Danny DeVito was an environmentalist way before The Lorax made it cool.
Danny sat down with us in California to chat about his voice work in ‘Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax’ and I have to say, the man is just pure awesome. I have long considered Jim Carrey the most charismatic actor I’ve met, but Danny’s giving him a run for that title.
Danny shared with us how the role came to him, what it was like to translate his character in four languages, how ‘green’ he is in real life, and the story behind ‘Troll Foot’. (Be prepared – the interview was over 12 pages long and I had a REALLY hard time whittling it down – it was ALL so good!)
He was familiar with the story of ‘The Lorax’ long before he was offered the part, thanks to his three kids:
“Well, I have three kids so we started out with all the books without any words and mostly the really cool pictures and stuff and then moved into all the caterpillar [The Very Hungry Caterpillar] and the mouse ate cookie [If You Give a Mouse a Cookie] and the this and the that and all the books you all know very well.
And then, we started moving into the picture books with words, and that natural progression took us right to Dr. Seuss because especially when you come home at night and you’ve been working and you want to read the kids to sleep and give them that book in the bed, and you can sit there and go and da-da-da-da-da-ba-ba-ba-da-da-da-boom-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum you know? But, Dr. Seuss always gave you a really cool story.
And so, we did all of the normal Green Eggs and Ham and the this and the that. We also loved Horton Hears a Who and then, of course, when we got hip to The Lorax, it was really cool.”
Had you ever associated yourself with The Lorax character before?
Danny DeVito: “No, no. I never have. My daughters brought me Matilda and I did associate with Mr. Wormwood [His character in Matilda]. But, in kind of a fun way, when we started reading chapter books, and they brought it in because people didn’t know about Roald Dahl [Author of Matilda] when I was raising the kids, it was like anybody I asked about Roald Dahl, they didn’t know. And so, a lot of people don’t know about Dr. Seuss.It’s kind of subversive a little bit in a way because it’s not just a simple message. It’s a message about the environment and there are controversial things in it, and same thing with Matilda, which I like. I like that there’s a little bit of an edge to it. It’s not just a simple story. And The Lorax, I didn’t identify with the character as much as I dug him. I thought he was really cute and cool. And it wasn’t until two years ago or so when Chris Melandandri [Producer] called me and asked me if I would be interested.”
How much of your kids are in your mind when you’re doing a voice?
Danny DeVito: “All the time, yes. I’m doing it for our kids. And I’m doing it for us, too, because what I found about The Lorax was I do everything pretty much the same wheelhouse of characters, whether I’m in Twins [Movie] or I’m in Matilda or I’m in Sunny [It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia], but a little bit more extreme in some cases. In Sunny, it’s a lot more extreme. So, I take it to the edge just a little tiny bit. My kids are 20, 26, and 28. I’m doing this for the kids that are our extended family kids, who we have nine’s and ten’s and we have eight’s and we have five’s and we have one in San Francisco who’s coming down to see the movie on that day. She and her father are driving down. She’s seven I think, and very excited about it. So, I’m doing it for them, but I’m also trying to think, are there people out there who are going to say, wow, that’s Frank Reynolds in Sunny as The Lorax? And it’s really kind of cool because he has the kind of sensibility. It’s not so curmudgeony, but it’s like a little bit gruff.”
Danny translated his Lorax part into four languages, rather than hiring someone else to do that, as most films do.
How long did it take you to learn the four languages?
Danny DeVito: “Oh, well, here’s the thing about that. I didn’t learn the languages. I’m the guy in school who went and took Latin forever and just couldn’t even say open the door. I speak very little Italian from just the home slang. And it wouldn’t ever, ever fly as a dub job for Italy. So, the way I did it was I had two translator expert people who know the language and all the inflections and the proper way to say the words. And then, I had another person from the country in the booth. We had the picture in English with my voice. And what I wanted to do was make sure I got the performance big time, and also, they were there to police the pronunciation so that the inflections were right. So, I did Spanish twice because one of them, you speak with it. They don’t even say Thneed. They say something else because Thneed, it would be some word you don’t want to say probably. And then, the Italian was really fun. And the German turned out to be one of the most challenging right away. Imagine you’re climbing Mt. Everest, right, and you’re at this certain place where it’s a flat spot and you can still see the peak up there. That was Russian. I said, ‘are you crazy’? And it was some points in time where I did the dubbing stage for days and you get up to go get a coffee or a tea or a something and ask yourself, “What do you do?” But they’re going to appreciate it. And it wound up sounding really good. I’ve heard a lot of it. I play it back a lot. I’m very, I don’t know what you call it – I guess a perfectionist. But, you really want to make sure you’re doing it. And I had these two poor people on the other side of me repeating it and saying the lines over and over again and me looking at the phonetic spelling.”
Why did you decide to go through the trouble?
Danny DeVito: “First of all, I like to do different things. I like to challenge myself. And I knew it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. Once I got it in my head that I was going to do it, I said, I’m not going back out now. I’m going to just go. You’ve taken your clothes off and you’re ready to dive in the river. You’re not going to back off.
My whole family was saying, boy, that’s really great. Imagine going to dinner one night and thinking, I’ve got cold feet, I don’t really want to do it, it’s going to take too long. But, I had great people with me and I stuck to it, and it worked out good. And I’m going to see it in Russia and in March I’m going to go see it in Russia and Spain and Germany and Italy.”
Do you feel an even greater responsibility to “speak for the trees”?
Danny DeVito: “Yes. I’ve never been as environmentally wacky as my friend Ed Begley [Actor, Environmentalist]. He’s my dear friend. But, I was one of the first people back in the days when they gave you the EV1 car, the zero emissions car, I was one of the first people to rent that car. Rhea [Perlman] actually rented it for me for Father’s Day, and I loved it, and I drove it everywhere. And then, there was that whole backlash and they took them away. They made up stories and took them away. I own right now, and it’s out in the parking lot, a Leaf, which is an amazing car. It’s a Nissan car. They’re building factories right now for the batteries and for the parts and everything in the United States. So, it’ll be a company that’ll come back to the United States for jobs and whatnot. But, the greatest thing about it is there are zero emissions, I plug it in at my house at night. You have to put a 220 in or some line because it charges it faster. And I plug it in.
We don’t use these (points to bottles of water on the table) in my house. You see these? They’re not in my house. And the other thing we don’t have in my house is napkins.; We have cloth napkins in my house. We just started about a year ago. These (points to bottles again) we’ve been on for a while now. Christmastime, we bought everybody in the house, all the people, even the people who work around the house to come in, we give them their own bottle with their name on it. And they fill it up. We have filtered water, and we fill it up with tap because water is going to be the real big issue. I don’t know if you ever saw Tapped. It’s a documentary.
Tapped is a good thing for you to look at.”
Do you see any of your three kids in Ted or in Audrey [Characters in The Lorax]?
Danny DeVito: “Yes, in the film. Well, I’ve seen my son look doe-eyed at a young woman and win her over. He’s a romantic. And my daughters are also. I don’t know how it is with you guys, but in our family, the girls talk to me and we have a great relationship. They’re 28 and 26 now, and both have boyfriends. But, we’ve never talked about anything like dating or what would you. I gave them all kinds of really good advice, and Rhea too has given them all kinds of good advice. And you all know what that advice is because you’re all aware of the fact that it’s a different world out there, and we have to make sure our kids are protected in every way and give them the opportunity to be protected. I thought that was a sweet romance in the movie and done really well. The younger guy and the girl who he looks up that he really likes. Just looking at it now in hindsight, you say romance and matters of the heart can really change the world.”
Danny on the message of the film overall (mild spoiler if you haven’t read the book):
Danny DeVito: “It is a mirror in a way to what’s happening all over the world, in the rainforests and in our country. And the more we can protect parks and trees and it’s not an “anti logging” message at all because the main thing is what the Once-ler didn’t do and how he redeemed himself was saving that seed.
And when he gave the seed to the kid to take to plant, that’s the message really of the movie, for us to be aware of the fact that we can make a difference, and we can still be commercially viable, and we can still do all the things that we naturally do as long as we’re not hurting the environment. I don’t really think we have to rely on oil myself personally. I don’t think we should, anyway, in the future. I love it when people talk about capping the emissions and we’ve got industries that we’ve already started. So, we’ve gone along the wrong path in a lot of ways. We need to retool and figure out people’s lives so that everybody has a job. The pendulum is like anything. To swing that thing, it takes a while to get it going in the right way. And I think what we have to tell people out there is, for instance, I bought this Leaf. This Leaf, I think in the long run with the tax credit and the $5,000 rebate, I think it’s in the 30s. It’s still an expensive car, but it may be in the high 20s in terms of buying a vehicle. It does get 80 miles to a charge. I know that for sure. So, if we could get people who are normally going to buy gas guzzlers to go out to try it out because I think now what has to happen is consumers have to start putting their money where their mouth is and buying products and supporting it and doing any kind of solar things you can and any kind of conservational regenerating like planting a tree, that’s what I was getting at there. He plants the tree, and that’s it. It’s not we just want you to not cut down trees. Everybody’s got to have a house to live in and you’ve got to have a deck. And people have to have companies that do this. But, it’s really a good thing if you can figure out a way to regenerate the forests and not just clear cut them and use them for soy beans.”
Danny, an avid Tweeter, shares the story of ‘Troll Foot’:
Danny DeVito: “Well, like I say, I tweet, I’m a tweeter. I tweet my foot a lot. You know about this? Troll foot? Oh, you’re going to love this. In Sunny, we did a show a couple years ago, a couple seasons ago where we did a musical because Charlie [Character on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia] was trying to win the love of the waitress, which he’s never done, even though they just had a baby (together in real life). Don’t tell anybody.
And so, we did a show, a musical. And in the musical, I played a troll. I don’t know if you ever saw that show. But, what we did was we took it on the road and went to six cities and did it live. And it was so cool. We were like rock-n-roll stars. Our fans came in droves. We sold out the Palladium. Every penny went to Haiti because it was around that time. We raised $300,000 for Haiti. What I did was, I’d just started at the time tweeting. So, I decided that I would call my right foot troll foot. And wherever I went in the world, for instance, I’ve been to Germany and this place and Vietnam and all the places, and I’d stick my foot up and take a picture and send it. This is the picture [holds up a picture]. You saw the half time show with Madonna? Right? Okay. Remember the points of light? Now, when the Giants won, remember all the confetti? (shows us phone photo of his Troll Foot at the Super Bowl). So, that’s my art.”
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