Kelly MacDonald has the honor of voicing Pixar’s first ever heroine in the upcoming “Brave”. Her Merida is a fiery, adventurous Disney Princess who doesn’t want to be a Disney Princess. She shoots arrows, climbs mountains and does all of the things princesses shouldn’t do. Kevin McKidd and Craig Ferguson also join her as the voices behind ‘the lords’.
At the film’s press day, we got the chance to talk to the three actors. They spoke about the importance of authentic Scottish accents, their personal experiences with animated movies and expressed their excitement to work with comedian Billy Connolly.
We all know the Disney Princess franchise is huge, what was your first feeling when you knew you were going to be the newest Disney Princess?
Kelly MacDonald: Attention to detail is not my strong point I have. I didn’t realize I was going to be the first female protagonist in a Pixar movie until I started doing interviews. I’m kind of glad that I didn’t know what I was doing, because it would have been a lot of pressure. I don’t think I personally have watched a Pixar movie and felt wronged in that there wasn’t a female protagonist. They make films about fish, and toys, and robots. There’s some really strong female characters in those films, in “The Incredibles” and Jessie from “Toy Story”. So I never felt I was missing out. But, having said all that, I feel very privileged.
Are you the go to girl now for Scottish heroines? What extent could you identify with this character? I mean, was there any aspect of it that you could relate to?
Kelly MacDonald: I wasn’t Merida-like when I was a teenager. She’s very adventurous and outdoorsy and energetic, and I was not. I was indoors-y. I was a teenage girl, so that was the thing that I zoned in on. All teenagers are awful, but teenage girls are the worst. My mom was very easy-going and I didn’t have much to rebel against. I moved away from home when I was 17 and that was fine. And I made my own choices quite early on.
I just wanted to ask you, most of the time in animation, the voice actors go into a booth by themselves and the director is there and someone’s there feeding them lines and so forth. Did any of you have an opportunity to work either with each other in the booth or with anyone else during the whole process.
Kevin McKidd: No, no, not at all. I mean, everyone was in different areas of the country and parts of the world. I think Katherine Sarafian (producer) so often says that, we never would’ve gotten any work done if we were all in the same room.
Kelly MacDonald: That’s true.
Kevin McKidd: It was a shame we didn’t get a chance to do sessions together, but no we didn’t.
Kelly MacDonald: Do they normally do that?
Kevin McKidd: Don’t know.
Kelly MacDonald: I think it’s the norm that you’re on your own and that you concentrate on that one voice.
So how was it being solo rather than working with some people?
Kevin McKidd: It’s great because it’s all about you.
Craig Ferguson: I think, I think it’s nice because you make the movie in your head while you’re doing it. You close your eyes and see the film in your head and just participate in it. And what the interesting thing about this film is when I saw the film, after I had seen it in my head, it was better. Which means that Pixar are better than me at making animated films. But I think that that’s not going to be news.
We all know animation is a long process that takes many years and the story continually develops through that. How did your characters change as the story developed?
Kelly MacDonald: I’m kind of the late comer to the movie. They started making this seven years ago and I’ve only been involved for the past 18 months. So I think they pretty much had Merida down and knew what was going on there.
Craig Ferguson: Well, Kevin’s character changed a lot, you’ve been on for a long time.
Kevin McKidd: Yeah, I started I think four years ago as Young MacGuffin. And then at that time he was going to end up winning Merida’s hand in marriage. And then the story –
Kelly MacDonald: I didn’t know that.
Craig Ferguson: But no one would’ve believed that. That’s what I’m saying. This is why we have to work separately.
Kevin McKidd: Exact, and so, but, the shift, I think it was a good shift because of the whole message is that this protagonist is choosing her own fate. So I was guided that poor Young MacGuffin didn’t get to win the hand of Merida. But I think it was for the greater good of the film. Lord MacGuffin was always kind of as he was, based on a grumpy big proud old man, you know.
Given the way that North American actors tend to mangle Scottish accents when they play Scottish parts, going back to, “I cannot do it captain,” do you all feel gratified that this is a cast of people mostly doing their own accents? And are your voices in the film close to your speaking voices?
Craig Ferguson: I think it, I think it’s just like a sign of the times. The world is different than it was 20, 30 years ago, when regional accents were a very exotic and odd thing. But with the internet and with YouTube and with all the different communication systems that exist in the world, I think people’s ears are much more tuned to authenticity in accents now. And I think that’s part of the smart planning of this film. If you’re going to make a film about Scotland, it’s probably a good idea to have Scottish people in it.
Kelly MacDonald: But also, I am Scottish and read things that have said that I have a terrible Scottish accent. People don’t know.
Pixar is always famous for going to the place and research the place really well. Did you give any contribution about the looks and the vibe for the film?
Kevin McKidd: The film was very well formed by the time I joined it. And the story was pretty much set. I think they wanted us to bring our voices. They were very open to us, they said “this is the line of dialogue.” And we’d say, “yeah, we could say it that way, but it would be more natural, or a Scottish person would say it more like this.” Or “it could be funnier if you say it this way.” So they were very open to us changing things and giving them different options. As far as the look of it, I think they had all that stuff sorted.
Craig Ferguson: Yeah, they kind of know what they’re doing. I think it would be a bad idea to, as a voice actor, to run over to Pixar and tell them it doesn’t look very good. I don’t know how long you would be working there.
Kelly MacDonald: Also, I think the filmmakers have seen more of Scotland than I have.
What’s the best part about playing Princess Merida?
Kelly MacDonald: The best part is that I had so much fun. I got to play this part that I would never get to play in a live action film. Because I’m not a teenager and I got to be really cheeky and obnoxious to my mom, which was quite fun. It was just the most fun I’ve ever had at work without having to wear a costume and get my hair done.
Kevin, How did you go about developing two distinct tonal influences for the two voices that you’re doing?
Kevin McKidd: I started as Young MacGuffin and it took us a while because they wanted the Young MacGuffin to speak so nobody could understand a word he says because his accent’s so thick. And we started messing about with this sort of made up words and all that. That didn’t seem to work, so I suggested this dialect which is from my area in Scotland called the Doric, which my grandfather spoke and it’s a very thick, almost Norwegian style dialect, that’s quite strange. Then they offered me Lord MacGuffin, the older character, the dad. We started doing sessions where I do both of at the same time and I ended up just sort of meeting somewhere in the middle, kind of neither, between a rock and a hard place. So we’d do it in the mornings with Lord MacGuffin because I’d just woken up. And then after lunch we would do Young MacGuffin. I basically channeled my dad for Lord MacGuffin, because he’s grumpy and old and I’ve channeled myself as Young, because I was a very, very painfully shy boy. That’s why I became an actor. So I channeled that painfully shy boy that I was.
Is there a network of Scottish people in Hollywood? Do you guys get together?
Craig Ferguson: We can’t tell you that.
Kevin McKidd: We’d have to kill you.
Craig, could you contrast this experience on this with doing Gobbler in “How to Train Your Dragon”?
Craig Ferguson: Well it’s a different person, but the technique of doing it is much the same. It’s not the biggest stretch to go from one Scottish speaking character to another Scottish speaking character. But I assume that’s why they asked me to do it, you know. The contrast was the personality of the character involved. It was a different personality. That’s really what it is.
Are you finding animated characters to be any more complex, layered, more interesting to you than real life characters?
Kelly MacDonald: This is my first.
Craig Ferguson: I think that it’s good for me because I’m not a very good actor. I’ll do the voice. I’m pretty good at voices and then people who are good at acting can draw in good acting. I think I get in my way. Plus, I have a day job and so I can’t go and make a film. I can go to the Valley and for a couple of hours and work on one, but I can’t go away and make a film. Not that anyone is asking me. Even if they were, I’m not available, so don’t even bother. Also, the thing that I like about it, is that you’re not limited, Kelly said this, by who you are physically. You can play anybody and anything. So the world and the opportunities available to you as an actor, are expanded by just working only with your voice. You can do anything and be anywhere. Kevin and I did radio work in Scotland and you do that when you start out, or certainly you used to, and doing radio drama, radio comedy it’s very similar to what we do here.
What is the wildest thing you’ve done in your life?
Craig Ferguson: You have no idea, who you just asked. I can’t tell you even now, the wildest things that I’ve done in my life. But I think that the preparation is done for you in a way that, in a sense that, I think that movies are good if they’re cast well. Certainly, and what I think they have done, is they may have cast people who are likely in these roles. So, it’s not a huge leap for me to – to be this character in this film. I don’t think it’s an enormous leap for either the, of my two colleagues here to do the same thing. It’s about, it’s about you cast the right actor for the role and that, I think that’s – that’s 90 percent of the preparation right there. I get, you trust that they’ve done that. And then you bring whatever you have to it.
You didn’t get to work with him because of the nature of the making these, but I think that everyone that we’ve ever had a chance to interview, who’s related to Scotland, has stories about Billy Connolly and being impacted by him, probably over the last 25 years he’s had such influence. Can you talk a bit about that in the sense of even though you didn’t get to actually work with him directly, being in a film with him and what his humor has meant to you?
Kevin McKidd: I remember a few years ago, I think it was about 15, maybe 20 years ago, he did a tour of the north, of all the little villages halls and the whole Scotland. He went around and did all the kind of Town Halls of Scotland. And he came to my town Elgin and because I was this theater rat in Elgin. I got to do a follow spot for two nights in Elgin Town Hall. And I couldn’t keep the follow spot still because I was laughing so hard. And he started making jokes about me. He’s like the granddaddy of Scottish comedy and he’s been unbelievable and, you know, I still haven’t properly met him. I’ve done his follow spot, but I still haven’t properly met him.
Craig Ferguson: Billy is Elvis to me. Billy’s Jackie Robinson as far as I’m concerned. Billy changed the game. When I was a kid at school, Billy released a comedy album called Solo Concert. And if you listen to young black comedians talk about Richard Pryor, that’s who Billy is to me. I had never seen anyone do anything who sounded like me, who came from the same socioeconomic group as me and did that. I’d never seen that before. I had seen English actors pretend to be Scottish. I had seen caricatures of Scottish people, but I had never seen anything like that. I think John Lennon said “before Elvis there was nothing.” And that’s how I feel about Billy. Before Billy there was nothing. It was a different game. What I’m saying to you is, I’m fond of Billy Connolly.
Kelly MacDonald: I hurled myself at Billy Connolly when he was doing a session when I first went in to read for the part – Billy had just been doing a session before me. And before I even knew what happened, I was like around his neck like a monkey. And I thought, what am I doing? So, yeah, it’s not just a male thing.
“Brave” opens June 22, check it out.