Kodi Smit-McPhee stars in ParaNorman as the titular Norman Babcock. He has received Critics’ Choice Movie Award nominations for Best Young Actor for his roles in Let Me In and The Road and an AFI Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Matching Jack. He has won the AFI Award for Young Actor and a Special Achievement Award from the Film Critics Circle of Australia for Romulus, My Father. He will be playing Benvolio in Carlo Carlei’s Romeo and Juliet and will be seen in The Congress and Dead Europe.
At San Diego Comic Con 2012, Toonzone News was able to sit down with Smit-McPhee for a roundtable interview with other members of the press. Questions we asked are marked.
Q: Have you had a chance to check out the rest of the Convention or do they have you working?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: I haven’t. If I stay up late, I might. I was here two years ago and I got to walk around a little bit, but I brought no money, so it really didn’t do much for me. I’d really love to again this year. Definitely.
Q: What types of qualities were you interested in portraying through your voice for Norman?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: It’s always been like a kind of dream for me to do a character and do a character voice as well, and I actually hadn’t read the script while I was auditioning, so I just auditioned these sides they gave me. I didn’t know how big it was going to be, if it was something little, but I sent it off, and then I found out I got the job. When I read the script and had a bit more of the character in my head, I started working on traits and stuff and really I found out he’s just like me. But I can’t see ghosts or hear them.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between live-action and what was the hardest thing?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: The biggest difference is just the laid back fun you have. You can just go in and mess around. Like Anna said, when you have an idea of something you want to do, you can just do it straight away instead of waiting for lighting and all that. It’s very free, I think.
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Yeah, I really think it is. I love animation so much. It’s so much fun to see the whole side of them animating, but then you’re on this other side of acting, and you realize how small of a part that is when everything else. They’re working so hard and then you see it kind of simulate and come together in the end. It’s definitely a lot of fun.
Q: When you were reading the part and they were doing storyboards, did you have a feel for the eventual end product?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Yeah. Well, I thought I had a feel for it, but it turns out when I saw it, it blew my mind and it was totally not what I thought at all. It’s just crazy to see these characters and things come to life. It was really fun and of course we didn’t have any footage to look at or anything, so we really did make the characters from scratch, and I think that was a good challenge. It was cool.
Q: Do you notice and ever say, “Hey wait a minute, I do that?”
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Yeah, it’s really weird. Usually when I watch my movies, I’m like, I don’t see it as me, I see it as the character I play, which is kind of good feedback to myself, knowing I did a good job. But with this, it’s just so weird because it really isn’t you, it’s just kind of your consciousness in this thing that isn’t real. It’s very interesting, it’s a weird feeling.
TOONZONE NEWS: What were some of the things you had to do to get used to speaking with an American accent?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Actually, I learned American from a dialect coach when I was probably like seven, so I think learning at a young age kind of stuck it in my head. But also, our TV in Australia is all American, so we all grew up with it. It’s kind of lodged in our head since we’ve been growing up, so yeah. Not too hard.
Q: Did you find yourself slipping back into it?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: The only thing I would slip back into was that I would stay American, but, because I made my voice higher, I would always slip down. Chris would always tell me to keep that up.
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Yeah, you think what am I going to do when there’s a zombie chasing me, and I’m supposed to express that feeling, but the thing is, you know, take that freedom and work with it and just go crazy.
Q: What do you use as an actor to get yourself scared and get yourself in that mood?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Really, whether it’s animation or real time, it’s just the work that I do before time, really making this character and making a real whole life that I know back to front that I can jump in and out of. When I’m in a situation like that, I don’t have to pretend, “what if there’s really zombies chasing me?” I’d just be Norman and think about Norman and I would be that character and that time.
Q: What’s the most surprising thing as you went through this process?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Actually, the really big surprise was when I went to Oregon to see them working on it. When you think of stop motion, you think, can you do this, push it, push it, push it an inch, but I would look at them and the work that they did was literally take a picture, and do that, and you don’t even know what they did, and somehow they get these fluid emotions coming out of it. It’s crazy. I still don’t know how they do it.
Q: They talked about how they had literally tens of thousands of faces, if you got to take home just one copy of your character, what expression would you want on him?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: He does this weird smile that’s kind of like he’s embarrassed but he knows he did a good job, I think that one.
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: They didn’t. I would love it if they did, though, but they did put it in Oregon, where they record this stuff. They have everything they’ve done there. So they have Coraline in a big glass box, and they have Norman climbing up the church hall.
Q: So you guys did the recording in Oregon?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: No we didn’t, I just went there to see them taking the pictures of things, but we did the recording right around the corner from my place, so I could just walk there. It’s really chill.
Q: When you do a contract with another one, keep one of these puppets when it comes up.
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Yes. Yes, I gotta do that.
Q: Did you use this opportunity to think about how you would react to a zombie apocalypse?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Actually, me and my friend, my best friend, we love the whole idea of kind of a zombie apocalypse. I would never wish for it, but I feel like I would be prepared very much so.
Q: What would you have in your kit?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Comic Con fans. Comic Con fans and a lot of weird, cool weapons. Shotguns.
Q: Apparently, there’s always an ensemble group in every zombie apocalypse, so do you think you’d be the weapons guy, the tech guy or what would be your role?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: I love thinking of that. I usually ask my friends. Apparently, I’d be the tech guy, which I kind of wish I wasn’t. I wish I was the big, gnarly guy with the axes, but I guess I’m the navigation, yeah.
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: I went to Rome and did Romeo and Juliet, so I play Benvolio in that. That’ll be coming out late this year or next year, and I did one called The Congress, which is a very, deep, crazy sci-fi film that I couldn’t even explain. I read the script over and over again, I still don’t know what I’m reading. And then I did one called Dead Europe, which is just a weird, grungy, kind of ghost film.
Q: Is that kind of material more appealing to you at this point?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Yeah, I just realized that after I named all the films that I’ve done, I don’t choose to do that kind of stuff, I do a handful of things, comedy and everything, and it turns out I guess I’m good for deep, emotional stress.
Q: And apocalypse.
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: And apocalypse, yeah, I’m good at that, I guess.
Q: Now that you’re here at Comic Con, what are you hoping to check out for the next few days?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: I would just like to go to the main hall and see all the costumes. I love costumes so much. One day I’m going to make a really cool Iron Man costume or something. What else? I love clowns, I love scary clowns, I just love to go see the costumes.
Q: With all the superhero movies that are taking over, are there any that you would like to set your sights on becoming one of those superheroes on screen?
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Even though I love Batman and Spider-Man and all that, I feel like some people think it’s getting old, but then other people realize that no, it’s the new villains they have to conquer. The villains. But I think it would be cool if they brought a superhero that no one really knew back, and I would like to play that. Be very unique.
Q: Or maybe the villain that he fights.
KODI SMIT-MCPHEE: Yeah, yes, yes, definitely. Yeah.
Toonzone News would like to thank Kodi Smit-McPhee for taking the time to speak with us, and the PR team from Laika/ParaNorman for arranging it. ParaNorman will open in theaters on August 17, 2012.