DreamWorks Animation’s HOME is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on 20th July. To celebrate, we spoke to Jim Parsons about the appeal of playing Oh…
You must get offered a lot of film roles. What made this story stand out?
I was really excited at the prospect of doing any animated film at all, because I’d never done one. It was just the opportunity in and of itself; that part of it was very appealing. The first thing I saw of it was a rendering of the character Oh, and I loved him. In fact, I liked him so much that I thought, ‘Oh! They can’t want my voice for this. He’s so cute!’ He’s got that adorable, curious quality about him.
But then the other thing that’s so appealing, and that has only intensified as we’ve done it, is it’s such a beautiful story about learning to let other people be who they are, and letting their true self shine through, and finding how much you end up loving that person. It’s about not prejudging, and not coming in with too many assumptions about other people. I think it’s an important lesson at all times of life, but really important right now.
In that case, changing the film’s title – it was originally ‘Happy Smekday’ – seems like a good decision, because it captures that idea about finding your people.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s funny, I think necessity is the mother of invention in some ways. One reason the change was made is probably that it’s an easier sell, quite frankly. You don’t want to confuse people with the title, like ‘What does that mean?’. Home says something so simple, and for that very reason it makes a lot of sense for this film. It’s all about finding what defines your home. Is it four walls in your home town, or is it an ever-changing place with the people you find who make home?
For anyone who is yet to see the film, tell us about your character, Oh.
Oh is an extremely friendly, curious, enthusiastic being who, by his very nature, is not one of the crowd. Nothing would please him more than to fit in and conform with his fellow aliens in the Boov race – but he doesn’t, and he can’t help himself. Therefore he feels like an outcast, and his attempts to fit in end up causing trouble for him, to the point where he has a very big mistake he makes that could get his entire alien race in trouble. He’s on the run; he’s a fugitive from the rest. That’s when he meets this young human girl [Tip, voiced by Rihanna] who feels like an outcast in her own way and the two of them find all these things they have in common.
But for him in particular, he’s an extremely optimistic hopeful character. He has an irresistible curiosity and enthusiasm for life in general that is just beautiful.
There’s something about Oh’s unquenchable optimism that makes you love him…
Yes! I feel like everybody feels that part in them, everyone can feel that inside themselves. I have an optimist inside me too. And it’s really easy to lose sight of that and get caught up in the drudgery of daily life and trying to get through things. I think – as with any character that connects with people – Oh’s quality that connects is a mirror of what’s inside them. It’s that hopefulness. To get to see the world through his eyes for a little bit reminds you that you can apply that to your own life.
In terms of the relationship between Oh and Tip, did you get to record your dialogue with Rihanna?
A little bit, not a lot. It was wonderful. She’s an excessively warm person, a very funny and quick-witted person. We had never met before, and I was taken aback at what a wonderful sparring partner she was, both in conversation and to work with, immediately. I think she’s a beautiful fit for this part because she brings two very opposite qualities to this character, of strength and maturity, and this real sad loner quality at the same time. It’s very moving, and very vivid, what she’s brought.
There was a picture online of you recording alongside Steve Martin as the Boov’s leader, Captain Smek. Was it as fun as it looks?
That was beyond fun! It was like taking a class. He was like you would think he is, but even more impressive in person. He is so creative and so brave. We would be doing a scene and… it’s not just that he does improv or anything like that. It’s just that he knows natural ways to take a scene and play with it, and these rhythms and noises and things that are really awe-inspiring. It’s because he has a real fearlessness about him, and it makes it tremendous fun to work with him.
And President Obama visited while you were both recording?
Yes, he was at the DreamWorks site to give a speech that day. He and Jeffrey Katzenberg went around; he got a tour of the facilities. Steve and I were there and we were recording, so we met him.
But did he reveal the secret plans to fight an alien invasion should one occur
No, not a lick.
So what are you like in the recording booth? Are you quite physical?
I am very physical. I almost always left somewhat drenched in sweat, which surprised even me. You think of it as something where you not only don’t //need// your body, but you don’t even have it to use! There’s nothing you can do with your body that’s going to show in the final product. Maybe that’s all the more reason I used my body so much to get whatever noise or sounds out of it I could. When we needed to keep the energy up I found myself almost running in place! It was very physical.
And Oh has a very distinctive way of speaking, with things like “For what are you doing that?” or “Can I come into the out now?”. Did you find yourself using his grammar when you left the booth?
No, but I did find myself correcting it in the process. We would have to retake lines because I would self-correct his broken English as I was saying it. ‘No, it’s not “does,” he pronounces it “doos”,’ all manner of mistakes he was making. The only thing he says that we all began to say was ‘Thanking you’. It was always ‘Thanking you’. For some reason that was easier to catch on to. And sometimes ‘Can I come into the out now?’
Did you get a key piece of direction on playing Oh? Was there one thing that really helped you?
That’s hard to say. I will say that the direction in general was so crucial. Having no set and frequently no other actors to work with, it was really all about what Tim Johnson, our director, said. He was sort of my everything in that way; I couldn’t imagine it until he would say what it was and dictate what it was going to be. He was always a big proponent of that curious energy that Oh has, and that hopeful spin on it. That was the most consistent thing that came up again and again, and that’s very catching. Once you key into that, it’s a lovely place to be, so you find yourself wanting to reside there and talk from that place. It’s a nice break from the world.
How much recording time did you do in total?
It was spread over about two and a half years, but I did, I think, 31 or 32 sessions. They varied in time. The shortest I did was probably two hours at once, but I would do four hours at a time. They said it was a lot, but it never felt like a lot. It just felt like I worked on it over a very long time. I think that he had a lot to say in the film, is the bottom line, and that’s really all that mattered.
Will there be deleted scenes that you recorded on the DVD?
Oh, I don’t even know! That’s so funny. There’s nothing I know that was cut out yet, but I haven’t seen the full film yet. I hope to see it soon.
Tell us about the Boov and the Gorg, because there are two alien races here.
The Gorg I don’t know as well, because I wasn’t one. But the Boov are a very conformist society. They delight in being the same; you don’t want to stick out as a Boov. And they are on the run, always, from the other alien race called the Gorg. We hear about them being just terrifying, and the Boov aren’t sure why they’re chasing them. We find out in the film why they’re being chased. But that is why the Boov are moving from planet to planet, and why they finally find themselves on Earth. That’s their latest conquest, and they think they’ll stay here and the Gorg won’t know where they are. But of course the Gorg find them again.
One thing that is very cool about the Boov is their technology. Is there a particular gizmo that you’d like to have in real life?
I love the fact that Boov know how to create flying cars out of regular cars. In fact, with one car and a Slurpee machine, Oh is able to make a contraption that can literally fly all across the Earth. They’re very good. They don’t understand some of the more simplistic things like hair dryers and ovens like we have on Earth, but they have a much higher intellect with more complicated technology like that. They’re admirable in that way.
The central cast of this film – yourself, Rihanna, Steve Martin, and J.Lo as Tip’s mum – are all very gifted musically. Was there ever any talk of just making this a full-on musical?
No. But I did offer up that I would sing with Rihanna any time they wanted, and literally no one ever took that a step further. Isn’t that insulting? (Laughs.)
It’s interesting that J.Lo is in the film because, in the book, Oh’s character actually took the name J.Lo as his human name. Do you know how she got involved?
I know that they just wanted her to play the mother, which she did. I don’t know why they changed his name. I think there were copyright issues with her name. It’s funny: Oh ended up being such a wonderful name for him, and the way they incorporated why he’s called Oh is so beautiful. But right before we got to that, I was crushed that he wasn’t going to be called J.Lo, because it was very fun to keep saying, ‘My name is J.Lo’. I enjoyed saying that very much. But I really do think it worked out for the best.
The explanation for his name being Oh really is perfect.
It ended up being such a character-defining moment, and that simply wasn’t there before. He was called J.Lo because he thought that was easy for humans to understand.
You’ve done a lot of theatre work in the past, and you have another play coming this summer. A lot of voice actors say that the process is a little like theatre. Did you find that?
That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of it in that way, but I do think that’s why I enjoyed it so much, now that you’re saying it. I know that’s why I enjoyed doing it, because it required so much mental creativity and commitment. You’re absolutely right; the theatre is a wonderful training ground for something like that, where so much is left to your imagination to create the world around you like that. It’s really the essence of what’s so fun for, I think, many people when they first start to want to be an actor, is that they realise they enjoy making up a world around them to exist in, a whole situation and a whole way of being. And even more so than theatre, animation requires that because there’s just nothing to go on. It’s in your head and your heart or it’s not there at all.
DreamWorks Animation’s HOME is out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on 20th July