IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Martin Short Talks 'Frankenweenie'

Tuesday, 02 October 2012 12:16 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Martin Short Talks 'Frankenweenie'

Many comedic performers come and go in the blink of an eye or rely on one shtick for as long as humanly possible, but Martin Short has been enduring and entertaining with versatility and exuberance for well over three decades.  A veteran of the innovative Canadian sketch show SCTV and American institution Saturday Night Live, Short is known and loved for a variety of performances, including turns in fondly remembered comedies such as Three Amigos!, Father of the Bride, and Innerspace.

In this Friday's Frankenweenie, Short reunites with his Mars Attacks! director Tim Burton (Ed Wood, Alice in Wonderland).  The 3D stop-motion animated feature is based on Burton's 1984 short film, and follows young Victor Frankenstein, a budding suburban scientist who gets more than he bargained for when he resurrects his beloved dog Sparky, inadvertently putting the small down of New Holland in danger.

Both Short and fellow SCTV alum Catherine O'Hara (Best in Show, Home Alone) voice Victor's parents, the loving and altogether normal Frankensteins.  In addition, each provides voices for two supporting characters.  In Short's case, those characters are Victor's aloof classmate Nassor and civic-minded neighbor Mr. Burgemeister.

At the Frankenweenie press day at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, Martin Short spoke with IAR in an exclusive interview, discussing the challenges of voice acting, creating the characters, different avenues of performance, branching out dramatically, and the (im)possibility of a Three Amigos! sequel.

Here's what Short had to say:

Coming from a background that includes stuff like SCTV and Saturday Night Live where you have the charge of working off of a group of performers or the immediacy of playing to a crowd, is voiceover work ever a challenge, since you're so isolated?

Martin Short: I think that each – as an actor you have to open to this, anyway – each job is its own unique thing.  A couple years ago, I did this television series Damages and that was a little unique because the writers are so creative and so in the moment, sometimes they would see dailies and go, "Oh, you see what he did there?  Oh, that's so interesting.  We're going to shoot this thing tomorrow, let's change his attitude.  Maybe he should be less open, more mysterious.  Okay, but that means we have to change his speech tomorrow.  Well, we'll just rewrite the speech tonight and he's going to have to learn in the morning."  Now, some actors would go [mock serious voice], "I need my arc!"  They should have their arc, but that show is a kind of a scripted improvising and it's its own unique thing.  When you animate a movie, yes, you are alone, but you're an actor, so your thing is, "Okay, this is just different." 

It's a different muscle.  Going on the stage, doing a play, doing a musical like I've done many times on Broadway, that's different from doing SCTV or Saturday Night Live.  When I went from SCTV to Saturday Night Live, there were so many things, scripts that I would write, where I knew that if I were on SCTV, it would kill, but it was Saturday Night Live, it had that live audience with their judgment caps on and it couldn't be as subtle.  You could do a film piece, like the synchronized swimmer, I remember there's a shot in that piece where the camera's zooming in and Harry Shearer's talking about why these two brothers have given up their life's work to become synchronized swimmers.  And he said, "It's daunting" as the camera's coming in close and I knew the camera was coming in close and I didn't quite know what I was going to say, then I said, "Because I'm not that strong a swimmer."  But if I had done that in a live sketch on Saturday Night Live, it wouldn't have gotten anything.  It needed the subtlety and the push-in and the whole thing.  So each time, you go into a different [role], especially if you've been drawn, as I have, to an eclectic, varied career.  You're always examining.

With the two more overtly comedic characters, do you have an idea when you come in?  Are you allowed to go hog-wild on them, or is it something you and Tim Burton really work on together?

Short: I can't remember.  It seems to me that they had sent a sketch of the character ahead of time.  So you go in with an idea and Tim might say, "Well, Mr. Burgemeister, I don't know, it could be creepy and menacing."  But what that is, he's saying, "Go, figure it out."  He's not saying, "I'm going to leave the room."  He's there.  I remember trying British for Burgemeister and Tim said, "That's good.  Anything else?"  And then I kind of got into this other voice and he perked up at that.  Then I came in for the next session and I was just thinking of these people who smoke four packs a day and then quit and they go [raspy, wheezing voice], "I'm completely healthy."  And that's the kind of detail that, if you say it to Tim, he just laughs hysterically.  He loves that.  Because what Tim go, "Oh, that guy scares me," it's not a guy with fangs, it's just, like, a pricky guy, or certain politicians.  So that kind of detail.  It's just a work in progress. 

Or the character Nassor, when I was a kid, there was this series called Thriller hosted by Boris Karloff.  As I would do [an impression], I would tend to make him a little more lispy, so he liked the combination of Karloff and the lispy guy, and that became that guy.  So it's just something you keep trying.  What's great is, I did this musical once on Broadway, Promises, PromisesRob Marshall directed it, it was his first time directing, he had been a choreographer before.  There's this whole big number in it, it's based on The Apartment, and the guy has asked the secretary out for a date and she's said yes; they're going to play basketball.  He's in love with her, and it's a Burt Bacharach score, and he sings, "She likes basketball, how about that!"  It's supposed to be filled with joy, so Rob said, "Just start dancing around."  We're in the rehearsal and I'm leaping through the air, completely free.  He said, "Let's do it again.  Now, I didn't like anything, but I like the leap, so what can we do up to the leap?"  What was great was, because I knew Rob was so talented, I knew I could just throw out blank spitballs out there, and he'd snatch them and build them into something.  That's what working with Tim is like.

Both of the things you're describing are very different from live-action filmmaking.  Is it enjoyable to have a situation where there's not so much immediacy and pressure, then?

Short: That's a different muscle, because you know time is precious, so you have to go in really prepared.  You can't go in not knowing your lines.  You can't go in not having a specific approach to it.  Usually, you and the director have discussed it in detail, because you're going to have to be out of that mall by one.  But there is joy in being in a recording studio where tape is cheap.

In a way that's dissimilar from the other two characters you voice, with Victor's father, he's very loving and tender, and ultimately, moving.  You're thought of a "comedic actor," and there's an element of that that seems like being pigeonholed, like it could be constraining.  Is that ever frustrating for you, feeling like you aren't allowed to flex that particular muscle as often?

Short: Well, I think that, well, yes.  Any pigeonholing is frustrating, but very understandable.  I can relate to people that I've liked comedically over the years.  First of all, the list of people that mean something to us comedically is much smaller than the list of people that we admire in the other spectrum.  And it seems like we make a deal with them, where we say, "Look, you're there to make me laugh.  That's where I love you.  I know you want to stretch, I know you want to do Long Day's Journey Into Night, go ahead and do it, but I would rather see you be a clown."  I'm not saying that's not frustrating for an actor, but I get it.

It's been mentioned frequently that Frankenweenie has an autobiographical element for Tim Burton.  Did the two of you discuss that at all?

Short: No, I knew none of that.  Tim at no point said, "Please, you must do it this way, you're doing my dad."  It might be, but we never talked about that.

I'm sure that you get asked this every single day along with questions about Arrested Development, but would you ever do a Three Amigos 2?

Short: [Laughs] I think that maybe the ship has sailed on that one.  You know, you never say never unless the script's great, but no.

Dust off your Rogue 3D Eyewear, because Frankenweenie arrives in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D in theaters nationwide this Friday, October 5th.

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