By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Sam Elliott and Anna Paquin play a pretty fearsome-looking father-and-daughter duo in Disney Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.” It’s the second feature-length film from the acclaimed animation house this year, following the successful inside-the-head-focused “Inside Out.”
The versatile actors voice Tyrannosaurus Rex characters Butch and Ramsey, respectively, in the lush, Western-like adventure comedy about a young dinosaur who gets lost embarking on a mission to avenge his beloved father’s death, and must find his way home.
The mustachioed, gravel-voiced Elliott is best known for his roles in Westerns and other adult dramas, while Paquin, who won an Academy Award at age 12 for her supporting performance in “The Piano,” and has since gone on to have a successful acting career, is best known for playing Sookie Stackhouse for seven seasons on the TV vampire series “True Blood.” Both are making their Pixar voiceover debut as two creatures that seem intimidating but wind up helping fellow dinosaur Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa, who had a small voice role in Pixar’s “Monsters University).”
Rugged and intimidating, Butch (Elliott) is distinguished by the gruesome scar across his face. A veteran rancher who is a real pro when it comes to herding longhorns, Butch encourages his kids Ramsey and Nash (voiced by A.J. Buckley) to learn by doing, hurling them into one hairy situation after another. Butch likes nothing better than trading war-stories over a campfire at the end of a long day.
Meantime, Ramsey loves the challenge of driving the longhorn herd with her father and little brother. She has a lively, outgoing personality—she likes good jokes, tells a mean story and has a soft spot for those in need.
Director and co-writer Peter Sohn (an animator on “The Incredibles” and “Up”) said he wanted to give Butch and his children the look of real cowboys. When they’re running, their lower bodies mimic that of galloping horses, while their upper bodies have the feel of the riding cowboys.
Artists and animators were able to incorporate expected details into Butch’s look, including his iconic teeth and the way his mouth moves. However, when Butch grins, his big white teeth resemble Elliott’s signature moustache.
Sohn said Elliott personifies a T-Rex.
“We started the session by talking about the concept of being a father,” he said. “He talked about his daughter and we riffed off that energy. (I told him), “You are a dad first.” When we took our first break and played back a sequence, his voice blew everyone away. It’s perfect for a T-Rex. Everyone’s jaw just dropped.”
Filmmakers differentiated Ramsey from her fellow T-Rexes by elongating her snout and giving her nose a thinner bridge.
“Anna was so excited to play a real bad*** T-Rex, she’d get red in the face when she roared for Ramsey,” recalled Sohn.
A mother of twins, Paquin explained that she was excited to make a film that her children may be able to watch someday. Clutching an action figure of her onscreen character for an interview, she appeared genuinely thrilled to be part of the team, alongside her movie dad, Elliott, who was his usual laconic, easygoing self.
Q: Sam, what did you think when you got the script?
Elliot: There wasn’t any question; I wanted to do it for sure. Number one it’s Pixar and all that. For me it’s always been what’s on the page, there’s this old adage, if it ain’t on the page it ain’t on the stage. I have always believed in that. I have played a lot of cowboys all of my life; this is kind of an extension of that I guess.
Q: Did you two record your dialogue separately or together?
Elliott: Totally separate. Today is the first day we have been together. This is very strange on some levels.
Q: Butch’s voice booms in this. Did they enhance your voice?
Elliott: I think they did enhance the roar. I haven’t seen the film yet. But I think that when I recorded it, Peter (Sohn, the director and co-writer) said that it was going to be enhanced to a certain degree.
Q: Do you get the whole script at once?
Elliott: No, we get only the pages that we are responsible for and our names are all over them. They are coded and watermarked.
Paquin: If somebody steals your backpack today, you are screwed. (She laughs.)
Elliott: They come in a Brinks truck to deliver it. That’s crazy.
Q: Even though you didn’t record your scenes together, did you hear anybody’s playback so that you knew what the other actors were doing?
Elliott: I didn’t hear anything.
Paquin: He got to (record) first, so I got to hear some of his.
Q: So you did hear it?
Paquin: Not all of it, but enough to get a feeling for sort of what it is.
Elliott: It’s Peter’s expertise as a director. He is responsible for this thing, in terms of the actors. I think he can take full credit for where it went. They hire us for a reason. They hire each of us because they think we fit whomever these characters are they are creating. But Peter’s the one that draws that out. Then there certainly is a whole other world that has nothing to do with the actors. That Peter wouldn’t even take credit for that, other than he is there but he is not the one that’s literally creating the computerized end of the world. Maybe it’s his vision that they are achieving. He is pushing them and challenging them like he does with the actors. He’s a pretty incredible character, I find.
Q: Anna, were you working on your TV series during these recordings?
Paquin: No, that was over. I want to say that when I met the people at Pixar while we were still shooting; but then we didn’t record until a good ways after the series was over. I remember because I had green hair at the time, and I know I definitely didn’t have green hair when we were shooting “True Blood.” I was on my sort of extended vacation/delayed maternity leave where I dyed my hair whatever color I want, because I am actually 12 years old. (She laughs.)
Q: What was your favorite Pixar movie before “The Good Dinosaur?”
Paquin: “Up.” I still cry during that movie.
Elliott: I probably would say “Up” as well. I haven’t seen every Pixar movie that’s ever been made. … (looking at Paquin) I shouldn’t be saying that.
Paquin: (to Elliott) But your daughter is 29, so that makes sense.
Q: Being a mom, is this something that’s kind of cool for your daughter or son to see?
Paquin: I have one of each, actually.
Q: Are they excited to see the film?
Paquin: Yeah, and I don’t have to wait until they are 18/ oh-my-God-“I don’t want watch my parents doing that” to show it to them. (She laughs.) For starters, I would literally do anything that Pixar wanted me to do. I love their films even though I’m not a huge animation geek or fan. But I find their emotional stories and character development to be every bit poignant as I do when I’m watching a live action film. That is what Pixar has managed to do so beautifully with all of their films. They really tap into the thing that makes you sit in the movie theater and weep. Generally, animation doesn’t do that to me, except for when Mufasa (the father in Disney’s “The Lion King”) dies. I cry every time.
Q: Did you get to visit Pixar headquarters in Emeryville, California?
Elliott: (Paquin and Buckley) did. I didn’t go.
Paquin: (to Elliott) It’s because you are really busy.
Elliott: Nah, they were going to have me come up, but then they decided not to, and they came to Santa Monica (California) to record me.
Q: Anna, how was the Pixar experience?
Paquin: Oh my God, I desperately wish I had some talent as far as graphic design, computer programming, drawing or anything vaguely that might mean I could get a job at Pixar in my next life. Their office/cubicles/speakeasy/bunkers… They literally get to design each of their own little spaces and they have a budget to do so. I was like, “How could I not work with somebody who takes creativity to be actually a meaningful and real thing but who also is going out of their way to put the people who are creating their product in an environment that they find stimulating.” It’s just so exciting and sort of inspiring. I didn’t want to leave.
Q: Did they film you while you were in the recording booth, and if they did, did you see any part of yourself in your character? Being a mom, I thought a lot of the movie was kind of scary for little kids. What was your opinion on that.
Paquin: My kids can’t see it just yet. They’re only 3 years old and they’re pretty sensitive. They have never seen anything on a big screen yet, so I feel like if you are watching it on an iPad, it may be not so scary for little ones. But having this huge and beautifully intense and perfectly executed, quite sophisticated story, there is nothing inappropriate. It’s just really emotionally intense in a lot of places.
I feel like I was a little kind of watching it on the big screen. So maybe not for the 3-year-olds yet.
Q: Can you talk about being filmed and if you saw any characteristics of yourself in the characters?
Elliott: I think that they are just looking for…
Paquin: our mannerisms.
Elliott: Yeah, I think that’s all it is.
Q: What did you think of the movie, Sam?
Elliott: I haven’t seen the movie yet. I’m going to see it Tuesday with a real audience, instead of a loaded audience. Although, there may be some people that are loaded in the audience.