There is an art to voice acting, and three of the lead stars of The Angry Birds Movie — Josh Gad, Jason Sudeikis and Maya Rudolph — have been practicing it for a long time.
When it came time to sit down with them to talk about the upcoming animated movie, we asked the trio for their pointers on what they think makes a great voice acting performance. Here are their seven tips for getting their characters’ voices right.
“There’s this quality about him that’s out of control that I really loved,” Gad said of his character, the yellow speedster Chuck. “I had a friend growing up who was literally like this. His name is Dave. We used to call him ‘Motormouth.’ That’s called bullying now. We don’t do that anymore. But he’s one of my close friends, so I kind of ratcheted the personality based on him as a kid, how I projected him. So, you know, it was really for fun, for animation or live-action. That’s what it comes down to, finding the right springboard.”
Speaking specifically of his most iconic animated character, Olaf from Frozen, Gad said, “For Olaf it was as simple as ‘childlike wonderment.’ Those words, as soon as I heard those words, I completely understood what that character was, right? It was all about this naiveté and this youthful kind of wide-eyed — all of my recordings, I have this like doe-eyed [vibe]. With Chuck, I literally, my mouth would go numb after three takes, because I was speaking so fast and at such a high pitch that my voice was just shot. So that’s how I differentiated them.”
“For me it’s usually trial and error until you get it right, and you don’t know how long that’s going to take,” said Rudolph, who plays anger management therapist Matilda. “That’s sort of the nerve-racking thing, because until you get into the room and you’re working with the director and the writers that are there, you don’t know what you’re going to bring to it. The nicest feeling is when you finally feel like you’re circling around something or landing on something. Then from there you can go back and do those early lines in the way that you feel the character will speak — and it takes a minute to get there.”
“I was so excited, because it’s so in my wheelhouse of like weird, goofy, hippy-dippy, crunchy weirdos that I’ve played over the years, and I’m a Californian — I know it so well, and there’s a lot of elements of me in there too, this kind of self-helpy crunchiness that I totally embrace,” said Rudolph of her first concept for Matilda. “But I also didn’t know what she looked like, so the minute I came in, they showed me a picture of her, and she was bigger — I mean, she’s a chicken. She’s very big-breasted, as a chicken should be. She’s kind of like Mae West a little bit. She looks like Mae West to me. But she’s such a lady, and she has to be this balance, like this counter — it’s these very troubled patients, I should say, that she has.
“So it just took a little bit of time to figure out how much of that was going to be — like my initial approach descended from Janice from The Muppets, but she’s like a band member who’s really laid-back. She’s almost like a female Cheech and Chong,” Rudolph continued. “Matilda’s high-strung. She’s more Type A. And I love the combination of somebody who’s supposed to be really peaceful that cannot help their controlling behavior as well. I really like that combination.”
As most voice actors film by themselves in a booth and don’t have the rest of the cast to riff off of, Sudeikis said a lot of it came down to trusting what was in the script and the other people making the movie. “It always helps having confidence in the people you’re performing with,” said Sudeikis, who plays main character Red. “I was involved early, and so the fact that [Rudolph and Gad] specifically and others in the cast came on, people I was fans of and friends with, certainly that support helped lend a hand to going all out. You do it so many times that you sort of get out of your own way of self-editing or self-correcting or judging yourself. … I didn’t have any reservations about it by the time I was doing it.”
“Because it’s really just the voice, it’s just kind of a luxury to have it be so concentrated on the one thing,” Rudolph explained. “I mean — Josh and I were talking about this earlier — I do move around and stuff, because I feel like as long as I’m not patting myself and making a lot of noise, I’m gesticulating like I would, so the words come out more naturally. It’s a funny way of working, but I’ve gotten used to it, and I really like it. I also just like that it’s a little bit of an abstract way of doing it.”
“It’s all about behavior and point of view,” said Gad. “I was hesitant for two reasons to do Angry Birds. One is there were three words that concerned me: ‘angry,’ ‘birds’ and ‘movie.’ And two, I wasn’t really looking to follow up Frozen with another animated movie so soon, especially because they’re developing more of that story. It was like, ‘Is it confusing to do that?’ But the producer, John Cohen, showed me this unbelievable 20-minute presentation that was all storyboarded with character designs and the design of the world, and I was immediately drawn to it and the character of Chuck, because he was so different from anything I’ve played. He’s a speed demon, he speaks faster than he thinks, he moves faster than he speaks.”
“I enjoyed what I feel some of the themes of the film are,” Sudeikis said. “I think it might just be from working in a place like Second City and they always talk about ‘here’s the comedy, but what’s the sketch about?’ That was the conversation John Cohen and I had early on, and then me giving my opinions. I feel like the scenes [with Matilda] reminded me in a lovely way, ironically, of another bird movie: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I was like, ‘I get this.’ I get when you feel like you’re being misunderstood even though your intentions are pure and they’re coming from an honest place. I think any of us have felt that, and I like how they handled that idea in the movie.”