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Inside 'Gnomeo and Juliet' with Elton John, James McAvoy and Emily Blunt

Along with Director Kelly Asbury and Producer David Furnish


Elton John gnome in Gnomeo and Juliet

Elton John as a gnome

© Touchstone Pictures

Sir Elton John, James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Kelly Asbury and David Furnish Gnomeo and Juliet Press Conference

Elton, can you compare Lion King with this experience and what have you learned and appreciate about animation having done Gnomeo and Juliet?

Elton John: "With The Lion King I learned...it came my way in 1993 thanks to Tim Rice I have always collaborated in my career as a song writer and I loved the idea and the journey and collaboration with everyone on The Lion King. I’m a team player, really. That’s why I like doing the musicals and I’ve always had a songwriting partner as I said. What you learn is to leave your ego at the door because no matter what you write, if it's not right - for example Billy Elliot we left three songs which were really great songs out of Billy Elliot which would have made the show four hours long. It can’t happen. You have to be prepared to say, 'Okay, I’m going fight for this song but if you really want to get rid of it then that’s fine.' You've got to do that and you've got to listen to the team as a whole."

"There's been so many times where we’ve convened during these 11 years and the film was taking a different course, whatever, and you have to be a team player. You have to hold hands when things are going badly and hold hands when things are going well. You really have to, as an important member, have to be there for everybody else on the team. I’ve always liked that during my career. I’ve always had the good fortune to have a long-standing songwriting partner who I’ve been with for 44 years. It’s just another way of sharing a joyful experience of creating something."

"But you really do have to leave your ego at the door. If I was to say, 'Well, this song's going in or I’m walking off on the film,' there’s none of that s**t. You just have to be patient and you have to watch things, how they evolve. You have to be there for the good of the whole and not just you as a component of the piece."

Did the two of you meet before starting voice work? Did you two rehearse together?

Emily Blunt: "They tried to keep us apart."

James McAvoy: "She’s not very easy to work with."

Emily Blunt: "James is really temperamental so they didn’t want us in the same room."

James McAvoy: "But with that temperament comes genius."

Basically the two of you didn’t meet before?

Emily Blunt: "We met socially a couple of times, but we were nervous. We were both kind of thinking when we first got onboard for this, 'It'll be great. We'll be in the same room and we'll riff and we’ll improv,' but we improv'd separately of each other."

Is there one song in the movie that you really liked from years ago that you said, "Yes, that’s the song I love?" And if so, which one?

Elton John: "Well I think for me one of the funniest sequences of the movie and I think it’s very important I think if you’re British to take the piss out of yourself. You're raised to do that in England which is rather good. I think the scene with 'Your Song' when Stephen Merchant plays the character of the Paris gnome and then suddenly there I am, the Glam-gnome - the Gnomo-sexual in the film."

Kelly Asbury: "We left that off the poster."

Elton John: "And when he sings 'It's a little bit runny...,' I loved it when I saw that. That brings back very good memories of the song I’ve sung every time I’ve done a show since 1970. I have to say that moment is quite funny and I love that moment."

This is an impressive cast. Can you tell us briefly about that? And also, how come you didn't have Ozzy singing in the soundtrack?

Kelly Asbury: "The cast really was for us, we cast the movie the way it should be done and that is appropriate to the character. One of the processes that we use is the casting director brought us several different voices and didn’t tell us who they were. We listened to them and looked at a picture of the character and as a result you sort of start seeing what sounds appropriate and right. That’s how all the characters were cast in the movie."

"Ozzy Osbourne was one exception and Dolly Parton was another exception in that we reached a point where we had this little concrete cute deer and we thought, 'Who would be the least expected voice to come out of that character?' And David said, 'What about Ozzy Osbourne?' That pretty much stuck. Luckily, you're friends with Ozzy and Ozzy was happy to do it. Why he didn’t sing? He does sing a lullaby briefly, but that’s the only song we got out of him."

Elton, what is it like for you to be in film producer land?

Elton John: "You do nothing. Absolutely nothing. I get this title called executive producer and I go on my own tour and just say, 'Get on with it!' and that’s the role of executive producer - and that’s the truth."

"All jokes aside, there have been a couple of times when the movie's been kind of in danger of being dropped by the studio, Disney, where I’ve had to make a phone call to the head of studio saying, 'Listen, it's me. We have to have a meeting. We have come so far that we can not lose the film now.' That’s my job as the executive producer is to try and rally the team when the team has no other means of communicating with the studio and then, 'Here I am! Wonderpoof!'"

How are the adventures in daddyland?

Elton John: "It's fantastic. I love the smell of nappies. Actually, it's been the most...obviously it has been the most wonderful thing that probably has ever happened to me after meeting David. It's really been the most surprising [thing] is that it's been very relaxing because this little soul you’re feeding and you're changing, bathing and telling bedtime stories to is a blank palette, a blank canvas, and all he needs is love and nurturing. It is the most wonderful feeling. When he gets to talking and running around I’ll probably feel a little different. James has a little boy. How old is he?"

James McAvoy: "He’s just wee. He’s just tiny still, but he’s getting there."

Elton John: "Is he running around?"

James McAvoy: "Oh no, no, not yet."

Elton John: "Is he talking?"

James McAvoy: "Gibberish."

Elton John: "Well, there you go, a bit like us up here. What can I tell you? It's wonderful and I’m biased."

Elton, when you go on tour now, how different does it feel to be on stage at this stage of your career? Does it feel different compared to 20 or 30 years ago?

Elton John: "I think it’s so much more comfortable for me now. I’ve always enjoyed and loved playing live. I’ve relished and cherished it more than anything else because you never know what the performance is going to be. These guys will tell you that if you go on stage some nights and you do a performance and you're feeling great, sometimes you’re not as great as you are feeling. Some nights you're feeling tired and you give a really great performance. It’s the unknown, again, as we talked about earlier. You don’t know, being a performer, what kind of performance you're going to give."

"You know you can give a certain quality of performance, but as I grow older I’m much more content in my own skin. When I come off stage now I have a balance in my life and until I found that in 1990 I didn't. I came off stage and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Now, I come home, I fly home every night after a show and I get back in my own bed. I have a wonderful partner, I have wonderful friends, and I can remember things. It’s a whole new world out there. I can remember the words to the songs. It’s just sensational. But truly the older I get, I think I'm singing better live."

"I had my eyes done about eight years ago. I had replacement lens surgery because I was so blind. I don’t really need to wear glasses. Now I have 20/20 vision and I can see all the signs the fans have, all the album sleeves, and it makes a difference. I really appreciate my performing so much better now as I get older than I did. I don’t take it for granted anymore. I really relish it and love it."

Kelly, David and Sir Elton, what was it like to get such fantastic talent together for this film?

Kelly Asbury: "Certainly everyone that I wanted to be in the movie took the job and I think probably Elton helped a lot with that; there’s no doubt in my mind about it. I mean the legitimacy that he lent to the project certainly made it an animated film with Elton John music - that had a pretty good track record. It was wonderful to be able to say, Can we talk to Emily Blunt? Can we talk to James McAvoy? How about Sir Michael Caine? Sir Patrick Stewart? Dame Maggie Smith? Dame Julie Walters? Can we get them?' Of course [Elton] helped, absolutely."

Elton John: "Case in point with Jason Statham. David, maybe you can elaborate on that?"

David Furnish: "Jason Statham is a friend of ours and when I phoned him up he said, "I've always, always wanted to do one of these films.' He said, 'No one has ever asked me.' He loved the idea straight away and came right on board, so it definitely helped, yeah."

James McAvoy: "I was going to say that one of the things that attracted me was the fact that people are enthusiastic about film in live-action but in this stuff, you guys have been making it for 11 years, if you weren’t enthusiastic about it you’d have fallen out with it by now or had a mental breakdown. When I met you guys you were so incredibly enthusiastic, I found it so infectious that it made me want to be a part of it. I read the script, I was really excited about working with Elton John. That excitement and that enthusiasm got to me and I thought, 'This has got to be good.'"

For Sir Elton, the sheer variety of your music over the years is incredible, not only from album to album but also song to song. What accounts for your great eclecticism?

Elton John: "The fact that I think when I grew up with as kid I grew up in a house that listened to radio and records. My family always bought records. I grew up in the early '50s so it was either classical music or dance band music or great vocalists like Frank Sinatra. I got 'Songs for Swinging Lovers' for my birthday when I was about eight years old. I grew up in a house that loved music. Of course, when rock n’ roll came I had this knowledge of great American singers and band leaders and musicians and jazz players by the time I was six or seven and then rock and roll came in and changed my life and changed the whole music scene forever. I grew to love R&B and Motown, and all black music and gospel music. I never dismiss any form of music. I listen to everything."

"I’m on the new Kanye West record, for example. It’s a genius record. I was on the Alice in Chains record so you can't really get any [different]: Alice in Chains, Kanye West. I love all different sorts of music. People who mock rap and say, 'I don’t like it,’ they should go check out Kanye in the studio rapping, or Marshall, Eminem, when he’s in the studio, it's phenomenal. It’s kind of like modern jazz or John Coltrane and all those people who started it. It’s a different thing; don’t knock it until you’ve seen it. It may not be your cup of tea but don’t ridicule it."

"I find that so many of my peers of my age don’t listen to anything new. I love the new. I love the energy of the new, the energy of the new act. There’s a record I’m plugging for Plan B and it’s called 'The Defamation of Strickland Banks', the number one record here in England. It's going to be released here in March. It's by a guy who was in Harry Brown, a film with Michael Caine. He played the villain and he made a rap record before and he was in Harry Brown and now he’s made this record where he sounds like Smokey Robinson. And it’s phenomenal! I love hearing the new, the energy from the new."

"There’s a band called the Punch Brothers who are amazing. They're like blue grass meets Miles Davis. That’s what I’m interested in. I know all the old stuff - it's in here [indicating his brain]. I just want to get the energy from the new. The eclectic stuff is embracing the new and embracing bands like XX, embracing bands like that that come out Britain and Florence and the Machine and all those people. Their energy is so infectious and at our age... I had great energy between 23 and 28 but you're working on adrenaline and it’s just driving you. That energy is just pure adrenaline. And then after that you lose it a little bit. You still have enthusiasm and energy, but it’s not the adrenaline that the young have. I just think it’s so important to listen. Looking at the Golden Globes the other night, there were so many incredible young actors. Young actors like Mark Wahlberg or Matt Damon who I remember being young actors who have now emerged and gone on to be fantastic older actors. And then you see Jesse Eisenberg and people like that who have star quality written over them. These guys here [indicating Emily Blunt and James McAvoy]. The young are so important. The young gives you the energy. If you don’t notice the young and you don't take that and you don’t give them credit and you don’t listen to all sorts of music, then you're missing out on something."

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Gnomeo and Juliet hits theaters on February 11, 2011.

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