Hugh Grant has never seen a 3D movie. “Isn’t that weird?” he asks me. It is. I ask him why. “I don’t know. I’m out of touch. I got old,” he admits with a wistful grin.
I’ll assume the 3D animated comedy ‘The Pirates! Band of Misfits’ will be his first. Grant should see it. He’s really quite good in it, lending his voice to Pirate Captain, a less-than-seaworthy ship captain whose dreams of winning the coveted Pirate of the Year tournament somehow pairs him with English naturalist and pioneering scientist Charles Darwin (Martin Freeman), a rare dodo bird named Polly, and Mr. Bobo – a chimp who communicates via flash cards.
If it all sounds strange, just know that Peter Lord’s ‘The Pirates!’ comes to us from the mad geniuses at Aardman Animation studios, the wizards behind ‘Chicken Run’ (which Lord directed) and the infinitely entertaining ‘Wallace & Gromit’ stories. I had a chance to sit down with Grant in New York City and discuss pirates, play acting and the importance of one’s voice when doing voiceovers. Here’s Hugh Grant:
Over the course of your illustrious career, going as far back as elementary school, is this the first time anyone ever asked you to play a pirate?
[Laughs] Yes, I think it is.
So what made you jump at the chance to play Pirate Captain?
It wasn’t the pirate aspect that was tempting, really. It was a hilarious script. Gideon Defoe, who wrote the children’s books that this is based on, wrote the script, and he’s kind of a genius. It’s very rare to get me laughing at a script these days. And in addition, it was Aardman, who I’ve been a massive fan of all my life. They’ve never made a film that I didn’t think was brilliant, so this was an easy “Yes” for me.
When you shoot for intelligent comedy in a family feature it’s very easy to overshoot or undershoot. How much discussion went into what would be funny for a younger audience?
Well, I think that Aardman has always gone for trying to please everyone at the same time. So there’s lots of physical silliness that children love. But we’ve also got quite clever jokes that adults like.
Some actors lending voices to animated characters just use their same voice. Your ‘Pirates’ co-star, Salma Hayek, voices Cutlass Liz, a pirate who sounds exactly like Salma Hayek. Pirate Captain, however, sounds nothing like you. You made some conscious decisions to change how you sound.
Yeah, no, I had to because these animators do it differently from a lot of American cartoons now where these characters – the visual aspect of the character – are slightly modeled to look like Tom Hanks or Will Smith or whomever it is. They are more old-fashioned in England, and they’d already created [Pirate Captain], looking like he does, by the time they came to me. So I had to look at him and think, “I have to match my voice to that.” So yes, I had to do a bit of acting.
What are your thoughts on vocal actors receiving awards consideration? Because we have been so moved by characters in animated films these past few years, and so much of it ties back to voice.
Well, it’s not all voice, although it’s nice of you to say that. [Laughs] It really isn’t, I realized while we were making this film, the more they showed me pieces of animated action that they matched to things that I had done, the more that I realized that these animated geniuses are doing 80% of the work. You can try to hit the right spots and get the right tone with your voice, but so much of the comedy and the emotion is done by just the geniuses of the animators.
‘The Pirates! Band of Misfits’ opens everywhere on Friday, April 27.