On Nov. 20 we are excited to share our exclusive cast interviews about “Penguins of Madagascar,” which features the voices of Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, Christopher Knights, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ken Jeong, Annet Mahendru, Peter Stormare and John Malkovich. It turns out super spy teams are hatched. The film takes viewers on a journey to discover the secrets of the greatest and most hilarious covert birds in the global espionage biz: Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private. Read our exclusive interviews below:
Eric Darnell and Simon J. Smith co-directed the film.
Tell us about the adventure that the penguins go on in the film?
Eric: Well it’s a crazy wild ride from Antarctica to Venice to Kentucky to Rio to China, Shanghai, South Pacific, New York, all over. Crazy action packed comedy. It has all the comedy that people want and expect from a penguin movie, we’ve seen them in these little bit parts bringing laughter to the Madagascar films and now they get a full 90 minutes to do the thing they do.
You also co-wrote the film. Speak about that process.
Eric: As directors you always collaborate with the writers.
Simon: Everybody pitches in, but the writers are the guys who really hone it, everyone throws ideas into the pot and then you have these really clever guys who then start making the script great.
How do you work together as co-directors?
Eric: We try to stay joined at the hip as much as possible, so that we can share this vision for the film, and then when things get really hairy like they did this summer when they moved our release date up four months, we were able to split up and deal with all the creatives that needed our input and get the movie done.
Werner Herzog lends his voice to the film. How did that come about?
Simon: Someone suggested Werner to do the voiceover in the movie and he had done a documentary and we heard it and we were like “oh my god this guy is perfect,” and he agreed to it.
Eric: He totally embraced the idea of being a parody of himself. He was very serious, very Werner, take after take. He even directed himself saying “I must do it with more passion” and he would go back in and do it again, so it was great having him open up the film for us.
Speak about working with John Malkovich.
Simon: He was fantastic, he was so committed vocally and physically too. He had his arms all over the place [like an octopus].
This is a big voice role for Benedict Cumberbatch.
Eric: He jumped in and embraced this with four paws. The guy is just such a professional. Comedy is one of most difficult things for an actor to do. You have to believe in your character and you have to believe in those moments and that’s what really makes them funny and he was a big part of developing his character, and we encouraged that. That’s why we want these great actors to come in and work on our film. They are great on a marquee, but gosh they are great talents, that’s why they’re so famous.
What was your favorite moment to animate?
Simon: There’s so many. We love a lot of them. There’s some great acting for example with the octopuses and with the penguins taking them to a new level with really sensitive acting, too. The action is ridiculous. It’s so much fun
Eric: For me seeing the third act finished because that was the last thing we finished.
Tell us about your character.
I play Skipper the penguin, the leader of the penguin group.
You also directed the “Madagascar” films. What was it like to see a spinoff happen?
It’s really exciting, it’s been 14 years for me, and it’s been ten years since the first “Madagascar” came out, and people really love the penguins so much it seemed like a no brainer to give them their own movie.
Speak about working with Simon and Eric.
They’re great, Simon and Eric are great friends, we’ve known each other for years and the characters couldn’t have been in better hands, plus we had fantastic writers who are hilarious and it was so great to see everything come together after fourteen years.
For almost all of your career you have worked in animation. What attracted you to get involved in that field?
Animation was a small community when I got started in the 80’s, there weren’t that many people doing it and I just loved it. Being a kid and going to see old Disney movies such as “Peter Pan” and “Dumbo,” it was magical, it transported me to another place, and I had no idea how to get into film or anything and by chance there was school founded by Walt Disney that taught animators how to do that craft and I was fortunate enough to get in and 30 years later get to be in my own movie.
Speak about how technology advancing has helped you?
I started when animation was done traditionally on paper, drawn and the computer kind of came in and so many people developed it, but the thing that is the same is the artist behind either the mouse and pencil are the same and they all have the same passion for making animated films and you don’t meet anyone in animation who doesn’t love it. That is why they are in it.
Speak about working with Simon and Eric to create this character?
When Simon approached me, of course they had been thinking and planning for some time, but of course for us – the actors it’s quite sketchy because there isn’t really even yet an animated embodiment. There are ideas and there is no script, it was just a sort of notion, so that really evolved over time and you really have to trust your directors because they are the only ones who know what’s in their heads and what they are aiming for. Now later when you have the tracks of the other actors and when you have animation, so you can get an image of what the other people are doing, what the other characters look like, then it’s a little easier, but especially at the beginning it’s a kind of blind trust you have to have, but I think as an actor, I don’t think you will ever be a really good actor unless you are capable of that.
You are usually a scene stealer. What responsibility does that place on you when you come into this?
The Madagascar universe is already so well established, you just want to fit in. I had no agenda other than just to have a good time and have fun. Whatever they wanted me to do, I would do. To me it is really about the animators, it takes 400 people to make this movie and we’re a small part of it, we’re so lucky to be a part of it and my kids are seven years old. I have twin daughters and they are big “Madagascar” fans. I am automatically the coolest dad now because of this. I’m just so grateful to be a part of this.
Do you have a preference for animation vs. live action?
I love both, I love doing live action but I love doing voice over animation, initially I wanted to do it for my kids to finally show them a movie of mine … but now I just really love doing it independent of my kids.
Speak about working with Simon and Eric.
It’s like playing catch, I’ll through them a line, they’ll make it better and we will toss that back and forth it’s like a collaborative improvisation. It’s like a workshop, it’s so fun and easy working with those guys.
“They’re so talented and if I made them laugh then I knew I was on to a good thing and while they weren’t in the room with me I felt they were … They just have such great taste and an amazing bunch of writers,” Benedict Cumberbatch said about working with directors Simon and Eric! The film hits theaters Thanksgiving weekend on Nov. 26, 2014 in 3D.