“Rise of the Guardians” is an epic 3-D animated adventure that tells the story of a group of heroes, each with extraordinary abilities: Santa Claus, also known as North (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (voiced by Isla Fisher), the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Jackman) and the mute Sandman. When an evil spirit known as Pitch (voiced by Jude Law) lays down the gauntlet to take over the world, the immortal Guardians must join forces for the first time to protect the hopes, beliefs and imagination of children all over the world.
To help them with their quest, these beloved crusaders enlist the help of Jack Frost (voiced by Chris Pine), a reluctant recruit who would rather enjoy a snow day than save the world. The Guardians’ battle takes them from the North Pole to Shanghai to a tiny town in New England and beyond. Baldwin and Fisher did a press conference in New York City to promote “Rise of the Guardians.” Here is what they said.
What was it about “Rise of the Guardians” that made you want to be a part of the movie?
Baldwin: People always say that you want to do films when you have kids and do this children’s programming. My daughter is 17 now, so God knows what she’s watching now. It’s kind of frightening. But I think when they showed that these people were going to be an edgier version of these characters. When you see the Santa Claus figure, it’s usually Wilford Brimley. It’s kind of a rosy-cheeked, saintly man without a lot of dimension. I saw the film for the first time over the weekend. I’d seen a portion of it, prior to the last press event we had. And they had little touches. They don’t cross the line. I love how Isla’s character is hitting on Chris [Pine’s] character when she meets him. It was real, so I loved.
Fisher: Although the characters couldn’t consummate their love, due to their different species.
Baldwin: OK! Actually, if he touched you, would’ve frozen you.
Fisher: That could’ve worked for me.
Can you both talk about the role of imagination in children’s lives and how this movie plugs into that? Can you also talk about the theme that you have to acknowledge that the world is a scary place, and fear is part of being a child, and how we have to overcome that fear?
Fisher: Very intellectual.
Baldwin: You first.
Fisher: Well, I thought the message in the movie is actually that if you don’t believe in fear, it doesn’t exist, which I think is wonderful for everyone, not just children. That pretty much covers it, right Alec?
Baldwin: Yes. I was going to say you talked about imagination. For me, the key with these kinds of films (and I’ve done a few of them) is to work towards a more humanistic place, literally with your voice. We’re doing a lot of radio acting here. We’re doing something where someone else is going to render the physical dimension for us and draw that. So we want to go to a certain place without crossing a line and making it too excessive.
With children’s films, because I’ve voiced other things as well, you want to make sure you keep it warm. There’s a great deal of love and warmth in the piece, because there’s always a chance of making it really, really bombastic — especially with the Santa Claus character, there’s a chance to make it strident.
But Ramsey and I would talk a lot about how if I would play it in a certain way in the sense, people would be exhausted after 10 minutes in; they couldn’t take it. So we had to find a way to vary the tone of the piece throughout.
Alec, can you talk about the having the Russian accent for the North character?
Baldwin: What accent? Isla, I’m sure, has had the same experience, where I did plays over the years where they had a dialect coach present throughout the rehearsal period. You were given copious notes for your dialect throughout. Then you’d get into the previews of the play, they would tell you to back off, and throw much of that away.
Isla is from the U.K., and understands that. [NOTE: Fisher is actually from Australia.] In the United States, if we do an authentic Cockney accent on Broadway, they wouldn’t understand what we were saying. The same was true with this. I tried to do the whole Rocky and Bullwinkle thing. I hit the ball right there on the nose.
A lot of actors have different approaches when it comes to how they look at their work. Some actors like to wait until the final cut to see the film, while others like to see dailies. Can both of you talk how you approach seeing your work with animated films? Which works best for you?
Fisher: I had to keep going to see this film, just because I wasn’t sure when I was voicing something which piece it was for. It was confusing to me, because the scenes kept getting rewritten, and sometimes things just didn’t work. I was very annoying, and made them show it to me daily. Then I would go back in and fix things that didn’t ring true when I watched it as a whole.
Baldwin: Well this is a process, thankfully, that’s very much like the theater. With live-action films, it’s very hard to change your mind. You shoot and shoot and shoot, and changing your mind about the script and the character and elements of the film is very costly. Some do, if they have an expectorant amount of money, or if they’re Woody [Allen], and they’re very clever about leaving a couple of days in his pockets to shoot extra things.
But with these kinds of films, it’s far more like the theater, where you can be two weeks in, and someone says, “Let’s re-block that scene, or do that scene completely differently.” The same is true here. They erase, just hit delete, and it goes into some bin, and they can render the whole thing again. I’ve seen that done in some films where they’ve changed the direction.
With Peter [Ramsey, director of “Rise of the Guardians”] and everyone on this film, there were things were I would go back into the booth, and they would say, “We’ve gone in a different direction here.” But as I said before, the thing for me is to try to think of it in the tone, and to vary the tone. The guy’s very roaring and powerful in some scenes, but in other scenes, he’s like, “Where are the cookies?” You want to make it silly and fun and child-friendly.
Alec, what kind of magic do you believe in, and what was your relationship with Santa when you were a kid, and when did you find out the truth about him?
Baldwin: Well, the magic I believe in is that I want this movie to make a lot of money. That would be magical to me. I want this movie to make a lot of money and be a huge success, because that would be a good thing.
The cynicism of that aside, I hope the film is a success, because movies like this, that are very creative, are different. The artwork is very beautiful. And I thin the tone is spot-on. David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the screenplay. So I hope it has the success it deserves. I think it’s a very good film. I think it’s an excellent children’s film.
With Santa Claus, I walked into a room, and my sister was wrapping presents. I was like, “Wait, what?” I was like 7 or 8, and they told me what was going on. I don’t remember it that well … I think they only told me was because the more kids my mother had, the more wrapping they had to do. You became enlisted became a wrapper. “Pick up those scissors and let’s go!”
Were you devastated?
Baldwin: I was only devastated because it meant more work.
Alec, the producers said they originally had you in mind for the character of Pitch. Did you do any of that work?
Baldwin: No, that was never mentioned to me. They never told me that.
How did you both hear about “Rise of the Guardians”? How did you first hear about it, and what were your initial reactions to it?
Fisher: I think I was shown the artwork. They brought me into a big room. Jeffrey [Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation] was there. It was very overwhelming how much work they put into this story and movie before I even came on board. At that point, Leonardo DiCaprio was doing Jack Frost. Oh, I probably shouldn’t say that. He dropped out.
Baldwin: At that stage, who was playing Santa Claus?
Fisher: Sacha Baron Cohen.
Baldwin: That makes a lot of sense.
Fisher: No one else was attached yet, but I was just blown away. I mean, it’s Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Baldwin: So I guess if Sacha Baron Cohen was playing Santa Claus, then the characters do have trans-species sex, then.
Fisher: No, no one else was attached. It was so beautiful and original and magical and epic, and it felt different than anything else I had seen in the animated world.
Baldwin: I did “Madagascar 2.” I had a small role in “Madagascar 2.” When you get a call from Katzenberg, and they want you to do one of these DreamWorks things, the answer’s always yes. They’re really the best in the business.
They called me, and asked me if I wanted to do it. I said, “Sure.” You have the meeting with Jeffrey and the creative people, and they show you the cells, the drawings, the renderings. And they said, “This is what we have in mind for you.” And you sign onto that program, which is a number of sessions of the arc of an 18-month period. So I said yes. I didn’t really think about it too much.
Do you think it’s important for children to believe in Santa Claus and fairy tales? Do you try to keep that alive?
Baldwin: How old are your kids, Isla?
Fisher: They’re 5 and 2.
Baldwin: I think she’d be better with this question.
Fisher: I think it’s a personal choice for every family what they want to tell their kids. It just depends on your religious affiliation and how you were raised and the rest of it.
Baldwin: My daughter’s on a beach in Hawaii with her boyfriend right now. So there’s a whole other fantasy that’s going on there. It has nothing to do with stockings and candy canes and so forth. It’s a different world.
Isla, when did you stop believing in Santa Claus? Was it a big shock to you?
Fisher: I was 6 when I stopped believing in Santa. My brother broke it to me, along with the Tooth Fairy not being real, at the same time. It was a massive blow, and I remember feeling betrayed by my parents. But at least I was able to beg them more openly for the things that I wanted.
If you were both to open your own Matryoshka dolls, what would be deep down the element at the core?
Baldwin: If I were able to open up my own personal Matryoshka, I would have to say that Hugh Jackman would be inside. He’s the greatest actor in the world and the greatest character in this film.
Fisher: And in “Les Misérables,” I heard. I don’t know Amy Adams is in mine. Following Alec’s lead.
Do you both think people place too much emphasis on dreams?
Fisher: Yes, possibly, it just depends, on Freud values. Your turn, Alec.
Baldwin: I think when you’re kids, it mimics as you get older. I’m much older than her, and I’m at that stage now where it’s more like when you’re a child, where you’re present. When you’re kids, everything’s small. You can play with a ball, you can play with a toy, you can play with an animal, you can run around in a field hour after hour, and do something very simple.
And then the world gets broader and broader, and more complicated and bigger and more distracting. You have all your ambitions and your sexuality and your fantasies about money and power, and whatever you want to do with your life.
Then you turn 50, and it goes the other way: It gets narrower again. I’d rather just stay home with my wife and my two dogs and watch TV. I’d rather watch a movie than make a movie any day.
No, seriously, the world becomes a lot smaller. You’d rather do less things and do them well. I’m more satisfied in my personal life than the way I was for 20 years in my life. I was chain-smoking my ambition, and going here and here, and doing this and this, and trying to cover as many of my bases as I could.
So I don’t think dreams are over-emphasized in any culture or society. I don’t want to get into the whole what is reality idea, but I know that my reality is more and more about taking away and economizing and making everything more real and simple every day.
In Germany, if you aren’t nice, then you don’t get presents. Was that what it was like in your households. And if not, what is Christmas like for your when you were growing up?
Baldwin: [He says jokingly] That lives on, because Katzenberg said that if we’re not nice, we don’t get paid. That’s why we’re here.
Fisher: We’re at this junket for a reason!
Baldwin: We have a lot of steps to go.
Fisher: Growing up, there wasn’t much emphasis on being nice or naughty. As a family, there wasn’t much discipline. It was more relaxed at home, which I’m grateful for.
Baldwin: Now, it’s so difficult because of the digital reality. We have that electronic leash on children. I’m with my friends all the time with young children, and the adults have found a way, quite frankly, to make their lives easier.
You want to go to dinner with your friends, and when the adults want to have a nice dinner and participate in conversation with their friends, they hand their kids a device they want to have and they go off into another world. I sometimes wonder if all of us are not abdicating some responsibility and not doing the hard work, which is to raise a child in a more intimate way.
Fisher: We [my husband Sacha Baron Cohen and I] don’t do that.
Baldwin: In this generation, there’s a lot less of that. I think throughout time, people have either wanted to manage their children in a way, and raise them, but also keep them in the perspective of their own lives. Either that, or you want to put them in a hot-air balloon and release them into the atmosphere and be done with it. I’ve sometimes felt that way. You give them a nice basket of food and let the thing go, and it will land somewhere, hopefully safely.
I think the good news is, this film, in the world of entertainment, has provided for children — and by children, I’m going to take it all the way up to teens. This is something I’m very comfortable and very happy with. I was one offered an exorbitant amount of money, a huge amount of money to voice a character in a video game, where I was going to play this contract killer for the Mafia who killed a police officer. I said to them, “That’s never happening.”
So when people think it’s all about money. And people think we do this stuff and we say, “Well, hey, I didn’t write it.” But I think most people have a conscience about it. I knew that I wanted to do this one, because I thought it was good for kids. It’s very sweet. It reinforces the idea of believing in yourself. I found the arc of the Jack Frost character very, very touching.
Growing up, were there any children’s movies that you truly cherished? Now that you’re older, were there any movies that surprised you as you rediscovered them when you watched them with your children?
Baldwin: [He says to Fisher] Where did you grow up again?
Fisher: Australia. I loved “The Dark Crystal.” It was the first film I ever saw. It seemed so magical to me. But I’ve never wanted to see it again, just in case it didn’t live up to the expectation.
Baldwin: “The Dark Crystal”! I feel so old if that was your childhood movie. I was going to say “Mary Poppins.” I’m a thousand years old!
I was of a generation where much of your childhood experience was a book. There wasn’t as much television programming and movies as there are now. In the ’60s, when I was a child, I was born in 1958, and up to 1970, when I was 12-years old, a lot of that was, you’d watch “Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV. You’d watch “The Grinch That Stole Christmas,’” the animated version. There was a lot of [Dr.] Seuss and Charles Schulz programming.
With film, there was nothing like there is today. It didn’t exist. There was no DreamWorks or Pixar. So films tended to be more like “The Wizard of Oz,” the real pillars of children’s entertainment. When I was young, there was no cable TV, no DVDs, none of that. It was all broadcast TV.
There was no cable, so when these films would come, like “The Sound of Music” and all that stuff. It’s funny, if you’re old enough to remember this, they’d show a movie about five years after the theatrical release. They showed a restored print of “The Wizard of Oz” on TV in the ’60s, and say, “A major television event!”
Everyone would gather around the TV, and go, “Oh my God, we’re going to watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’ on TV! This is so exciting!” It wasn’t at all like it is now.
Alec, what can you say about the end of “30 Rock”?
Baldwin: I’m very sad. Everybody’s very sad.
Would you want to do another TV series?
Baldwin: We all talked about how the [broadcast] networks would begin to mimic the cable networks. I think to their advantage, they will try to do a series that are13 or 15 episodes [per season] because doing a series with 22 or more [episodes per season] I tough.
But I think what they’ll do, what you see now with NBC and their schedule, is a shorter series, the way “30 Rock” was abbreviated in the last season. And then they would punctuate that on the schedule with more episodes of “The Voice” and more of these other hit shows. So the old model that we knew of the network season, that’s all gone.
Where do you keep all your awards?
Baldwin: My daughter has them.
For more info: “Rise of the Guardians” website