Stars Whoopi Goldberg, Jane Fonda, Simon Pegg, Flula Borg and Sam herself, Eva Noblezada, discuss personal connections to their characters, and what led them to join the cast of Apple Original Films and Skydance Animation’s new 3D comedy, now streaming on Apple TV+.
When Academy Award-winning actor Whoopi Goldberg first decided to get into voice acting back in 1994 with her first animated feature film role as the hyena Shenzi in The Lion King, the decision stemmed from wanting to discuss her movie roles with her granddaughter who, now 33, was a bit young at the time to talk about Sister Act and Ghost.
“She was little when The Lion King premiered and it allowed her to have a conversation with me about what she saw me do in the movies,” says Goldberg. “At one point, she said, ‘You're not very nice in this movie, Granny.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I know. I get better though.’ And my great granddaughter now is discovering that I voice things because she'll hear my voice and she'll say, ‘Is that you Oopi?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, that's me.’ and she’ll say, ‘I knew that was you, Oopi Goldberg.’ That's been fun. So, for me, it's really about keeping that connection to family.”
Goldberg’s latest animated role has her voicing for The Captain, a no-nonsense Black leprechaun who manages the employees of The Land of Luck, the magical world of Skydance Animation’s first feature-length animated film, Luck. The film, now streaming on Apple TV+, is directed by Peggy Holmes; the story centers around 18-year-old Sam Greenfield who has aged out of the foster care system and is struggling to adjust to living life alone.
Spending her days combating her impossibly bad luck, Sam stumbles upon an actual lucky penny that gives her days perfect harmony. After deciding to give the penny to her former foster care bunkmate Hazel in hopes that it will give the five-year-old good fortune in finding a forever family, Sam tragically loses the penny and discovers it came from a magical talking cat named Bob, who she follows into the hidden Land of Luck–where no humans are allowed–in order to get a new penny.
Sam is voiced by Hadestown’s Eva Noblezada and Luck is her first feature animated film role. Like Goldberg, her desire to get into animation comes from family bonding time.
“My brother and sister and I, we had a vintage-looking wine box that we put all our animation DVDs and VHS tapes in and we would watch them together as a family and we can still quote so many of them,” says Noblezada. “I don't actually have the words to describe how crazy it is growing up loving animation so much and getting to play this character, knowing that’s my voice. It feels like I'm dreaming.”
One of Sam and Bob’s first obstacles is getting past The Captain without anyone noticing Sam is a human. The Land of Luck is home to a vast array of magical creatures, each representative of luck from different cultures. While leprechauns are one of the most common icons for luck, it’s one of the first times there’s been Black representation in this realm of Irish mythology.
“The best thing was that [the creators] understood what a big deal it was,” says Goldberg. “Because I said to them, ‘You know, it's a Black leprechaun, right?’ And they're like, ‘Yeah, we know,’ and I was like, ‘Really? You sure?’ They're like, ‘Yeah, we're sure.’ I believe that all of these pieces of mythology belong to everybody. Anything could happen. So I love the idea that we all can be together everywhere. For me, it's a huge deal.”
For Noblezada, it’s also a big deal getting to bring to life Sam as another inspirational female character to join the number of animated heroines many young girls grow up watching.
“I grew up watching animation and thinking that these people really existed,” says Noblezada. “To me, Mulan was real, Ariel’s in the ocean somewhere, and, in the case of Sam, it doesn't make me doubt for one second that there is a Land of Luck. To see how much she's trying to still give to other people and show up as a kind optimistic person, and then seeing her get more than what she ever could have desired at the end, it's the perfect thing to witness and you leave feeling so good.”
In addition to The Captain and Sam, Luck’s story features another kind, yet fire-breathing female role model. The Land of Luck is also owned and operated by its CEO Babe, a fabulous pink dragon with a fun mix of both spunk and sincere devotion to making the world a better place, not unlike the actor behind her voice: Jane Fonda, a two-time Academy Award-winning actor known for many roles including one of her most recent, in Grace and Frankie.
“I wanted to get into voicing animation for quite a while and this was a big break for me,” says Fonda. “I think that one of [Babe’s] weaknesses, in the beginning, is that she sees things in a very binary way, black and white. There's good luck. And then there's bad luck, and you don't want to come anywhere near bad luck. Well, good luck doesn't make any sense unless there's also bad luck. Silence makes no sense if there's no noise. Death has to have life to make any sense. They have to be joined. And the fact that she's able to see that and accept that, in the end, is a great strength of Babe’s.”
She continues, “I like animation. It’s a way to say things, express things, that are quite profound in a way that becomes accessible to more people.”
For Star Trek’s Simon Pegg, who voices for the cat Bob, Luck’s utilization of animation’s ability to seamlessly straddle the line between fantasy and reality in order to convey a universal message was one of the reasons he was drawn to the project in the first place.
“The films that have that rich contrast of arresting visuals and fun and humor, but also have something important to say, I think they're the ones that persist,” he says. “They're the ones that stick around in the memory. Luck is also about the idea of being bereft of a family, of feeling completely bereft of any sort of good fortune and learning that, in spite of that, if you inject some positivity into the world, if you are selfless and you exude love, then it will come back to you and fortune will change. That really got me about this film. For all its craziness, and it is completely crazy, at the heart of it is something really quite serious. It's a clever balancing act to pull that off.”
Pegg’s character Bob is similar, where he’s presented as a comical, witty skeptic but with much more going on under the surface that’s revealed during the course of the film.
“I love playing characters that have things going on underneath that they don't necessarily show immediately and the thing about Bob is that you don't know his story until towards the end of the film, but he's carrying that with him the whole time,” says Pegg. “All the stuff where things become very human for Bob, and it becomes about attachments and friendship and his gradual awakening and understanding of what it means to be selfless, you have to play that properly. It isn't just having fun and being silly. Sometimes you really got to make sure that stuff, particularly for the children watching, really rings true and feels honest and authentic.”
Pitch Perfect 2’s Flula Borg, who voices for a unicorn named Jeff–and the love interest of Babe–says it’s this reason that animation is “my favorite place to play in the whole world of entertainment.”
“What I love about the film is it begins in a very grounded location where people can connect to the characters and understand that this is a human experience,” says Borg. “And then we get to go to a fantastical place. But then we wind up on earth again. And I think it's just wonderful that fantastical, wonderful things can happen on earth too. They don't need to look like they do in the land of luck. But it's nice if we can escape there in our brains and come back to reality and have it still be a great place.”
Both Borg and Pegg also had the chance to get in touch with their family heritage voicing characters in Luck.
“Peggy and Kiel were very loving to give me real German words to use as Jeff,” says Borg. “It’s very fun to dive as deep into the Germanity of my personality as possible. And, in this case, we went very deep and it was very fun.”
Pegg adds, “The Land of Luck is comprised of every single lucky totem you can think of and what we understand about luck– leprechauns and unicorns and dragons and rabbits and all that stuff. But it’s really interesting to learn that, in the same landmass, a black cat means two different things. In England, where I'm from, a black cat is bad luck and in Scotland, where my wife is from, it's good luck. It does make you wonder, if you live in Scotland with a black cat, and you move to England, does it become unlucky as you cross the border?”
No matter their level of experience in voice acting or their connection to the film, Luck’s voice actors all agree that animation, as Pegg puts it, is “a valuable string in your bow,” and the ultimate playground for creativity, as well as nostalgia.
“That’s why you go see a movie, not just to escape but to experience something, to experience a story, to be challenged, to be inspired,” says Noblezada. “And to be a part of animation, that has the capacity to be catered for a younger audience, but is super meaningful to everybody, is totally special.”
Goldberg adds, “I think people recognize how much fun it is. Mel Blanc, his voice is one of the voices I remember helping to raise me as a kid. And the Fleischer brothers. So I'm very attached to animation and I just wanted to be part of that world that brought that to kids like me.”
Noblezada, Goldberg, Fonda, Pegg and Borg all hope that Luck’s audiences–both young and old–can find their own connections to the characters and messages, walking away with a new perspective on life and a firm understanding that one is not wholly defined by their current circumstances.
“We are all connected,” says Borg. “Not all bad luck is bad luck, or good luck is good luck. I love that the message is basically about connection and relationships. Just be nice to each other. And I think that helps take care of everything else.”
Fonda agrees, “Life is not a zero-sum game where ‘If they win, I lose.’ That's not the way it works. Katharine Hepburn said to me once, ‘Failure is what teaches you things. It's what you learn from are your failures.’ Things are more complicated and if people can come away with an understanding of that, I think that's really important.”