Kodi Smit-McPhee starred as the boy who has a crush on a vampire in Let Me In, and in Focus Features/LAIKA's stop-motion animated film ParaNorman he's once again playing a character dealing with supernatural creatures. Norman sees ghosts and is bullied by his classmates, but when a curse brings the wrath of zombies down on his small town, it's Norman to the rescue.
In support of the film's release in theaters on August 17, 2012, we sat down with McPhee to talk about the actual process of providing the voice of Norman and what, if anything, he sees of himself in the character.
Kodi Smit-McPhee ParaNorman Interview
How does it feel using your voice to create a character?
"It’s a really weird kind of feeling, but it’s a lot of fun because you can just like let loose and go crazy to get that emotion out."
You can see the character you'll be playing, but how tough is it to make that animated character come to life with your voice?
"It’s so weird, you know, seeing that and thinking, 'Okay, I’ve got to somehow make these guys connect and make this character look real.' And that’s the thing we’re all kind of worried about. And, also, the other thing we’re worried about is we all did kind of character voices so we’re worrying about slipping out of that, so they kept us up-to-date on how we were doing. It was very hard but at the same time, easy and laid back."
How different is your character voice from your speaking voice?
"It’s very different. It’s American, high-pitched and yeah, it doesn’t even sound like me at all. Definitely not."
Were you very influenced by the physical appearance of the character, Norman?
"It’s actually crazy and I wish I brought it with me. When I got the script and I read it over and over again, and I got the feeling for the character, I actually drew... First, I drew this kind of odd-looking guy and I was like, 'That’s wrong.' And I drew something else - this kid just sitting down, and it’s literally identical to what they had before I’d seen it. So I guess I got the right idea."
How do you prepare for an animated movie?
"Preparing is basically the same as you would for a real film. It’s just making a whole life of the character. I work with my dad. He’s the one who got me into acting. We just kind of make a whole life for the character, so when you’re in those moments you’re getting chased by a zombie that you don’t know what’s that’s like, you’re just in Norman’s head and you just feel it."
So, your character’s a fan of horror movies?
Are you a fan of horror movies?
"I love horror movies. Yes."
"Even though this sounds weird, I’ve never seen The Exorcist but I always try to push myself to see it and I never can, but I bet that would be my favorite. If I could sit through it. But I know there’s a favorite out there. Oh, obviously Freddy Krueger and Mike, Jason - all of those are my favorite. Kind of the cliché ones."
And for this there were actually other actors in the booth doing voice work at the same time as you?
"Yes, that was the cool thing about it because we actually got to interact with other people. I think that made the conversations a lot more real. And also, we had a lot more fun other than just being alone by yourself."
What kind of physical characteristics do you see in your character that reflect your movements and expressions while recording the voice?
"I think his whole body. He totally looks like me, I feel like. He’s kind of lanky, weird. I don’t know, I just feel like he was very much like me but so much not."
Did you stick to the script or did they let you play a little when you were recording with the other actors?
"I did a lot of improvising with the other younger boy that was my friend in the movie, Tucker [Albrizzi]. And that was hilarious. [The directors] actually put some of that in there. There’s a part you’ll see when he’s throwing a stick to his dog, and that whole part was improvisation and it was hilarious. But other than that, we would glue the paper to cardboard and it would just be this huge stack that we had to read from every session. Yes, it was pretty to the script."
Did you visit the actual set and watch them do some of the animation?
"I did. We all visited but separately for some reason, but I went to Oregon and of course it was raining and we go in this huge like factory-looking place and there’s 50 booths of these scenes getting shot all at once. It’s just mind-boggling. I would never have the patience to do that. It’s crazy."
Are you a fan of stop-motion in general?
"I’m a huge fan of stop-motion. Yeah. But once again, I wish I could do that kind of stuff but it’s just not for me. But I love how it looks in the end when you think about it."
You had to do some voice work and then leave and not continue doing the voice for three or four months. Was it hard to get back into Norman after taking that long of a break?
"It's weird, I was thinking about that too but I think it’s stuck in your head. But sometimes I would go back in and I’m like, 'Is my voice the same? Am I doing the same accent kind of thing?' But no, it sticks with you. In fact, sometimes you would forget about it. You’d be like, 'Oh, that’s right! I’m doing a stop motion movie. I got to go back in and do it.' I think we did 10 sessions and there was a few months in between every session."
Did the fact the film has a really strong anti-bullying message make you more interested in being a part of it?
"Definitely. I was never bullied and I wasn’t a bully. I just kind of went under the radar with my friends. I think that this movie, it’s cool, because a child can watch it and just have some fun and go on an adventure. But with adults, there’s horror movie things in it. They’re like, 'Oh my God! That’s kind of like the Goonies or Scooby Doo.' But also there’s the bullying. And I think it’s kind of saying that being normal or weird is fine and you should go with whoever you are."
Was it different being directed by two directors when you’re doing your voice work or did they work with you one at a time?
"Really, I just thought of them as the whole team together working on this thing. And I think it was good that there were two different minds working on it, because then we could come out with this unique situation by bringing all out ideas together. I think it was cool."
What else do you have coming up?
"I just finished Romeo and Juliet in Rome, so that was amazing. I did a film called The Congress, which is a sci-fi kind of thing. And then one called Dead Europe, where I play kind of a ghost kid. But they never like really says that he’s a ghost. Just like kind of gives it to you."
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ParaNorman hits theaters on August 17, 2012.