Kodi Smit-McPhee is "ParaNorman"
Related: Read out interview with Anna Kendrick for "Paranorman" at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con.
Most audiences think of Kodi Smit-McPhee has the little boy in the disturbingly violent films "The Road" and "Let Me In." But Smit-McPhee is now a bonafide teenager, tall and lanky, and looking for roles that are a little more grown up. Just before he sprouted, though, he did the voice for Norman in "ParaNorman," the new stop-motion feature from the same folks who made "Coraline." In the film, Norman is a strange little outcast who is bullied and ignored, but when an ancient curse lets loose a load of zombies on the town he lives in, suddenly Norman's talents might be the only thing that can save everyone.
Was this was your first voice work?
Kodi Smit-McPhee: No, this is the second I had done. I just did a little thing in Australia but it was nothing compared to this. This was definitely an awesome experience.
What's it like, using just your voice to create a character?
Kodi: Yes, it’s a really weird kind of feeling, but it’s a lot of fun, because you can just like let loose and go crazy to get that emotion out. So yes, it’s a very different thing but I would love to still do both.
How different is it to create a character where it’s not you, physically? You know exactly what it looks like, you know what the words are, but you still have to turn it into someone real.
Kodi: It is very... It’s so weird you know, seeing that and thinking, 'Okay. I’ve got to somehow make these guys connect and make this character look real' And that’s the thing we’re all kind of worried about. And also, the other thing we’re worried about is we all did kind of character voices so we’re worrying about slipping out of that, so they kept us up to date on how we were doing. It was very hard but at the same time, easy and laid back.
How different is your character voice from your speaking voice?
Kodi: It’s very different. It’s American, high-pitched and yeah, it doesn’t even sound like me at all. Definitely not.
Were you very influenced by the physical appearance of the puppet?
Kodi: It’s actually crazy and I wish I brought it with me. When I got the script and I read it over and over again, and I got the feeling for the character, I actually drew. First, I drew this kind of odd-looking guy and I was like, 'That’s wrong.' And I drew something else - this kid just sitting down and it’s literally identical to what they had before I’d seen it. So I guess I got the right idea.
How did you prepare for the role? How did you psych yourself up?
Kodi: Preparing is basically the same as you would for a real film. It’s just making a whole life of the character. I work with my dad. He’s the one who got me into acting. We just kind of make a whole life for the character, so when you’re in those moments you’re getting chased by a zombie that, you don’t know what’s that’s like. You’re just in Norman’s head and you just feel it.
So your character’s a fan of horror movies?
Kodi: Mm hmm. (affirmative)
Are you a fan of horror movies?
Kodi: I love horror movies. Yes.
Kodi: Even though this sounds weird, I’ve never seen The Exorcist but I always try to push myself to see it and I never can but I bet that would be my favorite. If I could sit through it. But I know there’s a favorite out there. Oh, obviously Freddy Krueger and Mike, Jason - all of those are my favorite. Kind of cliché ones.
So they’re what you actually record in the booth with other people on this?
Kodi: Yes, that was the cool thing about it because we actually got to interact with other people. I think that made the conversations a lot more real. And also, we had a lot more fun other than just being alone by yourself.
Did you audition for this role?
Kodi: I did. I was in Australia and I just had sides and I went in. I thought this would be cool - I could do a character voice. So it turns out my voice is dropping. I can’t do it anymore. My whole plan was to do this voice, so people would come up to me and say, 'Hey! Can you do the voice?' Nope.
What kind of weird physical characteristics do you see in your character that reflects you when you’re in the booth?
Kodi: I think his whole body. He totally looks like me, I feel like. He’s kind of lanky, weird. I don’t know, I just feel like he was very much like me but so much not.
So when you’re recording in the booth together with the other actors do they let you do a lot off the scripts or were you guys pretty much sticking to the script ?
Kodi: I can’t remember. I think... We did a... Oh yes, I did a lot of improvising with the other younger boy that was my friend in the movie, Tucker [Albrizzi]. And that was hilarious. And he actually put some of that in there. There’s a part you’ll see, when he’s throwing a stick to his dog and that whole part was improvisation and it was hilarious. But other than that, we would glue the paper to cardboard and it would just be this huge stack that we had to reach from every session. Yes, it was pretty to the script.
Did you visit the actual set and watch them do some of the animation?
Kodi: I did. We all visited but separately for some reason, but I went to Oregon and of course it was raining and we go in this huge like factory looking place and there’s 50 booths of these scenes getting shot all at once. It’s just mind-boggling. I would never have the patience to do that. It’s crazy.
Are you a fan of stop motion in general?
Kodi: I’m a huge fan of stop motion. Yeah. But once again, I wish I could do that kind of stuff but it’s just not for me. But I love how it looks in the end when you think about it.
Chris talked about one of the weird things about shooting voice work instead was doing a bunch of sequences and then not working on it for three or four months. How did you sort of get back into Norman after you’ve sort of been apart from them?
Kodi: It's weird, I was thinking about that too but I think it’s stuck in your head. But sometimes I would go back in and I’m like, 'Is my voice the same? Am I doing the same accent kind of thing?' But no, it sticks with you. In fact, sometimes you would forget about it. You’d be like, 'Oh that’s right! I’m doing a stop motion movie. I got to go back in and do it.' See, I think we did 10 sessions and there was a few months in between every session.
Did the fact the film has a really strong anti-bullying message, you know, did that resonate?
Kodi: Definitely. I was never bullied, and I wasn’t a bully. I just kind of went under the radar with my friends. I think that this movie, it’s cool, because a child can watch it and just have some fun and go on an adventure. But with adults, there’s horror movie things in it. They’re like, “Oh my God! That’s kind of like the Goonies or Scooby Doo. But also there’s the bullying. And I think it’s kind of saying that being normal or weird is fine and you should go with whoever you are.
Are you being approached by other studios to do more in voice over?
Kodi: Actually, I went on a bunch of meetings before this came out with Disney and Cartoon Wet Network and Adult Swim and I would love to do a TV show that’s animation. Yeah, that’d be awesome.
That would take up a lot of time though.
Kodi: It would but I would have so much fun and you know I’m here to act so take up all the time it can.
Any exciting roles coming up?
Kodi: I just finished Romeo and Juliet in Rome so that was amazing. I did a film called The Congress, which is a sci-fi kind of thing. And then one called Dead Europe, where I play kind of a ghost kid. But they never like really says that he’s a ghost. Just like kind of gives it to you.
Was it different being directed by two directors when you’re doing your voice stuff or did they work with you one at a time?
Kodi: Really, I just thought of them as the whole team together working on this thing. And I think it was good that there were two different minds working on it, because then we could come out with this unique situation by bringing all out ideas together. I think it was cool.