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Spinning ‘Charlotte’s Web’ with Cedric the Entertainer

What’s it like improvising as a goose? We chatted with Cedric the Entertainer about voicing one of the barn animals in the delightful Charlotte’s Web, a live action adaptation of the beloved children’s classic.

Hollywood.com: So your character never heard of a Christmas Goose I guess, huh?
Cedric the Entertainer:
No, that is what kind of made me worry about this holiday season. It’s like “Oh darn it, I have to do more chicken. [Laughs] I can’t kill a goose, I played one!” Someone was telling me about, I can’t even think of what the meal is they eat in New Orleans. It’s like chicken stuffed in a turkey stuffed in a goose. Turducken. I was like, wow that is enough bird for everyone.

HW: Were you familiar with the book Charlotte’s Web?
CTE: I didn’t read the book, it was a girl’s book, come on man! When we were little, it was like “It’s got the little girl on it with the spider on it! No, I will get Spiderman but I won’t get the web thing.” But I read it to my kids one time. My kids, 6 and 3, have it as a part of their library, so I read it to them and that is when I became a little more familiar with the story. You find it’s a very sentimental story in a lot of ways. It’s not one of those super happy go lucky kids’ books. Great stories, friendship, I like to say self worth, self value and those kinds of things. I think it shows up in this movie so you can find it and I think that a lot of people will find it pretty interesting. One that appeals to the youth in the parents who take their kids. They will find cool stuff in there that makes it enjoyable for them.

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HW: You also did Madagascar. Would you have had interest in doing these films if you didn’t have children yourself?
You know, I am not really sure. For me, I love the idea of doing voice acting because it is a lot of fun. I grew up in an era where in the classroom, when I was in high school, we would listen to [the radio show] “The Shadow.” You were listening to actors tell the story and follow through. That was always important to me. I actually went on line and bought the box set because I just remember being in class and having to listen to “The Shadow.” So now in the world of animated film, there is far more opportunity. But I got to say having little kids, one of the things that appealed to me was to try to do things in which they can hear my voice. They loved Madagascar, of course, and Ice Age was fun, too.

HW: What do you think about this lovely little fable about death, understanding and accepting as being natural?
CTE: I think that is an important thing to be telling and make your kids be aware of that. My wife has four generations of her family, so my wife’s great grandmother is still alive and my kids know her. But she is like 104 and you have to prepare them that one day great Gram is not going to be around. So it helps when you have stories like this to explain it as a life cycle and those kind of things. I think it still can be a little deep for certain ages, it is still one of those story lines that could be a little deep for them, but I think they do it nicely. They do it in the world of the animals, especially the spider you are able to kind of realize that spiders are people, too, and just don’t squash them. I had to tell my son that. He’d go “Ah, spiders!” And I’m like “Oh no, that was Julia Roberts you just squashed. You know how much trouble we going to be in?” [Laughs]

HW: How does doing vocal work compare to regular acting? People who don’t know what goes into it might think that it is real easy, that you just go in and read a few lines.
It is pretty difficult actually because it is a very strange energy. It is usually you, the producers, and the director. You are just in a booth by yourself and because of the way they have to do the animated films they sketch it and let those drawings really dictate what the characters will say. You can’t improvise as much as you like. They are like “Oh, that’s too many words and the camera is going to change and I can’t do that so…” so it becomes a little difficult. If there is acting with another actor in the scene on the script most of the time the actor is not there and you are actually doing it off of someone who is reading it. They are not giving you the actual tone or the inflection or the way the other person would probably do it so you can respond differently. It is different than acting with an actor because you are able to look at that person and feel whatever it is that they are saying and then respond appropriately.

HW: Are you ever asked to go back and change something because of the inflection of another actor?
CTE: Sure, yeah. They will do that just depending on how important the movie is but you can be asked to go back and record several times depending on how they want to change the imaging here or they decide they want the scene to be a little more upbeat and you played it a different way. You do several takes, too. They will ask for different versions, “Give me a happy one, give me a sad one.” But again you are kind of just doing it out of the blue. You not really responding to anything in particular and that is probably the most difficult aspect of voice acting.

HW: Do they videotape you while you were doing your recording, so the animators to get maybe a little bit of your personality into the script?
CTE: Oh yeah definitely. This was a unique movie because I actually got to record with Oprah [Winfrey], who played my wife in this movie. We recorded together, which is unique. You don’t do that very often but I think the producers wanted to really get a feel for our chemistry. My character being a little browbeaten by the wife, so that was fun. That is different, you don’t normally do that and we had a good time in the studio.

HW: Is it easy to be browbeaten when your wife is Oprah Winfrey?
Yeah. She actually embraced the browbeating. [Laughs] Yeah, just get a hold of checkbook.

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HW: Did you get to know Dakota [Fanning] at all?
CTE: I actually knew Dakota just from seeing her at different events. She is just so cute. And now she is, well, she has always been a mature soul for a young actress, but I thought she was a great choice for this movie. To find Fern as the girl that is going to have this heart and this love for the animals I thought she was a great choice to pull that off. It’s so very necessary for the rest of the story to work. But I didn’t get a chance to work with her at all on this movie. I was in the barn.

HW: Do you have anything in common with what she is like now when you were 12?
CTE: Not at all [Laughs] I didn’t have handlers. [Laughs] I think my limo was a big wheel, see me pull up out the front of a hotel “Hey!” I be taking pictures. No, but she is still very cool man even with all the stuff that goes around her.

HW: Are you finding that as you are getting more known over the past years, your audience is changing?
CTE: The audience is definitely changing, and I think that is a good thing. I have a strong core base, and I think that comes from many years of developing the comedy and especially in the old Def Jam days. Also when I was host of BET’s Comic View. But then I think that with movies as well as commercials you start to have a mass appeal. I could see a lot of diversity in my audience and I think that is also a testament of everything else from television that people are just able to cross cultures and see things from different points of view. Everybody can listen to everything and it all appeals to your taste.

HW: Are you still doing stand up?
I am doing stand up. I am back out on the road. I shot a special for HBO and it was fun. It’s called Taking You Higher. You can see it on video now. I did a big throw back show with dances and music and a band mixed in with comedy. So now I am on the road really just developing new material and having fun. I am actually in New Jersey on the 8th and the 7th so I am having fun with it like that keeps you on your toes. I am also developing a sitcom for ABC.

HW: Talk a little bit about your next movie Code Name: The Cleaner?
CTE: The Cleaner is an action comedy. The studio has been having a hard time trying to find the right place to put it out. Just being concerned about the world, but I like it. I play Jake Rogers, who is a janitor at a high tech corporation. I get in the middle of this situation where I get hit on the head and I believe that I am a CIA agent so it’s a comedic fun version of Bourne Identity, if you will. I get to play with Lucy Liu and Nicollette Sheridan, so I wasn’t mad about that. Yeah, I’ll take that role.

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