In the family comedy Hop, actor James Marsden plays Fred, a 30-year-old on a directionless path, who is trying to pull his life together. His family keeps telling him to grow up, but Fred knows that he is destined for something great. Then, he meets E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand), the teenage son of the Easter Bunny who also happens to be next in line for the coveted position, but who wants to give it all up in pursuit of his dream to become a drummer. The presence of E.B. brings back memories from when Fred was a little boy and saw E.B.’s dad delivering his Easter basket early one morning, and he soon realizes that his calling just might be the thing that E.B. is running from.
At the film’s press day, James Marsden talked about acting opposite a bunny that wasn’t there, developing the dynamic and chemistry with Russell Brand that was necessary to bring their performances to life, the fact that he is a bit of a perpetual child like Fred, and that the film shows the importance of following your dream and finding your passion in life, even if that’s becoming the Easter Bunny. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: Was doing the live-action with the animation the toughest thing you’ve had to do so far?
JAMES MARSDEN: This was certainly the most difficult technical process that I’ve been through. It’s hard enough to just be a good actor. When you’re on set, there’s everything going against you. There are walkie talkies going off, the camera is creaking and moving, there are boom mics, and you have to hit your mark and make sure you don’t shadow the other person’s face. It’s a really technical process. It’s difficult because you’re there to bring life to a scene and make it feel natural and normal, when all these other things are going on. And then, you subtract a co-star from that, where you’re actually talking to nobody and you’re looking at little pieces of green tape.
I’ve never been more prepared, in my life. I knew that I couldn’t afford to not know my lines and not know where my mark was. I had to know all of Russell’s lines and all of the blocking and choreography for E.B. The rabbit is not going to move around when you’re doing the scene. There’s nothing there. So, during the scene, I have to try to remember my lines and keep it natural, and also remember where the rabbit is going for each line.
Technically, it was difficult. Every film has got it’s own challenges, but this was a technical process. When Kaley [Cuoco] or Gary Cole came in, I was like, “Thank god! We can act together!” On a movie like this, I never went home thinking, “Man, that scene today was awesome. I really felt it. It really came to life.” It was all piecemeal. It was like singing a duet without the other person singing with you. I was like, “I hope whoever is in the editing room with the scissors and the glue makes this all work.”
Since you got to spend some time watching Russell Brand do his recording sessions, how did that inform your performance?
MARSDEN: It was really helpful. I had requested it, and (director) Tim [Hill] had already had it in his head that he wanted to do that. I had just finished a movie before this, called Cats & Dogs, where I was a voice, but there was live-action stuff as well. Through that entire process, I kept thinking, “Chris O’Donnell is up there and he can’t change his performance. When you lock picture, you lock picture.” But, as a voice-over artist, if something doesn’t work, you can go back in, at any time and change the lines. So, I thought, “Here I am with Russell Brand, the world’s greatest improvisational comedian. If there’s any back-and-forth banter, he’s always going to get the good end of it because I’m going to be stuck with what we shoot and he’s going to go in and make it funnier.”
Mainly, I wanted to get together because this movie, to me, hinges on the dynamic and the chemistry between these two characters and I wanted to explore what that was going to be and what his take was going to be on the Easter Bunny, and what he was going to come up with and make up, on his own. So, it was really great for he and I to just sit in the room together and riff off each other. We did it for about two days, and it was great. I just tried to record as much of it as I could, in my head, and remember it on the day, when he wasn’t there. But, it was great. We got to bond and figure out what our dynamic was, during that process. And then, I said, “Can we get a Russell Brand impersonator to be off-camera, delivering his lines, so we can keep it as real as possible?”
Since you’re not really acting with a real actor for the scenes with the rabbit, is there a standard method that you use, as an actor, so that you can the eye contact and interaction right?
MARSDEN: There is a process that makes it a little easier for you. We had a read-through and there was this great British actor, by the name of Greg Ellis, who’s in the Pirates movies. He came to the read-through and did Russell’s part, and I said, “Can we just pay him to be right off camera, so that I can hear a British accent from somebody with similar sensibilities and humor?” And, we did. We got him for a few weeks, until he had to go do the next Pirates movie, and then another great actor came in to help as well. That was massively helpful.
It was also great to be working with (director) Tim [Hill], who has obviously done these kinds of movies before, so he knew the process and what could be done to help the actors, knowing that this is a completely unnatural thing to be doing. They had a stuffed rabbit. We would roll camera and do one take where someone would hold the rabbit, so that I knew where he was going to go during the scene. And then, they would take him out because he couldn’t be in it while we were shooting it, and they would replace him with little pieces of wire that stood up and a little piece of green tape on the end of it, and you would have to do the scene with the voice-over actor doing Russell’s lines and looking at these pieces of green tape.
Beyond that, it was all your imagination. On one hand, it’s cool because you really do get to control the scene, to a certain degree, since you’re the only one that’s in the scene, at the moment. And then, you just hope that Russell comes in later and fills in the gaps. That was the process, but it was still really hard.
Would you like to be the Easter Bunny yourself, if the opportunity were to arise?
MARSDEN: No. What I have in common with Fred is that I’m a perpetual child, as a 37-year-old adult. I have two kids – a 10-year-old and a 5-year-old – and I’m always acting very goofy and silly with them. When I was younger – up until I was 19 years old and in college – I was surrounded with people in high school who felt like they knew what they wanted to do with their lives, and that was intimidating to me because I didn’t. I didn’t know what my calling was. I didn’t know what I was here on earth to do. I didn’t know what my passion was until I discovered the dramatic arts in junior high and high school and I realized, “Oh, I like this. This is something I feel like I’m good at.” But, the idea of moving to Hollywood and becoming an actor was really unrealistic.
So, what I have in common with Fred is that I’m a little lazy, I’m a little bit of a slacker, and I didn’t want to settle for something that I didn’t feel was right for me. I didn’t want to go get a job or get a degree in business or marketing, or whatever all my friends were getting degrees in. I also realized that it’s a tough thing to make a career out of being an actor, but I thought, “You know what? I’m going to just make this happen. I’m going to move to L.A.” I had really supportive parents. It was great. And, it happened, thank god. To this day, I really can’t think of what I would be doing otherwise. I guess Fred and I have that in common. I wasn’t going to do anything unless I was really passionate about it. I’m a little stubborn that way, actually.
What was it like to work with Chelsea Handler?
MARSDEN: I’ve been doing this for 18 years and there’s maybe been three times in my career where I just could not keep it together for a take. Chelsea was hilarious, but she’s obviously really, really irreverent. Here we were on this kid’s movie and we were messing with each other, during each other’s close-ups. It took hours to get just one clean take, and the crew was actually really angry. They were looking at their watches, going, “It was funny the first time, guys, but now, we’ve got to get through this.” And, of course, that made it worse. I would be doing my close-up and she would be looking at me, mouthing, “You’re embarrassing yourself. What are you doing? You’re the worst actor I’ve ever seen.” She’s got her sense of humor, and mine is very similar to hers. We had a good time, not being able to keep it together. We actually keep in touch now. She sends me random emails of kangaroos humping each other. Working with her was great.
Have your kids gotten to see the film yet? Did they get to visit the set at all?
MARSDEN: No, they haven’t seen the film yet. They did visit the set. My kids are all about free candy, so when they visited the set, it wasn’t like, “Wow, I’m on a film set!” They were at craft service, picking candy out of the bowls on the table. They’re great. They’re one of the reasons why I did the movie.
I just finished a remake of Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs, which, if you’re familiar with the movie, is a really dark, controversial, intense psychological thriller/horror movie. After that, I had to get myself out of that place. And then, all of a sudden, Hop came along and it was like, “Colors, eggs, chicks, rabbits. This is fun! I’ll go do that!” Enchanted was something that I was really excited about being a part of, and I did that for my kids, too. This was definitely about doing one for the kids.
What do you think the message of this film is?
MARSDEN: When I think of my character, following your dream and finding your passion in life is certainly the message. It’s pretty sad that he’s in his early 30’s and still living at home, without a job. But, he saw the Easter Bunny when he was a kid and that opened his world to a sense of magic that most kids don’t get to see. He grew up in a world that doesn’t have a lot of magic, and yet, he held onto that. That was one of the reasons why he didn’t want to settle for something he wasn’t passionate about. It just turns out that being the Easter Bunny was his passion, which is strange. But, I think it’s about following your dreams. It’s about finding your passion in life and going for that.
Did you celebrate Easter, as a kid?
MARSDEN: Yes, I did celebrate Easter. We had visits from the Easter Bunny, every year. We would dye eggs the night before and paint them, and then we’d wake up and there would be this magical display of baskets, candy and eggs. I had two brothers that were very close in age and we would do an egg hunt. They have these plastic eggs that you could put candy in, and sometimes there was money – like a $5 or $10 bill. So, it became not this fun, sweet thing. It was like, “I’m gonna kill you, if you have more money.” There would be a fistfight. We were very greedy, as kids.
What are you planning to do with your own kids this Easter?
MARSDEN: For my children, we do the same thing, every year. We have an egg hunt. They wake up and get their baskets, and we put carrots out. We’ve been really lucky, every year we go out and the carrots are half-eaten and there are little trails of pieces of carrots. It’s great. We get that magic, every year. With them, with the candy, they’re pretty good about stopping when they need to stop. They had a few times where they got sick, and that changed them. They know when to stop.
What do you look for when reading scripts and choosing the projects you want to get involved with?
MARSDEN: Every time I read a script, I see the movie in my head, and I try to see the best movie in my head because everybody interprets the movie differently. First of all, I think about what I just finished doing. When I finished Straw Dogs, I wanted to do something completely different. This business has been really good to me, in that it has afforded me a lot of opportunities to do very, very different projects. I did the X-Men movies, and I did Hairspray. It’s almost confusing for people. They’re like, “Well, where do we put him? What does he do? He’s all over the place.”
Actors always talk about that balance in their careers. It’s your livelihood. It’s your job. You get a paycheck. You’re paying a mortgage. There’s that component. And then, the other side of it is about your creative integrity, and the projects you really feel like you want to be a part of and that you feel like you can contribute to creatively. I believe that, if you’re lucky enough to let that captain the ship, then all the other stuff will come along with it. Every movie I do, whether it’s a little indie drama, if it’s a big-budget action movie, or if it’s a romantic comedy, I approach it as, “I want this to be the best of that, that there is.”
When I started Hop, I told (producer) Chris Meledandri that I would imagine that a lot of actors might want to step into a movie like this thinking, “Oh, this will be easy. It’s a kid’s movie. I’ll just phone it in.” I said, “I’ve gotta tell you, I feel more of a responsibility to do more work on this than I ever have.” And he said, “That’s exactly right.” To me, it was important that the relationship between Fred and the rabbit felt very real, and like him and another human being.
Whatever scripts come to me, I read them and I look at the ones that I feel like I can see myself in. You’ll feel a spark. You’ll be like, “All right, I see this guy. I get this guy. This guy makes me laugh. I know what to do.” When I read Enchanted, I was like, “I know who this guy is. Please let me have this. I’ll kill this role.” Death at a Funeral was the same thing. To me, that was the best role in the movie. I felt really confident about my ability to create that performance. Those are the ones that I go after. And then, within that, I always try to change it up and go from a drama to a comedy to something else. That just keeps it interesting for me.