Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the two stars of 9, the new animated feature from Shane Acker (produced by Tim Burton). Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly were kind enough to answer some questions and get into the dynamics of voice acting, animation, and what Jennifer Connelly's kids have to do with her movie choices.
Amanda Mae Meyncke: Elijah, what attracted you to the character of 9?
Elijah Wood: I think I just fell in love with the journey that he takes; he comes into this world where so much has already been established. One and the others have established a community, it's a community that is ruled by fear and they don't ever leave their boundaries. He has no concept of what he is or where they are, ultimately, what befell humanity, what these machines are, so he comes into their situation wondering why 2 was sent out on a mission and he has all these questions, kind of throws a wrench into their system. And I like that, I liked how he kind of questioned the way that they existed, in a way that allowed them to start to figure out who they were, and ultimately what these machines are, and how they can sort of combat them and even though they're small, they can defend themselves in interesting ways.
AM: Likewise, 7 is just an incredible badass in the film. What drew you to the character?
Jennifer Connelly: I thought she was a really fun character. You could never ask for a better character introduction than her opening scene. She's so fierce and cool. I liked that she was just this fierce warrior and just very protective of her clan. She was sort of independent and making her own way and not hiding out in the sanctuary but was sort of always keeping an eye on them, coming in and trying to look after them.
AM: So when you see the finished film do you see any of your movement in her?
JC: What I did see was a lot of this [frowns] and I can't deny that I do that. That's just my face. I don't know how not to do that. So that was clearly what they got from me, the furrowed brow. I think they did a really good job. This is a strange character because of how it's made. There's nothing resembling us in them really, when you look at them, but yet they're expressive. They emote and they have personalities. They have their own distinct personalities. I'm not quite sure how they did that, but I think it's really interesting.
AM: What was it like working with Shane [Acker] and exploring his vision?
EW: It was fun. It was a unique opportunity too, in the sense that the filmmaker, the one directing and kind of leading the ship, was also the one who had experience animating; he was the creator, the scientist if you will. In speaking to him, what was helpful to me as an actor was he was very good at being able to describe what scenes would be like in great detail, how he envisioned them playing themselves out, coming together, so he was great conceptually in that regard, and fun to flesh the character out too. We recorded over the course of three years. If we condensed my actual working time on the movie, it may be less than two weeks, but over those three years they were animating, also developing the story and making it better, coming in and tweaking it, bringing me back in, making the character more heroic, so the character had development over time too, which was done with Shane ... I really enjoyed that part of the process too.
AM: How challenging is voice work for you?
EW: It is a unique challenge, you ultimately are oftentimes solitary, standing in a booth imbuing the voice with a sense of action, breathlessness, if your character's running and falling down a chasm, you have to give the voice that kind of quality, which is a unique challenge but it's also really fun. I do find that I physically move regardless, it's almost like a reflex; if your voice knows it has to do something, your body kind of wants to do it a little bit just to help you out. I actually think it's really freeing too, you don't go in there thinking about the setting you're in or the prop you're going to use, or any of those things, it's just the voice and it's just the character, it's a challenge and it's definitely fun.
JC: I will say that it was peculiar for me. I was sort of like, "Wait, we're starting now? Aren't we going to sit around and have rehearsals and get to know each other all a little bit better before we start working on this thing?" [laughs] It was sort of like you get your script and you get your materials and then you dive in. I think that I talked to Shane [Acker] over the phone, but I met him for the first time when we did our first recording session. So that was strange for me, feeling really invested in something and yet you're sort of apart from it, sort of on the outside of it. That was strange but really I trusted Shane, and a lot of this for me was just about supporting his vision. My involvement, I admire his work and I think he's very talented and he seemed to want me to be in it, and I was very happy to do what I could to try and make his project go well because I think he's a really talented filmmaker.
AM: And Jennifer, I understand that your kids were kind of your agent on this film?
JC: Oh, yeah. My kids saw the short film and they loved it. They really loved it. So there was just no saying no to this. They were very excited about it.
AM: Is it mostly because you have children now that you wanted to do something like this?
JC: Yes, a lot because of the children. A lot because they really loved it, but also it's not really a kid's movie. Really, my older son loves it and my younger son loved the short film. My younger son is six and he's seen parts of this. Because I'm familiar with the film I saw it with him and there was a lot of my covering his eyes. I think just left unsupervised it would be too frightening for him to see the film. So my older son thinks it's really cool.
AM: Did you have to create a specific voice for your character of 9?
EW: I think there are certain actors that are known for being extraordinary in regards to changing their voice. Robin Williams is a great example of that, a lot of animators would want to hire Robin because he can do a multitude of different things and he can play around with his voice so much, and then there are other actors that are hired because maybe they're good just as an actor in terms of being able to flesh out a character, not necessarily because they can do voices. I'm certainly not known for changing my voice a whole lot. I think that'd be fun to get that opportunity to play around with it a little bit, I just think that would be another layer to it that could be a blast. I think that part of voice work is wonderful, because people literally get to change and create something that is so different from themselves, vocally and then animated on top of that, it's like a different thing.
AM: Elijah, is this a character you'd like to continue playing in future projects?
EW: Yeah, but more than that, it's because I want to see where Shane could go with it. Shane has almost given us a glimpse of something, in a way, we catch these characters, we don't know how long it's been since humanity's been destroyed. And I think he's left it open to a certain degree, there's almost a sense that they're going to rebuild after what transpires in the film, there's all these places he could go: Has humanity been fully killed off? Is there humanity elsewhere? How big is the world? All these things. And I've heard him talk about it and there's so many different ways that he could go into this world and tell different kinds of stories. So, I'd love to be a part of anything that he does with that world. I think it'd be a lot of fun.
AM: What do you think people will take from this film?
JC: I don't really know. It's impossible to predict. It's more an action movie than what we consider an animated film or are used to thinking of when we think animated film. It's certainly not a young kid's film. I think it's a sort of high-paced, edgy action film. It's sort of artistic, innovative kind of artsy action film. I think it's beautiful, so much so that I look at it and go, "That's a painting. That's a painting." How do they get light into the computer? It's incredible. The texture, the colors, to me it's something I think is really beautiful.