Pete Ploszek interview: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

We chat to the voice of Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, Mr Pete Ploszek...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

If you can do an interview in person, it’s usually better to do so. It’s just easier to communicate with someone in the same room as you, from timing to noticing clues as to when they’re bored of your stupid questions. But interviewing Pete Ploszek over the phone comes with a benefit.

Pete Ploszek plays Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows. He physically plays him, but you wouldn’t know it to look at him because of the use of motion capture technology (a mixture of visual effects science and ancient magic rituals). I’ve met Mr Ploszek before and he looks like a nice, pleasant human being rather than a giant mutant reptile. But he’s also the voice of Leonardo and so, with the visual evidence provided by reality absent, there was little to stop me imagining I was actually talking to Leonardo.

I had so many questions. What’s the most difficult thing about fighting Foot soldiers? What’s Raphael like in real life? What’s Shredder’s problem? Do you ever all switch your headbands around to try to confuse Splinter?

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I honestly don’t know why I’m allowed to do these interviews.

I had some stuff I really wanted to chat to Pete about. I really like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows; it’s a silly, joyous and fun action comedy. But I particularly warmed to his version of Leonardo, and the story that comes with it. While Pete and his Out Of The Shadows co-turtles all performed in the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, Pete’s voice was removed from the film, replaced at the last minute by Johnny Knoxville’s. None of the other turtles’ voices were replaced. And while Knoxville was fine in the role, something felt off about the whole thing – something that’s compounded when you hear Ploszek talk, as he is Leonardo.

Pete Ploszek providing the voice of Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows is just one of the corrections present in the sequel. It’s one I, entirely incorrectly, feel partially responsible for. So it is with great pleasure that I present my interview with the performer behind Leonardo, Mr. Pete Ploszek.

When did you find out you were going to be coming back for a second film?

They announced the sequel opening weekend, I believe, of the first movie. So we were really excited about that. Then it just took the script development and getting the right vision for that sequel, so we were making plans at the top of 2015 to get back into the sewers.

So when do you get a script? When do you find out what you’re going to be doing?

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They brought us in, the producers, we all met with them on the Paramount lot and they showed us a lot of the cool pre-viz, a lot of the character development with Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang, and all the visual art that was going into creating the sequel. So we got to get a sense of the scope of the film, the tone of the film, before we read the script. Then we got the script in-hand once we relocated to New York City and settled into our place and started preparing to shoot it.

And what was your response to seeing all this new stuff, because I liked the first movie but I really dug this one, and how much better… wait that’s not a good way to ask this, but how good the sequel was?

No, well, I love that you enjoyed it. It was a lot of excitement. You start flipping those pages and see all of those recognisable names; you see Bebop, Rocksteady, Casey Jones, Krang. All those characters you grew up with and it’s like being a kid again. It’s like busting out that toy chest and getting to play with all the figures you’ve got.

And actually – true story – the first draft of the script I get, I end up crying at the end of it. Nuts, considering it’s a Ninja Turtles movie, right? But they had this wonderful arc for Leo that I really connected to. There was a scene at the end in which he sacrificed himself for his brothers and had actually gone through to Dimension X to make sure Krang was disposed of. And for a minute you think he’s dead. Of course, he comes back and all is well in the world. Unfortunately that ended up getting rewritten in the final draft. But it was such a treat to flip through those pages and see how big they were taking this and how fun of a direction they were going in.

I think that comes through. The main focus of every scene is that it’s fun, right? Is that the attitude on set?

Yeah. You have these crime fighting superheroes that have to face serious threats but they do so with all this fun and revelry, and they get so much pleasure out of beating up the bad guys. That’s a bit of a tightrope to walk, and it’s very easy to take it to a darker place like you see in a lot of superhero films today. But this time around on the sequel I think we had a really clear idea of the tone and the direction we wanted to take this and how much fun we wanted to bring to seeing these Turtles on screen together.

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Doubling back ever so slightly, you mention that there was originally a slightly different ending for Leo. How close to the finished film was the first script that you read? Was it significantly different or was it just small details?

It was really just small details. They really had a great vision at the outset with this one. I think the first movie was really spent pinning down that tone and exactly the type of story we wanted to tell. So there was a very clear idea of the Turtles story that we wanted to tell and what we wanted to set up for potentially the future.

How was it to hear your voice coming out of Leo this time?

(happy laugh) It was great. We, as a foursome, have always felt this great chemistry and really, truly love working with each other and supporting each other in that way. So all those scenes are so collaborative amongst us. We will throw in jokes for each other, we’ll call each other out if something’s not working. We’ll build these scenes and then to be able to do that a second time and then have the voice come out on the other end? That’s a dream come true. It was just a great moment. I’m proud of how the film came out and especially how the Turtles come across.

You’re a toy. So, you can walk into toy shops and buy a you.

Yeah. That’s part of just how ridiculous this whole experience is. Getting to see that. It’s funny, they made talking action figures this time and it’s hilariously not our voices. Which was a bit disappointing but it’s actually quite funny. A lot of fans had a lot of fun with that one.

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Do you do any research for these films? Because it being Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, research is reading comics and watching cartoons.

Yeah, absolutely. From back when I first got the part a few years ago all the way to the second one, I was always rewatching those films, catching the TMNT (2007) film that came out, the cartoon series which is back and better than ever. I think that’s important, just to see how they expand these relationships and build upon it. Because it’s been around for 20, 25 years now, so it’s important that if you’re gonna come at it and reinvigorate this franchise you’ve got to do it in a new way. Find new elements to bring out.

And as far as Leo’s concerned, especially in his dynamic with Raph. That relationship is such a foundation to brotherhood and to the Turtles universe, but it’s been done a lot and in a lot of different ways. So Alan and I were always talking about ways to bring a new dimension, add a new facet, to that relationship and their headbutting.

I think Leonardo is the most difficult Turtle to get right, because he has to learn to be an authority figure amongst rebels.

That has and always will be the challenge with Leonardo, that he can’t take part in the fun and games of his brothers. Donnie, Raph and Mikey are all very identifiable. You have the brainiac, you have the hothead emotional one and you have the easy going, funny guy. And then you have the leader, and what is a leader? That means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

But I was really happy and fortunate that within Out Of The Shadows there was an arc of Leo really having to trust his own judgement and his own instinct and standing so firm that he kind of created distance between his brothers. So on the set I had to do the same, put some distance between them. Because they love playing at a high energy and keeping things really light and fast and improvy, but Leo can’t do that. He’s a by-the-book guy, so to do all the preparation outside the set and then step into it with that created a really fun dynamic of them trying to get me to listen, to open up and to play and me fighting my ass off to stay firm and trust my own judgement.

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I’m going to ask you now about my favourite part of the movie, which is the plane to water sequence where you guys fight Bebop and Rocksteady. How easy is it to do a scene like that when, because of the visual effects, there aren’t really visual cues around you as to what is going on?

Yeah, it can be a real challenge. Fortunately, between of the pre-viz that we were able to see and as well as some crucial direction input from Pablo Helman at ILM we have a very keen sense and awareness of what will work on those mo-cap stages and what will translate in post and what won’t. So from working on the first film to now we’re really tuned in to giving the animators and all those guys at ILM, all those geniuses, as much volume and as much material to work with. And that melded with all the plates they shot, which were all real. All that stuff – air, land, sea – was legit. When you can meld them all together that makes a pretty awesome sequence.

So, we discussed that on this film the finished movie ended up very close to the original script. On the first one, how far was the finished film from the first script you read?

The first go around, it took a lot of different shapes. It all came out of our pursuit of tone, of taking a property and trying to really make it serviceable for all of its fans, which right now runs from 4 or 5 years old to thirties, forties and everyone that grew up with it. So what started out as a darker take ended up getting more and more light and funny as time went on and as we got to play in the scenes. The finished product was definitely a funnier, more kid friendly, heartfelt, perilous movie, and that gave us the springboard to jump into the sequel.

Sometimes an actor becomes attached to a character, like how Matthew Lillard was Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo movies and now he is Shaggy in all the cartoons. Do you see yourself purely as movie Leo or would you be interested in playing the character in a different medium?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve felt a real connection to Leonardo as I’ve gotten to understand the character and develop it. I feel like, this second time around, certainly from the Turtles’ perspective, we were able to create relationships that audiences grew up with and fell in love with, so to get the chance to be able to continue to do that, whether it would be animation or another movie? Absolutely.

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What is your favourite Jason Statham film?

(laughter) I loved Spy. I know that might be a bit out of left field because that’s not the Jason Statham that we all fell in love with and wish we were, but I thought he brought so many awesome new colours to that performance. And he can still kick ass even when he’s being hilarious.

Pete Ploszek, thank you very much!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows was released on Digital on 10th October and Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray & DVD on 24th October