SDCC INTERVIEW: ELIJAH WOOD AND JENNIFER CONNELLY TAKE ‘9’.
by Paul Fischer
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The new animated feature, 9, takes animation to new levels, in this often dark and sobering post-apocalyptic drama. The lead voices are played by Lord of the Rings’ Elijah Wood and Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly, both of whom spoke to PAUL FISCHER in San Diego.
ELIJAH WOOD: Oh, we came before the first Rings came out in 2000.
QUESTION: And it wasn’t nearly as crazy.
ELIJAH WOOD: Not like this, no. No, it’s definitely exponentially grown over the years. And I mean, you know, they’ve got, like, a Weeds panel, I found out. Like, what’s Weeds doing here? There are all these shows and movies—
QUESTION: Every TV show is here.
ELIJAH WOOD: It’s amazing, right? It’s a much bigger thing now.
QUESTION: When you were first offered 9, this is a first time feature director. Was Tim Burton’s involvement part of swaying you in the direction of taking this on? I mean, the fact that you had somebody involved who clearly had faith in this particular director?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: For me, it was really Shane’s short film of the same title, that I saw, which I thought was extraordinary. I really made my decision based on that. I thought it was so beautiful, and I was excited to be part of it.
ELIJAH WOOD: I agree. Yeah, same.
QUESTION: Well, you’re no stranger to animated films. I mean, you did the penguin movie.
ELIJAH WOOD: Sure. [LAUGHTER] Sure. But yeah, it was certainly the short. I mean, I was intrigued by the whole story, too, the fact that Shane did it on his own. I kind of had some context before I saw the short, and was blown away. It’s so unique, and beautiful.
QUESTION: Do you do animated films for the child in you, or for children? Family?
ELIJAH WOOD: Neither. I mean, I think it’s based on the individual project, you know? I’m a fan of animation, so it probably comes from that place as well. But with this specifically, I was just intrigued by the beauty of the art, and the world that Shane had created. And that’s why I wanted to be a part of it.
QUESTION: Can you guys tell us a bit about your characters?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: I play 7, who is part of the tribe that 9 finds. And she has not been in the sanctuary where the other characters – most of the other characters have been living, under 1’s protection. She’s been sort of out in the wasteland, fighting. Fighting what’s left of the machines. She’s kind of a fierce and brave warrior.
ELIJAH WOOD: I’m 9. 9 is the last of them to be born awake and he awakens at a time in which they’ve already created a hierarchy. She’s already left that, because she wasn’t about what they were doing. And he comes in with a lot of questions, completely innocent into the world, not knowing who he is, or what he is, but immediately sees that there’s reason for questions. Particularly because 1, who had been sent out – I think it was 2 that got sent out – 9 quickly realizes that 2 was sent out – sort of on a suicide mission. And that he was too old. And 1’s sort of staunch – you know, belief, and belief to hide away from trouble is what’s causing some of their problems. And so he comes in with a lot of questions, and sort of shakes loose a lot of the structure that they had created.
QUESTION: The director was talking about insisting that you be as naturalistic vocally as possible. I was just wondering where the balance is between being naturalistic, and adding specific qualities to your characters, to make the voices sound interesting?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: I wasn’t really striving to affect my voice in any way. I was really just thinking about the character, and who she was, and trying to embody that character as best as I could, the way I would approach any film, really. And – you know, throwing myself about in the recording studio as if I were being filmed. Making a fool of myself. So – I wasn’t thinking in a different kind of way than I usually do. I wasn’t thinking in a sort of more superficial way than I usually do, just because it was only the voice. I was really just thinking about who she was, and trying to embody each scene.
QUESTION: What’s it like in the recording studio? Do you show up in a shirt and sweatpants, or – or a Zach [?]?
ELIJAH WOOD: It’s very informal, yeah.
QUESTION: Well, it does sound like – I mean, so often in animated films now, what you see with famous actors, it’s sort of like – “Okay, here’s the Will Smith character. And here’s the”— you know, not Will Smith, but it’s the celebrity and not the actual character. And it sounds like you spent time actually creating characters for this film, [UNINTEL] yourselves.
ELIJAH WOOD: Yeah. And that, certainly with a film like this, would have been a disservice to the film. I mean, they’re all pretty fleshed out characters.
QUESTION: And when you come in, is it more collaboration than just coming in to sort of do your lines? Or, how closely are you working with Shane to flesh it out?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: I thought he was very collaborative. He also helped – you know, talk us through – or at least with me, talk me through what it was going to be, and what things were going to look like. You know, because it’s sort of a work in progress. And it’s not like the film is done, and then we come in and put the voice to it. You know, it’s sort of one of the first things that happens. I mean – well, in terms of that we saw drawings and storyboards and the script, obviously. But the animation was by no means complete when we went into the recording studio. So, he spent a lot of time talking about what it was going to be, what we would – what I would be seeing, what would be happening. Describing the action sequences. Talking about the character, talking about what he wanted from her, and talking about specific lines, and trying different things. It was very collaborative.
QUESTION: And you go in and out. I mean, this is not a five-minute thing. You do this over the period of time, continually refining what has gone before, is that correct?
ELIJAH WOOD: Uh-huh [AFFIRM]. I mean, this was – how many years was this? It was like, two years? Or more?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: I don’t really know how many years he was working on it. Three years?
ELIJAH WOOD: I think it’s the last three years. It is something that over time – and it does develop. The character develops over time. And, you know, they’ve certainly written the script. And you go in, and you do the initial recording of kind of everything. But then that changes and grows. And it is collaboration, in a traditional sense. You know, it’s not – just because it’s animation – the process is not all that different from how you would approach a normal character, and develop that character throughout the course of a film.
QUESTION: I’m always intrigued by the animation process, and just the behind the scenes work. First of all, how different was it working on this film than it was Happy Feet for you? And then, how was it working as actors – did you guys work together? Did you do mostly single sessions? How did it work on that end?
ELIJAH WOOD: Well, the difference between this and Happy Feet – Happy Feet was a little bit more of a production, because of the nature of the film. And there was also a lot more to – for your second question – there are a lot more instances in which a lot of actors were together in the same room, if at all possible. This, not as much. And this is – it’s less of a production, this film. It’s a lot more specific to characters, and a little bit – the world’s a little smaller, and more intimate. Different.
QUESTION: How about for you?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Well, we – I had one session together with Elijah. And the rest of my sessions were – I was on my own.
ELIJAH WOOD: And you didn’t get to work with anybody else?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: I didn’t get to work with anybody else.
ELIJAH WOOD: Oh, no.
QUESTION: Is that difficult? Is it difficult having to realize it all yourself, versus working with other actors, and working off that?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Well, I heard their performances. So – you know, I would hear them in my headphones when I was – you know. And he would play – whatever Shane had completed, he would show me. Because I finally went in, and there were scenes reported – you know, I would see the whole sequence, what he had with the – you know, sort of the sketches of what it was going to be. Or in some instances, as we got further along, whatever completed animation they had. And I would hear what everyone else had recorded. So, it wasn’t really in a vacuum. But I just wasn’t in the room with the other actors.
QUESTION: Jennifer, you’ve done a ton of genre films. I mean, you’ve got fans probably from all over the map. Labyrinth has stood the test of time. Is there something about the genre that appeals to you, or is there something that the directors see that you kind of get it? Because, I mean, doing genre films, it takes a different tack for an actor. And some actors get it, and some actors don’t.
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Well, I think those films are all really different genres. I mean, this film feels really sort of singular to me. I’ve never worked on anything like this. So, I – I don’t know. I appreciate creativity, and people who have – you know, I’m intrigued by people who are – you know, by artistry. And impressed by it, and moved by it. So, wherever I see that, I’m – I like to support it, and be part of it, and part of that experience.
QUESTION: You’re going to be in Toronto, with, I understand, a knockabout comedy.
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Yeah.
QUESTION: A role about – laughing in the aisles movie. Can you talk about that movie? It sounds like a really intriguing –
JENNIFER CONNELLY: About Creation?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Briefly, I’ll talk about it. It’s a film about Charles Darwin, and my husband plays Charles Darwin, and I play his cousin and wife, Emma Darwin.
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Is she, or is he?
QUESTION: Are both – aren’t they both?
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Well, it’s a really interesting conflict, because of course we know what he got up to. And she was a devoutly religious woman, which put their marriage into – was a huge source of conflict and struggle for both of them. And – yeah. And it’s a story that I really didn’t know much about, his personal life and his family life, and her.
QUESTION: Was it fun working with your husband on something that’s – because he is so funny, and has a –
JENNIFER CONNELLY: It wasn’t a rip-roaring set, I’ll tell you. I loved – I loved doing—I loved working with him. I felt so – I was pinching myself, every day. “We’re going to work together, in the car.” [LAUGHTER] You know, it was great. It was really fun, it was really nice. But it was – you know, the subject matter was quite serious, and it was at a hard time for me, personally. I wasn’t feeling terribly chipper. I had lost my Dad the week before I started working. It was a very difficult time for me. But it was sort of miraculous that I was – it was sort of perfect – I don’t think I would have been able to work if I hadn’t been with him.
QUESTION: And what about you, Elijah? What’s going on with you, work-wise? You’ve made some very interesting career choices since that trilogy of movies. Lord of something. Lord of Flatbush, or something. Your choices have been – you haven’t gone the sort of big studio movie star route, which you easily, I guess, could have done, given the success of that trilogy. What is the thinking behind that? And what are you looking for as an actor at this point in your life?
ELIJAH WOOD: Well – I mean, I don’t know if there was a huge thought process behind it, beyond – I don’t know. Coming across material that I believed in, and thought was interesting. And I feel like that’s kind of always the path that I’m on. So, whether it’s something on a larger scale, or on a smaller scale, is mostly irrelevant. And so I think those just – it’s reflective of my taste, and I’m always intrigued to do something that’s very different from the last thing that I’ve worked on. And always looking to challenge myself. So, that’s probably why it’s been the way that it’s been. And I think after Lord of the Rings, I have no interest in doing anything large, or for any long period of time. I think the thing I worked on after that was like – I did two days of work on something. Which was like – ah! Relief. Like, five minutes in make-up. As opposed other – you know, an hour and a half.
QUESTION: Did you catch up with Peter while he’s here?
ELIJAH WOOD: I saw him last night at the District 9—very briefly.
QUESTION: Did you go to the screening?
ELIJAH WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: How was it?
ELIJAH WOOD: Loved it. it’s extraordinary. I just found out they made it for $30 million. That’s it. When you see the movie, you’ll be impressed.
QUESTION: What are you doing next?
ELIJAH WOOD: I don’t know. I don’t know yet, actually. I’m kind of –
QUESTION: Are you nvolved with Guillermo Del Toro and The Hobbit?
ELIJAH WOOD: I have no idea what’s going on with that. I definitely – I’m planning on visiting, and seeing everybody – I mean, there’s so many people from Rings that are going to be a part of that. So, I’ll go down and see it. And I’m so glad that Guillermo’s doing it. He’s amazing. If it’s not Pete, it should be him. So, it makes a lot of sense.
QUESTION: Do you still talk with everyone? Are you guys still a big family?
ELIJAH WOOD: Yeah. I don’t think you can work that closely with those people for that length of time, and not stay close. You know. Dom’s here this weekend. So. We drove down together. [LAUGHTER]
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Both. [LAUGHTER] Watch, hear. Yeah.
QUESTION: Mainstream animation by its nature is such a kid-friendly enterprise. How would you say 9 fits into that? Does it have kid-friendly elements? Or would you say, “Don’t bring your kids to this one?”
JENNIFER CONNELLY: Well, it’s rated PG-13. I think it’s – I think it’s – you know, Elijah was talking about this. It’s not really what we think of as, like, a kid’s animation – it’s not like a Disney animated film. It has a lot of grown-up, mature themes about war and devastation. It’s sort of like, post-apocalyptic kind of world. It’s quite a serious film. Action adventure film, that’s captured through animation. I think certainly for older kids, my 12-year-old son saw it and he loves it.
ELIJAH WOOD: Oh, that’s great.
JENNIFER CONNELLY: My six-year—almost. He keeps saying – in 11 days, as he reminded me this morning, he’ll be six—year-old son saw parts of it. I had my hands over his eyes for – you know, it’s a lot of action, and it’s frightening for young children, I think.
QUESTION: It’s no Happy Feet.
JENNIFER CONNELLY: It’s not for very young children.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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