IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Rob Riggle Talks 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax'

Thursday, 01 March 2012 23:36 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Rob Riggle Talks 'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax'

You will probably recognize former United States Marine turned actor/comedian Rob Riggle from his time as a correspondent on The Daily Show, and as a cast member of Saturday Night Live but he is quickly gaining attention for a string of roles in some of the most popular films in recent years. Riggle is best known from his role as Officer Franklin in one of the most successful comedies of all-time, The Hangover, but he’s also been featured in such high profile films as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers, Going the Distance, The Other Guys, Larry Crowne, and most recently Big Miracle. In fact, the busy actor has not one, but two films opening this month including the big screen adaptation of the classic ‘80s TV series 21 Jump Street, and The Lorax, which opens on March 2nd and is based on the popular children’s book by the legendary author Dr. Seuss.

In the film, Zac Efron plays Ted, an idealistic twelve year-old boy that lives in “Thneed-Ville,” a city that is completely artificial. He eventually embarks on a journey to find the one thing that will win him the heart of the girl of his dreams, Audrey (Taylor Swift), who only wants to see a real tree. While searching for a tree, he discovers that their city has been closed off from the outside world, and meets the reclusive Once-ler (Ed Helms), who recounts the story of how he met the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a grumpy yet charming creature who serves as guardian of the land. But when a young businessman introduces a revolutionary invention from the native Truffula Tree’s tufts, it tragically spirals into a mass overproduction leading to the depletion of the forest, and the creation and isolation of Ted’s town. With the Once-ler’s blessing, and the last Truffula Seed, Ted sets out to remind his town of the importance of nature. Riggle plays O’Hare, the evil mayor of Thneed-Ville and the head of the O’Hare Air Company, which supplies fresh air to Thneed-Ville residents and has no intention of leaving any traces of the Lorax’s world behind.

I recently had a chance to sit down with the absolutely hilarious Rob Riggle to discuss his voiceover work in The Lorax. The comedic actor talked about the new film, his evil character, creating the right voice, working with the directors, Dr. Seuss, the film’s environmental themes, comparisons between his character’s appearance and a certain fellow cast member, singing and “not telling jokes when the whales are dying.”

Here is what he had to say:

IAR: To begin with, I often hear actors say that it is more fun to play the villain than the hero, and in this film you get to play a really evil guy, so what was that experience like for you?

Rob Riggle: It was a blast to play the bad guy. When you're the bad guy … not that I'm one hundred percent good all the time but for the most part I'm a good guy, so to actually be kind of rotten and be a mean guy, it's kind of fun to do and to get outside of my comfort zone a little bit.

As a comedian, did you just go as big and broad as you wanted with the character or did the directors have to ask you to pull it back at all?

Riggle: Sometimes, yes. I would improvise stuff and I would try things. Chris (Renaud) was really good about saying things like, "That's it, that's exactly it" or "keep going." He would also say, "We need a different tone, maybe try this." We worked really well together and we found what we needed. So yes, there were times where I could blow it out and times where I would reel it back so it just depends.

Obviously the film is adapted from the classic story by Dr. Seuss but your character didn’t appear in the book, is that right?

Riggle: My character is not in the book. But you know they had to expand the story to make a feature film so I was a part of the expansion.

So does that sort of give you free license to create your character from the ground up because you don't have to adhere to anything in particular from the original source material?

Riggle: This is unchartered territory so yes, there is a little bit of that, but not much because you want to be true to the story too. You don't want to mess with the story too much. But as far as my character goes it was definitely time to go crazy.

Now I’m going to try to be delicate with my next question. Your character is vertically challenged and bares a striking resemblance to another actor who lends his voice to this film. Do you know where I’m going with this?

Riggle: Maybe, but I don't want to make any assumptions.

Well, I think a comparison could be made between O’Hare and Danny DeVito, and I was wondering if you took any of your inspiration for the character from Mr. DeVito’s previous performances? I thought I noticed a little bit of “Louie from Taxi” in O’Hare, is that right?

Riggle: Well, the gravel in their voice would be the only comparison I would make. Other than that no, Danny DeVito is much more handsome than O'Hare. That would be about it, just the gruffness of some of the characters he’s played, maybe. 

I know that you’ve worked on American Dad before, but was the voiceover process on this film similar to working on the series? Did you record alone in a booth or did you actually get to perform with your fellow actors?

Riggle: It was pretty similar. I've done a couple of animated TV shows where you're actually in the room with another actor and you maybe get to have a little bit of that. But very rarely are you ever working with any other actors. Usually it's just you in a booth; the producers and the directors are there too. So you pound out your material and bring to it whatever you have to offer. Then they work with you because they have the bigger picture, but you have your picture. So they know, "Oh, so and so improvised this line the other day and it's going to change the tone of this particular scene so instead of being angry maybe you're just more put out." So there are subtleties that they can identify that you don't necessarily know because you're working off the script and you're working off the character you created.

So the directors are like a buffer between what the other actors have done and what you're going to do in the scene, would you agree?

Riggle: Exactly, yeah, and to make things connect or at least the way they want it. But for the most part in animation you don't get to work with a cast like this, I mean they are brilliant! I'm a fan of everybody in this cast and I'm actually dying to meet all of them. I haven't met any of them because we all worked alone in the booth.

Really? You’ve never met anyone in this cast before? Haven't you and Ed Helms had worked together in the past?

Riggle: Oh yes, Ed and I are friends. But I meant like Taylor Swift, Zach Efron, and Betty White. I’ve never met them before. I met Danny once, but it was a while ago. I don't know if he'll remember it.

Is that the bittersweet aspect of doing animation, the fact that you get to be in a film like this that features an amazing cast of actors, but you don't actually ever get to meet any of them?

Riggle: That's right but I'm looking forward to the premiere because then I'll finally get to shake their hands and tell them how much I enjoy their work.

What can you tell me about collaborating with the films two directors, Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda?

Riggle: It was great. They were so good, and so nice. You instantly felt safe because you get in there and you give it your first shot. You're like, boy I hope I'm in the ballpark, I don't even know if I'm in the ballpark on this. Then you see them looking down and saying, "That was great!" And you're like, oh good! So at least I know I'm in the ballpark. Then you try some more stuff and they're like, "This is good, I like this." Or they're like, "Now here's what we're trying to do with this, can you try this?" And you're like, yeah, I'll go for it. Then they celebrate, they're laughing, and you're like ok, good. They made me feel really welcome and confident.

Were you familiar with the book at all or a fan of Dr. Seuss?

Riggle: I was. I thought it was almost pre-requisite reading for kids to have to go through, you know, Green Eggs and Ham, and The Lorax, and other books by Dr. Seuss. I thought that was something every kid had to read. I've come to find out some people don't know what The Lorax is, but that's alright. Hopefully this movie will bring a lot of people back to it.

The book, of course, has a great environmental message that has been incorporated into the movie. Do you think that is why it is finally being adapted into a film now, because it touches on so many issues that we as a society are dealing with right now?

Riggle: Absolutely. It's got wonderful messages that are universal, that cross all boundaries. It doesn't matter what your politics are, it doesn't matter who you are or where you're coming from, taking care of your environment is a good message. It's just a good message that kids should learn. On the broader picture, to me it's a story of hope. If you have a dream, if you believe in it, and you work hard, good things happen. If you make good decisions, good things happen. There are a lot of really good messages in there. But taking care of your environment, I don't care who you are, that's just a good thing to hear. I think kids should hear that.

One of the great aspects of the movie is that it is actually a musical, but your character doesn't really get to sing too much. Did you want to sing more?

Riggle: I would've loved to but I'm a terrible singer, and then on top of that if I had put it in O'Hare's voice the singing would have been double bad. But I loved the fact that I got to sing a little bit. That may never happen in my career again!

Since you do have professional singers like Taylor Swift and Zac Efron in the movie, did that make you nervous about recording the song as well?

Riggle: Sure! You got really talented, musically trained, wonderful singers and then I'm trying to sing, which I can't, and on top of that I'm trying to sing like O'Hare, which makes it even worse. But hey, they kept it in the movie and that might be the only time I actually get to sing in a film, which is kind of sad.

How did you create the voice for O’Hare?

Riggle: I got the character description and I just started thinking about the guy. I just started playing with the voice a little bit and then I said, I think this is the guy. I think this is the voice of the guy. So when I went in and read it for them they were like, “Yeah, that's the guy!” So I was glad. But that's what I envisioned in my head when I read the character description. I read the script and that's what this guy struck me as, kind of an alpha male, or he assumes he's an alpha male, aggressive, and just a no holds bar kind of guy.

Finally, this is a very busy time for you with both The Lorax and 21 Jump Street being release just a few weeks a part, not to mention your role in Big Miracle, which came out earlier this year. You also had a pivotal role in Tom Hank’s Larry Crowne last summer. Obviously people know you from your comedic work but I’m curious, when you are cast in a more dramatic film like Big Miracle or Larry Crowne, or even a serious role in a family film like this one, are the filmmakers who cast you expecting you to be funny? Do you ever feel pressure to bring humor to these roles or do you try to play it straight and let your humor come out organically in the scene?

Riggle: I always ask the director, I do. Because I want to know what their intent is. Do you want this character to be douchey, or obnoxious? Do you want him to be sincere? What are you hoping to get out of this guy? What do you want to see? They're usually very good about saying, “You know, I think he's kind of a jerk and I think he doesn't get it.” Then I process what that means to me and sometimes it comes out humorously, especially if he's a big jerk who doesn't get that he's being rude. That can be funny. That can be humorous. So a lot of times I do it that way. I always have an interpretation of how I think it should be, but I always want to work with people too. It's a collaborative process so I like to find out what they want, bring what I have, see if they're close and then try to make it work. Like in Larry Crowne, it was a tough scene, I end up firing the guy, but I also don't get that I'm firing the guy. I don't get that this guy's in pain, its just business to me. I'm basically like this emotional bull in this China shop. So there was probably a little humor in that, the way it came off, even though the scene is devastating for him. And being a comedian, I think there is an expectation. People are like, “Oh, he'll bring some comedy to this.” That's fine, I will, that's what I love doing. I have no problem with that. But if it's a serious role, I'm not going to try to muck it up with comedy. I'll play it as serious and sincere as possible. You're not telling jokes when the whales are dying.

The Lorax opens in theaters on March 2nd. 

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