In Disney’s hilarious video game adventure, “Wreck-It Ralph,” which opens in theaters on November 2nd, Emmy winner Sarah Silverman voices the character of Venellope von Schweetz, a scrappy little girl who lives on the fringes of the sweetest world in the whole arcade. Known as “The Glitch,” Vanellope is a pixelating programming mistake in the candy-coated cart-racing game Sugar Rush.
Vanellope has been ostracized from the activities of Sugar Rush, but she has a racer’s spirit embedded in her coding, and she’s determined to earn her place in the starting lineup amongst the other racers. Ralph (John C. Reilly) discovers they have a lot in common, and despite her tough exterior and an attitude to go with it, he actually starts to like her and decides to help her in her quest for acceptance.
At the film’s press day, Silverman talked about what inspired the voice she created for her character, why she enjoyed working opposite John C. Reilly and having the opportunity to play and improvise their scenes together in the recording booth, what her favorite movies, comedies and video games were when she was growing up, and which game she would pick if she had to be stuck over and over and over in an 80s video game.
Question: This is such an original concept for a movie. How was this idea originally pitched to you? Life inside cords of arcade games?
Sarah Silverman: As simple as that. I mean, video games, an arcade after closing hours when all the video games you see and the characters come to life. It’s such a no-brainer in that way. It’s crazy that it hasn’t been done before. I feel like it’s this latent fantasy that’s probably been in all of us that makes us go “Oh yeah! I wanna see that!” It’s so satiating, and what’s interesting is that we respond to things that are familiar. It’s why we respond to things that we can relate to. “That’s like me!” It’s interesting because this is a movie that is filled for people of all ages… except for maybe the veerrryy old. (Laughs) You see characters you know from your childhood. You see these characters that were a part of your life at a key time. Some video games are 30 years old, which in technological years is like 100 because it develops so fast. So, there’s a real history there and you see all of these familiar faces. Even in Sugar Rush, the candy spans from old-timey candy to new candy. (Laughs) You see all of these things that you know from your life and that are familiar. Yet the movie is totally unique and not done before.
Q: Vanellope is adorable. When you first saw her, how much time did you spend going “Aww”?
Silverman: (laughs) A lot of the time, about 40 percent of the time.
Q: Vanellope always seems like she’s perky and “on.” How “on” did you have to be when you were recording the voice?
Silverman: It’s a lot of energy and movement. I mean, it’s just my voice but you can’t do that without moving your whole body. Even if you’re just talking on the phone, you’re walking around and doing this (wild arm gestures).
Q: Is there a little Punky Brewster in Vanellope?
Silverman: Aww! Yes! Sure. She’s very Punky.
Q: She’s got that speed and energy and little kid-ness. How did you land on just the right tone?
Silverman: Within a minute or two, we found it. You know, I just (in Vanellope’s voice) “brought my voice over here,” and she’s scrappy, so I added a permanent cold (laughs).
Q: Did you get to do much improv with your lines on this, or was it strictly written?
Silverman: The script was perfect, but I was surprised. They really let us improvise. John and I got to record together, and look into each other’s eyes and overlap and really play the scene and improvise. I think it gives it that extra special sauce that you wouldn’t get if we were all alone in a booth.
Q: Animation takes so long, how many days did you actually record vocals for the movie?
Silverman: I don’t know, because it was over a couple of years. Every few weeks I’d get a call and they’d say “We want you to come in” and I’d say “Okay!”, and we’d do a 4-hour session.
Q: Did the movie change a lot from the last few years? The director, Rich Moore, said that the second act was supposed to feature you, Felix, and Ralph and then they changed it a little.
Silverman: Yeah. It definitely changed from the read-through. I think that’s what makes Disney movies and Pixar movies always so good. They take time and they’re constantly honing, and tweaking, and rejiggering things, and taking influences from every cog, including myself, that can help. Any place where there can be inspiration. They make every moment very layered and very rich.
Q: What’s the most surprising part of being in “Wreck-It Ralph” for you?
Silverman: (Laughs) I guess the immense amount of press junket. (Laughs) This is fun, and the truth is I love talking, and I love people. So, technically, I do love it. It’s just when you’re sitting in a chair and every five minutes a new person comes in and asks the same three questions you have to smile and make it fresh. You start honing your answers, and, like, I have the routine down. I feel that if it went one more day I would… (laughs) something bad would happen.
Q: How did you feel when you saw the final film?
Silverman: I couldn’t believe it! I mean, I knew it was gonna be great, but it’s just so special. Disney makes great movies, so it shouldn’t be surprising.
Q: What were your favorite kids’ movies, either growing up, or even still, now?
Silverman: Oh, I loved “Finding Nemo” and things that came out when I was an adult. Growing up, I always loved Disney movies, but the first movie I remember seeing is “Sleepers.” (Laughs) I wasn’t really taken to children’s movies.
Q: What are your favorite comedies then?
Silverman: Oh my gosh! I was just thinking about this. “Defending Your Life,” “Broadway Danny Rose,” “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan,” “Real Life.” “Bridesmaids” is up there. Oh! “Borat”! “Borat” is maybe one of my top favorite comedies. “Where’s Poppa?” blows my mind. Brilliant Ruth Gordon, George Segal… So ahead of its time! Or, maybe not ahead of its time. There are so many older movies that, now… We’re living in such a conservative time compared to the 70’s. There’s a movie called “The One and Only” that Carl Reiner directed. It was written by Steve Gordon, the guy who went on to write “Arthur.” I loved it. It’s one of my favorites.
Q: How steeped into video games were you when you were a kid? Were you really into them, or was it just kind of casual?
Silverman: I would say really into them. We had Atari. I guess all those things developed. I remember “Pong”, but then I remember…
Silverman: Come on! You said that because you know I love Joust! (Laughs) ‘Cause nobody knows “Joust”! There was “Joust” in our Dairy Queen, in New Hampshire, and I mastered it. I spent so much time with that “Joust.” I loved it! All you’re doing is flapping this weird, really long, odd bird with really tiny wings, and you’re like (hitting the table) “This flaps the wings.” But yeah, “Frogger,” “Asteroids,” “Centipede”… On Atari there’s the regular joy stick, but then there’s the new joy stick with the dial that you could play “Kaboom!” with. Then, this game called “Pitfall!” came out, that for the time, the graphics were incredible! Now, you would laugh, but I was blown away by “Pitfall!” But then, when I moved out here, and was actually an adult in my early 20’s, we had gotten a Nintendo 64 at “Mr. Show.” The show “Mr. Show.” Whenever anyone wasn’t shooting, they were playing “Goldeneye 007.” There were four windows on this giant TV, and it became my world! (Laughs) Like, I dreamt about it.
Q: Have you seen the new “Pitfall!” for iPhone?
Silverman: No! (Laughs)
Q: It’s like a 3D game for iPhone.
Silverman: I don’t believe that! Wait. But with the vines, and the quicksand?
Q: Yeah. It has all the stuff.
Silverman: Oh my gosh!
Q: You’ll have to go to the app store and check it out. Have you read “Ready Player One”?
Q: That’s another book that came out a year or two ago, and it’s all about 80’s video games.
Silverman: “Ready Player One.” (laughs) Well, in northern New Hampshire is Funspot, where “The King of Kong” [was filmed].
Q: Were you always a comedy nerd? From the time you were a little kid, did you know who the writers of the comedies you loved were?
Silverman: Yeah! Well, I was raised by television, so I remember. I don’t know if I was “into it” but I knew that “All In The Family” was Norman Lear because I could picture the font in my head of Norman Lear. Just like these kids watching “The Simpsons” know “Oh, that’s Al Jean and Mike Reiss ‘cause I can see their names.” I was really into comedy. I was into all kinds of comedy, because my parents were. My mom was. She had “Woody Allen: Double Album.” She had a lot of musicals as well. We watched everything, like “Taxi,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Rhoda,” “Barney Miller,” “M.A.S.H.” It was my growing up years. Every night it was “Happy Days.” I don’t know which ones were reruns and what was new. Just like kids today, they watch “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” It’s new. There’s a French “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” channel.
Q: Were you ever a Disney Princess? Did you ever go through that phase?
Silverman: Yeah, I was Minnie Mouse every year when I was little for Halloween. (Laughs) Then, I had the Cinderella night gown when I was really little that I begged my mother to let me wear to school. Also, I was Snow White a lot because I could be the… you know… like you (points to the woman across the table) could be Mulan every year, right? (Laughs) I could be Snow White, ‘cause I’ve got the white skin and the black hair.
Q: I’ll see you on Halloween. (Laughs)
Silverman: It’s on… It’s on. (Laughs)
Q: As an 80’s kid, if you had to be stuck in a video game over, and over, and over again, would you pick an 80’s or would you pick one of the new, crazy 3-Dimensional games?
Silverman: Well, I’d probably want to be as many pixels as possible, but not a scary war game. Although, those are the most fun. The killing games are the most fun to play, and most of my dreams are action-adventure, I will say. I’d probably want to be someplace safe, like “Golf.” (Laughs) “Golf” is a fun game in video. I could measure the wind.