Cast Interview, The Tale of Despereaux

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline sat down with Dustin Hoffman, Sigourney Weaver, Emma Watson and Matthew Broderick at the Los Angeles press day for their new film, “The Tale of Despereaux,” based on the award-winning, best-selling book by Kate DiCamillo.

Once in every generation, a book comes along that millions of children grow to know and love.  In 2003, DiCamillo (“Because of Winn-Dixie”) penned “The Tale of Despereaux,” a fable about a tiny, brave mouse graced with oversized ears who follows his senses into territories uncharted by his kind.  Born with an enthusiasm too big for his little mouse world, Despereaux Tilling befriends a banished rat, falls in love with a lonely princess and rescues the Kingdom of Dor from the tyranny of darkness and grief.

Shortly after its publication, DiCamillo’s book drew the attention of four-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Gary Ross.  The two had one great thing in common: They both had a knack for telling stories about the most unlikely of heroes.  For years, producer/writer Ross’ specialty has been discovering the relatable values and humanity of underdogs: a crippled horse who achieves greatness in “Seabiscuit,” a guy who becomes his better self by finding the boy inside in “Big,” and an everyman who redeems the decency of the Oval Office in “Dave.”  When his wife, fellow producer Allison Thomas (“Seabiscuit”), brought the book to his attention, Ross felt the modern fairy tale would make a wonderful CG-animated movie.

He responded to the novel’s humanity and believed that it treated children with dignity and gave them credit for their intelligence and depth.  Ross also loved that there are no purely evil figures in DiCamillo’s story.  Indeed, several of the characters only become hurtful after being hurt themselves, and each is redeemed through forgiveness.  When they acquired the book, Ross and Thomas committed themselves to preserving the tone and richness of DiCamillo’s fairy tale, ensuring that the qualities that had made “The Tale of Despereaux” an instant classic would translate to the big screen.

Four years later, Despereaux has arrived.  Sam Fell (“Flushed Away”) and first-time director Rob Stevenhagen—working from a screenplay by Ross and a screen story by Will McRobb & Chris Viscardi (“Alvin and the Chipmunks”)—tell the journey of four outcasts: Despereaux (Matthew Broderick, The Lion King), a mouse who loves music, stories and a princess; Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman, “Meet the Fockers”), a rat living in darkness who covets the light; Pea (Emma Watson, Harry Potter series), a princess who longs for an ordinary life; and Miggery Sow (Tracey Ullman, “State of the Union”), a slow-witted serving girl whose impossible dream is to become a princess.

Completing the all-star voice cast are returning favorites from Ross’ previous films: Sigourney Weaver (“Dave”) as the Narrator; Kevin Kline (“Dave”) as the royal chef, Andre; William H. Macy (“Seabiscuit”) as Despereaux’s nervous father, Lester; and Frank Langella (“Dave”) as Mouseworld’s Mayor.  With them are Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter series) as Dor’s jailer, Gregory; Stanley Tucci (“The Devil Wears Prada”) as the mischievous soup genie, Boldo; Ciaran Hinds (“Munich”) as the evil Ratworld leader, Botticelli; Tony Hale (“Because I Said So”) as our hero’s meek brother, Furlough; Frances Conroy (“Six Feet Under”) as their timid mother, Antoinette; Richard Jenkins (“Burn After Reading”) as the Principal; and Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future franchise) as old, blind mouse Hovis.

Dustin Hoffman, Sigourney Weaver, Emma Watson, and Matthew Broderick are fabulous people and we really appreciated their time. Here’s what they had to tell us about making “The Tale of Despereaux”:
 
MoviesOnline: MATTHEW, HAVE YOU MANAGED TO MAKE CONTACT WITH YOUR INNER MOUSE?
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Or is he just happy to see you?
 
MATTHEW BRODERICK: That’ll be explained later
 
MoviesOnline: WAS THERE ONE LINE IN THE MOVIE THAT GAVE YOU A CLUE WHO DESPEREAUX WAS AT HEART?

MATTHEW BRODERICK: I’ve already forgotten my part of the question. Ah, my inner mouse? I just did what a variety of directors told me to do. No, I just really loved the story and I didn’t particularly think of him as a mouse. I figured once they did the drawings, it would be clear that he was a mouse. I thought of him as a kind of teen, or a boy trying to turn into a man, and I tried to take it sort of seriously and think of it like my own life. I didn’t think too much about mouseness.
 
SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I think I said Despereaux did not know he was small.
 
MATTHEW BRODERICK: That’s right. I forgot that. I didn’t know I was small and I’m a gentleman — didn’t I say something like that? That seemed to mean something.
 
SIGOURNEY WEAVER: And calling your cat Fluffy.
 
MATTHEW BRODERICK: Not scared of knives. I like cheese, I know that. I just took it — we all discussed it pretty carefully, and tried to take the story seriously actually, so we tried to take the situation that I was in very seriously. I know that’s not a great answer.
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: There’s not a sound byte in there.
 
MATTHEW BRODERICK: I know. I really want to talk about the bail-out plan for the auto industry. (laughter). That’s what I’m waiting for.

MoviesOnline: EMMA, THIS IS A WONDERFUL FAIRY TALE, CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THIS FAIRY TALE AND HARRY POTTER?
 
EMMA WATSON: The land of Dor feels quite magical so I guess it has that in common with Harry Potter. And also, The Tale of Despareaux is based on a book by Kate DiCamillo, who’s also here, so apart from that, I think they’re very different stories and have very different messages, and Despereaux has such a strong character and identity of its own. And also, it was so fun for me to work in a completely different medium, doing an animated feature. I’d never done that before, and it was a lot of fun and I’m massively proud of it.
 
MoviesOnline: DID YOU WORK BY YOURSELF THE WHOLE TIME?
 
EMMA WATSON: Actually Matthew very kindly came in and did a couple of days with me.
 
MATTHEW BRODERICK: That was nice and I got to go to London for free.
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (produces a small rat) This guy was in my shirt. I wanted to time it right.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: He wants to be heard.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: And I had one for Matthew but he wore a sweater — as he said, “Thankfully.”
 
MoviesOnline: IS IT A RAT OR A HAMSTER?

MATTHEW BRODERICK: We’re not sure, we’re not sure.
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: It could be a cross.
 
SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I hope there are no cats here. Oh, he’s got a fur coat. He’s not a normal hamster. Oh, he’s so sweet. I’m not sure he’s happy.
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: I was going to go like that, but he was peeking out. No, he’s not happy. Alright, I’ll hold him. Sorry about this. I was hoping for a better take. I was hoping for a better take. My inner mouse didn’t start to grow until puberty. Okay? It’s a tough house, a very tough house.
 
MATTHEW BRODERICK: I know.
 
MoviesOnline: DUSTIN, DO YOU SEE YOUR RAT AS BEING A DESCENDANT OF RATSO IN MIDNIGHT COWBOY?
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: You keep saying “rat” and I don’t know why I resent it, but I do (laughter). (Speaks to Kate DiCamillo at the back). Kate, would you be offended? Would Roscuro be offended? Why don’t you guys come up here? You wrote it, you directed it, this is offensive.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: They’re cowards. They’re cowering in the back.

MATTHEW BRODERICK: They’re coming.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Come on, give the press conference a little weight. Come on. I always thought press conferences were so ludicrous for actors until the Bush administration, now I feel like it gave us a kind of dignity actually.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Compared to them.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Yes. Come on up here. These should be serious answers. Can you help me with — would Roscuro respond negatively — it’s the way he said rat — I don’t like — how would Roscuro react? I want you to say how you would answer that question. Please come up here.
 
(Kate comes up and sits in Hoffman’s seat)
 
KATE DiCAMILLO: Okay, standing in for Dustin DUSTIN HOFFMAN: None of you all want to see me. What was the question? (laughs).

MoviesOnline: I wondered if this rat was a descendent of Ratso Rizzo. (Kate laughs)
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: You think it’s funny
 
KATE DiCAMILLO: I do think it’s funny. I thought it was funny when he said it the first time. I think that this rat is absolutely a rat unlike any other. And you know what, if you’re going to give me a microphone, I’m gonna talk because this movie is different from the book in a fabulous way, in that Roscuro becomes very much a hero and there’s that wonderful moment where there’s a rock pulled aside and the light comes through and he apologizes to that, and to me that’s a critical moment in the film, so, no it has nothing to do with – you know.
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: All you have to do is just say that was my answer when you write it.
 
KATE DiCAMILLO: Thus said, Dustin, now I’ll go away. That was really fun. Okay.
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: She wrote the book, got the Newbery Award, and she’s only, I think now about 19.
 
MoviesOnline: EMMA, WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER?
 
EMMA WATSON: She’s basically your quite generic princess. She’s very beautiful and she lives in the Land of Dor and everything’s great, but then she loses her mother, and what makes it worse is that she not only loses her mother, she also loses her father because he goes into this state of grieving, and he just kind of locks himself away from his people and his responsibilities and also from his role as a father. So she’s pretty lonely, she’s pretty isolated, she’s kind of literally locked up in this tower, and she can’t really be part of the real world. So I thought it was interesting and felt very sad for her. I thought the conversations she had with Despereaux were really charming, and I really fell in love with the script and the book, more than the character.
 
MoviesOnline: WAS IT A CHALLENGE ADJUSTING TO THE RECORDING BOOTH?
 
EMMA WATSON: Yeah, it did take me a little bit of time because when you work on a film you do voice recording and if anything goes wrong, you do a couple days of ADR. A lot of my performance is quite physical in the film because I’ve been kidnapped and there’s a rat in my room. It was hard trying to get all of that into my voice — the emotional and the out of breath and the screaming. It was fun. I was actually given a toy Despereaux, about this big, who I could speak to, so I had kind of a substitute. So yeah, it was really interesting and great fun.
 
MoviesOnline: FOR DUSTIN AND MATTHEW, DID YOU GET TO WORK TOGETHER?
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: We met years and years ago and we were friends, and then we did a film called Family Business. It didn’t do well, and we vowed never to work together again.
 
MATTHEW BRODERICK: And yet, here we are.
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Yes.
 
SIGOURNEY WEAVER: But separated, they wouldn’t sit together.
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: It’s not by accident that he’s on one end and I’m on the other. No, we didn’t work together, but I will say for my part it was quite wonderful because when I was working, I don’t know about the other actors, there were other actors in the room, and we not only sat at the table trying to interact, but Gary Ross, the producer, really had us moving around and he had a guy with a boom following us around. And I thought if this film doesn’t turn out good, I’m going to kill him. But for my part, he’s extremely responsible for this stuff. He wouldn’t let me read the script because he knew I would ask for rewrites.
 
MoviesOnline: WHEN YOU START THIS PROCESS, YOU SEE THE CHARACTER BUT IT’S NOT ANIMATED. HOW DOES YOUR PERFORMANCE CHANGE AS THEY START SHOWING YOU SCENES AND YOU SEE HOW YOUR VOICE IS BEING USED? 

MATTHEW BRODERICK: It’s interesting. I’ve actually done a few of these now. This one was particularly detailed, and I remember moving around too, which I had never done before. Even when we recorded, we were in a big room with boom mics, so it was a very natural feeling. You see sketches of your character, you read it, and then you have to trust the people who tell you what their plans are. And then you record a little, and then they animate a little and then together, you get more of a feeling for what they mean, as you see more. And as they hear you more, they might adjust things, and the character grows into what it’s going to be over a couple of years usually. It’s very interesting, and it’s sort of fun for the actor. I find I have to really try to listen to what the creators want, and then also try to bring as much humanity as I can. It’s a pleasant [experience] — there’s no big rush when you’re doing it, there’s no lighting and a crew of guys who want their lunch. So you can sort of take your time, you can stop for a little while, chat and go back. It’s nice for the actor, for me, I thought.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I didn’t get to move around, he wouldn’t let me. And I think I was the person they started with, because the narrator has to usher people into this world and introduce these characters, and it was really exciting to be that person, which Gary described as the children’s eccentric aunt with a cigarette. He’s forgotten that now, but he did at one point bring in a couple of interns for me to talk to because I really wanted the sense of telling this story to children, because it gets very scary sometimes and I wanted them to know that I was always with them and I would take care of them, and I’d get them back to the light. So it was very interesting. I’d never done the narrator before and I found it very, very interesting, and I must have come back, I don’t know how many times darling, at least two or three times a year in the last three years, as it evolved, which was fascinating.

MoviesOnline: Sigourney, did you have to have a certain personality for that narrator?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Well, gosh, you know I have to say that I probably used my own experience telling stories to my daughter, because I think that you have to actually draw pretty deeply into whoever your storyteller is, and of course the storyteller, the narrator, in Kate’s book is very, very strong, charming, you know, come a little closer, get comfortable, I think it’s one of the nicest introductions to a book ever written for families. My daughter was a little too old to actually read the story aloud to her, although we read all the Harry Potter’s out loud, and I didn’t realized until I sat down next to you (referring to Emma Watson who sits next to her) that you were Hermione. And we worship you. But anyway, so I tried to not put anything over, I tried to just find the person in me who wanted to take care of all these children.

MoviesOnline: How was it to not step on the other characters – in other words, to not be a character yourself?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I was like a big umbrella, I was able to hold my arms around the world that all these characters lived in, and be a kind of person to bring them all together, so I was really with the readers, the experiencers of the story. I had one foot in each world, in your world and in their world, so I was really more like you than one of them.

MoviesOnline: IS THERE STILL A PLACE FOR Fantasy and innocence when you wake up to headlines like Mumbai? And did you guys nimble on anything through the course of this?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: We just ate some rat sandwiches. Listen, Obama won, I think there are fantasies [that] do happen.

MoviesOnline: Matthew, is your son excited that there’s a movie for him finally?

MATTHEW BRODERICK: Yeah, yeah he is. He didn’t want me to come here, but I said, “I’m coming for Despereaux, that’s why I’m leaving,” and he said, “Will there be a” – he always gets to it in a very slow way, “And when you’re there, what happens?” “I talk to people.” “And then is there some sort of screening?” “Yes.” “And at the screening, what happens before you go into the screening?” ”I talk to more people.” “When you leave the screening what happens?” And I’m like, “Well sometimes they give me a bag.” “What’s inside the bag?” “Yeah, there might be some kind of toys, I’m not sure.” But he very much wants a stuffed Despereaux. That’s what that entire story was leading to, Dustin. Do you think I told that well?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Yes, I’ve heard you tell it once before better, but it’s not a great audience, I mean, Sigourney warmed them up a bit

MoviesOnline: EMMA, Can you tell us where you are in Harry Potter land right now?

EMMA WATSON: Yes, we begin filming the seventh one in February, and the sixth one will be released in July of next year.

MoviesOnline: And the seventh is going to be in two parts, and you’re going to work on it for a year?

EMMA WATSON: Yes.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Don’t talk about the other films.

EMMA WATSON: Yeah, exactly. Thank you, Dustin.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Harry Potter who?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Bring them back, bring them back, bring them back to Despereaux.

EMMA WATSON: This is much more exciting. We’re all a long way off a film being released or a film being made, so to be honest, I don’t have a huge amount to talk about.

MoviesOnline: Dustin, how helpful was it working on Kung Fu Panda prior to this?
 
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: I think I worked on Kung Fu Panda first, yeah. This was different. Kung Fu Panda was similar to what you guys are saying, the man in the glass booth. This was much more interactive. I will say this because some of the actors have been saying this, when movies first started as far as I can tell, because I was there, it was silent, and when you went to the rushes, you looked to see what you could do better. It was cheap, and the Chaplins and the Keatons would redo 90  percent of it. That’s what they were there for. Here you have to beg to get – so what I’m getting at is that they could spend all the time in the world if they wanted making these movies, and these animated films, which get extraordinary writers and directors and animators, will spend two, three years, and it is the way a movie should be made. It can’t because of the money, but like any other art form, painting or writing, you can go back and redo and redo, and all of us are brought in and they’re looking at it and they’re redoing it. You don’t have to get it right the first time, and I like it.

MoviesOnline: Did you have the luxury of seeing the fully animated character while you were doing it?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: No, no, you’re trusting, you’re really trusting these people.

MoviesOnline: Emma, can you talk about what you think the message of the movie is?

EMMA WATSON: There are so many good ones. I felt like this was, and I’ve watched a lot of animated films. I love animated films, so I feel like I can speak with a bit of knowledge. It felt really different to anything that I’ve ever seen before, because it felt like it wasn’t patronizing to children. The messages that are in the film feel really profound and philosophical, and I loved the ending, a serious ending about forgiveness. I thought that was incredible that there is this kind of chain reaction that happens where the king was hurt so he hurt his daughter, and Pea was hurting so she hurt the servant girl, and hurt Roscuro and  the whole thing just kind of took off and just by one person saying sorry, and really meaning it, that everything could kind of be restored. I don’t know. It was amazing. And my other favorite message was that every girl is a princess. I thought that was such a beautiful message, that Mig in her father’s eyes is a princess and I just thought that was beautiful. I really love it. It works on lots and lots of different levels. I don’t think it’s just a children’s film. I think anyone can go and see it and get something from it.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: She likes it much more than the Harry Potter movies.

MoviesOnline: Matthew, do you see this as having a sequel?

MATTHEW BRODERICK: A sequel? I don’t know, I also loved the movie and I think it’s shockingly beautiful. Animation seems to keep changing and growing, and this is a very special one. A sequel? I don’t know, it’s such a complete story I think. I always think of it that that wouldn’t happen because everything happened that was meant to. It’s such a satisfying story, but I mean, I’m certainly available if that’s what you’re asking.

MoviesOnline: Sigourney, you’ve done a combination of voice and 3D technology for Avatar. have you seen any of the footage that James Cameron showed recently?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Very well tried. My lips are sealed about the fabulous 3D adventure of Avatar. But it does look great. But you know it’s true, for all of us as artists, there’s a trust in a new technology. They do need to begin with actors with real beating hearts and rushing blood and working minds, even though they picked us. I think that’s where the smart directors take everything from the living people, and in the case of Despereaux, Despereaux is like this very ornate, beautiful orchid almost that as you move one side, another story comes up. What I think is so generous about the movie to children, I agree with Emma, they have confidence the children will be able to follow the twists and turns and ups and downs of this story. And I think the big message that I just love from it, and I loved it in the book too, is mice aren’t born knowing how to cower, they have to learn that.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Great.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Yeah, and I loved that. I think it’s a very inspiring story for all ages. It’s all about redemption, that we all have it in us to make the right decision and be redeemed, and I think I find the father story with Mig so moving, and what Tracey Ullman does with Mig, that part of the story just breaks your heart. And again Gary and Kate bring everyone back together and it’s resolved until the next whatever, but I think it’s really a story about big things like forgiveness and redemption.

MoviesOnline: I understand you can’t talk about Avatar –

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: There’s no follow up questions here.

MoviesOnline: BUT WHAT ABOUT as far as an actor doing the voice and technology?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Well you know, performance capture they’re using all of you physically and vocally so there’s no difference, except that you get to scamper around covered with green dots, and make believe that this is a gun and this is a tree. It’s just like the way you do theatre, so I felt totally at home.

MoviesOnline: So we can’t mention Last Chance Harvey at all?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: No, I’d like to spend the next hour talking about Last Chance Harvey. Emma was wonderful to work with. I want to say one thing, because Sigourney inspired me. First of all, your question about the rat, the serious answer is there is a very compelling line in what Sigourney’s saying about kids, because kids take in information, those of us that have had children, take it in the way adults take it in also. In other words, they take it in in a kind of subconscious way or an implicit way, not necessarily totally conscious, but it gets there in imagery or metaphor. And in that first five minutes when they say, I think Sigourney says some line about a rat is – some people think a rat is a rat no matter where it’s from. That’s a very important line, because if you just insert another nationality or another race in there, then you start to see what the movie’s talking about. In other words, that you break down the stereotype, because those of us that know rats know that they’re all different and they are all individuals.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: They do eat mice though.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: They do eat mice, yes. In fact, mice eat mice.

EMMA WATSON: There are lots of different types of rats. My friend has rats as pets, she does, she has two.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Rats or mice?

EMMA WATSON: No, rats.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Real rats.

EMMA WATSON: They’re very clever, they’re very intelligent.

MoviesOnline: What do they feed them?

EMMA WATSON: I don’t actually know.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: People.

EMMA WATSON: I didn’t quite go that far, but I was on the phone to her the other day and she said, “You know –

MATTHEW BRODERICK: The movie Ben was very good if you like rats.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I have a gecko and I feed it live crickets, and I’ve gotten used to that.

MATTHEW BRODERICK: I have crickets.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: We have to meet.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: The other answer is [inaudible] which I do love about the book and ultimately the film is this delicate balance we as human beings have to have and that is the individual and you have to follow rules because we first get a sense of self and the second we start school we hear “We don’t do it that way, we don’t dress that way,” we, we, and that breaks down the individual suddenly and I think that this film is trying to talk about that and speak to those things.

MoviesOnline: the movie trIES to work on two levels -- animation for us and animation for the kids. it was nice to see It TRYing to work in more than one dimension. DID YOU guys sEE that?

MATTHEW BRODERICK: I think that’s a very good point. That’s true. It doesn’t wink at the [audience]. There are usually sly, adult references in the middle of a kid movie and this doesn’t have those. It really takes itself [seriously] and it creates its own world and sticks with it and doesn’t wink and say we know we’re only kidding.

EMMA WATSON: It plays it straight.

MATTHEW BRODERICK: In fact, I think I said it. I’m just kidding.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: But I think of this as literature and I think any good piece of literature will have things in it for all ages, so I don’t think that they are going for this secret adult audience, but I certainly think it’s a very sophisticated story with much for all of us at any age, and I appreciated that because when you do have to keep going back for 3 years, it’s got to have some richness there for you to tap and it certainly does.

MoviesOnline: Emma, did you have to audition for Pea and if so, what was your audition process like?

EMMA WATSON: The audition process was after I read the script, I was so desperate to play the role, I was so kind of excited and enthusiastic about it that they very kindly gave me the role because I expressed so much interest in it. I loved it. I really loved it.

MoviesOnline: How old were you when you started?

EMMA WATSON: I think I was just 17.

MoviesOnline: Starting with Dustin, can you describe how these characters related to you in your own personal lives? Do you see any similarities between you and the character you played?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Most of us work the same way in one sense no matter what our training is, and that is that we involve ourselves because that’s all you have. Whatever you’re getting from the character is a part of us, otherwise we can’t do it. And I love what Sigourney said again, because I thought of that also even though we’re playing characters, you can not think of your kids when you read your kids stories because you play characters when you read your kids stories. You take on those characters and you take them off the page, but you’re also bringing a part of yourself, so I think whatever you’re getting I would guess from each of the characters is a part of the actor. I must tell you, I just remembered, one time when I first met Paul McCartney many, many years ago, he said he used to play the guitar as a kind of background music as he would tell his kids stories out of books and sometimes make up stories, and he said an incredible amount of his songs and music came from that. Isn’t that good?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Now all the kids will want us to play guitar while we tell them stories.

MoviesOnline: Sigourney, how did you relate to your character?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Well I thought she was a very interesting woman, this narrator, and had a very respectful way of speaking very frankly to children. I think you have to feel that they understand everything no matter how tiny they are and she’s going to give them the whole truth and she’s going to take care of them, but there are going to be some things that are not pleasant because that’s the way life is. So I felt that she had to be maybe not a mother because I thought she treated the children totally as equals, companions in this adventure. She was going to be there but these were things they needed to know about and to think about, and it was just the beginning for them of their own sort of tales. So I guess that’s the way I saw it and I think a lot of it came from Gary because I felt we were slightly trying to do something with the narrator that had not been done before. It wasn’t just one of these “Once upon a time.” If she had to make contact, and that’s why I appreciated when he brought some poor, hapless intern in for me to drone at.

MoviesOnline: Emma and Matthew, do you see any similarities between your characters and your own lives?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (to Emma) Be completely candid.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: (to Emma) You live in a castle…

EMMA WATSON: [laughs] Yeah.

MoviesOnline: You’re English and you live in a castle?

EMMA WATSON: Of course. Everyone who’s British lives in castles in the middle of the countryside.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: How old were you when you saw your first rat?

EMMA WATSON: [laughs] I never lost anyone close to me luckily so I can’t relate directly to that experience and that’s probably the biggest one for Pea but I know how it feels. I guess everyone knows how it feels to feel lonely and isolated at times. I think it’s part of being human.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: May I just say I love the off-the-shoulder choice of dress.

EMMA WATSON: [laughs] I love how you’re keeping this light. Thank you so much.

MATTHEW BRODERICK: I thought maybe I got skipped. I don’t know. I thought it was a very interesting character and I could certainly relate to it, although I am aware that there are things that are dangerous but he isn’t. He’s just never daunted but he’s not arrogant. He just sees the world differently than his little friends. Well they’re bigger than him but they are little. To us, they would seem little. And Gary also talked at great length. We spoke on the phone. He had taken the character very seriously. I don’t mean serious like serious but he had thought it out or somebody had. It’s very well thought out. At one point, I remember saying “I’m so old for that,” but he said “No, no, no, it’s a cartoon, so you don’t have to be.” So it was also about being that age when things seem kind of black and white and there’s bravery and cowardice. There was something about the age that Despereaux is that was a clue.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Sigourney wants to add.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I’d like to add something if I may. I loved the way that the school was portrayed. I know Gary has two kids in school. This is a good school. But, as a mother, I really remember teachers saying “Well he’s got this problem, we’re going to handle it, it’s fine.” And without making them bad or anything, it just tells the story of how Despereaux stands out in this school where he isn’t interested in learning how to be afraid. And even the principal, I loved the way he was played and how “Yeah, I gotta tell you, he drew a cat and he named it Fluffy. You know what I mean? What are we gonna do?” There was such a realism and affection without making things good or bad. That’s what I really admire about the film is there are no…even the dreadful, horrible, I’m glad the actor is not here, the head of rats, Botticelli, he’s just totally creepy but you know he has this kind of desire to be friends with Roscuro that makes him touching, so I love that it’s not this easy, good, bad. It’s complicated. I think it’s very respectful to children.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: If I may add, and we always have to temper what actors say because we’re like used car salesmen, but they say that casting is most of it and putting myself aside, I really think Gary cast us, including Sigourney, really well and that’s really, I would guess, from the directorial point of view, such a critical and crucial decision because it’s animation, so you’re trying to say that with actors. I thought that was really good.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Every single character, Bill Macy is the father, every single character is so good. (to Dustin) I think you can definitely include yourself in that too. [laughs]

MoviesOnline: Matthew, have you shared the book with your son OR DO YOU THINK HE’S TOO YOUNG FOR IT?

MATTHEW BRODERICK: No, I haven’t yet. Maybe he’s old enough now. He just turned 6 so it wasn’t on his radar. [laughs] We say things like that -- “on his radar.”

MoviesOnline: Is there a book that really touched you when you were a child that maybe you have shared with him or would like to?

MATTHEW BRODERICK: Well there’s a lot of Dr. Seuss books, millions of cats. There’s been so many books like [inaudible]. Everybody likes that. He’s only just now getting into the longer books. So we’re just getting started with that.

MoviesOnline: Do you have a New Year’s resolution that includes your family and your son and family in general?

MATTHEW BRODERICK: No, I haven’t made a resolution yet. I have to get on that.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: That’s your resolution is to get one.

MATTHEW BRODERICK: I’m resolving to resolve something.

MoviesOnline: Emma, you’ve been involved in these very complicated movies, Harry Potter and now this one. was it Difficult to shuttle back and forth between them AND TRANSITION from schoolgirl Hermione to Princess Pea?

EMMA WATSON: Tale of Despereaux was made over quite a long period of time so I was kind of brought in for a couple days here and there and then they’d progress a bit further or something would change and then I’d come and do another in 3 or 4 days. So it was quite spread out and quite kind of… It was a long process so, in that sense, it wasn’t like a very intense work climate that made it difficult like that, so no to that [first] question. And what was your other question?

MoviesOnline: About going from being a schoolgirl to being a princess?

EMMA WATSON: No, I don’t think so.  I guess I have paranoid moments where I will hear something in my own voice or I’ll go “Gosh, do I sound like Hermione then?” You know, I definitely have an awareness of it because I’ve played her for so long and she is so distinctive and she is so much a part of me. So yes, I definitely have an awareness of it, but Pea was more gentle. I instantly felt a different person or character playing her. I definitely had a sense that… It worked out okay. I was worried about it but it worked out okay, I think. [laughs]

MoviesOnline: Emma mentioned that animation is one of her favorite genres. I wonder if each of you has a favorite genre?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Has a favorite genre?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: I think Despereaux is somewhat of a film noir.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: That’s right. That’s where the narrator came from with the cigarette.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Yes.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I like the American musical myself. I never get to do that. I think you love what you don’t get to do.

MoviesOnline: Sigourney, aren’t you doing Gypsy?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I am, I am. I’m doing Gypsy Rosalee. She kind of spreks things. I get to spend Christmas with one of my oldest friends who’s British and who’s working on Cherry Orchard with Sam Mendes in New York and she’s bringing her whole family over and we’re going up to the Adirondack Mountains and going cross country skiing and we’re going to try to make Yorkshire pudding so they’ll feel at home.

MATTHEW BRODERICK: (to Sigourney) You’re doing Gypsy?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Yes, I’m doing Gypsy G-String Mother. It’s a book by her son. She was too cheap to hire a dresser so he was her dresser inside the box handing her the various sequins and feathers and everything. He’s a great guy. Eric Preminger. So we’re doing that for HBO this year. She’s a fabulous woman – very funny, very smart, wonderful woman. So I guess I will get to get my toes wet in the American musical

MoviesOnline: Dustin?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Yes?

[laughter]

MoviesOnline: What’s your favorite genre?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: When you say genre, do you mean to act in or to watch?

MoviesOnline: To watch.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: I love film noir. I do. I also love silent movies a great deal because I think they get a bad wrap. If you’re an actor and you watch them, you say “How would I do this differently if I couldn’t talk and I had to do it all.” There are some terrific performances I think in silent film.

MoviesOnline: DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL HOLIDAY PLANS?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: My holiday plans? I can tell you what I’m not doing. I’m not going up to the Adirondacks and skiing.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: You can if you want to.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: I’m old and I’m tired.

[laughter]

Holidays? I don’t think your holiday is my holiday. We have 8 days when we give presents. You’re talking about Christmas. By the way, did you see that Christmas invitation that the Bushes sent out to their Jewish friends? Did you see that? It said Happy Hanukkah and it had a photograph of the White House and in the background people pulling a Christmas tree through the door. [laughter] They had to send out apologies. I don’t have plans for the holidays. I don’t have any plans.

MoviesOnline: For Christmas or Hanukkah, given the economic times we are in, what sort of gifts are you going to be giving this year?

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: I’m staying with G4.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: I’m giving handmade slippers from Morocco because I just went to the film festival there. It was a fantastic visit and they’re amazing people and I recommend everybody go to Morocco. They have a film school just for African students there that I’m hoping to help raise money for scholarships. So all my Christmas presents are Moroccan except for what I’m giving Gary.

MATTHEW BRODERICK: Lego. Thousands of pounds of Lego.

EMMA WATSON: Wow, everyone has such good answers. I honestly don’t think… I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. I’m sorry, I don’t think I…

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Lie. You’re supposed to lie. Seriously.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: You’re knitting everyone socks.

EMMA WATSON: Yes. I’m knitting everyone socks.

MoviesOnline: Despereaux always tells the truth.

EMMA WATSON: [referring to Dustin] That’s why he plays Roscuro.

[laughter]

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Yup. There it is. There’s my girl.

MoviesOnline: Thank you very much.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: No! I didn’t get to say what I was going to give away. I’m going back to my old, traditional gift that I will share with you. If you get avocados out of the market and make sure they’re not refrigerated and you put the toothpicks in the tushy part so the stiff part is going upwards like every [inaudible] should. You can put that part up. You put the toothpicks in and then you put it in a glass so that the water covers the tushy and then put it into a dark cabinet in the kitchen and then it will start to grow and it gets about that high and you’ve got to clip it because otherwise it’ll just be one shoot up and it’ll start to go like that. Then, you take it out and put it in a clay pot filled with earth. I’m absolutely serious. And then you write on the clay pot “Happy Holidays” and you give a living thing.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: So you’re not giving the marijuana plants this year?

[laughter]

Too expensive.

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Do we remember the 70s? She’s right. We go back awhile. I just want to make one announcement. Will you stand up?

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Yes. [stands up and he hugs her; she’s much taller than him]

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: We’re going to do a love story in about a year.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: Start writing, Gary. Love comes in all sizes.

“The Tale of Despereaux” opens in theaters on December 19th.

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