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May 2005
Madagascar: Press Conference Interviews with Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, Andy Richter, and Jeffrey Katzenberg

Madagascar: Press Conference Interviews with Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, Andy Richter, and Jeffrey Katzenberg

By Julian Roman

Madagascar is easily the best animated film that Dreamworks has made so far. It's an incredibly funny and original tale about a bunch of zoo animals that accidentally get sent back to the wild. The film stars Ben Stiller as Alex the lion, Chris Rock as Marty the zebra, Jada Pinkett-Smith as Gloria the hippo, and Andy Richter as Mort the lemur. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to visit lovely San Francisco and meet the talented stars of Madagascar.

How did you all find your inner animal and get into voicing the role?

Andy Richter: I really need to make up a good story because it is pretty much I looked at the picture and did a squeaky voice. I don't know, when you hear other actors talk about their work on their characters I just assume they are lying because I can't relate to it. I pretty much run on BS.

Jeffrey Katzenberg: Which is exactly what we needed.

Ben Stiller: Ditto. You know it was a weird process because it does go on for a long time and in the beginning it sort of felt like trial and error, you just try things and you sort of feel sad cause you are alone in this studio with the microphone and nothing exists yet expect some pictures that you see. So six months, a year into the process you start to see scenes coming back then it really helps; because you start to see what the character is and that is one of the things that I liked about the movie. The characters are really unique and are not just based on the voices. They really are their own. Like Chris's character...I watch Marty and I don't think of Chris. I think of Marty. It was fun to sort of start to see it come together and then go back and redo stuff cause you see more of what the actual character was.

Jada Pinkett-Smith: I kind of agree with Ben, you know it is just kind of throwing a bunch of lines out trying and different stuff. It is a pretty challenging process just because like Ben was saying, there is no one there and you don't have any sets or props or anything. So you are trying some different lines, some different interpretations and then they put it together really fantastically.

Chris Rock: How did I get into my zebra? I didn't even know it was a zebra until yesterday. [laughter] I was doing a muskrat.

Is there a sort of friendship behind the scenes and how did you guys met?

Jada Pinkett-Smith: Well we just met on the press tour, press junket. I have just met Ben.

Ben Stiller: We have just been meeting here presently. Andy, Chris, and I go back like 10, 15 years...something like that. I mean I have known these guys for a while. Jada is the only person who I am starting to get to know now.

Chris Rock: Yeah, she is okay. [Laughs]

Andy Richter: We have known each other for a long time.

What type of reaction did you get from your kids when you told them that you were doing this film?

Jada Pinkett-Smith: They actually told me, I didn't say anything. They saw a clip of Madagascar on a video and said, mommy you are playing a hippo? I was like damn it. I was trying to wait and make it a surprise, so they are very excited. I told them I was coming here today and they thought that we were having the premier and they were all upset.

Chris Rock: It was nice to have something my kids can see. They can't see my movies now until they are 30. It is nice that there is something that they can see right now! That is an attraction.

Was making an animated film more difficult then making a live action film and what was the biggest challenge?

Ben Stiller: For me it was sort of like not having any other actors there, I mean you are just standing there alone and not having anybody to react to; you just have to use your imagination a lot. Once you start to see the scenes come back, then you start to get a feeling for it. I realized how much I do with my hands. The animators videotape you when you are doing your session so they can see that stuff. But to me the toughest part was being alone all the time.

Chris, what are your thoughts on competing with your own movies on the 27th?

Chris Rock: Everyone will see Madagascar in the morning or in the afternoon and at night, they'll go and see Longest Yard.

Do you think it is going to be the biggest opening weekend for any one actor? Will it be referred to as the Chris Rock Memorial Weekend?

Chris Rock: Until the new Will Smith movie comes out. [Laughter]

They said that they sort of started with a script and then encouraged you to improvise? How much of your improvisation went into the final movie?

Chris Rock: All my clean jokes are in the movie. All the dirty ones are in a factory somewhere else.

What was more challenging to do Madagascar or Longest Yard?

Chris Rock: They're very similar except in The Longest Yard I actually had to wear pants. I'm a guy, I get hired, what do you need me to do? I'm like a fix it man. I don't ask any questions. I'm a zebra? Okay. I'm a zebra. What's a zebra say? Okay, I'm going to say it. You like that? I'll do it again if you need me to do it again. Higher, lower. Jeffrey directed me in a couple of scenes. I do whatever they tell me to do.

Jeffrey, are you putting the Dreamworks stamp on animated films?]

Jeffrey Katzenberg: When we started the company 10 years ago, that was one of the toughest goals for us was to find our own way, to find something that would be ours. There was an 75-80 year heritage at Disney. In starting Dreamworks Animation, it was really important to me that we find something that could be ours, our own out of respect, out of admiration, out of competitiveness, probably 98% of it was ego by the way. It's been a long journey for us, a lot of experimenting. A serious movie like Prince of Egypt, a very sophisticated New York comedy in Antz, Chicken Run, then Shrek kind of happened. Shrek was more than a great enterprise story for Dreamworks. It really did define what a Dreamworks animated movie should be in our mind. And with a wink and a nod to Walt Disney, we make adult movies for the adult in every child. We try and come at it from the opposite direction but if we achieve our goal, we get the exact same results.

Ben, did this movie bring out your love of show tunes?

Ben Stiller: My lack of talent in the voice department? You're talking about the New York New York scene? That was really one of the most uncomfortableŠit was horrible. And they kept on putting it for months and months. They kept on saying, Oh, New York New York, we'll do that next time, do that next time. Then it came the day to do it and it was like well, it could be bad. It just was bad. I guess everybody's singing together kind of in the movie, right? But when we were recording it, it was totally alone on different days.

Jada Pinkett-Smith: It was weird.

Chris Rock: Yeah, but I had Dr. Dre with me.

Which characteristic of your character do you identify with most?

Andy Richter: Patheticness.

Ben Stiller: Alex is sort of a creature of habit. He likes the status quo, likes familiarity.

Jada Pinkett-Smith: For Gloria, I really enjoyed how maternal she was. She's kind of a momma that has a tough love approach but she's still there. She has a lot of love for her friends. So I liked that.

Chris Rock: My character bores very easy and as a guy who wanted to get out of Brooklyn immediately as a child, so the same thing that takes him out of the zoo, took me out of Brooklyn.

Was Alex doing a tribute to Zoolander?

Ben Stiller: You know what? I think he might be? Not many people picked up on that and that might mean a lawsuit. If it's Blue Steel, it's okay. If it's Magnum, you're in trouble. Yeah, it's an homage. But I didn't even know.

What did you recognize in the characters that you saw in yourself?

Jada Pinkett-Smith: A lot of the eye movement. The different positions of my head, I realize, oh, I do that in movies too. So there were definitely a lot of movement things.

Chris Rock: Hand movements, eye movements. That type of thing.

Jeffrey, what can you tell us about Shrek 3?

Jeffrey Katzenberg: We have talked a little bit about it. Shrek and Fiona are having to take on the duties of being acting king and queen. Because if you remember where we left it, the king was croaking, quite literally croaking. And they're not very comfortable in the roles of king and queen of the kingdom of Far, Far Away. So the king says to them, if you can find an heir to the throne and bring him back, so the kingdom will be in good hands, then you all can return to the swamp and live their lives and do what they want to do. Shrek, Donkey and Puss go to the far side of Far, Far Away, where young Artie, who is the nephew of the king, is about to graduate from school. Artie turns out to be young King Arthur and Shrek and Donkey and Puss have to convince this extremely rebellious young man, who's being played by Justin Timberlake, to come back and claim the throne. Along the way, Shrek invents the round table, chivalry, you get it. Meanwhile, back at the kingdom of Far, Far Away, Prince Charming tries to stage a coup d'etat. When the cat's away, he will play.


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