Interview: Jerry Seinfeld on Bee Movie

An interview that's gold, Jerry, gold!

Nine years after ending his ratings-dominating TV show and walking away from the public limelight, Jerry Seinfeld is everywhere again. You probably saw the comedian on primetime with his absurdist teasers (called "TV Juniors") or in a guest role on 30 Rock, all to increase visibility for his new film, Bee Movie, opening this Friday. For Dreamworks' second animated film of 2007 (after Shrek the Third), Seinfeld voices Barry B. Benson, an idealistic bee who takes humanity to court for withholding profits from our wanton honey consumption. Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Seinfeld during a roundtable conversation in San Francisco, discussing the process of animation, voice-over work, and diving off French hotel rooftops.

So why animation over live-action?

Jerry Seinfeld: Because I had done so much of that on the TV series. I had made 90 hours of programming. You cut that up, that's like 45 movies. So there was no movie that seemed exciting to me. "Yeah, I know, they give you the script, you stand over here..." I don't know...it just wasn't exciting.

But [then] I saw this whole technology, and the look of it is so different. I thought, "Gee, what if we took that look but [made them] talk like I want them to talk, maybe that would be something interesting." I just got excited about it.

Did becoming a father have something to do with it?

JS: No. [Laughs] I just wanted to do something different.

[But] it is funny how it worked out. I have three kids -- six, four, and two. Of course, I know all their friends so now I know millions of kids. And I realized these kids are going to go nuts [over Bee Movie]. Sometimes when their friends are over I show them little clips on the computer that I'm working on for whatever reason. And they'll come in and they'll watch it. They go nuts. It's so fun. There's nothing more fun than entertaining kids.

Do you find there's a big difference in the kind of comedy you have to invent between mediums?

JS: There's a big difference. Sometimes you can do certain things on stage, or even in a TV series, and people see the look on your face and they know what you mean, so you can get away with certain things. But if you can't create that look on an animated character, which is essentially a puppet, the line will hit the audience in a very bad way.

[It's] like a petting zoo and you're blindfolded. They want you to take care of this animal, which is your show. But you're blindfolded. We're going to put you in a room with the animal, and the food that it needs. And everything it needs is in the room, and you're in the room with the animal. But you're blindfolded. So you go into this room and start feeling around for this stuff. Feel a little fur, and you feel a little claw. And you go, "Oh, my God, what is this thing?"

This is the great advantage that you have doing a TV series. Say, for example, my series -- which is the only one I know anything about -- by year four, we knew exactly what this thing ate, when it wanted to go out, how it liked to be petted. What it liked and what it didn't like. And what makes a movie so challenging -- so much more challenging than a TV series, frankly -- is that you never get that opportunity. Because you make a TV show and you put it out there and you get a reaction. You go, "Okay, this work. This doesn't work." You put out another one. "They like this. They don't like this." But with a movie, you get one shot at it. Even though you have test screenings, pretty much, we're going to put this lemur in people's living rooms. And, just, bang, they're going to react to it. I hope I didn't over-answer your question. [Laughs]

This is one of my big things of creative pursuits. You have your idea you want to do, but then you got to figure out what does this thing want to be? You got to let it lead you a little.

And how were the test screenings?

JS: Well, you know, I like to try anything. So we would have some horrible ones. We'd try crazy things just to see how they reacted. Some of the work, some of them don't. Comedy is a very scientific exploration. You have to do the experiments to find out what the formulas are.

How much did you put yourself into the character of Barry?

JS: How much? As much as I have. I don't really know how to do it any other way. I think in a TV series I could be a little more obnoxious. This character in this movie is never obnoxious. He's a little nicer than I am. So I actually took a little of myself out.

How much of Bee Movie is yours? Is it a collaborative effort between you and Dreamworks or do you feel that this is entirely your vision?

JS: There's nothing "entirely." You have 350 people working on this thing. [But] I would say the tone, the comedy of it is mine. Even though I work with writers, I'm in charge of what goes in the script and what doesn't. Win or lose, [that] is my thing.

How involved were you with the casting of the other voices?

JS: I was involved in every single aspect of everything. [Laughs] From the cars they drove, to the ties they wore, to the desks they sat at. Not to say that I came up with it all, but it was brought to me. "Do you like it like this? Do you like it like that?" All day, every day. It was ridiculous. [Laughs.]

Was there a lot of ad-libbing in Bee Movie?

JS: Some of it we'd use, some of it we didn't. We had a scene about [Renee Zellweger's character] trying to have coffee with [Barry]. We read the scenes a few times and we got all the lines. So I said, "Okay, just try to get me to have coffee. Just keep pushing me to have coffee and I'm going to say, 'Nah, I don't want any.'" And a lot of that made it into the movie. It gives it some life if you do it that way.

Were the TV and movie teasers your idea?

JS: Yeah. I wanted to do something that signaled to the public that this is not going to be the same flavor that you're used to getting from animated movies. I [know] that a certain type of moviegoing audience [will say], "Here comes the next Dreamworks movie. Here comes the next Pixar movie." You don't know what this is going to be.

What did you do different from other animated movies?

JS: Some of the way we recorded dialogue was different. The jokes that we make are different. It's got its own personality. It definitely does not feel like a slice off of the same loaf. Certainly, [not like] all these animal movies, which, believe me, I'm as sick of as you are.

During the Cannes Film Festival, I heard you jumped off a hotel, and dived eight stories into a pool.

JS: You just heard about it? You should check on that. [Laughs]  It was a little nutty. But I was told that during the Cannes Film Festival, people do crazy things. You know, Sacha Cohen did that crazy thing on the beach. Did you hear about that? You have a computer, don't you? [Laughs]

Comments

moviemonkey2

J P

Wow. This is the first time I've heard Jerry Seinfeld talk about this movie....

/sarcasm

Oct 30 - 03:09 PM

arendr

Arend Anton

Love Jerry, but Bee Movie looks Bee-ad. All I see are lame puns and such. But maybe I'll be surprised.

Oct 30 - 03:21 PM

witherwings

Jamie Lynn

You can't really compare Pixar and Dreamworks, can you? Dreamworks puts out films like this, funny, flashy, showy. Sometimes they work, often they fail miserably.

I think this looks okay. I like Jerry. It seems like they really went with his gut, his comedy, in many different ways which could turn out great.

Oct 30 - 03:35 PM

arendr

Arend Anton

Someone I know just got a job at Dreamworks Animation. I agree with what you said about Pixar and Dreamworks and am worried I might offend him because I rarely like Dreamworks.

But whatever, he's gonna make bank working there.

Oct 30 - 04:15 PM

Baccus83

First Last

I'm actually pretty interested to see this. It's got a lot of good early buzz. Buzz. Hoo boy.

Oct 30 - 03:38 PM

arendr

Arend Anton

Someone I know just got a job at Dreamworks Animation. I agree with what you said about Pixar and Dreamworks and am worried I might offend him because I rarely like Dreamworks.

But whatever, he's gonna make bank working there.

Oct 30 - 04:15 PM

foodstamps_govermentcheez

Jason Schaber

Jerry just got lucky........one day walkin down the street in hollywood he tripped and fell into a director's lap.Well good for him I can think of a million other actors that are better than him his act and comedy are to routine and lacks a lot of originality.

Oct 30 - 05:21 PM

Nathan Lyne

Ross Lyne

you bite that tongue of your's

Oct 30 - 11:00 PM

GoldbergsVariations

Z Gold

That's fine and dandy - but 500 mil from dvd sales and he gets the last laugh.
If you haven't figured it out already, luck is the driving force behind stardom. I think Dustin Hoffman was the one who acknowledged there were probably thousands of other actors better than him but he had the luck break.
So, don't put up bitter post about how untalented or luck someone is - that's Hollywood.

Nov 1 - 09:25 AM

lawnofthedead

Chad Fougere

are you dense in the head he made the film he didnt "fall in a directors lap" and this man has contributed more to tv and media than any other actor that ive heard of yet ... just look how many people know sienfeld over any other series

Nov 3 - 11:20 PM

TheAnswerMVP2001

Snipes .

I think this probably ranks among the top advertised films of all time. If you watch NBeeC then you'll see what I mean.

Oct 30 - 05:24 PM

KISSman

Tommy D

The previews for this movie look bad.

It will do well because mass-advertised family films are almost immune from doing poorly at the box office. Just look at "Night At The Museum".

Oct 30 - 09:42 PM

Nathan Lyne

Ross Lyne

you bite that tongue of your's

Oct 30 - 11:00 PM

0LDB0Y

OLD BOY

Jerry is a jerk, thrifty, and hell of an actor!

Oct 31 - 02:53 AM

jpotter

John Potter

i'm concerned about this movie. when i read stuff like this, i think "ok, maybe it'll be different and funny," but when i see scenes, it looks like any other lame dreamworks cgi - bad animation, pop culture references, unfunny jokes. i want to believe it'll be good...

Oct 31 - 11:14 AM

rt_hire_me

Teague Bates

I trust Jerry [Laughs}. And I trust the test screening audience [Laughs some more]. No, really, I think he has the chops to pull this off [Changes pants].

Oct 31 - 01:55 PM

The Arrow

Otto Rodriguez

I love Seinfeld the show and Seinfeld comedy in general but this Bee Movie looks mediocre at best. It looks like its been done before. Also i didn't know he was that involved in the project just thought he was a voice.

Oct 31 - 03:43 PM

fls13

Frank Stalter

His sitcom's been off the air about a decade, so I'm sure he needs the money.

Oct 31 - 04:07 PM

Nathan Lyne

Ross Lyne

He earns 75 million from selling sindication rights to his show. He doens't need the money.

Oct 31 - 06:47 PM

Nathan Lyne

Ross Lyne

He earns 75 million from selling sindication rights to his show. He doens't need the money.

Oct 31 - 06:47 PM

killermonkey8822

Joey Chid

i still watch seinfeld sometimes..... but i never did think jerry seinfeld was all that funny, he's made me laugh a few times with his standup or whatever, but i never could get into his stuff.

Oct 31 - 10:03 PM

GoldbergsVariations

Z Gold

That's fine and dandy - but 500 mil from dvd sales and he gets the last laugh.
If you haven't figured it out already, luck is the driving force behind stardom. I think Dustin Hoffman was the one who acknowledged there were probably thousands of other actors better than him but he had the luck break.
So, don't put up bitter post about how untalented or luck someone is - that's Hollywood.

Nov 1 - 09:25 AM

Stu's Reviews

Stuart Robertson

Sorry Jerry. I think you might have done something good for the environment but you set women and girls back. If nothing else you certainly missed a great chance to help them move forward by misrepresenting the worker bees as male.

Nov 3 - 07:44 PM

vaodsi

john irvine

in responce to stu's reviews,

yes, women do in fact, do all the work (and not just in the case of bees) but this is JUST a movie. worker bees aren't male in real life, but they don't TALK TO HUMANS, EITHER! THEY DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH! are you going to rant about that? seriously. it's JUSt a movie. plus, saying it's setting back the role of women is giving this lame film WAY to much assumed influence! If you're going to target a film for bashing women, why don't you go comment on american ganster which is packed with naked, full frontal shots of women working for the main character who FORCES them to work naked. watch as the camera oggles them as they dance sexually. ever think that might be degrading towards women? Pick your targets carefully, and calm down. Just take a deep breath. now let it out. Don't you feel better?

Nov 4 - 05:10 PM

lawnofthedead

Chad Fougere

are you dense in the head he made the film he didnt "fall in a directors lap" and this man has contributed more to tv and media than any other actor that ive heard of yet ... just look how many people know sienfeld over any other series

Nov 3 - 11:20 PM

vaodsi

john irvine

in responce to stu's reviews,

yes, women do in fact, do all the work (and not just in the case of bees) but this is JUST a movie. worker bees aren't male in real life, but they don't TALK TO HUMANS, EITHER! THEY DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH! are you going to rant about that? seriously. it's JUSt a movie. plus, saying it's setting back the role of women is giving this lame film WAY to much assumed influence! If you're going to target a film for bashing women, why don't you go comment on american ganster which is packed with naked, full frontal shots of women working for the main character who FORCES them to work naked. watch as the camera oggles them as they dance sexually. ever think that might be degrading towards women? Pick your targets carefully, and calm down. Just take a deep breath. now let it out. Don't you feel better?

Nov 4 - 05:10 PM

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