand motions, etc?
Lake: Yeah, it’s out of control.
Bobby: It’s almost more exaggerated, I think.
Lake: When you’re acting in front of the camera, you have to really squash those urges. We’re both pretty animated. In front of the camera, it’s no good. It’s too broad and crazy. When you’re recording, it’s all systems go for any type of weird faces you want to make. That also is very liberating, especially because I have a gumby face.
What is it like knowing that you guys now have stuffed animals and other toys of yourself, and do you want to buy one?
Lake: I want to be given one. I don’t buy one.
Bobby: See, I’m going to out myself. I already bought them all.
Lake: You did?
Bobby: I did. There was a little talking Mel doll, I was like, I gotta get it.
Lake: But they didn’t give it to you?
Bobby: I’m sure they might at some point, but I went like “I’m going to buy my own right now.”
Lake: Aw, you’re supporting yourself. I have a one-and-a-half year old, so now I’m like, this is a major moment in my career that my daughter can be like--
Bobby: I gave it to my sister’s kid and he pressed a button and heard my voice and he was like, “What is this? What magic have you handed me? What black magic is this?”
Lake: What sorcery is this?
Now that you have an animated film, is that like a different sense of accomplishment, now that you have something that your kid can watch and their friends can watch? Being a mother, how does that contribute into your creativity?
Lake: Yeah, I’m so proud that I have something that she will be able to see. This movie is the first thing that I will allow her to see, because everything else is either like “ooh, don’t look there,” or… This is a family movie, and it’s my first time being involved in something like this. So yes, it totally makes a difference that one day, maybe I’ll kind of maybe be her hero, because I play a cat. She loves animals.
Do you have any thoughts for your future children?
Bobby: For my future children? Yeah, I hope they’re great. If you’re listening now, I love you. I’m glad you made it. I’m sorry for all the terrible things--
You can show them this now? You have one thing at least?
Bobby: Well they can buy a ticket. I’m just kidding. Yeah, I can’t wait. I’ll probably show it to them way too early, when they can’t even understand it or even see yet, and I’ll be like “that’s Dad!”
A lot of people, when they make an animated film, they always worry “can we appeal to both the adult audience and the kid audience?” That’s always the trick. Did you feel, the script that you saw and the end product you saw, and the characters, that you hit those marks?
Lake: Yeah, absolutely. This movie does a great job of appealing to both. The parents are going to laugh, as well as the children. The children won’t know what the parents are laughing at, and the parents won’t know what the children are laughing at. That’s kind of the way you want it.
Bobby: My first couple lines in the movie, when my character comes in and you meet him for the first time, he talks about how he was given a little white pill and he woke up in the sky, surrounded by suitcases, and then he ended up in Florida. The kids laugh because it’s a dog bouncing around and saying crazy stuff, and the parents get it because they’ve had to do that to their dogs. I think that joke in particular is for both.
Reporter: What did you think of the animated version of New York?
Bobby: Yeah it’s absolutely stunning. The first shot of the movie is this shot of the Brooklyn bridge, and it’s beautiful. I’ve walked across that bridge a million times, I love it. To see it… It’s like seeing the most pristine, glorious version of it ever. Then there’s a big sweeping shot of the city and I’m literally like, that’s my apartment building and there’s my windows. It’s crazy. There’s a shot in the movie, too, and this is just nerdy me, of the dogs on scaffolding on a building. They’re coming around, like at the top of the building, and there’s a bunch of billboards in the background and there’s an SNL billboard. I didn’t know that was happening. There are a lot of SNL people in the movie: me, Jenny Slate, Dana Carvey, Hannibal worked there, Albert Brooks, Louis, a lot of them host… It blew me away for two reasons. As a fan, I always wanted to be on SNL. Got to do it, I got very lucky and then to see it in that was great. The other thing was just SNL would never pay for a billboard, so that made me laugh. They would never put a billboard in Times Square, but it was pretty sweet to see.