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Spinning ‘Charlotte’s Web’ with Andre Benjamin

Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000, talks about playing a crow alongside Thomas Haden Church in Charlotte’s Web, as well as the differences between acting and making music.

Hollywood.com: How familiar were you with Charlotte’s Web? Did you know the story growing up?
Andre Benjamin: Oh, yeah. It was read to me as a kid and I saw the animated version and I did the stage play in school. I played Avery. So I was familiar with it. So when they called I was like, “Yeah. It’s a classic story. I want to be a part of it, rehashing it and making it new.” I wanted to be a part of it for this generation.

HW: Were there any trepidations about how they might change it and screw it up?
AB: Yes. There’s always that, but there’s never been a live action version of it. I could see that more if someone did a live action version of it before and then coming in and trying to do another one. Then that’s kind of hard, but this was really like the first stab at that.

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HW: Did you and Thomas Haden Church spend any time with together in the recording studio or was it all by yourself?
AB: Well, yeah, we weren’t physically together, but we did the ISDN line where I could see him and he could see me and we heard each other at the same time and so we could get the right rhythms and play off of each other. So we weren’t in the room together, but that helped.

HW: Did he make any Heckle and Jekyll jokes?
AB: No, we pretty much naturally turned into Heckle and Jekyll, found our own little places to be. I like to say that he played his Hardy, and I played my Laurel, but it did take us being together to do it so that we kind of knew where the other one was at.

HW: Was there a lot of improvisation that went on?
Oh, yeah. We played a lot and they gave us a lot of freedom because it was the comedy. So we had to experiment and stretch lines out and figure out how we would say it. I know that the writers did a great job in giving us the map and then we kind of went off course a little bit and then came back to give us something extra there.

HW: What did you take from this experience?
AB: Because you’re going to do this animated thing, the voice, is really important. You have to kind of put the emotion in the voice, put it there because they don’t see you. It was really a lot of experimenting, so you have to give them enough to go on. I think CGI live action is a little bit different from animation. I mean, I have an animated show on Cartoon Network called Class of 3000, in which I do a voice almost every week or two, and because that’s a cartoon, you have to be extra big because cartoons can do anything. So it really just depends on the character. Also, names. I learned a lot about names. We didn’t have anything going. We didn’t know what the crows were going to look like. We just knew that we were crows. So I had to kind of go, “What is Elwyn? What does the Elwyn crow sound like?” He wouldn’t sound like a Richard or a Tom. So, Elwyn had to kind of sound like he was a thinker in a way even though they’re dumb, he did have to make this sense, a sort of sense.

HW: What do you get out of acting that you don’t get out of your music? Is it rewarding or challenging in a different way?
AB: It is really challenging. With music, I’m the controller. I can direct my own movie. I can write my own scenes. I’m my own characters. I’m the light, man, I’m the craft service, I’m the hair and makeup–I’m everything. With film, you’re on this team of maybe a 150 people, and you’re all moving along and taking direction and this is your interpretation of someone else’s work and it’s kind of cool to sort of submit in a way to the art, to get inside someone else’s head and try to bring something out of that. As an entertainer, you’re always in the limelight and always doing interviews and you’re doing television shows and you don’t get a chance to see the normal civilian part of their lives unless you’re watching some reality show. In film, I get to play a civilian. So that’s kind of great, that you can play a normal person with a normal job with normal kids that go to school everyday, you go to work everyday. You get mad, you cry, you get embarrassed–it’s all of that. So it’s the opposite.

HW: Do you have a barometer with success on film and TV because you’ve been wildly successful in music? Do you lower your expectations for film and TV?
AB: I think that it’s two levels of success. Of course, everyone wants to make the numbers because then you can say that there is an audience that came to see it, and that’s success in a certain way. Then there is another audience that might’ve missed it, but it changed the way that people thought about certain things. It changed the fact that maybe now all the music guys who are jumping into film as a fad–now they might be taking it way more serious than they thought at the start. So I think that there is success there where the goal is to make a great picture and to make a great avenue for you to make other great pictures. Sometimes you can have huge success in the box office, but that’s not going to give you the opportunity to kind of make a pass at the future. So it’s two types of success. I wish you could find a balance with the two, that’d be great, but sometimes it works that way and sometimes it doesn’t. It was a great experience, though.

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HW: Are you and Big Boi talking about a new record?
AB: Not really. We always record, but I don’t think that we’re ready to record a new album because we just released Idlewild. I think that we have to build up a purpose, build up something to talk about. I don’t think that it’s a good thing to jump out and go, “Let’s just do an album.” I think that in the meantime Big Boi might record a solo album, but I think as for the Outkast brand and the legacy, I think the next step is kind of crucial, the next album because Idlewild didn’t do well at all.

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