Exclusive Interview: Zachary Levi Gets 'Tangled' and Talks 'Chuck'

Wednesday, 17 November 2010 09:36 Written by  JimmyO
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Exclusive Interview: Zachary Levi Gets 'Tangled' and Talks 'Chuck'

Zachary Levi has given something really special to his latest character. In Disney’s Tangled, his Flynn Ryder is an exciting and unique hero that is reminiscent of Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone. Generally, the knight in shining armor is not nearly this cool. Yet thanks to his talent, he has become the voice for one of the most exciting characters to inhabit the wonderful world of Walt Disney.

When he isn’t getting in trouble with a horse named Maximus, Levi is “Chuck” on the popular television show. This gifted actor really brings a sense of honesty and charm to any role he takes on.

When iamROGUE.com spoke to Zachary, he opened up about the musical aspect and how excited he was to finally sing for Disney. He also talked about his series and how much longer it could go on. This is an actor who is incredibly smart, and he is very candid when it comes to his work. There is a real sense of decency and just an all around warmth. How can you help not like the guy?

Tangled opens on November 24, at a theatre near you.
  You can check out our own review of the film here.

This character is not your typical Disney leading man.

No, not at all.

What is it about Flynn that brought you in and made you want to be a part of it?

Well honestly, I would want to be a part of it regardless of what my character was. I just wanted to do a Disney animated musical. I’ve wanted to do Disney movies since I was a little kid. I’d been such a huge fan for so long and it’s really dream come true kind of stuff you know.

When I went in and read the sides and knew that I was going to be able to sing at least one song I was even more enthused about the part. And reading the sides and seeing the comedy that comes out of Flynn, and then just how much fun the character is to play was just all icing on the cake. If I had to play the most boring character Disney’s ever put on screen, I would do that just to be in the movie.

How much of Flynn came from you? Or did you base it on other characters?

Well because we are just a collection of our experiences, different characters and things that we’ve seen, experiences – either in our life or in other things that we’ve watched or taken in – I’m sure that different characters made their way, in some way influencing this. I see this movie as being kind of like this, very family friendly Romancing the Stone. So there is a little bit of this Michael Douglas kind of thing in there. I guess, Han Solo and Robin Hood, you know all these different kind of rogue-ish guys. I wasn’t really thinking about any of them when I was doing it, I was just thinking about what was on the page, what Dan [Fogelman] had put down when Nathan [Greno] and Byron [Howard] were directing me to know about this character and finding the voice for it and just going for it.

You know, comedy speaks for itself. If you understand comedy, you’ve got to understand the beats to it. Like, okay, bam, bam, bam… that’s funny! And you just try and stay true to each one of those moments as opposed to trying to make it funny because it sounds like so and so, or it’s like this guy over here, or whatever. To me, it was clear who he was. He was just kind of egocentric, self absorbed, vain, charming…


… smouldering!

Can you do a smoulder right now?

How about this? [The smolder appears!]

Man, wow! That was great! Too bad this isn’t video! [Laughing]

Right… [Laughing]… But because of all that it was just so much fun to play. You know, you can play a squeaky clean character and you are gonna be the straight man, you’re not gonna be funny. With Flynn, I really got to open it up wide and have a lot of fun with it. They let me adlib, do a little something of my own, it was just an amazing experience all the way around.

How do you go in and find his voice? Do you look at it as giving a full performance?

Well with “Chuck” I’m playing more of myself than not. Flynn it was definitely a performance. And his voice is somewhere between my own natural voice and… like, if you have British on one side and America on the other, it’s like Mid-Atlantic which is an American accent with very pronounced kind of dialogue.

Which they used to use in films from the Thirties and Forties…

Exactly! So Flynn was kind of halfway between my voice and Mid-Atlantic. So it was definitely a performance. [Giving an example of his Mid-Atlantic dialect] It was kind of like, “Hey Blondie!” but it wasn’t [In an English dialect] It was this, it wasn’t English, [Changing to Cockney] It wasn’t Cockney or anything like that. And it wasn’t “genuine Mid-Atlantic” but it was somewhere kind of in the gray area between me and that. And I felt like it was appropriate because… I mean, my voice will bleed through from time to time, but what was nice about it is that he was playing a character. He is “playing” Flynn Ryder. When we break down and he’s admitting that he is Eugene Fitzherbert, you hear that in me. You hear my real voice come out. It was so much fun.

What about the music? When you sang in the film, I was kind of surprised. I didn’t know you had a background in music.

Nobody really does.

Well that must have been exciting for you to come in and say yes, I can do this!

It was totally exciting. I mean, I really wanted to explore music professionally but I’ve just been very hesitant to because I never… I really don’t know how it would be received or accepted. And I don’t want to backlash on the acting and be like, oh this actor is trying to be a singer, you know, what a schmuck or whatever. It’s freaky. So for it to happen organically like this and be able to be able to be in something that it is just expected… although, you could go back to some earlier Disney movies and they had two different actors, one who could do voice for the dialogue and one who could do a voice for the music. So it’s really awesome to be able to do both and have people dig it and like it. If more musical opportunities come from it then awesome! I’d totally explore that and see what I could do with that.

How difficult a transition was it to find the time to do this, did you use your time off from “Chuck”…?

Well it was weekends. I would wrap on Friday night or Saturday morning on “Chuck”, and then on either Saturday or Sunday I’d come in on my weekends, while we were in season. Some of it was in summer, but most of it was recording sessions during the season of “Chuck”. For me, it wasn’t a difficult transition, just slight sleep deprivation. I mean, I’ve been acting a long time and its fun for me to shed a character and take on another character and shed that character and then go back to something else. It was a nice refreshing challenge too. Especially when you are in the middle of a season and playing the same character over and over and over again, and on “Chuck” to have to go over and stretch yourself in another direction – at least for a few hours on a Saturday or a Sunday. Not so much a challenge as a fun little gig.

Now I have to talk a little bit about “Chuck”. Recently you’ve had Dolph Lundgren, you have Linda Hamilton, all these iconic stars. What is that like for you? Did you grow up watching their work?

Oh, I grew up watching all of them. It’s amazing to have Sarah Conner playing my mom. It’s amazing to have Scott Bakula play my dad. Dolph Lundgren, Timothy Dalton…

Freddy Krueger…

Freddy Krueger! Robert Englund. It’s just really kind of one of the most… I don’t really know what the word would be but it’s like an honor to know that these actors, when they are approached to play these roles, must check it out on DVD or whatever if they haven’t seen the show already, and they go and watch it and then go, yeah you know what, I’ll play in that sandbox. That’s honoring. That’s like them saying, I like what you guys are doing over there and I’m not ashamed to be a part of that. And that’s really cool. It makes you feel really good about it.

How much longer do you see the show going?

Well honestly, from day one I’ve always said it’s in God’s hands. Whatever is gonna happen is gonna happen. I haven’t had a life in four years and that is tough. If I was married with kids and I had a lot of overhead expenses, you know, a whole family to feed and that, I’d probably be like, hey man let’s ride the wave as long as we can go. Don’t shake the boat. But, I’m a younger guy, I don’t have any other complications in life and I certainly don’t want to feel like opportunities are just flying by me because I’m so locked up in a television show that I can’t have an opportunity to at least try and do something else. I’m not poo-poo’ing the show at all!

And I also kind of feel like television is kind of one of those weird things like – I’d be happy to keep doing twelve or thirteen episode seasons, but when you start doing more than that, I think that you are stretching it out for no reason. Make it lean and mean, make every episode count. Don’t just do filler episodes to make money because I’ve never been in this business for the money, I mean I knew it might come but it’s a perk, but I’m in the business to make great television or great film or whatever. With the money, the budget that we were given and the time we have to do it in, it’s just not much on either level.

It’s really tough to give the audience the very best and that’s all I want to give them, or not. I’d rather give them something else then give them substandard entertainment. We have an amazing cast and crew and I love them, I love working with them and I love our fan base and it’s in God’s hands. Whatever is gonna happen is gonna happen and I’ll embrace it, and keep doing the very best I can for the films.

What else have you got going on after this?

Well I did start my own business called the “Nerd Machine”. If you go to thenerdmachine.com, you can come check it out. It kind of gives you the mission statement of where we are going with it. It’s kind of the beginning stages of it right now. It’s just fun apparel and t-shirts and stuff all about embracing nerd culture.

You’re inner-nerdom.

Yeah, basically! Because as far as I’m concerned, we are all nerds, it’s what are you nerdy about. Are you nerdy about cars, are you nerdy about sports, are you nerdy about Disney? Technology? Video Games? Of course we are all nerds. People who are jocks are nerdy about whatever sport they play. And a lot that just came from when I started “Chuck” and everyone kept asking, “Well what’s a nerd? Why are nerds cool now?” Nerds were never not cool, it’s just a matter of understanding what that word means and really redefining that in people’s eyes. Nerd just means that you have this passion about something or some things that influence who you are as a person.

When will you be seeing Tangled?

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