Last month I was lucky enough to be invited to Los Angeles to attend the press junket for the upcoming LAIKA studios animated film Kubo and the Two Strings.
The movie features the voices of Charlize Theron as Monkey, Matthew McConaughey as Beetle, and Art Parkinson as Kubo. I had the honor of meeting with them and speaking about the making of the movie, and what it means to them to have worked on their first animated voice characters in their careers. My favorite quote from the interview: “You have to fight for your own third act.” This. Always this. Fight for the things you want in life.
Kubo stands out because it is a children’s movie that takes really difficult subject matter and handles it in a really intelligent way. Was that something that drew you to the project?
Charlize Theron: “For me, in general I love directness. I was raised with a lot of directness. And I think in storytelling we sometimes forget that with children, and there was something about this that was just so clear, and I love that. As far as taste goes, I like that there’s nothing about this that kind of shies away from very, very real issues, and I think at the end of the day that makes it very powerful and refreshing because we don’t see a lot of that. And so, yeah, I was very excited to be a part of that.”
Matthew McConaughey: “That’s something LAIKA seems to do with all their projects. They don’t really pander down to the age group. They deal with adult themes in a way that’s digestible for kids. There’s always a good moral to the story that’s learned in the middle of the adventure. I liked their previous work and this script had all that.”
On preparing for the roles in an animated movie
Matthew McConaughey: “This was my first animated voice I’ve ever done. I tried to get on quite a few other films but never got it. And I’d just had children, so with three kids, a lot of my friends were asking them, ‘So what’s your favorite movie your dad did?' And they’re like, ‘Well, we’ve never seen any of ‘em.' I didn’t try too hard to prepare for anything, it was there in the script and then I was listening to the guys. I sort of found it on the day for me. We didn’t actually work together in those scenes, but that wasn’t difficult really at all. And then just started creating on the day and then we’d talk with Travis [Knight, producer/director] and say, ‘How do you like this? How do you like that?' And this is the tact I’m on, and we were off.”
Charlize Theron: “Yeah. I mean, very similar, you know. I’ve always joked that my kids would have to be 52 before they could see anything I’ve been in. So it’s nice that that now has changed. There was such a constant conversation, the process was so laid back and very relaxing, and I loved it ‘cause I had never done a voice either, other than to my son sometimes when I read and he would always say, ‘Don’t do that! You sound weird.' ‘Dude, I’m doing a Russian accent, this is cool.' So, I was nervous too because I didn’t really know the process, but the process is very relaxed, and very much like other films. It’s really kind of coming back to the core and the foundation of storytelling and Travis was really encouraging of keeping things very grounded and very real, and so I felt comfortable with that.”
Art Parkinson: “For every project I do, me and my mum do a lot of work together in post-production, whether it be looking over the script and reading over the script together, and then the night before, really studying the character and talking about the different ways that we can portray the character. Travis also helps a lot because he’s such a down to earth person so he’s easy to talk to. Travis was always very encouraging in the ways that I wanted to portray the character, and he always had this little Kubo sculpture set up tho that also made it very easy to prepare.”
What did you draw from your own childhood to help you with this project?
Charlize Theron: “It goes back to what I said earlier, the directness. I felt very comfortable with that. I was raised by a mother that never shied away from anything, and so now being 40 I just appreciate that, being a parent myself, and raising my children very similarly, because it had such a huge impact on me.”
Art Parkinson: “For me, I could relate to it and draw memories of me and my mother. Me and my mother are very close. So it was always sort of Kubo and his mother are very close, so I always drew from that, by the way I treated my mother and by the way my mother liked to be treated, very respectfully, and I think I really brought that into my character in how I portrayed him.”
Matthew McConaughey: “One of the things that I like about the story, I try to teach to my children, as well, and it’s true for all of us, is that you have to fight for your own third act. You have to fight for your own happy ending, and as Charlize was saying, directness. It’s definitely the story is about saying, no, don’t deny anything that’s out there, and the truth may burn and it may be hard, but that’s the only way you get through your third act with a happy ending, if it’s possible.”
On being able to ad-lib
Charlize Theron: “Oh. Yeah. Travis is, by the way, one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. He’s just very consistent in who he is and very warm, very encouraging. He gave us all ownership in this and he has a real understanding that we wanted to kind of step into these bodies and become and live in this and the only way you can really do that is to know that the sky is the limit, there’s not any kind of hard lines for you to kind of be in. And he so very much did that.”
Matthew McConaughey: “They have enough voiceover for three more movies from the stuff I gave him. That was it. I like to walk in and say, ‘Press record. And then don’t press stop for the next 12 hours, or however long it is,' and come back in and find it. So that was part of the fun and for me that’s just—Charlize says sky’s the limit. It was a fun process. It was supposed to be fun, and you can’t really screw up you know. And if you do, it’s just tape. So yeah, I played around a lot, and I liked doing that.”
Art Parkinson: “Yeah, I thought that if I had any ideas about extra lines or things I wanted to add, I always just mentioned it to Travis and asked him if we could do a take with these extra lines, and he was always very supportive of it. Like with Matthew and Charlize, he always let us sort of bring the characters to life ourselves and he sort of gave us the instruments to do so, though. You know what I mean? So yeah, he was very, very supportive and it was always very fun.
Thank you to Focus Features for bringing us to LA for an all-expenses-paid trip to attend the press junket.