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Things Get Nutty: Behind the Scenes of THE NUT JOB
By Rachel Marquez, Contributing Writer
THE NUT JOB is an animated movie set in a 1950s city park. Surly is a devious, troublemaking squirrel. The park animals have been storing up food for winter, but their supply isn’t enough. When Surly gets greedy, he accidentally destroys their home and all their food with it. Because of this, they banish him from their park. When he comes across a giant nut store in the city, he decides to plan a heist. To do so, he’ll need some help. The question is, will Surly be willing to share the food with others in need?
THE NUT JOB is a fun movie with a lot of moral lessons that can be read in the full review here. Movieguide® had the opportunity to hear from the movie’s two lead stars, Will Arnett and Katherine Heigl.
Q: What is the one message you’d like people to take away from this movie?
Will: I think what I’m most proud about in this movie is that it does have a lot of great messages, not the least of which is teamwork. At the end of the day, you can’t always do it on your own, and you’ve got to rely on the people that you trust and that you love and together you can accomplish a lot. If you make a mistake, if you can go back and do the right thing, then you can depict that you’ve got some good in you and that you can be relied on. Also family. My definition of family is just unconditional love…people who rely on you and who love you, they are your universe.
Katherine: Yeah, what he said.
Q: There was a line in the film that jumped out, and it said, “You’re not the boss of me.” Parents get that very often from their children – do your children say that to you, and how do you handle it?
Katherine: My daughter, when she was three … – I don’t know why we did this at three, I think she was a little too young – but I threw a big birthday party at the house, and I made all the food, I did all the decorations myself and took real pride in it. At the end of the night, she had been given so many gifts, and been given so much, and then she wouldn’t’t pick any of it up. We were like “You have to pick your toys up, and put them away and be respectful of them.” She said, “I not pick up my toys, not now, not never!”
Will: I know I say to my kids all the time – and this is actually true – I say, “Who’s the boss?” They go, “You are.” My 5-year-old always says, because he has a 2-year-old brother, “Yeah, but I’m the boss of him.”
Q: Did you record together?
Will: We did not get to be in a room together. We have not been in very many rooms together.
Katherine: Just this one and the other one before it.
Will: It’s an interesting process doing it. It’s fun, and it’s collaborative. You know, the whole team who worked on this movie, from Peter the director who came up with it and directed the film to everybody. It was really a group effort. It was a group effort that came together in pieces, and I think that it was a very collaborative effort. Really hats off to the director, to Peter, for having such a great idea and having this great message as a part of this film. I don’t know, maybe next time we’ll all do it together in a room.
Q: Your main message is teamwork all around.
Will: Teamwork turns out to be really great!
Q: What do your children think when they hear you? They see the movie and then hear your voice. Do they recognize that it’s you? Is it cool?
Katherine: I think my daughter does, but I mean, I told her first. I wonder if I hadn’t said anything, if she would have figured it out. I wish I had done that, actually. I told her, and I explained it to her. I think she understands it, that it was made earlier. I think she’s more excited for me, like, “Oh, look, mommy! Your movie, aren’t you excited?”
Will: My two kids when they see a movie don’t really care that I’m in it. They’re like, “Whatever, but THE NUT JOB!”
Q: So it seems like as a working parent, it would be sort of your dream to have animated films – you can show up to work in your pj’s. Is that why you took the role? How did that impact your choice of the role?
Will: I mean, yeah, I pretty much choose anything in life based on whether or not I can wear my pj’s. No, but you know, it is certainly one of the perks of doing an animated film. You don’t have to go and get ready, wear wardrobe, you just kind of show up in what you’re wearing. Really the perk is you get to play so many different characters, and the animators can create worlds that you might not be able to create in a live action film. It’s so beautiful, too. Some of the artwork is so incredible.
Q: So it’s not any easier as a parent to take on a role that you’re doing as a voice over?
Will: Oh, it’s easier as a parent, certainly. In fact, it’s much better in that it’s not as much demand. So you can still take your kids to school, and all that stuff.
Q: Is that a consideration when you’re choosing roles, then? I mean, take your children to school, be there after school. Is that something that you’re both thinking about as working parents?
Katherine: I think if you’re lucky enough to be able to do that, yeah, but it’s not always in the cards. I recently went and did a film in Cleveland, and it was just a three-week shoot, just 18 days, but I couldn’t bring my family, which is the first time I have not been with them. Usually, they always come with me for the whole shoot and we have a home, and we set up camp wherever we are, and I feel good because I brought my family with me. So it was really hard, actually, and I didn’t love it, but I didn’t really have a choice if I wanted to be a part of that project, which I very much wanted to be a part of it. I had to make that decision. So sometimes, yeah, you sit down and explain to the kids, “Mommy has to go to work.” It’s not always ideal.
Will: For me, certainly, having kids changed everything about my life in that you work retroactively. Now, I work backwards. I’m lucky enough to work on a show, and the last couple years I was on a couple different shows, but certainly even more so now, that my schedule with my family is first and everything else is secondary to that.
Q: Will, you’ve done a lot of animation and voice over work, obviously, and you have a very specific voice. How did you go about creating the voice for Surly and what does that look like for that character and that voice?
Will: The voice for Surly is, of course, very close to my own voice, but it’s informed a lot by the story, and informed a lot by the art and the animation, working with the whole creative team, on the Nut Job, and finding what really works. Surly is a kind of rough around the edges guy, and he’s a loner. He’s looking out for himself, so we wanted to give him a bit of a street feel. I wanted to keep it close to me, but also have that rough around the edges kind of thing, which you might not think when you look at me, but certainly – at least in this world – I can do it.
Q: Do you see yourself as you’re voicing over? Do you see the character, for example, hit a wall?
Will: You’re not watching as you’re doing it. You’re not watching it happen.
Katherine: Do you mean see ourselves in the character? Like our facial expressions?
Will: They always have a camera on us. When we’re recording, there’s usually a video camera recording us.
Katherine: Which I didn’t realize. So no pj’s.
Will: Yeah, there goes the pj’s. They don’t really use, necessarily, your characteristics. Early on, they might take some of that as information to inform how they might want our characters to react to something, but they don’t just take that and just stick it in.
Q: So you guys don’t see yourselves in the characters?
Katherine: No, she’s a squirrel. She’s furry.
Will: [to Katherine] I mean when you look at Andy, do you see yourself?
Katherine: No. I was just saying that I really like her lady eyes, because they gave her very feminine eyes, but they’re not mine. They don’t look like mine, but I like them very much.
Will: They really captured my doofus smile.
Katherine: Yeah, they really caught that.
Q: Will, when you were falling in the movie, you said something in Spanish. Did you put it there, or was it from the script?
Will: I said something in Spanish in the movie?
Interviewer: Yeah, you said something like, “Dios mio” or something.
Will: Oh, that’s right. Well, I wanted to connect with fans in all communities and all parts of the world. If I hadn’t said that, you and I would not be talking right now. Buenos dias.
Q: What’s your favorite character from THE NUT JOB?
Will: Great question. [to Katherine] What would you say?
Katherine: Well mine, of course. I think Surly’s my favorite character.
Will: Oh, no.
Katherine: I do. He was a lot of fun, and he was fun to watch, and I like watching him learn his lesson.
Will: Precious. What about Precious?
Katherine: I do love Precious. I forgot about Precious for a second. Precious is really funny.
Will: Precious was really funny.
Katherine: She exists in real life, too. She’s amazing.
Will: Yeah. That’s true, that’s true.
Q: How did you feel when the director told you that in the script you’re the character that everyone hates? How did you prepare for that?
Will: How did I feel when they told me I was the character everyone hates? Well, probably about the same way I feel right now hearing you ask me that. It’s pretty crummy. No, I liked it. I’ll tell you why I liked it, because it was my job to tell the story of a guy who everybody thought was maybe a bad guy, and it turns out that he ended up doing the right thing, and that he was a good guy. He was able to see the good in himself, because he didn’t see himself as being good, but his friends saw something good in him that he couldn’t see. So, it was important for me to tell that story.
Q: This is kind of a small production, so what made you get involved in this production? What do you think the stronger points of that are?
Katherine: I think it’s definitely competitive. I think they did a beautiful job with the animation, and I think it’s really current, and up to speed with all those big movies, too. I just got involved because I had worked with the producer before, and he asked and approached me about it, and I’ve always wanted to voice an animated character.
Will: I agree.
Q: So, there are a lot of parents out here, and a lot of their children have aspirations to be an actor or a musician or a dancer. So, it’s a two-part question. One, did you know early on that this was your blood, soul, that this is what you wanted to do? Two, what would your advice be to the parents sitting here of children who do want to act and have to get them to also pay attention to their studies and not get distracted? To stay on the path academically, and keep it going?
Will: Don’t do it.
Katherine: Well I started when I was nine, so I started as a child actor. My mother often says that she could never have done it if I wasn’t the youngest, and if she had other small children that she had to cart around New York City for all my auditions and stuff. It’s really hard. I was always very grateful that she did, because, I don’t know, I just gravitated towards it. It just sort of happened, accidentally. I didn’t really pursue it, and then when I did my first movie, I was eleven, and I just knew, “This is for me. I love this.” I never went back to modeling again.
Q: Would you do that for your kids?
Katherine: No. I wouldn’t. Honestly, I wouldn’t. It’s so hard, and it requires so much time and commitment, and I’d have to give up my own career to do that. It’s a full time job, and, especially, my mother had to protect me. Always. Had to protect my interests, and make sure that other people’s agendas did not compromise me or hurt me in any way. It’s a business, you know, so there are people pushing for longer hours or more work and when you’re a kid, you know that’s a lot to ask a small person. I had to keep up with my studies. They wouldn’t let me do it if I wasn’t on task with my schoolwork. The good news about that is you have an on-set tutor, so you do three hours of school a day instead of seven, and you have to in those three hours get all your work done, so I actually focused better. You know, you’re forced to really focus and do the work and get it done. I did better, actually, academically when I had that one-on-one attention. I got distracted in school.
Q: How about you, Will? When did you know?
Will: Well, boy, I still don’t know. I guess when I was a kid I did have the idea that I wanted to do it. I was in some kind of school productions, but it wasn’t really until I came to New York when I was 20. It’s very tough, and I didn’t have the same experience of being a kid and doing it. It’s very very tough, it takes a lot of guts and the truth is there’s a lot of rejection. As you know, I got a lot of rejection early in my career. So even then as a young man it was very difficult. So I think you have to be sure that you’re not good at anything else, and when you’re totally sure, then good luck.
Q: Will, this isn’t the first time that you’re in an animated movie. How different is THE NUT JOB, because there’s so many characters and so many of them are animals that make animal noises. Is that the actual voices? What was it like in the audio booth, and did you work with any of the other actors?
Will: Well, I didn’t work with any of the other actors. But, it is different. Each one, and each time you do it, is informed by the story and the characters and what you’re doing. Like I said before, this character’s a little rough around the edges, and in HORTON HEARS A WHO, for instance, Vlad was a vulture, and he was sort of Russian. Then, you know I’ve played monsters before and robots and whatever, and each time there is something different. You try to get informed by the surrounding story, and I wish that we had more time to work with – that I had more time – to work with the other actors. It’d be kind of fun. It’d be an interesting process to do. Unfortunately, in animated films you don’t get to do it that often.
Q: Katherine, this is your first time, so same question. Was it crazy in the audio booth?
Katherine: Thankfully, Peter was really on top of telling me what exactly it was I was supposed to be doing, and whatever my character was doing in the moment. Yeah, it’s weird. It’s very strange. You’re sort of standing in front of a microphone with a headset on and jumping around and just going “Oof!” and doing all these weird things whenever the character is experiencing something. Then, you watch it in playback, because they do video you, which I didn’t realize, and it’s really embarrassing.
Q: Why does the raccoon hate you?
Will: You know why the raccoon hates me? It is because, it turns out the raccoon is not a great guy. So, at the start, sometimes, things aren’t what you think in life. The raccoon seems to be the good guy, and the squirrel – Surly, my guy – seems to be the bad guy, and it turns out the opposite is true. So, there was another lesson. Guys, this thing is chock full of lessons!