Megamind is the most brilliant super-villain the world has ever known…and the least successful. Over the years, he has tried to conquer Metro City in every imaginable way – Each attempt, a colossal failure thanks to the caped superhero known as “Metro Man,” until the day Megamind actually defeats him in the throes of one of his botched evil plans. Suddenly, the fate of Metro City is threatened when a new villain arrives and chaos runs rampant, leaving everyone to wonder: Can the world’s biggest “mind” actually be the one to save the day?
At a press conference held under a mammoth outdoor tent at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles yesterday, MoviesOnline caught up with Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, David Cross and director Tom McGrath to talk about their new animated comedy, Megamind. They told us what attracted them to the project, what inspired their characters, and what Sarah Palin and George W. Bush might say if they ran across Megamind. Will also discussed his prized collection of tight fitting leather pants while Tina described how she felt about being the recipient of the 13th Annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Here’s what they had to say:
Q: Will and Tina, I would like to first start by saying thank you for inviting me to your wedding. I am really surprised to receive the invitation. Can you talk a little bit about when you guys first fell in love because I really thought you were in a relationship and both of you were married before this?
Will: We both engaged in what are called staged weddings for publicity purposes and obviously my marriage of 10 years has not been real. So today is our official union.
Tina: We had put ourselves on a waiting list for the Four Seasons like 16 years ago and yeah, we kinda got married in between but as long as we came up to get this space obviously we’re just going for it.
Will: Real quick, I just want to thank Jensen’s Tenting Service. They’re so hard to get as well and as you can tell they’re literally the best in the business. That’s Jensen’s – J-E-N-S-E-N-apostrophe-S. Jensen’s.
David: What’s their slogan?
Will: When you want a tent, call Jensen’s.
Q: Will, can you talk about what it means for you to be front and center of an animated movie and what were some of your favorites growing up?
Will: Well, let’s see. It’s very exciting to be. I don’t really consider myself front and center of this fine cast but I guess I am. [Turns around to examine the film’s poster on the wall behind him] I guess I am front and center. I really haven’t done a lot of this stuff before so it was just exciting to get to work on a Jeffrey Katzenberg movie and I love this premise which I felt was so original and to get to be in a film with this cast is the most exciting part in a way for me.
Q: The film has some pretty geek themes in it. How much of that was there from the beginning and did any of that come from some of the actors?
Tom: There’s always a theme here. It’s about good and evil and what makes us who we are and whether we choose a path of good or evil or do we believe it’s destiny that defines us. The main theme to take away probably is no matter how much you screw up your own life by the wrong decisions that you make, it’s never too late to do the right thing and change your ways and you can teach old dogs new tricks. Now, to say that in a way that’s elegant is partly script and mainly the acting and the characters that these guys were authors of and helped create and took ownership of. We had the theme and I would say the cast sold the theme. It’s probably ingrained that we all need a nemesis but sometimes we get off paths in life. Megamind got off the path as a baby when his pod gets knocked off course and lands in prison. Really it’s a story about redemption in a way where we can all be redeemed. I don’t know if you need to always have a rivalry in your life or you just have to be the person you want to be or were meant to be.
Q: Will, it seems like you adopted a little bit of a British accent in this? Was that because Brits are traditionally cast as villains?
Will: It’s so disappointing and it’s not your fault, I’m actually doing a Lithuanian accent and it just shows how bad a mimic I am. But no, it’s just the accent of someone who thinks they’re important. In working with Tom, we just kind of landed on that and felt like it would be appropriate to this guy who’s really, when you get down to it, just completely insecure – so, someone who speaks like that who’s insecure kind of is a great combination.
Tom: I didn’t hear the British in it but we had a French designer on the film and the city’s name is Metrocity and he pronounces it Me-trah-ci-ty. Will ran with that and he took the idea that this guy wasn’t really formally educated and would mispronounce words. Will took that kind of handle and ran with it which is very funny in the movie if you’ve seen it.
Q: Improvisation has played a large role in all three of your careers. I’m curious if improvisation was able to play a role in what you did with this film or if you stayed pretty close to script?
Tina: Tom really encouraged us to improvise. Will and I were lucky because we got to do sessions together and improvise together. I didn’t know David was in the movie until just now.
David: Still doesn’t.
Tina: I’m still not sure, but yeah, Tom was very welcoming of it. Right?
Tom: Yeah. That’s why we have the cast we do to be partners and collaborators. I would say 30% of what you hear in the scenes is improvised in ways where not only are they great actors, they’re great writers as well. So, we come in with our lines and we have writers and the script was very well thought out but on a scene by scene basis we’d get three alts for every line that was much funnier than what was written. Sometimes Will and Tina got to record together but David would improvise one month. We’d get Will the next month. He would play off what David had done. We’d go back to David a month later with what Will had done.
David: The laughing scenes which we did a number of times where there’s a scene, maybe twice, where we’re kind of topping each other, those were completely different sessions. (to Will) I heard yours first. You did it and then I did it and it went back to you. It was interesting. But to answer the first part of your question, correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s mostly the VO (voice over) then the animation.
Will: The animation comes after the voice.
David: That’s what I meant by that.
Q: Will, what did your kids think of this movie?
Will: My kids haven’t seen it yet. I think they’re excited about it. It’s the first time they’ve commented on something I’ve been in. There’s one poster that has the Megamind baby that’s featured. My 3-year-old is really fascinated with the Megamind baby.
Tina: It’s really cute.
Will: Yeah, it’s a very adorable baby.
Q: What traits do you share in common with the Megamind character?
Will: Traits that I share with the character? I have a lot of tight leather pants that I keep in a vault. I don’t wear them but I just keep them there. And there is a part of my body that I cannot go into detail on that is blue. That’s just like a genetic defect. That’s what I share with the character.
Tom: For me, and hopefully you’ll see it in the movie, every one of these guys immediately jumped into character. I would say animation is one of the hardest things I would assume for an actor to do because you don’t have sets and often times they’re recording in isolation. Every one of these guys came in, jumped in, and instantly became the character. It’s a sight to behold and I had the best seat in the house for a lot of this stuff. So, not only do we have the script and tried to make the story by these guys becoming these characters, that’s what we see on the screen.
Q: There’s a scene in the film where Megamind finally has everything he’s ever dreamed of but he is still miserable. Have you ever had an experience like that in real life?
Will: Personally? Have I come across…? I’ve always wanted to sail around the world in a handmade boat and I built a boat. I had a boat built for me, I mean, and my second day out to sea I realized that “A” I’m not a sailor and “B” I have no knowledge of basic navigation. I didn’t bother with any sort of supplies and in that moment I was miserable. I felt like I had everything and it turns out I didn’t. So that would be my one example to illustrate.
David: But you were also in a lake too.
Will: It was Lake Havasu.
David: So you kind of screwed it up.
Will: Yeah, right from the beginning I screwed up. That’s what I’m trying to say. We’ll get to Tina. (Laughs) Nevermind. I’m wasting valuable time.
Q: Tina, if you lived in a world where Megamind and Metro Man are real people, which one would you go for?
Tina: I think I would go for Megamind because he’s very smart and I really do find the purple undertone of this blue skin very attractive. I really do. I think he has beautiful, beautiful skin and he’s smaller than me. I like that. He physically dominates.
Will: He’s more petite.
David: You could break him in half.
Q: Tom talked earlier about the importance of having a nemesis. For Will and Tina, can you talk about the nemeses that you might have had that helped forge your character and made you a better person as a result?
Tina: I don’t really have a nemesis but I have a series of hundreds of small enemies that fuel me. Everyone I meet I assume is out to get me and that fuels my fire on a daily basis. (to Will) Who’s your nemesis?
Will: My nemesis prior to this working experience oddly enough was David Cross. But, through this process, we were able to basically hash that out.
David: I’m not completely there yet but we’re getting there.
Will: I am and David is still trying to come over to my side.
Q: How much did your children have to do with your decision to make this movie and do they recognize anything of the character in you?
Will: This was a decision based pretty much on wanting to try to do another animated movie and getting a chance to work with Tom, and like I said, DreamWorks solved it. My children were not consulted in this decision. Nor are they ever consulted about anything.
Tina: They will speak when spoken to.
Will: (Laughs) They will speak when spoken to. It’s a very strict household. Like I’ve said, they’ve seen some of the advertisements and some of the trailers and stuff and I think they’re intrigued by the fact that I do the voice of this guy with the blue head.
Q: Do you recognize yourself when you see the character?
Will: No, not really. I don’t think he looks like me.
David: The mouth maybe.
Will: Maybe the mouth.
Tina: I think when he’s moving he does.
Will: Really? We’ve got kind of the same watch. I wish I had his waistline. Right everyone? Shake your heads. Right? Because it’s hard to keep the weight off when you get older. Right? Yes.
Q: Tina, you play a reporter and you have an extensive track record with the SNL skit Weekend Update. Is it hard to shake the reporter role or is it something you enjoy because you’re so good at it that this type of role just keeps coming your way?
Tina: Okay, I am one of America’s foremost fake reporters and I am going to have a fake show on CNN. No, I’m not. It was fun to step into this very archetypal Lois Lane type of character and I really like that in this story she’s a modern version of that – that she’s active and intelligent and she looks like Sharon Osborne.
Q: Is the Sarah Palin ghost still chasing you in any kind of way?
Tina: It was a ghost? (Laughs) [mimicking Sarah Palin] That would be terrifying. I don’t think of it as a ghost. I think of it as one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me. I’m going to milk that forever. I’m going to be doing that, God willing, when I’m 70 years old. I’ll be doing that at an auto show if things go right.
Q: Megamind wants it all. Do you ever feel like that in real life in terms of your career because you seem to have it all? Or do you want to retreat into obscurity like Metro Man?
Tina: I think I would be escorted back to obscurity pretty soon. I don’t think it will be a retreat. It’ll be a police escort.
Will: You’ll be taken away in plastic handcuffs. I don’t really think about those things.
Tom: That might be a question for Brad actually.
Will: Yeah, that’d be a great question for Brad.
Tina: Do you want to pretend to be Brad, David, and answer that?
David: Yeah. Brad who ironically isn’t here which I think speaks volumes.
Q: There was some discussion before about the connection with the characters. What about your connection with Mark Twain? You’re about to receive the Mark Twain Award and you’re the third woman to do so in the history of the award. How do you feel about that?
Tina: I would say I’m very, very honored to the point of embarrassment at receiving that award and I’m very much looking forward to the ceremony in a couple of weeks. Mark Twain is a great American humorist who is taught in schools. That is a big deal. I hope that some day Hal Holbrook has a one man show about me. I would be honored. I can’t even quite understand why it’s happening.
Q: Have you recovered from the live performance of 30 Rock? How do you think it went and would you do it again?
Tina: I have recovered. We were all very tired the next day. Will always says when you do SNL you wake up the next day and you feel like someone hit you with a piece of luggage. I think it was a very big challenge and I think it went well. I don’t know if we’ll ever do it again. I think it weirdly costs a lot of money to do so it’ll be up to NBC as to whether we ever try to do it again. It certainly was a very positive experience on my end.
Q: Very exciting too.
Tina: It was.
Q: Megamind goes through this “I’m fearless, I’m fearful, I’m fearless again.” I thought it was a great message for the kids. What’s the biggest fear you guys deal with in your own life? Do you have anything you’re afraid of? It can even be spiders.
David: Wait, it can be spiders?
Will: Fearful of…
David: The Wrigley family in Chicago.
Will: That’s your biggest fear?
David: That’s my biggest fear.
Will: Them coming into contact with you?
David: Yeah, just them and what they’re capable of should they ever turn their animosity towards me.
Will: Specifically towards David Cross?
David: Yeah. They’re fairly powerful. They’re not *the* most powerful but they are powerful enough to…
Will: Formidable family.
David: Yeah, and I’m not talking about their immediate family either. I mean their extended families going into cousins, nephews, nieces. There’s a lot of people to fear. And a spider.
Q: When you make a film like this which is such a carefully constructed genre parody but also informed by affection and love, what kind of pop culture material did you look at to get a basis for the film and for your performances?
Tom: I would just say that we more referenced the stereotypes and how to turn it on to see what are the layers underneath these characters we all know and the sorts of superheroes or superhero genre movies. I think the cast had added these layers to them to make them more interesting in a way. Part of what’s great about everyone’s brand of humor here, it wasn’t pop culture reference and it wasn’t so much parody as opposed to the comedy coming out of character. For example, when Tina would be doing a scene with Roxanne, she’d be thinking about the character and come up with three different alts on a line that were always much more funny than coming from the character. So, the comedy from this was always trying to be into its own world and coming from character. A couple of things we did kind of shine a light on is we had this character called Space Dad mentor, who looked more like Ted Kennedy than Marlon Brando. Will saw the design for this character and just thought he’d like to try a Marlon Brando, kind of a lispy Marlon Brando. We were laughing so hard in the recording booth that we had to try it in the screening so we previewed for the crew and they were laughing so hard that they didn’t even catch any of the dialogue so we knew that was going to work for the movie. So there were a couple of things we referenced but we tried to keep the movie and the comedy coming explicitly from the characters that they created.
David: The only pop culture reference that I used as inspiration was Minion and the sequel which hasn’t been written yet or shot for this movie. I didn’t particularly have any pop culture references I don’t think or certainly nothing that I thought of.
Tina: Is there an old movie that the look of Minion is inspired by?
David: He kind of looks like Robbie the Robot.
Q: Robot Monster?
Tina: Robot Monster, right?
Tom: The girl with the deep sea diving…
David: Oh my God, that’s right.
Tina: That’s cool looking.
Tom: Purely coincidental.
Q: Where did the idea come from to heavily reference the Superman stuff?
Tom: Well yeah, part of the original concept that the writers, Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons who had written the spec script in 2003, kind of came up with and it was based off that. I think that was the icon of all superheroes — one of the first, Superman, which probably evolved from the Greeks. I’m just trying to sound smart about it. But the thing is what if Superman were out of the picture and Lex Luther and Lois Lane realized they had more in common than they thought they had? And that was kind of a really interesting seed idea that was a component to this story. What’s exciting about the movie is it is an epic superhero movie but at the heart of it is a very intimate love story. And that’s where casting really became invaluable with Tina and Will and that’s why we recorded them three separate times to kind of have that chemistry on screen. So, at the end of the day, it’s was great contrast selling this big story that had a very small, intimate story that drives it – whether it’s about friendship between Minion and Megamind or about the love story between Roxanne and Megamind.
Q: Tina, can you talk a little about the recording process? Is it hard to get used to only having the booth to work with. Also, was there anything that surprised you about how your character looks? Do you like how your character turned out or would you have liked something different?
Tina: No, I really like how she looks. I like her short hair and I like that she’s brunette and I like that she has an ample can. I’m not going to lie to you. I really like how she’s drawn. I found the recording sessions very freeing because you can really try things. When you’re filming something, if you’re improvising a film and you’re wasting film and wasting a cameraman’s time, but when you’re recording stuff first, you can try a bunch of stuff and it doesn’t matter how you look while you’re doing it. There’s a complete absence of vanity during it. I found it really fun.
Q: Tom, did you study to shoot in 3D for this movie and did you get any advice from Jeffrey Katzenberg? Also, what did you pay attention to in order to take advantage of the technology?
Tom: This is my first 3D movie. Jeffrey has been on this film and has been for 10 years a great mentor to me as a filmmaker to student and this is the fourth DreamWorks 3D movie so we actually learned a lot of trial and error from the other films that we applied to this. The thing about 3D is the rules of good cinematography apply to good 3D which is real exciting. Early on, Jeffrey had come to me and said it’s not necessarily about the wiz bang of things coming out at you. What he particularly enjoyed about 3D was the fact that the emotional scenes become much more immersive. That’s the strong point of 3D, where in two dimensional film which has its place and will never go away, it is much more voyeuristic in a way where 3D allows you to be with the characters whether it’s in an action sequence or whether it’s in an emotional scene, you just feel like you’re part of that scene and 3D kind of brings you in. So there are the things that throw you back in your chair but probably more so than that are the things that lean you forward in the chair because you feel more involved. There’s a great process. You don’t have to do anything special but study great cinema that equates well to 3D.
Will: But that having been said, robots are going to control the world at some point in time. So we should just get that in our mind set. Okay?
Q: Can each of you talk about what exciting projects you have coming up next?
Tina: I am emptying out a storage unit in New York. That’s a project I’m in. Will?
Will: The first thing that comes to mind is I’ve got to be here until 9 tonight to wait for Jensen’s Tent Rentals to come pick up the tent and make sure that happens.
David: I’m doing a documentary about storage units in Manhattan so perhaps we will …
Tina: We might collaborate on that.
David: …and getting somebody to take care of my dog. Not a documentary, I’m sorry.
Will: Just literally doing that.
David: Yeah. But then, I will have that animated in 4D.
Q: Tina and Will, what would Sarah Palin and George W. Bush say if they ran across Megamind?
Tina: He needs to be destroyed. He’s a danger to freedom.
Will: Right. I think George Bush would think he looks funny. That guy looks funny. He’d probably say something like that.
Q: Tina touched on this a little bit earlier. What were some of the pros and cons and likes and dislikes for a voice action role as opposed to a live action role?
Will: As Tina was mentioning, there is a great amount of freedom in terms of getting to come up with stuff on the spot, improvising, that sort of thing. I think, at least from my perspective, what is lost on these projects is how hard it is to articulate any sort of emotional kind of gear shift just with your voice. Those were the hardest parts for me. Playing the comedy is one thing but I think there’s a real skill for any of these actors that can effectively do that consistently. That was the hardest part for me.
Q: Do you enjoy roles like this and would you consider doing something like this again?
Will: I really enjoyed working with Tom. I mean, I’ve only had one other experience and that was on Curious George with my main man, David Cross, by the way. We come as a package for any sort of animated property in the future.
David: Absolutely. I’m so sorry I did not bring you along with the numerous other ones I’ve done.
Will: That’s okay.
David: It’s fine print.
Will: It’s fine print. But anyway, yeah, I haven’t done a ton of this type of work. But this experience was really gratifying to the point where it’d be fun to do another one for sure.
David: Tina articulated it pretty perfectly just how oddly freeing it is and liberating in a way.
Will: The other thing – I didn’t show up just in some T-shirt and sweats. I had a 3-piece suit on. I did full hair and make-up for every recording session because I view myself as a professional.
Q: You’re working on a project, a Spanish movie called Case de Mi Padre. Was there anything about the romance in Megamind that reminded you of a soap opera in Spanish?
Will: Well I think the original story of Megamind was taken from a Spanish telenovela. Isn’t that correct?
Will: Okay. Maybe don’t write that, but that is the truth. Yeah, I just finished a movie entirely in Spanish.
Q: Do you speak in Spanish?
Will: No. But was there anything in the romance that’s like a …?
Tina: The drama? The high drama?
Will: Maybe the high drama. But no, I didn’t necessarily think of that.
Tina: Of course, you had my beautiful curves?
Will: Maybe her beautiful can is very Latina-esque. Possibly.
Q: Will, how did you prepare mentally to hate Brad Pit who is clearly unhateable in real life? And for everyone, what were your interactions with Brad during the filming and recording process and did he show up professionally in costume?
Will: Tom, you worked with Brad…
Will: …more than we did.
Tom: It’s interesting. Brad’s great. He’s a total pro. But, the thing is, he rides his motorcycle to the recording sessions and there’s always paparazzi that know where he is at all times. So, he pretty much had to ride his motorcycle into the recording studio.
David: He’d always bring that pickled herring. He makes his own pickled herring and he’d insist on bringing it and it would stink up the studio.
Tina: It’s not that good either.
David: No, it’s not very good.
Will: He makes his own homemade beer which once again is not that good. It doesn’t even taste like beer. I don’t even know what it is.
David: It’s near beer.
Will: Is that what it is?
David: Yeah. You probably already know, he’s a severe alcoholic but he’s sober now so he brews his own near beer and it’s just awful. And it’s gluten free so just forget it.
Tom: To speak for Brad, a lot of people always want to work together in an animated film and the truth is they often don’t for scheduling or technical reasons and things like that. It would have been great to actually record everyone for every scene. We really benefited with that with Tina and Will because, like I said, there’s this love story and we did get them together because when an actor plays off another actor, even the pauses between the lines are so well timed that they’re gold. So, to have this love story told between the two of them and to have them playing off each other, you’ll see it in the movie. It’s actors playing against each other which is really rare to do in animation because all these guys, truth be told, they’re so busy doing projects. It’s always great to get their time when we have it. Ideally, we’d all be workshopping this together but it’s amazing and a part of the magic of animation and a testament to the acting that they can play in isolation and together it sounds like they’re speaking as one or part of the same movie. So that’s what’s extra special about what we do.
Q: How was it working with Guillermo del Toro and what did he do exactly?
Tom: I think Guillermo is a great friend. He just came to DreamWorks to be a consultant. He’s working, I think he’s executive producing on other films and he came in and saw the movie and really liked it and he was a great pair of fresh eyes. He actually had a really great idea when he saw the screening. He said what if you start the movie with the character falling to his death because then you could replay that later and so we actually did that. We only had 3 weeks left to finish the movie but it was such a great idea and so worthwhile that once you started the movie that way it was such a great idea. To me, he was like the best film school you can go to. It’s Guillermo del Toro — sitting with him and watching the film. We’d take a couple frames off the heads and tails of shots and it would do wonders for the pacing. In fact, you do that enough, and I guess that’s the way it works with (James) Cameron too, they work together that way. Just by doing little, tiny edits, you can manipulate the pacing. So it was fantastic. And that’s what I’ve got to say about DreamWorks is having those kinds of tools available and people to come in and help you as a filmmaker. So it’s a team sport and to have these great directors come in and help is invaluable.
Q: How important was the music?
Tom: Musically, Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe, by the way, he composed with him. They’ve composed every superhero movie we’ve seen in the last decade. To have them rethink a new approach on it and come up with something they haven’t done before was great and to create these themes to sell the love story action. It’s beautiful music. Now the AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses are from my junior high fantasy days and we were able to get those in the movie.
Will: I don’t know if other animation studios do it this way, but in terms of watching how a DreamWorks film is put together, I was amazed at how these guys are constantly…the movie is evolving throughout the entire process and they’re scrutinizing it the whole way and making changes and readjusting and adding different things so it’s never really finished until that final moment in a way but always being made to be better.
Tom: David still has notes.
Will: You still have notes, David, on the movie?
Q: Will, what was it like working with Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal in Casa de Mi Padre?
Will: Diego and Gael, they could not have been better. We were so thrilled to even get them to be on the project and the fact that they committed to this crazy Spanish language movie. But they’re two of the nicest guys. They’re fantastic comedic actors as well as being just regular actors but it was a thrill for me to get to work with those guys and they could not have been better in the movie.
Q: Do you speak any Spanish?
“Megamind” opens in theaters on November 5th.