One of the best things about Pixar’s latest feature, Brave, is the superb cast, and the vocal performances that they put in. Back in June, I was delighted to speak with members of that cast in roundtable interviews with other members of the press.
First, we spoke to Kelly Macdonald, who voices the headstrong teenage princess, Merida, and she told us about how she thinks her young son will react to the film. After that, we enjoyed a great chat with Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd, who play two squabbling clan lairds, Dingwall and Macguffin, in which the two Scotsmen wax rhapsodic about Pixar and the authenticity of the animated Highlands.
KELLY MACDONALD (Merida)
On getting the part and identifying with Merida
Kelly Macdonald: I came to the party a bit late, everyone else was asked a long time ago. I was asked to go in and read a few lines for them to give to John Lasseter. Of course, I was a teenage girl once, so I had that attitude of thinking I knew it all, but I was never as feisty and as outdoors-y as Merida. I’m kind of curious about archery now, I’d like to give that a go.
But Merida being a teenager, I had to kind of get that voice back, and that happened pretty easily. With her dialogue and her attitude, she’s sort of constantly fighting things, and that’s very teenage, so I felt very comfortable.
Den of Geek: Merida is Pixar’s first princess character, and technically a Disney Princess – how do you feel about playing a character who is going to be a part of that legacy?
KM: I didn’t really think about that at the time. The Disney-Pixar thing is sort of a new idea to me – I knew about them separately, but I’m not even sure when that merge happened, so it’s only recently that I’ve been aware of the Disney side of things. There’s a Merida in Disneyland now, and you can get all the stuff from the Disney shops.
DoG: Do you connect that to yourself at all, when you see a toy of Merida?
KM: No, I don’t see it as me or anything. I feel lucky to be a part of the Brave family, but I know there’s going to be lots of other Meridas around the place, around the world, doing the voice, and so, it is weird to think of her in Disney princess terms – I had never thought of her that way.
On the mother-daughter relationship
KM: I think it is complicated, and everyone’s different. You’re very close to your mother and then for some reason, in your teens, it starts to go a bit wrong. The thought of having a daughter is quite terrifying, because I know what it was like! But I think it’s a worldwide phenomenon, the battle that mothers and daughters go through.
I think it happened a bit later with us, my mum was the same age as other mums, but it was like we were contemporaries. People my age were always coming round my house to meet my mum and hang out. She was very open and laid back, so I didn’t have much to rebel against.
I think the beauty of the film is that it’s going to appeal to everybody- mothers and daughters and fathers, and I think little boys are going to love it as well. I don’t think gender is that important- I’ve got a little boy, and he plays with his Merida doll. He hasn’t even seen the movie yet, but I think just the fact that she’s got a weapon is enough to keep the boys interested. [Laughs]
On her son’s film viewing habits
KM: Brave will be the first one he can watch. I did Nanny McPhee, which was a children’s film, so he’ll be able to watch that at some point soon. He knows what I’ve been doing – I was going to work one day and he said, “Are you doing Merida?” and I said, “No, I’m doing Margaret [from Boardwalk Empire]” so I don’t know what he thinks of that.
He’s four, so we’ll see – this film’s quite scary in places, but I think all children’s movies have got that aspect. I remember being terrified at the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – just terrified! But I think that’s part of it, like Grimm’s fairytales. Children quite like to be a bit scared of something, like a process to go through.
I love the original Toy Story, and we watch them all, a lot, because Freddie loves them, but Toy Story 3 is very dark in places, and then just so moving, at the end – Andy’s grown up. But you do end up watching things constantly, like Pingu. You’re like “Come on! Enough of the Pingu”, but Pixar, I’m very happy with.
DoG: Even if it got to the point where you were watching Brave every single day?
KM: I don’t know, I can’t imagine him watching it yet, but yeah. There’s certain movies I’m really looking forward to. I showed him a little YouTube clip of E.T. because I was thinking that even though I know he’s four, I can’t wait to watch E.T. with him, even though he’ll probably cry his eyes out.
So, we watched a bit of E.T. and he was really amused – it was the boys cycling away from the police, with E.T in the front basket. It’s very exciting. I can’t wait to watch Star Wars with him.
On Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina
KM: I play Dolly, Anna’s sister-in-law. Joe Wright’s directed the film, and it’s a huge cast. It’s not your typical period drama, it’s all going to be set in a theatre, so there’s not very many exterior shots. All the different households live in different parts of the theatre and it’s going to be really interesting.
We finished shooting it before Christmas last year. Joe Wright’s a real talent, and I’m so pleased to finally get to work with him.
On career highlights
KM: Right now, it’s this – being part of this and having the privilege of knowing a genius like John Lasseter. I was really starstruck, I couldn’t believe that he even knew who I was and I just feel so lucky. I think that the talent of the animators and the creatives at Pixar… it’s like magic. I just don’t know how they do it, and I can’t believe they chose me to voice this amazing character.
ROBBIE COLTRANE (Lord Dingwall) and KEVIN MCKIDD (Lord Macguffin and Young Macguffin)
On Scottish accents and voice acting with Pixar
Kevin McKidd: Luckily, I get to do two Scottish accents in the film, playing both Lord Macguffin and Young Macguffin, and it was a blast to do Young Macguffin, because my home dialect, Doric, which comes from a place called Elgin, isn’t that well known outside of my own area.
I feel pretty proud to get my hometown dialect into a Pixar movie. I think it’s pretty impossible to understand – it took me years to learn it, and I’m still learning it. I had to phone my mum sometimes and say, “They want me to say this, how would I say that in Doric?” and she’d tell me.
Robbie Coltrane: It’s the remains of the Vikings, that, isn’t it?
KMc: It’s very Nordic, yeah.
RC: We had to tone our accents down, quite a lot. That was a discussion we had with Madame Chapman [co-director, Brenda Chapman] at the time – myself and [Billy] Connolly and [Craig] Ferguson had to decide where we all came from, because obviously, real Glaswegians have industrial accents, it’s quite a modern accent, and the film is set five hundred, six hundred years ago.
But of course, they would have been speaking Gallic then, and not speaking English at all, so we sort of centralised the accent. We made it all fairly west coast, but then you worry about sounding too much like each other, and there are lots of group scenes, so it was a real consideration.
DoG: The lords aren’t really on each other’s side, and they’re just barely on King Fergus’ side, which leads to some funny scenes and arguments in the film – did you get much of an opportunity to act alongside your co-stars in those scenes?
RC: No, we didn’t. The first thing about it is that you were always on your own, and Madame Chapman thought it would have been wonderful to have us and Craig Ferguson in a room at the same time. She said we’d have a lot of fun, but no work would have been done. It would have been hilarious, but I think that we’d be shooting about ten seconds a day.
But it was a shame, I didn’t get to see Emma Thompson, a very old friend of mine. I didn’t see any of them, but that’s just the way it is. I played the Gruffalo, another very attractive, feminine part, and again, didn’t get to see anyone.
But what’s very interesting about the voice thing, with this, is that the public will not accept a voice coming out of a cartoon character if the chest and the voice and the throat is not the same size. They will instinctively know if that guy would never make a noise like that, so the guys who did the drawings had to work out what my voice was – I actually got to go to Pixar when they were doing the drawings.
KMc: I went there too. I think I was there the week after you.
RC: Were you? Oh, bollocks, that’s a shame. But yeah, you can just smell the talent, when you walk in, it’s just in the air.
KMc: They video you, too, they like to video you doing whatever you’re doing. And a lot of that seems to have been pushed into the characters as well – they definitely animated what we were doing physically, as well as vocally.
RC: You have two cameras – a tight video here, for your facial expressions, and they have a wider one for however you might move around physically as well, and there are these 20-year-olds, fiddling around with buttons, and I have no idea what they are. I did about three days in the studio, two or three days in Glasgow, and one in London.
KMc: I was about the same, but I started about four years ago, so those days were spread out over that time.
RC: Sometimes they changed the plot, too, so they’d throw out a lot of stuff and then have to re-shoot. But Katherine [Sarafian, producer] was saying yesterday that she’s been working on this, non-stop, for five years, and the energy level these people have – I mean, if I’d been working for five years, I’d expect five series, or three movies. It’s extraordinary.
On the film’s portrayal of Scotland
KMc: Most actors that I know are huge Pixar fans, because you can just feel from them that they have done their due diligence, and really researched every story that they tell. There was never any concern, from me, that they would short-change it.
RC: What we call “the Brigadoon Syndrome.” We were all a bit worried about that, weren’t we? But they got it so right. They came over here several times, for months, and sampled every castle in Scotland, and made one of the castles an amalgamation of eight castles, I think. That’s what they did on Harry Potter, with Hogwarts.
Terribly clever- there was just no question of them getting anything wrong. They allowed us to throw in little Scottish-isms, which was great.
RC: What a stouchie! But they did listen, and if you listen to Katherine, they just fell in love with Scotland. “Oh, we might have to go over and do the, er… er…” They were making up excuses to come here.
I was in the Potters briefly, as you know, and that did a huge amount for Scotland. Even in Britain, you still meet people in London who go “Oh, I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland, but I’ve never got around to it”, and then when they watch Potter, they go “I’ve got to see that loch!” And I think it’s going to be exactly the same for this- they’ve got the essence of what’s beautiful about Scotland.
Why do you think Scotland has such a big presence in Hollywood?
RC: Because we’re extremely talented!
KMc: And cheap! [Laughs]
RC: We work for warm beer!
Kelly Macdonald, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd, thank you very much.
Brave is out on Monday the 13th August in the UK.