Interview: Jerry Seinfeld on Bee Movie
An interview that's gold, Jerry, gold!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
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]