Last year I took a whirlwind trip to Montreal, Canada to visit the set of the new Smurfs 2 film, which is set to be released in theaters on July 31, 2013.
Some familiar faces will return for the sequel to the 2011 hit movie, Smurfs. Neil Patrick Harris returns to play Patrick Winslow, as well as Jayma Mays as Grace Winslow. Hank Azaria also returns to play the villainous Gargamel.
In the new film the wicked Gargamel, in attempt to harness the magical Smurf essence, creates his own evil Smurf like creatures that he names Vexy (voiced by Christina Ricci) and Hakus (J.B. Smooth). These evil Smurfs are known as the Naughties. Unfortunatly for Gargamel the Smurfs he created don’t contain the magical essence he had hoped for. The only one that can give him the power he’s looking for is Smurfette (Katy Perry).
Gargamel and the Naughties are able to kidnap Smurfette and whisk her off to Paris, France. While in Paris the Naughties teach Smurfette to be naughty just like them.
Gargamel, together with the Naughties and Smurfette plan on harnessing the Smurf essence and turn the iconic Eiffel Tower into a super antenna to help Gargamel return home.
In order to stop Gargamel the Smurfs (Papa Smurf, Brainy, Clumsy…) need to return to the human world and ask Patrick and Grace Winslow, along with their son Blue, to help save Smurfette and stop Gargamel before it’s too late.
I arrived in Montreal the night before the set visit. I took a small plane from New York to Montreal, but coming home from Montreal I took an even smaller plane – one with propellers! That was certainly an interesting experience.
I stayed at the beautiful Le St. Suplice Hotel. It was not too far from the studio where Smurfs 2 was being filmed, Mel’s la Cité du Cinéma. In addition to doing a lot of the filming at the studio, many scenes were also show around Montreal because of it’s similarities to the streets of Paris, France.
While on set we had the opportunity to meet and interview Producer Jordan Kerner, Hank Azaria, Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Gleeson, animal trainer Larry Madrid and the make-up artists who help turn Hank Azaria into the evil Gargamel (sorry, I don’t recall their names).
Myself and a few other journalists and bloggers spend the entire day on the set. We even enjoyed lunch with the crew.
There is A LOT of information to share so I’ll have to break it up into a few posts.
When we first arrived we were seated in an office that was filled with concept artwork from the film, Smurfs 2. We were soon introduced the Producer Jordan Kerner.
Mr. Kerner provided us with some background information about the Smurfs movie franchise. The Smurfs were pitched to Sony as a trilogy. The first film was used to introduce the Smurfs to a whole new generation and to show the Smurfs in the real world. Many people grew up watching the Smurfs (especially those in the 25-40 age range). They continue to be widely popular overseas, but seemed to lose their popularity here in the US and Canada.
The first film was the foundation for the second and third film (slated for a July 2015 release).
In Smurfs 2 Gargamel performs at the Paris Opera House. This is the first film ever given permission to film inside the Palais Garnier, which is a really big deal. Many scenes were shot around Paris.
The second film also dives deeper into the relationship between Patrick and his step-father Victor (Brandan Gleeson). In the first film Patrick was stressed about becoming a father. In this film we see why he felt that way – because he didn’t have such a great childhood himself.
We also learned from the Producer that Smurfette will be seduced by evil and will also embrace evil in this film. Smurfette will also explore her family and her part in it.
Each film in the trilogy is going to be different, and as they progress the story line will get deeper and bolder.
The Naughties were also described in detail. Mr. Kerner feels that Christina Ricci was a perfect choice to voice Vexy because she has a bit of a naughty side. Hakus on the other hand is more like a “tasmanian devil” (to quote him) and a much more simple character (I have a feeling he’s just going to be an oversized thug whose not too bright – ha ha).
Mr. Kerner also took us on a visual tour of the film by explaining to us the various production artwork that was hung up around the room.
The next person we met was Hank Azaria. I’ve always been a fan of his. I love how he’s able to flawlessly play so many different characters, not only real life characters but also the characters he does voice overs for. He does the voice for Moe and Chief Wiggum on the series The Simpsons.
The whole time Hank talked to us I kept trying to picture him done up as Gargamel.
Unlike how it was with Producer Jordan Kerner, who spoke to us more so than answered questions, our interview with Hank Azaria was more like a Q & A.
Having seen the first film and the Smurf special effects, what did you take into the sequel to help with the filming?
It’s a lot easier doing this. You didn’t know what anything was going to look like or sound like. What to do with the character, is it too big, too small? Everyone’s back now, same director and same producer (Raja Gosnell and Jordan Kerner). We also really rushed into the first one. This time around I’ve been involved from the beginning. I’ve seen three or four scripts. This one we started out knowing what we were doing.
On the set two years ago you were really at your wits end regarding the Gargamel make-up. Has that process improved?
No! I love this job. I really do. But where I feel like I really earn my pay is in the make-up chair every day. They’ve got it down to a science. It takes about two hours every day. The prosthetic is not the annoying part. It’s so light you barely feel it, but the hair and eyebrows start to itch after two hours. You can’t really scratch them. But that’s how I earn my money.
You’ve said you base your relationship with Azrael on an old married couple, is that the same here?
It’s been expanded here. I keep trying to get the line, in Gargamel voice, “Why did I ever marry you“? But I don’t think it’ll ever make it into a child’s film. At one point, they’re looking for something and he tells Azrael, “It’s in the bathroom on my side of the sink.” They’re definitely married… unhappily so.
The line, “I wish I could quit you”, did make it in…
I know. I couldn’t believe that made it in. That’s one of those you toss out. Jordan (Producer Jordan Kerner) said it was a weird thing to say. But you know what, you keep tossing stuff out there and every sixth line makes it in. That’s why I keep saying, “Why did I ever marry you?” Maybe it will make it in.
So you are able to do a significant amount of ad-libbing here?
It has to be more down to a science, especially a movie like this that is extremely special effects heavy. It’s not like a Judd Apatow film where you can say, “Let’s see what happens here.” If you decide to throw three more cat shots in, that’s like nine billion dollars to the budget. What we do is work with the script early and create alternate lines where needed. That’s what’s easier about this one. In the first film there would be twelve alternates. We just weren’t sure if the character should be underplayed, sarcastic, dry, over the top. Now you kind of know, so there are two or three alternates in different places. Very rarely are we just riffing. There’s too much involved to just take off like that.
Where you very involved in this script’s process?
Jordan (Producer Jordan Kerner) has been very kind about making the script my own. Once they get a script that’s pretty good. Then I come in and do my own pass of dialogue. I worked with two sets of writers on this one. We sort of scour through and kind of beat the joke. By the time I’m on set. I really feel like I know what I’m doing. Once you live in a character, you know it better than anyone else.
Have you gotten better or worse at being evil?
..wait…Gargamel or me?
Let’s do both.
I feel like I know how to play this character. It’s like practice with an instrument. You get better as you go along. In the first one, I kind of wanted to play him laid back and dry, which is funny in certain places. But there’s no way to really play him as laid back. That’s why the first half of the first movie is Raja (Director Raja Gosnell) pushing me to camp it up and heighten it. I found it very difficult to trust that at first. I thought I’d be overacting. Eventually I started looking at a lot of playback. That’s when I realized it’s the most successful when it’s always crescendoing. Now that I trust that, it’s a lot easier. Some of the best takes I did in the first film I was very embarrassed about. Oh, that’s going to be terrible, it’s too much. But then you almost can go too much with this character.
They brought back the same cats that play Azrael from the first film. Is it easier to work with them?
You do get to know them. There are four of them. And each one is good at a certain thing. They’re not like dogs. They can only do a limited amount of things. They can basically only hit their mark, turn their head, or walk out or walk in when you need them too. You have to feed them. You have to loop all of their shots. There’s lots of clicking and buzzing going on to get them to go where they need to go. You don’t fret that. You know that you’ll be looping half the movie.
Do you get to have more interaction with Neil this time?
No. The scene today, I shot my part when they weren’t here. And now they’re shooting their part when I’m not here. In action sequences, we kind of yell across the room at each other. That’s pretty much it. I’ve gotten used to being there with the fake cat and the fake Smurfs. And the real cats. It’s kind of fun. You set it up the way you want it.
What was your experience with The Smurfs growing up?
I’ve said this before. I thought they were an American thing. I was a little too old when The Smurfs were on. I was born in ’64, so I was around twenty when they come out. But I still watched them anyway because I’m immature. I liked them. I thought they were really quaint and cute. They’re hypnotizing. You get engaged by them. Although, I didn’t like the American version of Gargamel. Paul Winchell did the voice and he was an amazing actor. But I always felt like he was a bit phoning Gargamel in. They didn’t let him be interesting. He was like a stock villain. One note, always yelling, I wanted a whack at redoing him to make him funny and more interesting. The Smurfs are interesting. They’re this great family dynamic…with just one girl.
How did you come up with that Gargamel run?
It was organic. Form followed function. If you’re stooped over, I felt like I looked stupid, like some kid in a middle school play pretending to be an old man. Then you see it on camera and it looks right. Plus I have a little hump and belly that they give me. So when you’re that stooped over, you try your best to run. That’s how that came out.
We’ve been told this was pitched as three movies. Are you signed for all three?
No, I signed on for two. So I’m not officially signed for the third.
Did you know, after the first film, that there was going to be a sequel?
No, not at first. The way studios work is this. They have to be prepared in case the first film is successful. They do a lot of preparation work, so they’re ready with the sequel if the movie does well. But you don’t know.
Would you be happy doing the third film? Oh yeah, I love this job. Except for the make-up, it’s really fun. It’s one of those things where you’re amazed you get paid to do this.
For the second part of my set visit you can read about it here, One the Set with Smurfs 2 in Montreal, Canada – Silicone Noses, Talented Ducks & Neil Patrick Harris. (Please note the link won’t work until June 7, 2013 9:00 AM EST).
Did you see the original Smurfs movie? What did you think about it? Are you excited to see the sequel, Smurfs 2?
*I was not compensated for this post. I did attend a set visit compliments of Sony but there was no compensation. The opinions expressed are my own unless otherwise noted.