Q: How did you get the role of Mumble and why did you decide to take it?
A: I read the script and liked it. But, with an animated film you can only imagine what it is going to be like, so I met with George Miller, who has directed it. I was a fan of his work, and it was meeting George and seeing what his perspective of the film was -his idea of animating in a realistic style and incorporating a lot of music, with his belief and enthusiasm for the project, his love of the story, and understanding key elements of the film, like the importance of a Heartsong- that convinced me.
Q: Can you describe the role that Heartsongs play in penguin culture?
A: The Heartsong is actually kind of a real thing. It comes from the idea that Emperor penguins in the wild recognize their mates by their voice. This way they can recognize them vocally and be able to pick them out in a crowd of thousands of penguins, which plays a major role in their society.
Q: What is Mumble born with instead of a Heartsong, and how does that color his life?
A: In the film every penguin has his own song except mine, Mumble, who is born without the ability to sing and does not have a Heartsong, but has an incredible ability to dance. A large part of the film deals with his identity in reference to the other penguins and his individuality.
Q: Do you think there is an equivalent to a Heartsong in humans?
A: I think that our individual personalities are sort of like Heartsongs. We have our own ways of communicating and connecting with each other. In the film, there is a great scene where Mumble attempts to fake his singing, as one of the penguins he befriends with stands behind him and sings for him. That is actually something that kind of happens in society as well, when we put on a different kind of personality to impress others, which ultimately most often doesn’t work. There are certainly things we can relate from this film to humans and to our own society.
Q. How does Mumble cope with not having a Heart Song?
A. It’s interesting, because he has a naïve confidence and doesn’t see that there is anything wrong with him. He is born without the ability to sing, but can express himself with his feet, so he thinks that it’s perfectly fine and kind of interesting, and is unaware to why that would be a problem. Largely I think that his confidence comes from a sort of naiveté, but develops into a surer sense of who he is.
Q: What are your thoughts on the themes of the story, like individuality and being true to oneself?
A: That individuality in a society that tries to conform to old standards is an important message in the story. Mumble kind of stamps his foot down to not conform, and I think it is a strong message to children and to adults, because we have all experienced something similar in our lives. I believe kids have to face that issue more than adults do, as they are forced into these concentrated environments where it is all about belonging. In school, kids are already forced to fit into a certain group, and if they are different they are outcast into another group. Seeing the character of Mumble not care that he is different and not really mind about being an outcast, because he is confident about who he is, could be a very positive message for those who have to deal with this on a regular basis. School is tough; there is a very concentrated social environment that is not easy for anybody, so it is always nice to have something to inspire you to recognize the importance of individuality.
Q: When Mumble doesn’t fit in, what a kind of quest does he go on to find out and develop who he is?
A: Mumble is initially outcast, and along the way he discovers, not only who he is and how to fit into the world, but also that there is a food shortage problem in his community. And he takes it upon himself to find out what is going on, which ultimately becomes his quest, because he is blamed for this food problem due to his sacrilegious foot behavior. I think we have all felt at some time in our lives that we don’t belong.
Q: Have you ever had a quest like that?
A: When I was in my early teens I didn’t have a lot of friends my age and I felt older than I was because I was working in films and had responsibilities that most kids my age didn’t have. I didn’t relate to the people my age that I did know and it was a problem initially; but as I became a teenager it didn’t bother me anymore, I had friends that were a little bit older and I kind of grew into who I was, and a sense of confidence was born out of that. I think everyone certainly goes through that, but it is the individuality that makes us special, and conforming isn’t necessarily the best thing for us or anybody else to do.
Q: So, can you sing, or are you more of a dancer, like Mumble?
A: Well, I think I am a little bit of both. I can carry a tune and I can mildly dance. So, I am sort of somewhere in-between.
Q: What is involved in voicing an animated character?
A: The process is different and it depends on the characters. Someone lke Robin Williams will actually develop a number of voices for a number of characters, each with their own accents and distinctions. In my case, once we decided to go along with my own voice, the only thing that I ever changed was my age, because at a certain point earlier in the film Mumble is young, so I used a higher voice to lower the register later, as he got older.
Q: What was it like voicing Mumble?
A: I had a blast! And the other thing too about voice work is that you don’t have to worry about being on camera or wearing a costume. In a set you have to rely on your physicality and on how you are meant to move. Here you are very free standing there in front of a mike, and it’s all about your voice, which I enjoy. And being able to work with other actors in the same room, specifically Robin Williams, makes the experience so much more fun because you can bounce off them.
Q: Happy Feet has a fantastically talented cast with Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, as well as yourself. What was it like working with them?
A: I only got a chance to work with Robin Williams and Brittany Murphy. In the case of Hugh Jackman, he was ending the session as I was entering, so we kind of overlapped each other, but I got to see how he worked, which was great. The schedule of the voice recording in animation is a nebulous thing, because it depends on the schedules of the actors, so it is not always a community effort. But I was lucky because I did get to work with Brittany and Robin.
Q: Robin Williams is famous for his talent with voices. What is he like?
A: He is amazing. There seems to be a million voices in that man’s head, and they come out a lot. He is a force of nature. I grew up watching him in films, and also watching animated films that he voiced. I always marveled at his ability to create characters and to inhabit them with these different voices in this very almost schizophrenic way. To be able to work with him was an honor, and often hilarious.
Q: Did you see yourself animated as Mumble before you started voicing his part?
A: Not really. There were drawings, sketches and rough animation that gave me a sense of how the scene would play out. But it wasn’t until later, when they had already been animating for a number of months and actually a couple of years, that I got to see what the character would look like with my voice. To a certain degree you are kind of blind beyond conceptual drawing and this kind of rough animation.
Q: What is the funniest thing Mumble does in Happy Feet?
A: Probably attempt to sing. Every time he tries is quite hilarious. In fact, it’s much funnier than I had imagined, because on the day that I attempt to sing it’s my own voice sort of squawking and singing very out of key, which sounded bad in itself, but then they also digitally affected those moments to make it sound even worse, which is funny.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about Mumble?
A: My favorite thing about the character is his confidence in himself, his curiosity and determination.
Q: And which is your favorite scene in Happy Feet?
A: One of my favorite scenes is with Mumble as a child –E. G. Daily does the voice- when he is in school and everybody is singing their own different song and discovering their voice. Mumble has to sing and he can’t, so he ends up tap dancing. That scene, and any of the others with baby Mumble, is among my favorites.
Q: Do you have a favorite character, other than Mumble?
A: Probably the penguin Ramón, voiced by Robin Williams. He is hilarious and has some of the funniest dialogue in the film.
Q: What did you think of the film when you finally saw it completed?
A: It is pretty amazing. One of the things about working on an animated film is that in a way you are kept kind of in the dark of what it will ultimately look like, because you are voicing it so far in advance of the animation being completed, and often before it even starts, that it is a surprise when you see the whole film put together. When I finally saw the movie finished I was seeing a lot of those scenes for the first time, which is an amazing experience, and that is a luxury you don’t get with a normal film.
Q: Is Happy Feet for all ages?
A: I see it as a family film, entertaining for everyone. I personally love going to see animated films and this one is for the whole family.
Q: It seems that lately penguins have become very popular in movies. Why is that?
A: We started recording the voices a little over three years ago, and then March of the Penguins came out and there suddenly was a newfound love for these animals. I remember coming in to record, talking to the director and the producers about it, and we were all excited. Penguins are cute, but they also have something kind of human about them, like their social structure or their sense of love. I think they are really adorable and it is probably that simple.
Q: What makes Happy Feet unique?
A: What makes this film in particular unique -in the mass of these movies- is that it has its own style, which is actually very photo realistic. That was problematic in regards to the animating process, as it took longer and was much more difficult to make the characters distinguishable, because obviously penguins look alike so much. But it is a very realistic experience and the landscapes are almost exact photographs of Antarctica.
Q: What are your next projects?
A: Bobby is coming out in November, and it is about the day at the Ambassador Hotel that Robert Kennedy was shot. It follows various people’s lives on that day leading up to him being killed and the impact that it ultimately has on them and on America. I also finished a movie earlier this year called Day Zero, about three friends that are all drafted on the same day, which follows them for 30 days until they are meant to serve.
Q: And, what if an opportunity arrives to work in animation again?
A: I have actually just finished another one. It is a movie produced by Tim Burton called 9: a fascinating story about a post-apocalyptic world that should be coming out in 2008. I have just recorded the voice for it.
Q: How do you see your career?
A: I don’t have and never have had any kind of plan. I am always interested in trying different things, and there are a variety of reasons for why I would want to do any given thing at any given time. I like to keep the perspective relatively clear. It’s kind of nice to see what comes up and which path my life takes me on.