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LAist Interview: The Cast of Despicable Me

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Steve Carell gives an ever-expanding heart and heavily accented voice to the (initially) despicable villain Gru in the new animated film, Despicable Me. When we first meet our hero, er, villain, Gru’s having a bad, bad day. He’s just found out he has lost his title of World’s Best Villain to some newcomer named Vector (Jason Segel) and he’s not one to settle for second place. Vector bested Gru by stealing a giant pyramid from Egypt, so Gru hatches a plan to regain his title by stealing something treasured by every nation. The moon.

Being the important bad guy that he is, Gru has an army of minions and a mad scientist sidekick, Dr. Nafario (Russell Brand) at his disposal. When their combined best efforts fail to help Gru capture the shrink-ray gun he needs to pocket the moon, Gru adopts a trio of adorable orphans to (unwittingly) help him with the heist. Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) are the three sisters from the Home for Girls, run by Miss Hattie (Kristen Wiig), whom eventually make Gru realize that being super bad isn’t half as rewarding as being a super dad.

Despicable Me is as sunny as it’s minions are bright yellow. There are plenty of jokes for the adults, a cleverly placed “Formerly Lehman Brothers” sign will go over the kids’ heads, but there are also kid-friendly characters and gags that all ages will embrace and enjoy. Young Elsie Fisher steals the show with some spot-on improvised lines, like when she sees the stuffed unicorn of her dreams and squeals, “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!” But what will keep you bouncing along throughout the movie and for hours after is the music. Grammy Award-winning artist (and my fellow Virginia Beach native) Pharrell Williams brings the whole movie together with a number of Gru-vy original songs and a score he completed with Heitor Pereira.

LAist recently sat down with Steve Carell, Jason Segel and Miranda Cosgrove, who shared with us what it’s like to become a character that’s only three-dimensional when you’re wearing special glasses. They also gave us some tips on what fans of the T.V. shows they each star in (“The Office,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “iCarly,” respectively) can expect in upcoming seasons.

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LAist: What was it like to play an animated character?

Jason: I was very excited. The whole thing that drew me to doing an animated film is that you’re freed from the physical limitations of your physical body. All of a sudden, you get to be something that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a 6′4″, lumbering dude, and that was really exciting. Puppetry is very similar. And then, this guy is based almost wholly on insecurity. He just wants to prove to his dad that he’s worthy and, in this case, the most evil person alive, so I drew from there. It was very freeing. You’ll probably notice that nobody in the cast is doing their voice. No one is talking like they normally talk and it’s because, all of a sudden, you’re freed from the physical limitations of how you look, which is amazing.

Steve: It’s an imagination exercise, more than anything else, because you have to not only imagine what your character might be going through physically and emotionally, but also what he might look like, what your surroundings or what your world might look like, so you have to close your eyes and imagine what might be happening around you. And, on top of that, because of all the other characters, you have to give different types of line readings that might fit in with what all the other actors are doing as well. So, it’s fun and very freeing because, ultimately, you don’t have control over any of it. You’re just giving them many, many puzzle pieces that they then go off and fit them together.

Miranda: You know, it’s funny because I thought that doing an animated movie was going to be easier, for some reason, than a T.V. show. But, I think it’s a lot harder because I didn’t have anybody with me in the room. It was just me in this little sound booth. I got to see pictures of the characters, which helped a lot. I got to see a picture of Gru and the minions and my character, Margo. That helped me to imagine the whole world while I was in the little booth.

LAist: What was the process like as far as being “on set?”

Jason: What’s cool about doing this animated film - and this is the only one I’ve done, so I have no other frame of reference - is that you go in for three hours, every few months. I probably went in six times over two years, or something like that. And, from their standpoint, the goal is for me to give them as much material as I can possibly come up with, and they choose the funniest, the best and the most on-story. Every time, it was just three hours of intense effort, trying to be as funny as I could, and to be on story with the improv, and give them as much material as I possibly could.

Miranda: It was interesting because they did the animation in Paris, so every single time I would go into the sound booth, I’d be talking to them on iChat. There’d be a five-second delay, so I’d say the lines and then I’d have to wait five seconds to see if they laughed and to see if they liked it. They helped me a lot with it because they’re really great animators. They just said, “Put everything into it. Just really go crazy and have fun.” It was nice because they let me improv a lot. They’d say, “Do the line three times the way it’s written, and then just go crazy and do one for yourself.”

Steve: The voice actors in this are just one paint color that the artists are painting with. You try to give them as great a spectrum as you can, but it’s ultimately their job to take it and create something wonderful out of it. It’s such an ego thing, too, because you go and see the movie, and it’s fantastic because of everything that they did, and you’re just this little tiny part of it. But also, at the same time, you feel so proud because you’re part of this greater process.

LAist: What did you draw on for inspiration?

Jason: I’ve been 6′ 4″ since I was 12. I was 6′ 4″ and 100 pounds, I looked like Jack Skellington. Kids used to stand around me in a circle and, one by one, they would jump on my back and the rest would chant, “Ride the oaf! Ride the oaf!” It’s true. So, you either become funny, which is hopefully what I did, or you become a villain, which is where I got the idea for Vector. He’s a guy who was horribly picked on, and this is where he’s ended up.

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Steve: With Gru, here’s a guy who has his life set up the way he’s accustomed to, and then is introduced to these three little girls who essentially turn his life upside down. They change all of his patterns. They change everything about what he thinks is important and, generally speaking, that happens when everyone has kids. You try to explain it to people who are about to have children, but I don’t anymore because you can’t. It’s something you understand once it happens. Everything changes. It’s such a diametric change that you really can’t explain it. For me, at least, all of my career goals, all of my focus and everything just shifted, and the importance was my children. That’s where all the joy came from as well, and that’s what’s touching about the character. It doesn’t’ change him, but it taps into a part of him that was always there, and that he didn’t know about, which is what happens when you have kids.

Miranda: Margo is really protective of her two little sisters and in real life I don’t have any siblings. My best friend has a little sister, so I tried to use her a little bit because she’s always trying to make the right decisions and she’s always helping her sister. I am like Margo because she’s pretty strong in the movie and she’s not afraid to stand up to Gru. I’m a little like that. Especially when I was younger, like 10 or 11, I’d always try to get my way, and she does that a lot in the movie.

LAist: What do you think audiences will enjoy about seeing Despicable Me?

Jason: I am actually more proud of this movie than anything else I’ve ever done. There’s something very special about the idea of a family being able to go to a movie and everyone enjoying themselves, genuinely. It’s something “The Muppets” did beautifully and “The Simpsons” does it. Parents aren’t placating their kids when they take them to this movie because they’ll enjoy it as well. There’s something really great about the idea of a family walking out of a theater after everyone has had a really great experience and enjoyed themselves. I think a family getting along for a few hours is a special thing.

Steve: The one thing about this movie is that I don’t think it’s condescending to children. I really think kids see it, and can feel it, when they’re being spoken down to. For the same reason, it’s appealing to adults because it then doesn’t seem like a kiddie movie. It just seems like a movie with a story that anyone can enjoy. It’s fun to watch a movie in 3-D with your children, or with a group of children, because, from time to time, you see little hands reaching up to grab things that they think are right there. It’s remarkable and it does, obviously, add another dimension, literally, to the movie. It’s fun with things like this because you feel like you’re stepping inside of a world. It’s remarkable. The technology is pretty amazing.

LAist: Steve, with the news that the seventh season of “The Office” will be your last with the show, why is now the time to move on?

Steve: Well, my contract has always been for seven seasons and I just feel like now is the time for my character to move ahead. It just feels like time, to me. I have no doubt that the show will continue, and continue to be really strong. I think it might actually be a benefit to the show because any time you shift the dynamic of a show like that, great things can happen and you can find new avenues to explore. I look at it as just one piece of an ensemble drifting off. I was actually surprised that anybody thought it was any big deal because, to me, the ensemble is what was always important about the show.

LAist: Will Michael Scott go out in a big way?

Steve: I don’t want him to, frankly. What I love most about the show is when it examines the minutia of life and those little tiny moments that you then base a whole episode on. There was one show that Stanley and I waited in line for pretzels, the entire show. It was Pretzel Day in the office and all we did was stand in line and wait, and talk about what kind of pretzels we were going to get. I love those moments, so I would be inclined to make it a more subtle and simple departure as opposed to any big, “very special episode” kind of thing.

LAist: Miranda, what’s coming up on “iCarly”?

Miranda: We just started the third season. We’re on our third episode so far, and my character, Carly, finally has a bedroom, which I thought was really cool because it’s purple and that is my favorite color. They just made it the dream bedroom. They put a trampoline that you jump on, into the bed. Then, the closet rotates and you pick your outfit on a pad next to it, and then it gives you your outfit. It’s just a really amazing room.

LAist: How much freedom do you have to improvise on the show?

Miranda: We do a lot of improv. We usually do ten takes of every scene, and the last few takes, we’ll just go crazy and do what we want, especially with the web show scenes because they’re so outlandish and weird.

LAist: What can you tell us about an “iCarly” movie? Is that going to happen?

Miranda: They’ve talked about making an “iCarly” movie before, but nothing’s really been finalized. I think it’d be really fun to do it, just because we’ve done every episode in this little studio on Sunset, at Nickelodeon Studios, and we’ve never left. The farthest we’ve ever gotten away was the street behind the studio, so I’d love to get to go on vacation somewhere with the whole cast.

LAist: Jason, when you go back to work on “How I Met Your Mother,” what’s in store for Marshall and Lily?

Jason: I don’t know the storylines. Allegedly, from what I’ve heard, I’m going to get even funnier, which seems impossible, but that’s the plan. I think there might be a kid, in our future, if I had to guess, but I’m truly guessing. I always pictured myself and Marshall a bit like the Abominable Snowman from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, like all, “I’ll hug him and squeeze him and kiss him all over.” I picture me holding a baby upside down by the leg, shaking it.

LAist: Are the producers amused by your idea for a post-apocalyptic finale?

Jason: I just think if the narration takes place in the future, there should be a reveal where they open the window and it’s just horrible out there. I just think that’s a hilarious idea. But no, they’re not amused by anything I do. A lot of these ideas come from the fact that I’m a bizarre human being.

LAist: How is the Muppets movie you’re doing coming along? How terrifying is it to have to live up to Jim Henson’s legacy?

Jason: Well, that part is very intimidating. What I do think is that I have to approach it with a real sense of respect. I’m very earnest about the way I approach it. There’s no sense of irony with me, going into the Muppets. I don’t think it’s funny that I’m doing the Muppets. I truly love them. What I learned from this film is the idea of a family being able to bond over seeing something together, and walking out of the theater with everyone in a great mood. It’s a very special thing, for a family to walk out of a film satisfied and happy, and then go have lunch or dinner together feeling happy, and talking and laughing. It’s a very rare thing. Family dynamics aren’t easy, so the notion of anything drawing them together, especially a movie like Despicable Me, is a very special thing.

Article by Courtney Quinn