Jon Hamm steps into the sound booth for Minions, the entertaining new animated spin-off from the Despicable Me franchise that takes audiences back to where it all began. Hamm lends his voice to Herb Overkill, the Mod inventor-husband of the world’s biggest supervillain, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), who will do anything to help further his wife’s agenda of world domination. Allison Janney voices Madge Nelson, the matriarch of a crime-happy family of bank-robbing felons who offer Kevin, Stuart and Bob (Pierre Coffin) a ride to Villain-Con, a convention for supervillains where the mischievous creatures hope to find a new evil master.
At our roundtable interview, Hamm and Janney talked about their characters, the appeal of doing an animated feature, why they’re big fans of the Minions, the cartoons that inspired Hamm growing up, what it was like for Janney to play a cartoon mom, the recording process, their reaction to hearing their voices come out of an animated character, the film’s 1960s pop culture era soundtrack, what they would ask their Minions to do if they had ones, Janney’s new feature film Tallulah with Ellen Page, her third season of Mom, and why she’s always wanted to go to Comic-Con.
Check it all out in the interview below:
Herb Overkill has a very odd way about him with his unusual sense of humor and manner of talking. Did you have much input into what he was going to be like?
JON HAMM: Yes. You have total freedom. You’re not constrained by what you look like or what your hair looks like that day, or what haircut you’re stuck with from whatever thing you just finished. Part of it, for me, was getting the artist’s rendering of the character. I was like, “Oh wow, that guy looks so cool. I wonder what he sounds like.” And then, messing around with voices in your head like a crazy person or like a child basically, like a kid. I’d flash back to being a little kid and watching cartoons and thinking, “I wonder if I could do that,” and talking to myself, you know, things I do normally in my day-to-day life. I talk to my dog. I talk to myself. I talk to myself on elevators and people are like, “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” It’s sort of a process. But no, it’s really fun and it’s completely creative. And when you’re working with people who are also incredibly collaborative too, they’re just like “Go!” So, you get to go.
Have you had an opportunity to see the finished film yet and what was your reaction when you first saw yourself on screen?
HAMM: I have not seen the entire film yet. I’ve seen a lot of the stuff that I’m in, but I haven’t seen the whole thing. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it with an audience, especially an audience of a bunch of little kids. It’s going to be really exciting to see what the reaction is because I happen to find a lot of it very funny. And, you know, butts and farts are funny. I’m sorry but they are. Especially when you’re a little kid, they’re super funny. So, I’m really looking forward to seeing how that plays in a big auditorium full of people.
Your character is pretty suave, a little like Don Draper.
HAMM: That’s a stretch. I think Herb definitely has his own style. I don’t think it’s very similar to Don’s. If anything, if there’s an analogy to be made, I think it’s probably a little bit closer to Austin Powers, at least from a sartorial sense. That was the one thing I was a little bit [concerned about]. I didn’t want to veer too far into Austin Powers territory. Herb’s very comfortable in his world. He’s a hepcat. He’s very, very comfortable in who he is, and he loves his wife, and she loves him right back. I think that’s the really lovely part of their relationship. It’s almost subversive in a way. It’s couched in this cartoony evil sense but it’s very progressive.
You mentioned watching cartoons as a kid and wondering if you could do that voice. What cartoons did you love watching when you were growing up?
HAMM: All of them. I mean, in the seventies, Saturday morning cartoons were just like, “I wish every day could be all cartoons. If only there would be a time in my life where there would be a network. That will never happen in my lifetime. But, if there was a way to only watch cartoons. If there would be a device that you could open up and then just type something in and only cartoons would come up. That would never happen.” It’s hard to describe to people how terrible it was when you could only watch cartoons at a certain time in your life. But no, I would watch all of them – the Warner Bros. cartoons and the Bugs Bunnys and then the Tex Avery stuff. Looking back on it now, they were so incredibly subversive for their time. You’d think, “Oh, they’re just making jokes and this or that.” But when you watch them as an adult, you think, “Oh no, they were talking about some pretty deep stuff.” For example, I wouldn’t know anything about opera music if it wasn’t for Bugs Bunny. That was my entire introduction to opera music. I wouldn’t know anything about classical music if it wasn’t for Fantasia. They didn’t have to do that stuff. They chose to base this ridiculous, funny, intriguing, creative story on this beautiful classical music. It’s the combination of the high and the low that I thought was very cool. I had no concept of it as a kid. You just think it’s hilarious that the little brooms are carrying buckets of water. That’s funny. Bugs Bunny is a lady Viking, and then you realize, “Oh, that’s a famous opera.” Why do I know that? I don’t know all the words to The Marriage of Figaro because it’s Bugs Bunny.
Were you always a fan of the Minions?
HAMM: Yes. In fact, when I signed onto the project, the second movie hadn’t come out yet. I’d only seen the first one. When I came in and met with all the powers that be to determine whether or not I’d be chosen, they showed me some of the second film, and I was like, “Oh wow, this is so fun. Please pick me! Please pick me!” Because it is. It’s just so creative, and it’s so unique and different, and it’s not based on a toy. It’s not based on something that has already existed. It has completely sprung out of these incredible, weird geniuses’ minds, these little agents of chaos that are polyglots, these little fascinating things. I don’t even know how to describe them, but terrible hair and cute butts, and they wear overalls, but they don’t have shoulders. Like how does that work? I think it’s great. It’s the best part of Hollywood’s creativity coming out.
If you could have minions, would you want them?
How would you put them to work for you?
HAMM: Well, knowing what I know about how effective they are at doing their jobs, I probably wouldn’t assign them any tasks that really needed to be done well. They tend to mess up everything that they get involved with. I’d say, “Go mow the lawn,” and the lawn would be lit on fire. But it would be great if you had one around just to hang out with. I would just want to hang out with them. I’d just want to play. I think that’s what happens to Herb. He’s supposed to torture them and do all these things, but then he’s like, “They’re kind of fun. Maybe we should just have fun. Oh, I have to be mean, but I really want to just play.” He just wants to play. That’s probably what I would do if I had Minions.
I assume Sandra Bullock and you probably recorded separately, but did you talk with her at all about your character?
HAMM: Really not at all because of our schedules. It turns out Sandra Bullock is doing really well. I’m so happy for her. She’s so busy. It’s schedules honestly. Again, these movies don’t happen overnight. They take a long, long time to get done. When they have enough stuff for you to do, they call you in. If you happen to be available, then they can do it. Unfortunately, I never really got a chance to do it. As the process goes on, you start hearing everybody else’s stuff in your headphones and you think, “So that’s how she’s doing it. Maybe I’ll tweak it a little bit for her. I’ll do it a little differently.” But no, we both came up with our characters independently and really trusted the director and the writer to make sure that there was consistency throughout. That was great and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all cuts together.
Allison, what is the main thing you do to get in character to play a cartoon mom? Is there a particular mindset that you get yourself in?
ALLISON JANNEY: No. I just come in ready to work. I come in open to taking direction and basically being willing to make a fool of myself and just do all different kinds of crazy voices and try to find the right voice for Madge, which we found. It’s just to be playful. That’s the only thing I have to bring is my sense of play to doing an animated picture.
Were you a fan of Despicable Me?
JANNEY: Yes. My friend, Chris Meledandri, who runs Illumination Entertainment, and I went to high school together. So, there’s a wonderful history there with the two of us and our careers in the entertainment industry never crossing until now. I was really excited that he asked me to be part of the Minions movie and play Madge. I think she was a great character for me to play. I love that she’s my first evil character, even though you wouldn’t think she’s that evil. There’s nothing evil about them, just the way there’s nothing evil about the Minions. I mean, they do evil things, but they’re so lovely and you fall in love with them. Madge is a good mom. She just happens to rob banks. I love that about Jon and Sandy and Michael Keaton and my characters, we’re very unconventional for couples in the ‘60s. Our power is equal. I’m teaching my kids and they all get the same machine guns to train on to rob banks. With my daughter and my son, it’s all very progressive.
What was the recording process like for you? Did you have an opportunity to work with the other actors at all?
JANNEY: No. That’s the one sad thing about doing these animated films, and I’ve done a few of them. You’re never in the same room with the other actors. I find one of the things I love about acting is other actors, looking into their eyes, and working off them, and listening and responding to them. It’s very different this kind of work. The thing that’s great about it is I can go without hair or make-up. I go in my sweatpants usually. I’m a sweatpants and T-shirt kind of girl. That’s what I’m usually in 9-5. All my friends know. I love to be in bare feet when I work. I don’t have any shoes on. I’m just in there and I create all these different sounds. I have to be willing to make a complete fool out of myself, and I know that they are recording it for whatever reasons. Maybe the animators get some inspiration watching the actual actress do the voice so that they can have the character reflect that. I think that a lot of Madge’s eye movements came from me, those sly little eye looks. It’s a strange process. It’s of course over a year, and you go in for two-hour sessions here and there, and you don’t have anybody to act with. You just do the lines. You do the same line over and over again many different ways and try to get into the character and imagine. It’s very creative work, but it’s very solitary. It’s a little strange. Pierre Coffin, the director, was in Paris when he was directing me, so that was an added extra thing. That was a little [different]. But I love doing them. I love it and I can’t wait. I’ll get to see it for the first time tomorrow at the premiere. When I first saw Jon today, he was so funny. He was like, “You’re in this?!” I saw Michael Keaton getting out of a limo going into a pre-Oscar party and he goes, “There’s my wife.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. He told me that he was my husband. I didn’t even know that he had been cast. So, it’s a very funny process.
Have you seen the finished film yet?
JANNEY: No. I’ve seen parts of it here and there but not the whole thing.
You’ve done roles in animation films before. When you do end up seeing it, is there a weird detachment? Are you like, “Wow, this feels like a hundred years ago”?
JANNEY: It’s a little weird accepting your voice coming out of an animated character. You don’t buy it at first because it’s your voice and none of us like our voices when we hear them recorded back. When you hear it, you go, “That’s what I sound like? Horrible!” It’s a little strange. I feel like I’ve seen Madge enough in some of the trailer clips I’ve been watching over and over because it’s so funny, and I’ve gotten used to hearing my voice come out of her mouth. So, I think I’m going to enjoy it tomorrow. I have a lot of friends coming with their kids and I can’t wait to hear it in front of a packed audience. It’ll be fun.
This film has a lot of ‘60s music in it and it’s sort of a period piece. Did they give you any sense of that at all when you were doing this?
JANNEY: I was told it was going to be. They were excited. They showed me some of the drawings and some of the animation in New York. It’s such a fun time: 1968, New York City. And the soundtrack, some of the songs I’ve heard are really going to be great for the parents and grandparents taking kids to this movie. They are going to get off on the music. It’s a really good soundtrack and a fun time period for fashion and colors.
I think most of us would like to have our own Minions, not necessarily for evil purposes. If you could, what would you have your Minions do for you?
JANNEY: Oh my gosh, it would be so great to have Minions just to go pick up the dry cleaning, go do the grocery shopping, go find a parking space at Whole Foods because I can never find one, have them set up for parties and clean up after parties, and walk the dogs. If I could have Minions walk my dogs, I would just be in heaven. Yes. Everyone’s lives would run much smoother with some Minions, I think. And just for love, too. I would love to have a little Bob in my pocket everywhere I go. I just love Bob so much. I’d just fall in love with him and I’d take care of him.
Are you on hiatus right now from Mom?
JANNEY: I am, but I’m doing a movie in New York. I never stop. I don’t want to stop because I’m afraid it’ll all end, so I never say no. I’m working in New York with Ellen Page in this movie called Tallulah, which I love. I’m having a great time with her in New York. I have to go back after this press junket to finish that movie. But yes, I am supposed to be on hiatus. I am from Mom, and I’m so glad that we get a Season 3. We go back at the end of July to start Season 3.
Is it easy for you to go from one medium to the other? Is there a natural flow or do you have to turn something off and something else on when you go from television to film to animation?
JANNEY: No, it all feels pretty comfortable to me no matter where I am acting. It’s different demands for doing the vocal. I know what it means. I feel very comfortable working in every medium. There’s a certain fluidity to doing theater that I miss because everything is so chopped up.
In Minions, your character is headed toward a Villain-Con. I’m just wondering, in your career, have you had a chance to go to Comic-Con or any of those types of conventions?
JANNEY: I feel I’ve always wanted to go to Comic-Con but I’ve never been. I’ve never had a reason to go. Or, if I’ve been invited, I didn’t know and I was working. I’ve never actually attended one of these, but I think it’s hysterical that they’ve invented the Villain-Con and taken off on those themes. I don’t even know what happens at those conventions except for it’s a bunch of comics who are peddling their comedy.
Minions opens in theaters on July 10th.