“Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” a 3D-CG adaptation of the classic tale, follows the journey of 12-year-old Ted (Zac Efron) as he searches for a real Truffula Tree, the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of Audrey (Taylor Swift), the girl of his dreams. To get it, he must find the story of the Lorax (Danny DeVito), the hilarious and lovable character who fights to protect his world and goes to great lengths to protect the trees and the animals that inhabit them. Also lending their vocal talents to the project are Ed Helms, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate and Betty White.
MoviesOnline sat down with Efron at a roundtable interview to talk about what it was like voicing his first animated feature. He told us how much he enjoyed being a part of a movie that was both an entertaining adventure and an important environmental parable, how the experience compared to his live action work, what he thought of his animated character, and why he’s hopeful this movie will work well because this generation of kids knows more about musicals from their “High School Musical” experience. He also discussed his upcoming thriller, “The Paperboy,” with Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman and John Cusack.
Q: When you were 12 or 13, was there any cute girl down the block that you would find any excuse to see?
ZE: I had a babysitter named Brooke. She was in high school and so was I. Was I 12 or was I younger? Whatever. I had a big crush on her. She was really spontaneous and fun and loved to make us sing and dance and paint. She was the coolest person in the world. I guess I did have my young love.
Q: Did you do anything to impress her?
ZE: I think we did everything to impress her. Everything possible. It was just ridiculous.
Q: The theme of this film is all about trees and the environment. What ways do you practice being green? How did you feel about the message of the film?
ZE: I try to be green as much as I can and it’s hard. I feel like I’m never doing enough. Here I am sitting, drinking out of a plastic bottle. That’s just what you get handed. I’ve always been searching for a way to get more involved and to help. I felt like this movie with the message that it has finally feels like a really organic way to help get involved. For me as an actor, there’s only so many things I can do, and this is a way, through a film, to teach and hopefully get the message out to young kids. As they say in the movie, it only takes one seed, so I think we’re planting those seeds.
Q: At what point did you see your animated character and what did you think of him?
ZE: Early on, I saw just a rough picture. It wasn’t even computer animated yet. I just saw sort of a hand drawn version. I really liked him. He looked cool and seemed like a regular, spontaneous, ‘too smart for his own good’ young guy. It was good.
Q: This movie is really an animated musical and obviously you have a lot of experience with musicals. Is doing it animated different from being on set?
ZE: Yeah. I wasn’t involved in the songs much. My character didn’t really sing that much. I thought that they brought a lot of charm to the movie and a lot of fun. I love musical numbers anywhere. In the last musical number, my favorite shot is when they pan back and it’s just on that little girl swishing her hips back and forth. Did you notice that? I thought that was so clever. Who comes up with these things over there? Those guys are so funny and clever. It was really fun. I had a great time.
Q: Is this the first animated voice you’ve done?
ZE: This was my first one.
Q: So how was it different? Did you like the freedom of this?
ZE: I was nervous the first time. I was a bit self-conscious just because there’s a camera on you and the microphone is so close. As with anything, you’ve just got to let go and don’t be afraid to be crazy. Danny (DeVito) was the one. I actually looked up a clip of Danny working on a previous project and saw how he was doing it and he’s a wild man in there. So, the next time I went in, I just said screw it. I went as crazy as possible and took it to the next level. It was fun.
Q: What was your reaction when you first saw the movie and the fun your character has riding off to this completely different world?
ZE: I liked that. The first time he’s trying to leave the town via the air duct or whatever it is, it was like taking me into a whole other world. It looked incredible in the 3D. I thought this should totally be a ride at Disneyland because it was so neat. That was really fun. The only bad part about doing that is we had to record…literally there were entire sessions where I’d just go “Ahhh! Whoa! Uhhh! Hey! Look out!!” for hours. They would just leave it on ‘leave recording’ and I’d do every single guttural sound that you can imagine.
Q: What was it like seeing the final product after making these little noises all by yourself in a sound booth?
ZE: I can’t believe it fit. It looked really, really cool. It was very exciting. It all fit together very well.
Q: Did you notice what you did physically in the booth came out in your animated character?
ZE: When you’re in it, you’re kind of in it. I know there were a couple of moments that I remembered it was me and I could see it. I don’t know specifically, but the people I watched it with who are my friends and family said “Oh my God, he was you!” I guess they noticed it more than I did.
Q: Were you a Dr. Seuss fan from way back?
ZE: Yeah. I started reading in high school. I have a lot of vivid memories of my parents and me reading these books. They would read them to me. It’s frozen in my mind. I can see them all. I still have them in what used to be my room, which has since been turned into a spare room in my house. I got kicked out. My little brother took over my room.
Q: Was “The Lorax” one of the first books you read in your childhood?
ZE: It was. My parents read that to me when I was younger.
Q: Do you have some qualities that you share with your character?
ZE: He’s sort of a hopeless romantic. He’s adventurous, he’s persistent, he’s stubborn, kind of annoying, pretty funny. He’s got a big imagination. I’d like to think I’m all those things. He learned that all from me. I taught him everything he knows.
Q: Ted goes and risks his life to get this girl he likes a tree. Have you ever liked somebody so much that wanted something bizarre and you went and got it for her?
ZE: Sure. I like humor and spontaneity and something that you wouldn’t expect, so I think catching someone off guard is always really fun. I’m a big practical joker and you can make those very romantic by giving them something funny or fun or heartfelt.
Q: This movie has a lot of themes about responsibility and being green. When you read the script, what stood out and made you think “I can really get behind that”?
ZE: The big one is the environment. I was searching for a way that I could do more and I’ve always wanted to get involved and this just seemed like a great way in. I felt like this would be a way I could help truthfully and honestly and put out and spread a great message.
Q: When you were starting out in your acting career, was doing an animated voice something that you always looked forward to doing?
ZE: I always wondered if the opportunity would arise. I always hoped it would. I dreamed it would. I wanted to try. Everyone’s voice is different. A lot of my friends do only voiceover work. It’s crazy. I don’t know if I have a voice for voiceover.
Q: Did you ask any of your friends who had done voiceover for advice?
ZE: Yeah, but it’s different for me. I was trying not to make a voice so much as be my enthusiastic self. But I don’t have that many great alter voices that some people do have.
Q: They did all of the recording individually, but how was it when you came together with other people in the cast?
ZE: It was great. Everyone was very cool. I’m a huge fan of Ed’s (Ed Helms). The first time we all got together was actually to do a little bit of press. When we all finally came together, it was so neat to see them not animated and to see them in real life.
Q: Did you have an opportunity to meet Betty White who played your grandmother?
ZE: Yes. We had fun. I’ve met her a few times now.
Q: What about Taylor Swift?
ZE: Taylor is amazing. She’s super sweet. I haven’t seen her yet today but I’ll make sure I do. She’s a sweetheart.
Q: You character has a bond with Ed’s character and I know you guys didn’t get to work together. But, when you finally saw the film, were you pleased with the relationship and how it comes across on screen?
ZE: It was great. He’s very persistent and he’s stubborn. I thought it was fun. He said “I’m the guy that still cares” and I liked that. The relationship was fun.
Q: Danny DeVito was talking about how he recorded all the voices in different languages for his character. Have you heard yourself dubbed in other languages and how is it to see yourself with someone else’s voice?
ZE: Actually, when we were doing “High School Musical,” we did a big international press tour. We always wanted to hear at least a little bit of the movie in our voices and I’ll never forget Italy and Spain. I think Corbin (Bleu) had the first voice and he had a beautiful “Hola! Como estas?” He had a beautiful voice. Vanessa had a voice that sounded just like hers. Ashley (Tisdale) had a very suave, cool voice. And then, I got introduced and it was like [very high pitched] “Dios mio!” and I looked like Don De Leon and went “Are you kidding me? Wait!” I thought I was being pumped somehow. I looked like Don De Leon and actually I found out that he was my voice. I guess he’s the same guy who does it every time. You get assigned a voice when you’re young, and usually that guy is older. Am I mistaken? He’s older already. So my voice now is a very, very high voice in Spain and Italy. I gotta get on that.
Q: How often do you get to see the other “High School Musical” cast members?
ZE: Unfortunately, we do work a lot and we’re super busy, but when we’re in town, we always see each other. I see Corbin a lot and then Ashley. I see Ashley all the time. We’re practically neighbors. And then, the rest of the crew, we try and get together as much as we can.
Q: Do you think one of the reasons this movie will work well is because this generation of kids knows more about musicals from the “High School Musical” experience?
ZE: Gosh, that’s a great way to think of it. You said it. That’s cool. I hope so. “High School Musical” introduced the musical genre to a lot of people and the fact that if they can appreciate it and if “High School Musical” instilled that appreciation in them, then that’s the best thing in the world to happen. That’s what got me started. That’s what got me here.
Q: Do you sing at all in this?
ZE: I don’t think I sing on anything. My character is not in the numbers.
Q: You have another film, “The Paperboy,” coming out in April that will be the third one of the year after “New Year’s Eve” and this. Do you play a journalist in that one?
ZE: Yes. Amateur.
Q: Can you tell us about it? Is it a thriller?
ZE: Man, I don’t even know how to explain it. I gotta be honest. I have not seen the movie, but I’ve seen a little bit and it’s going to be wild. There are some performances in there by Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman and John Cusack that I think are going to be outstanding. But it’s too weird to even try and explain right now. It’s going to be wild. I’m excited for you guys to see that one.
“The Lorax” opens in theaters on March 2nd.