Gnomeo and Juliet’s Emily Blunt and Matt Lucas talk Gnomosexual’s and quirky Britishness
Gnomeo and Juliet isn’t your every day Disney animation. The 3D adventure manages to mix classic Shakespeare, Garden Gnomes and an all star British cast, to bring a brand new twist to the classic love story of Romeo and Juliet.
Director Kelly Asbbury, Steve Hamilton Shaw from Rocket Films, Baker Bloodworth from Disney and cast member’s Matt Lucas, Emily Blunt and Ashley Jenson held a hilarious press conference at the Dorchester Hotel in London this week, with highlights including Matt Lucas calling Elton John a notorious ‘Gnomosexual’ and Emily Blunt’s potty mouth over the trials and tribulations of doing Shakespeare.
When was Gnomeo and Juliet first conceived?
Steve Hamilton Shaw: I believe it was 2001, it was a spec script that we heard about and a concept that we liked that we thought appealed to grown ups and children and the perfect family movie, so together with Rocket we jumped on it and bought it to Disney.
Baker Bloodworth: It was trying to locate the right talent to helm the movie, and David, Steve and I had already met at Disney because of the Lion King relationship with Elton, and together we decided to invite Kelly Ashbury on board which brought us to where we are today.
Can you explain a bit about the FOG’s- The Friends of Gnomes?
Kelly Asbbury: When Baker called me and said he had this great movie idea that he wanted me to direct, using the songs of Elton John and Bernie Kauffman, and i said that sounds great, and then he said But it’s gonna be about garden gnomes, and I said, wow, we’ve never done that before! What a great ingredient! Then he explained how it was gonna be about Romeo and Juliet and there was a long pause, and finally i realised that it was a pretty interesting combination to put together, and a challenge to see if we could make something fun and interesting, and somehow keep it from being too much of a tragedy, if at all, and I could turn it down. The FOG’s were a group of people that me and Baker had known for years in the animation industry, and every three months we would get together with the movie artists and would show them the movie and different stages and got their opinion. They were honest and if it sucked they told us it sucked and told us what needed changing and that’s how we developed this brain trust to make this movie better.
As an acting exercise how bizarre or normal was this as an acting exercise?
Emily Blunt: It was really lonely in the sound booth by yourself, it’s a strange discipline to learn, because you haven’t got anyone’s eyes to look at and i was amazed at how flat your voice can be when you don’t have any facial expressions, so the whole time Kelly would be encouraging me to smile and jump up and down and really overact.
Ashley Jenson: I found it quite good, it was like being a child again, in your bedroom with no one watching having a bit of fun on your own doing silly voices. Except there was a camera on your face so that they could get the expressions from our faces when we talked.
Kelly Ashbury: Yep, the animators use the expressions for the Gnomes by recording the dialogue first, animators work to a soundtrack and then sink up the dialogue and use the actors visual ques, that’s why quite a lot of times you will see what looks like the actor in the character.
Matt Lucas: It was very nice because I’m usually up at half four or five having prothsetics put on, so I got up at eight and had some breakfast, and a car came and picked me up, and had a cup of tea and said about six lines and went home, and you do that about twice a year for about three or four years and then you walk on a green carpet and everyone says well done. Then you do an interview and you say, acting’s terribly hard. It was nice to work with friends, and people I didn’t know that I now class as friends.
Ashley Jenson: It always felt like cheating, it was too much fun, and I thought, I can’t believe, I’m getting paid for this as well.
Matt Lucas: You’re not. I remember going to rocket studios and seeing all of the hundreds of drawings of Juliet and thinking someone has to come in and make those executive decisions about that and I’m so glad that wasn’t me.
What kind of involvement did Elton have in the production?
Kelly Ashbury: From the very beginning we talked about everything with Elton, and ran everything past him like the story and the music. We wanted the music to be in the fabric of the film, we didn’t just want to throw Elton John music on top of a story, we wanted it to be part of the story, we used it the way they used it in the graduate with Simon and Garfunkels music where its an emotional cue for whats going on on the screen, so Elton was a massive tribute to that process. It was very important that the movie was glued together by this suite of Elton John classics and new songs.
Elton is obviously very protective of his music, what ides did he have in terms of changing any lyrics to suit the story?
Steve Hamilton Shaw: He was really open to anything that worked for the movie and we were blessed to have that huge back catalogue to draw from which has such a wide audience. One of the toughest things was choosing what to cut. Elton is someone who likes to have new experiences and is always looking forward and likes to include new artists and the most important thing was to make it feel fresh and organic to the story.
What Shakespearean experiences have you as actors had?
Matt Lucas: I was in a production of Troilus and Cressida at London’s Old Vic,which Dominic Von Guell directed and he wrote a chapter about it in his book and he classes it as a career low, and the alcoholism of the cast, but I was completely sober so I don’t know what my excuse was, but you can read the reviews of me, and it’s a wonder i ever got back on stage, it was not the most auspicious moment of my career and i think this is the closest I should probably get to Shakespeare.
Kelly Ashbury:I was in Kings Lear at the Royal exchange in Manchester, which is where I met my husband, and together we fell in love plucking out Gloucester’s eyes!
Emily Blunt: I actually did play Juliet on stage, she was harder than this version but i loved it, i found it an extraordinary task doing Shakespeare as I hadn’t trained or had any previous experience. I remember crying to my Nana where I was staying at the time, and she made me a cream tea and told me it would get better, and by the third week it was easier. The best thing about Shakespeare is when people forget their lines and try and improvise. There was a Friar Lawrence line in Romeo and Juliet “Be plain, good son, and homely in thy drift; Riddling confession finds but riddling shrift” and the actor ended up completely saying; “Be plain good son, and uh, blah blmm mumble,flff mm drift” That’s the terrifying part about Shakespeare, if you forget the lines, you’re fu**ked!
Was it clear from the beginning that the characters should be Gnomes?
Kelly Ashbury: When they brought it to me it was Gnomeo and Juliet so it was always Gnomes.
Matt Lucas: And of course Elton John is a famous Gnomosexual!
How did you feel as actors when you were told you were going to be playing Gnomes in a Shakespearian story?
Matt Lucas: How much?
Emily Blunt: When I first got the call from my agent, I was like ‘Really?, Oh no!”But then i got the script and I was so charmed with it, that i went from going ‘Huh?’ to ‘Aww’ Then when i met all the guys from the project who had such enthusiasm, it was such a passion project, and I’d never done an animated feature before.
Ashley Jenson: Well I’d never done one either and it was one of those boxes as an actor that i wanted to tick off. Once my Mum got over the fact that I wasn’t going to get to play Shrek’s sister, this was the closest I was going to get to it really, playing a frog.
Matt Lucas: I was just happy to get the work really, I was chuffed to bits, and i know Elton John and David Furnish a bit, and I remember David talking very excitedly about it and that was four or five years ago. It’s been a pleasure to work on.
What do you think the 3D adds and can you ever see animations being created in 2D again?
Kelly Ashbury: I wanted it to be created in 3D from early on, because the scale of the Gnome world had giant leaves and flowerpots and i think 3D enhanced that world. Thanks to Avitar we were able to convince the studio about half way through to start creating it in 3D rather than in post production. There are plenty of films coming out such as Rango which is not 3D, i think it depends on the subject matter and is it appropriate to the film rather than a gimmick. Hopefully this will become more the case in the future.
What’s the Disney perspective on 3D?
Baker Bloodworth: Well we really began the tradition back with Toy Story and have since made sure that our films have both platforms. It depends on the style of the movie, for example Princess and The Frog last year was hand painted and was beautiful and shouldn’t and couldn’t have been made in 3D, but we’re proud to release them in both formats.
How did you come to cast Ozzy Osbourne as an ornamental garden deer?
Steve Hamilton Shaw: Well David made that call so I can’t speak for him, that was one of those crazy casting ideas when you’re trying to decide who should play this concrete fawn sidekick, and it was like someone was from another planet when Ozzy Osbourne was suggested, and we all paused and then thought, we should do that, it would be really funny! It was like one of those bolts of lightening in the casting world.
Kelly Ashbury: All I know is I didn’t know what to expect, he’s the Prince of Darkness, but he turned out he was great, he’s been in the recording studio all his life, so he knew exactly what to do, and he gave me a thousand choices, he was great. He was a dream to work with.
Was there any conjecture about having Elton as a caricature character in the film?
Kelly Ashbury: We knew we wanted him to appear somehow, and there was a lot of discussion, and then we had this idea of Nanette having this sort of Ally McBeal moment, it was Steve’s idea so that when Paris is singing to her, she envisions him romantically and he appears as Elton singing This Is Your Song. When you do a caricature of anyone, you have to show it to them for approval, and Elton loved it, and he said do it, so we enhanced it with more jewels and more shininess!
What is the future for the house of Disney, will Tangled be the last Disney ‘Fairytale’?
Baker Bloodworth: We’re always searching for a story that is lasting because we spend so many years of our lives working on them, you want to find a story and character that is lasting and with emotion and humour. So who knows what next year or five years will bring, but there’s certainly no mandate to do or not do anymore fairytales. It’s about pairing a great director with an idea that he or she believes in and that’s how we make these animated films.
This is a very British film, with Gnomes, and lots of Sir’s and Dame’s lending their voices, how important is this to you as three British actors?
Emily Blunt: It’s vital and very exciting, and I think there is a very positive feeling around this film, and I could feel it yesterday at the premier. I think people on both side of the pond are excited that this is a very British movie, because I think you find a lot of Anglophiles in America because they find the English way of life very quaint and different, and this is a really good representation of British actors, hopefully doing what we do best, playing Gnomes.
Steve Hamilton Shaw: We wanted to make a movie that travelled, we didn’t want to make a ‘British’ movie that only appealed to a British audience, we wanted it to be universal. Romeo and Juliet is such a big story, it was more about making big movie but using the best of British talent.
What does the immediate future hold for Rocket films?
Steve Hamilton Shaw: Well, we’ve been pretty much focused on this baby for a while, but we certainly see more animation movies in the future and there are some in development and then we have a variety of music entertainment movies and TV shows in development, it’s mainly things with a musical stamp that we can add value to.
How did Lady Gaga end up doing a song for this film with Elton?
Kelly Ashbury: Well, we had the song written, and Elton had performed it and it was a love at first sight song and for some time we had Elton doing it as a solo, but it was one of those songs that needed a female voice in it. We didn’t want to have anyone that people would expect, we wanted something to reflect this Juliet’s personality, so who else but Lady Gaga. Elton was actually having dinner with her and he told her the story and she was really taken by it and she agreed to do it.
GNOMEO AND JULIET IS OUT IN UK CINEMA’S ON THE 11TH OF FEBRUARY 2011FROM ENTERTAINMENT ONE