To celebrate the release on Blu-ray and DVD of DreamWorks Animation’s Home, out on Digital HD on 13th July and Blu-ray and DVD on 20th July, we’ve got an exclusive interview with the mighty Steve Martin to share with you, who lends his talents to the fun!
A legendary actor, screenwriter, producer, author and musician, Steve Martin plays the the mean and cowardly Captain Smek in this new animated movie. Smek may be the leader of his species, the Boov, but he is not an inspiring figure at all. Remarkably arrogant, he believes he is right about everything and loves to name things after himself. Under his command, the Boov have learned to be fearful and feeble, running away from anything challenging. They suppress individuality; have no sense of enthusiasm or fun; and value conformity. They have gone from planet to planet and decide to make Earth their home, taking over and relocating all humans. All except one. A clever and resourceful 12 year-old called Gratuity Tucci, known as Tip, has managed to avoid capture and is hiding out along with her cat called Pig. Home is directed by Tim Johnson and Steve sat down for the following interview at DreamWorks Animation Studios in Glendale. Enjoy!
What was the appeal of the film and your character in particular?
SM: First of all, it’s always fun to play a villain, but also I really like the animated film process. It’s kind of like doing a play, because you can experiment with it, rewrite it, screen it, go back, then work on it a little bit more. If the joke doesn’t work, you can fix it. It’s different from a live action movie.
And is there room for improvising?
Oh, yes, there’s a lot of room for improvising. You can ad lib and then they can actually put it in. It’s really nice to be able to do that.
What did you like about the story?
I didn’t know the books ahead of time but I liked the Boov, who have a lot of crazy characteristics. I like the fact that their main kind of bravery is actually cowardice, because they run away from everything. That’s their Number One rule. Also, they don’t have any emotional ties to each other, which of course is something they learn about over the course of the movie. It is an interesting alien society. I saw the movie yesterday and I thought the Boov were extremely cute and very funny. You’ve got to hand it to animators and creators who can come up with an alien creature that you haven’t seen before that works its way into your heart.
Captain Smek is not the most inspiring leader, is he?
No; he’s almost like a pirate king, in that he defaulted into the leadership position through cowardice. He’s a little bit stupid. I keep thinking of him as similar to the role I played as the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors, in that he’s kind of a stupid, tough guy. I do like villains, although they have to be funny villains. I like the stupidity of my character (laughs). I’ve played stupid people a lot in my movie roles, starting with The Jerk.
…The Boov have an interesting use of the English language, don’t they?
Yes and I like that. I was a little concerned about the fact that they don’t use any contractions and they misuse gerunds. I don’t know if that’s because they’ve just learned English (laughs). At first I thought that the audience may not understand how they speak, but everyone seems to understand them just fine and kids pick up on this stuff really fast, much more than people my age! The way they talk is funny and it is nice.
Can you discuss your co-stars Rihanna and Jim Parsons, who play Tip and Oh?
Jim is great in the film. The voice is so perfect. I don’t know him well enough to know if he’s putting on a voice, putting on a character, or if that’s his voice. Obviously he’s tweaking it a little bit, but it’s a very tender and funny voice that he’s doing for this character of Oh. And Rihanna is great too. She’s very touching and she’s tough when she has to be. There is absolutely nothing I could fault her on in this film and I think the songs are great too. Rihanna and Jim have such a great rapport with each other. They’re very tender and that’s at the emotional core of the movie. Having seen it now three times, I always find myself weeping or wanting to weep at the end.
Do you find animated films can be especially moving?
I do think that animated films have the ability to touch you someplace. There is something about live action movies that is different because we know the characters are real people, so they always stay flawed for us somehow. But animated films touch us in a very clear, uncomplicated place. They have that ability. And an animated character can make an expression in a way humans can’t do. If a human did it live, you’d say ‘oh, come on, that’s corny’ but in a film like this, you can go ‘yes, I’m going right along with you,’ because that’s the way we really feel inside.
What would you say families can look forward to with this film that stands out?
I love these animated films when they are good, because they do bring a lot of emotion and heart that’s very difficult to get in a live action film. I would say HOME is different because the story’s unusual and offers funny jokes and interesting characters.
Did you enjoy working with Tim Johnson?
Absolutely, he’s a lot of fun, we get along really well and have a creative relationship. He lets me ad lib and lets me try things in different ways. It is very good.
What do you think the themes of this film are?
Well, friendship is a very important theme. I suppose with any kind of intelligent being around the universe, friendship would be very, very important, rather than isolation. And that’s what the movie is about. As a human being on Earth, you can’t imagine friendship not being important in some other solar system or some other planet, or some other context of beings that are conscious. We even see it in animals. It is important for people on Earth to reach out or reach into someone.
What are your views on aliens…do you think there is there something out there?
Sure I do. I mean, it’s a guess. If they are there, I don’t know if they’re conscious. But I certainly believe that life would not be unique to Earth. I don’t know if scientists will ever find anything, it’s just something I feel.
I believe you and Jim Parsons showed President Obama some scenes from the film…
We did. He was doing a tour of Southern California and he came into DreamWorks and we did some readings for him. I’d met him several times before, so we almost have a joking relationship already. (laughs) We talked for a while and we had a good time. I really like the guy a lot personally.
You’ve actually played banjo at the White House.
Yes, I have. It was a poetry evening. There is a group I work with: The Steep Canyon Rangers who had set a W.H. Auden poem called Calypso to music, so they asked us to play that and it was a really nice evening. Calypso is a poem about a train headed for New York City and it translates well to a bluegrass situation, because it’s about a young man meeting the one he loves in New York at Grand Central Station. It seemed to go really, really well. It is an up-tempo, very fast bluegrass song. And we were the only musical feature that evening. It was very special. There were many great poets there, in that beautiful East Wing room, and there were maybe only 150 people there. It was a very small, very smart crowd and it was thrilling.
How’s your music going, tell us what you’re up to…
Edie Brickell and I have written a musical, Bright Star, that’s centered around a bluegrass style. But it’s not really bluegrass anymore because we’ve added violins and violas. We still have mandolin and fiddle, but it’s more orchestral sounding at this point. It is headed for Broadway. It will probably be there next year at some time.
Were you interested in performing as a kid?
I knew I wanted to be in show business so I took the path of least resistance. I loved comedy. But you never know you are funny until people laugh. It’s just what I was interested in. I could make people laugh, I guess, but doing it at school and doing it onstage are very different things. I knew I wanted to be in comedy but the path of least resistance was doing stand-up in folk music clubs where I could get on stage. I guess you could get up no matter how bad you were and you didn’t have to audition. You just got up. Everything else required an audition and if you auditioned for a TV show, you would stand in line with a hundred other people. But at the clubs, it was okay just to get up, so that’s why I started in stand-up.
Okay, these days, who makes you laugh?
I’m not up to date on contemporary people. I always liked Jerry Seinfeld. I think he has a really special style; it is very clear and always surprising.
Would you consider doing more fiction?
I would if it came up. Right now I’ve just written a couple of essays for some friends, for Richard E. Grant who has a book coming out. I’m also curating an art show for a Canadian artist, Lowren Harris, [leading landscape painter] who passed away in 1970. We are doing it at the Hammer Museum (in LA), at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I’m curating it and I am writing an essay for the catalogue.
Do you still have that love for what you’re able to do?
Yes, I really do. It’s very hard sometimes when you can’t crack something or can’t solve something and you keep trying and trying and you know it’s falling a little bit short. That’s very hard, but then when you finally do it, it’s very rewarding and the process is good too, I like working with people this way.
You’re a comic legend. You’ve done so much, including the writing and music. How do you choose projects these days?
I choose a project based on whether it feels worthwhile working on when it comes to me, like the musical with Edie Brickell. But secondly I choose it if it sounds like fun. This one (HOME) really sounded like fun. I love the animated process. You can do it from home – meaning you can drive ten miles and you’re at work or even if you are in New York you can do it. They can hook up a line and you can just record it and it’s a great process. You don’t have to fly anywhere. Home is very important to me now. Projects are determined by just how they strike me at the moment, as they have done throughout my whole life.
Home is of course the title of the film. What does the word mean to you?
Well, home is obviously a very important concept. It’s the place that Paul Simon wrote about in the song (Homeward Bound) and everybody understands what it is (laughs). In the context of this movie, it’s a place where some alien beings find their new home and are ultimately made welcome. Home is the place you go away from, that you want to get back to. It’s the place that feels good.”
DreamWorks Animation’s Home is out on Digital HD on 13th July and Blu-ray and DVD on 20th July