Despicable Me 2, and the late replacement of Al Pacino

News Simon Brew
4 Jul 2013 - 06:09

The lid is lifted very slightly on Al Pacino's departure from Despicable Me 2, six weeks before release...

Despicable Me 2 is heading for $100m in the US by the end of the weekend, as Universal and Illumination Entertainment's return of Gru and his minions establishes itself as one of the biggest box office hits of the year. By distance. Given that the movie reportedly cost under $80m to make, it's also set to be one of the most profitable.

However, there's a story beneath the surface of the film's success that's still yet to fully come out. Just six weeks ago, with all of his dialogue recorded, Al Pacino quit the project, leaving the role of El Macho in the film without a voice, and with all the animation and mouth movements matching that of the actor. It's still unclear why he left, and it may be some time before we ever find out. But it's hard to overstate what a big deal it would be, having a significant member of the voice cast leave so late in the day. It can't be down to a quality issue. Pacino was in Jack And Jill.

Chatting to Variety, Illumination's Chris Meladandri said that "I’m not aware of any of the major animated films of the last 15 years that … has brought an actor in at such a late stage", and he's pretty much on the mark there.

So what happened after Pacino's exit? Well, the filmmakers went through the rest of their wishlist for the part, and settled on Benjamin Bratt, and for the actor, it was no easy challenge. Apparently, after a day of trying to precisely match the mouth movements left behind by Pacino's voicing of the dialogue, co-director Chris Renaud told Bratt to "stop thinking about anything other than what you're feeling from this character. Stop thinking about any voice that was done before and just own it".

Thus, while the facial ticks of Pacino's performance are inevitably still in the final cut of Despicable Me 2, Bratt tuned the rest of the role to himself. "I've never seen anything like it", said Meladandri. "You look in the eyes of this character and you listen to that voice, and there is a complete marriage of that vocal performance and that character performance".

Appreciating he's hardly going to say any different, he does still have a point. We've sat through Despicable Me 2 once, and the late substitution seems all but seamless. We're still curious just what happened to ignite the situation in the first place, though...


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