In her new 3D animated feature film, “Tangled,” actress and recording artist Mandy Moore voices the character of Rapunzel, a girl with 70 feet of golden hair who may have lived her entire life locked inside a hidden tower but is no damsel in distress. When the kingdom’s most wanted – and most charming – bandit Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi) seeks refuge in her tower, she’s ready for action. She makes the deal of her life, leaving the tower for a hilarious, hair-raising adventure that will untangle many secrets along the way.
MoviesOnline sat down with Mandy recently at a roundtable interview to talk about “Tangled.” She told us what it was like playing a Disney princess in Disney’s 50th animated film, how it was working with acclaimed Academy Award-winning composer Alan Menken, and what the long term obligations are of lending your voice to a film. She also explained how the process of voice acting compared to recording a pop album.
Q: Flynn has facial hair, do you like a guy with facial hair?
MM: Yeah! Oh, you got to throw a little hair question in for the guys. Yeah. Sure, why not? I like a little facial hair.
Q: Have you found any differences in being married and not being married? And now you’re playing a Disney princess, how does that feel?
MM: I know! Honestly, there’s not too much of a distinct difference, and then there’s a gigantic difference in being married and not being married. I feel very lucky. I have an incredible, supportive foundation at home. I feel very, very lucky. And now to be a Disney princess taking the next step in my life, that’s not anything that I ever expected by any means. I grew up loving Disney films and being a complete Disney nerd, but seriously, those were such seminal parts of my childhood; The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, so now to realize that I’m a part of that lineage and that history and the Disney family tree is… it’s still pretty crazy to me.
Q: When do you get support from your husband?
MM: Oh, always! Always. I’ve always felt support from my guy. Absolutely. That’s what being in a balanced, healthy relationship is all about, is being able to support one another.
Q: Going in, did you know it was the 50th animated Disney film?
Q: When you found out, did it add any pressure?
MM: Yeah. No, thankfully I didn’t know that it was the 50th animated Disney film until just a few weeks ago, actually. I feel lucky because I would’ve probably felt a bit more pressure had I known going into the recording process, but it’s out of our control at this point now. You do the best job that you can with your work, and now it’s in the hands of the universe and the powers that be to see what all of that means.
Q: Because music is an important part of your life, and you had a career in it, did you get to work with Alan Menken, and do you have input as to how the sound comes out, or the songs?
MM: Yes, I did fortunately get to work with Alan, otherwise I think I would have been totally floundering and lost on my own, because I had never recorded in character before, and I didn’t realize the challenge that lies within recording in character. I just expected and was excited to be a part of it because I love Disney films, and how often do you get to do acting and singing in the same project? There is a total different approach. I couldn’t go into the studio just approaching these songs as I would if they were a song on my own record. Singing in character and making sure that you’re conveying the proper emotions or the lyrics in the right way is – thankfully, I had Alan there in the studio, because this is so second nature to him, and he knew exactly what he was looking for, he knew the approach, and he knew how to coach me to get what he wanted. But in particular, the first song I found impossible at first, I was like, it’s such a great song, and I loved it, but I didn’t know if I even had the lung capacity to get all of those words in such a short amount of time, and then people are shouting, “And make sure with this word you punch it extra hard,” or, “Make this face when you’re saying this word.” I was like, I don’t know if that’s humanly possible, but there’s so much to get in in such a short period of time. All the other noise was drowned out and he would come to me and tell me exactly what I needed to do to get it done.
Q: Have you ever felt that you had no freedom, like your character?
MM: No, I think initially I could relate to the idea of being isolated alongside Rapunzel and living that life, but I started out at a young age, and if anything felt really protected by the bubble that I lived in, and I certainly felt like I had more freedom than she did. I wasn’t clamoring for this greater goal and this ultimate dream that was not within my reach, so just on a very surface level I could understand how that must feel. She’s a pretty cool girl. She’s really spirited and fearless in the face of only knowing that what awaits her on the outside world is scary and people will be waiting with swords to cut her hair off, and that doesn’t really deter her from realizing this dream, and that there’s more out of life and there’s something that’s drawing her and compelling her. I think that’s a very admirable quality and characteristic. I feel lucky to get to portray this character for young women to have someone like that to look up to.
Q: How did you get this project?
MM: I auditioned. I auditioned like everyone else, and I actually was not going to, because I figured, oh my God, this is a Disney film and everyone and their mother is going to be auditioning, and why am I going to set myself up for that disappointment? But then I was like, you know what, I might as well throw my name in the hat, and how many auditions again do you get to go on that you get to sing and read a scene, and they specifically asked for songs in a singer/songwriter vein, so I was like, cool, I could go in and sing Joni Mitchell, I’ll never pass up that opportunity! I feel really lucky that I got a call back and ended up getting the job somehow. It’s so weird, still.
Q: Did you realize the obligations with this role, that not only are you lending your voice to a movie, but also to future products related to the character, possibly 20 years from now?
MM: I didn’t realize everything that went along with this. I went in to record the voice for the video game, for the Wii game that’s coming out, and some of the little eReader books that are coming for kids. The folks there were telling me how Jodi Benson had just come in to record something a few weeks ago, and she was the voice of Ariel, and here we are 20 years later and she’s still Ariel. I was like, whoa, that hit me then. If I wanted to, I could still be Rapunzel for the rest of my life. But I really take that responsibility as a huge honor. How many projects like this are going to come along in a lifetime where you know that – first of all, I love the movie. I’m so proud of it, I’m proud to be a part of it. Having said that, knowing that the life of this movie will live on and extend way beyond me, but it’s classic. It’s something I’ll be able to show my kids and my grandkids. That’s so neat, and so rare, so I say bring it on.
Q: What about the toys?
MM: I haven’t seen – just a little bit. I saw some of the action figures that I think everyone’s getting in their gift bag, which I will immediately send to my parents. My dad’s going to frame the sill right away, I know him. I’m excited to see all that stuff. I remember when I first got cast, Nathan and Byron telling me that they’d just had a meeting with some of the toy folks, and we’re already being shown, like, here’s Rapunzel’s tower replicated for kids, and all of the toys that already have existed a year and a half ago. That to me is crazy, all of that, the world that comes along with it. I think it’ll be cool to have a few things, but it feels a little self-serving, slightly, even though it’s not me.
Q: Can you talk about the challenges of having to voice act in an isolated booth, without the benefit of having your co-stars there to gauge reactions and such?
MM: It was difficult at first, because I didn’t realize that’s what the process was. I thought, oh, maybe the first couple of times I go into the studio by myself to lay the groundwork, but eventually we’ll all have a session together. That didn’t happen, so I think at a certain point you just have to relinquish control, or the idea that you’re going to get to feed off of the energy of someone else in the room. And I really, really appreciated Nathan and Byron and their willingness to indulge me in reading the scenes with me a couple of times, just to at least understand the flow and the pattern of dialogue and the rapport needed to be in the scene. I just trusted them, because I thought, you know what, they’re at the helm, they totally are capable and know what they’re doing, and they’ll tell me when they got what they needed. It also was an exercise in digging deep into your imagination and getting to be a kid, and painting these pictures in your mind of what this world looked like, and who these characters were, and just trying every different version of every line that you wanted to.
Q: What keeps you motivated?
MM: I want to do better at everything. Truly, I never want to stop being a student, and I never want to stop growing. I’m my own worst critic, so I try and not focus on what I’ve done wrong, or what I could improve on. I have to just continue to remind myself how lucky I am to be in this position, and that, I think is the biggest motivator for me. Now, more than ever before, perhaps the benefit of having a little bit of a break and stopping and letting everything catch up with you has given me the ability to realize to have a little bit more awareness of the decisions I make, and being present and being in the moment, more so than I had before. When I was a kid I started out, and once the ball starts rolling, it’s going and going and going. I was always so excited for every new opportunity, but I couldn’t even compute them. I think I’m definitely at a point in my life where I can, and so I’m so much more appreciative of everything in that sense, because I understand the balance.
Q: How does the process of voice acting compare to that of recording a pop album? Did you draw anything from your experience of recording pop music, and did you learn anything from voice acting?
MM: Yeah. I guess at a certain point you think, well, singing is singing and acting is acting. I feel certainly for the dialogue portion of the voice acting part of the movie, it definitely related more to just acting in a live-action feature, more so than it had anything to do with music. But I think recording the music side of this film, what I learned and what I focused on and honed in on a little bit more because I had to be in character, that will probably carry over a little bit more, and maybe I’ll be a little bit more conscious of that, going into the studio, or even writing for the next record, the next go-around, sure.
Q: Did you change your tone doing the voiceover?
MM: My voice? No, not really. Uh-uh. All day yesterday, Zach and I were being asked, “How did you guys find your voices for the movie?” And both of us were like, “Really? Umm… it’s just us. I don’t know what to tell you.” It was so hard. Nobody ever told me to do anything differently, so I just spoke as myself.
Q: I did recognize your voice, and Zach’s.
MM: Oh, really? Well, when you’re in the studio and you’re reading lines, realizing that an animated feature, your physicality, your facial expressions are not going to convey what they would in a live-action film or scenario, again. You’re totally relying on taking every ounce of anything you can do with your voice and any inflection. You have to pour that all into your voice, that’s all you have to rely on. I think in that sense, yeah, things are just heightened that much more, because you can’t rely on anything else, and you have to dictate to the animators how they animate the characters as well. Your voice and what you do with your voice is painting a much bigger picture than it does when we’re sitting here, speaking to one another.
Q: Do you see yourself in this film? Zach said there’s one scene where he recognized you in your character.
MM: Oh, like in the character? The physicality? Yes. That was creepy. But in a cool way. When I saw the movie the other day, finished, for the first time, they record us in the booth, and I wasn’t really sure why. I kind of thought what Zach did, oh, it’s for posterity, like it’ll be on the behind the scenes DVD or something, but no, it’s for the animators. I realized watching the film a couple of times, I gasped, “Oh my God, that’s ME! That’s what I do!” When she’s crying and she’s got her hand up, I was like, I swear to God I did that in the studio when I was crying! So that was a little bit weird to see some of my gestures and my facial expressions. Even talking with some of the animators and they’re like, “Thank you for being so overly expressive when you recorded the dialogue, because it’s really helpful to us.” I was like, “Okay,” I felt really nerdy then.
“Tangled” opens in theaters on November 24th.