Tom McGrath Talks Megamind
While participating in the Madagascar junket, Ben Stiller pitched an idea for a super villain protagonist that director Tom McGrath immediately responded to. Unfortunately, DreamWorks couldn't get Robert Downey Jr. and Stiller to join the voice cast because of their busy schedules. But they did land Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Brad Pitt to star in the role bending Megamind, which Stiller co-produced, opening Nov. 5 from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures. McGrath discusses what it was like working with Ferrell, Fey and Pitt City and raising the animation and 3-D bars.
Bill Desowitz: It's interesting that with Megamind and Despicable Me you have two different takes on the super villain as hero.
Tom McGrath: Yeah, and I was disheartened when I heard about it and we were half-way through production, because that's what sold me on the movie originally. Other than the Grinch, I can't think of too many stories that are centered on the villain. Nightmare Before Christmas, to a degree. So I was worried about it. But what we were going for with this film was not playing to the younger crowd as much as to the people that know the genre. We're all doing our thing and for us it's very hard in animation and I'm sure the folks on Despicable Me were wondering about what was in our head as well. I think they're very much different -- ours is a complete anti-hero story; the full arc.
BD: As you've said, Megamind takes its cue from Superman: "What if Lois and Lex find out they were meant to be together?"
TM: And the handle that I took was that these characters were rock stars: In the design it was always Megamind's Alice Cooper vs. Metro City's Elvis Presley in the way they handle their stage presence. But after seeing Despicable Me, I thought it was charming and didn't feel threatened by it, other than from the standpoint of their both being from the point of view of villains. But I don't think it takes anything away.
BD: What were the story challenges?
TM: To make the villain empathetic. And casting was a big part of that. Will can be vulnerable and charming, so I give a lot of credit to him. Having that charm.
BD: He never gives up.
TM: Yeah, that's his super power. The humor sprung from character.
TM: We did all the sessions in New York and just picked three key ones where they're interacting together. And no wall between them. The timing in their acting and the pauses made such a difference and they can't be manufactured. Tiny provided smarts and was real aware of the character. There was one point where Tina offered a couple of her writers off 30 Rock, Robert Carlock, who's a genius, and Matt Hubbard. They came in, watched the film and brainstormed; and it was great to get insight into their process and how they work on their show. We probably used just a handful of lines because it was late in the game.
BD: Anything in particular?
TM: Yeah, there's a dry scene when Megamind has created Tighten [Jonah Hill] and he comes to Roxanne's door. And she says, "Why did my doorman let you up?" And he holds up the dehydrated guy and she goes, "Carlos!"