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Exclusive Interview with 'Rango's' Stephen Root

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Jul 11, 2011 | 6:48am EDT

Stephen RootWhen the cast of Rango (which hits Blu-ray on July 15) signed up for the animated film, few of them knew that they'd be pulling double duty -- filming live-action footage in costume in addition to recording the voicework. Beloved character actor Stephen Root lends his voice to not one, but three characters in the quirky, loveable film so he had a few things to say on the matter. Of course, he's also got a few other projects coming down the pipeline -- namely Everybody Loves Whales and the hot-button Clint Eastwood CIA flick, J. Edgar.

We were lucky enough to chat with Root about his unusual experience working on Rango and what we can look forward to seeing him in next.

First off, your career spans a lot of genres, a lot of styles—you try a lot of different hats on.

I try.

With something like Rango, it’s certainly out there. What attracted you to this particular project?

I think Gore [Verbinski] is a tremendous director. And the chance to work with Johnny [Depp] and all of these great character actors, like Ned Beatty and Harry Dean Stanton. That’s what you get in it for.

It’s a kids’ movie, but it’s also really, kind of dark.

It also plays on an adult level. It plays as a comedy for kids, but it’s a heady movie. It’s an adult movie. It is dark, but the themes are universal: don’t lie, don’t do bad things. It works on a lot of different levels, which is, I think, why it’s going to be a classic.

What was the most surprising thing when you were looking through the script the first time?

That we were going to film it as opposed to just voice it! Without doing a motion capture thing, Gore wanted to actually film the whole movie in a rehearsal setting. And that’s what we did. So I think, in looking at the script, I [said], “Wait a minute, I signed on for a voiceover. I didn’t know I was going to do an on-camera movie.” But it turned out to be great, because of the great people to work with, and because I think the animators got a lot of your individual mannerisms in the characters.

Do you think it’s better to voice a cartoon like this when you are actually interacting with the other actors?

It’s always good to have the other actors in the room. Then, your acting is reacting. You’re reacting to somebody else. A lot of the film stuff is done as four-hour blocks by yourself. It’s kind of difficult, because you’re not bouncing off another actor. I think it’s always good to have actors in the room, whether you’re doing a film, or just a radio concert in the round, which is how a lot of stuff is done, as well.

In the film, it looks like you play more than one character.

Yeah, I play a couple. Three, actually.

Did you have three different costumes?

I did! I had my slouchy hat as the drunk rabbit. I think, as Merrimack, I had a little vest. I decided to do him with a New England accent. A little vest and a tight white shirt. Yeah, I had different rehearsal clothes for the different characters. Certainly, they were completely acted differently.

Did you have a favorite of the three?

Well, I enjoyed the New England guy, because I do a lot of Southern stuff. To be able to do New England stuff is fun for me.

As far as getting into the time period, how dressed up did you guys get? Was it just a vest, or a whole outfit?

Yeah, it was mostly jeans, vests, toy guns, hats. It had to be very much rehearsal. Just rehearsal clothes that suggested what the character was as opposed to anything real or dolled up.

Rango Johnny Depp Lizard

Did you think that this was a risky film at all? It’s beautiful, but it’s very out there.

It is gorgeous. Best 2D film I think I’ve ever seen in terms of the animation. The art direction is astonishing. The hyper-realism. Plus, it’s just well-done all around, I thought. I liked it better than the 3D thing. I think it was more powerful that way.

Are you on the other side of the 3D fence?

It depends on the project. There can be some tremendous 3D stuff. I think Avatar showed that. You can have astonishing 3D stuff. But do you have to have every animated project as a 3D project? I don’t think so.

You’ve got a lot of interesting stuff coming up as well.

Yeah, I’ve got to do a lot of fun stuff. I got to work with [Robert] Redford and Eastwood in a calendar year. That’s pretty good, I thought. I was very happy with it.

When you were working on J. Edgar, besides Clint Eastwood, there’s quite a long list of people on that film. Was there anyone else you were really excited to work with?

Yeah. I got to work with my buddy Dermot Mulroney, who is a good friend of mine. Denis O’Hare, from True Blood, I think is an amazing actor. It was great to work with him; he’s one of my heroes. And of course, Leo was fantastic. All the people were great. Armie Hammer was tremendous as well. Really amazing actor.

He’s got some great things for him coming up as well.

Absolutely.

With J. Edgar, and with Everybody Loves Whales, they’re both a little historical. One’s the Cold War, and one’s the Lindberg Baby. Is that something you were looking to do?

No, it just kind of happened. The Redford film was 1865, and this is 1980. J. Edgar was 1932. Just a strange set of coincidences that they all came out like that. But it’s always fun to do a period piece anyway. You can delve into a different time. Especially if it’s a historical piece. You get to do some research on your guys.

Get to brush up on your history. It’s like school again.

Which is okay—when you don’t have to do it. You want to do it.

I know Everybody Loves Whales was shot in Alaska, which is quite a harsh place to be working for a little while.

No, it was okay. Anchorage is a little town. I had been there—strangely—for 9/11. I was in Alaska, in the Denali National Forest. I had been in Anchorage before. It was kind of nice to go back, except that it snows in September. It was amazing to me. We got up there—early September, too!—and you walk outside, and it’s snowing.

What was it like working with a fellow comedic actor, John Krasinski, on Everybody Loves Whales?

John is great. I had worked with him on Leatherheads, the George Clooney movie, before that. John is brilliant on The Office, and almost anything he does. So understated and really a great actor.

Rango hits shelves July 15.

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