Frankenweenie: Catherine O’Hara Interview

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Frankenweenie: Catherine O'Hara Interview

From Disney and creative genius Tim Burton (Alice In Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas) comes the hilarious and offbeat Frankenweenie, a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog.

After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life – with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation – but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the entire town learn that getting a new ‘leash on life’ can be monstrous.

Boasting an electrifying variety of bonus materials on Blu-ray and DVD, the stop-motion animated masterpiece is filled with quirky characters and unexpected twists. The madcap movie features an all-star cast including the voices of Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell and Winona Ryder.

We chat to acclaimed actress Catherine O’Hara – who plays Mrs. Frankenstein, Weird Girl and Gym Teacher in the movie – to find out more…

What did you think of the animation of Frankenweenie when you saw it for the first time? 

I was blown away by the stop-frame animation. I love the film. You totally appreciate it as a story and you care about the characters. This is such a beautiful, touching, funny, great film – and the animation is incredible. It’s almost impossible to appreciate the work involved. To try to imagine the meticulous millisecond-by-millisecond handling of the characters, the sets, the lighting… it’s mind-boggling

What scenes or characters stand out for you? 

Sparky is such an important character in Frankenweenie, and I love his expressive face and the way he moves and jumps around with his cute little bum and tail. He seems so alive. As for scenes, I am really happy with the lovely scenes between Victor and his parents. I love how they all look, and Charlie’s voice is wonderful as Victor.

What else stands out for you? 

Whisker’s transformation scene is madness. Can you imagine working on that scene? It must have taken six months to shoot that! That is crazy. It’s like you see every atom in its body change. It’s creepy and hilarious at the same time.

What went through your mind when you were offered the opportunity to voice three characters in Frankenweenie? 

When I first got the call telling me Tim wanted me to go in and do three voices, I was just really happy that I was going to see him again because I don’t get to see him very often. I’d loved [the original, live-action short] Frankenweenie and was more than happy to go in and audition for a few characters for the feature. It turned out I already had the job!

What were you told about the characters? 

Before the first session, all I’d been told were the characters’ names. I thought, “Weird Girl? Ha, that’s great!” Before recording anything, Tim and Allison showed me the gorgeous character sketches and several storyboards. It was all very inspiring.

How did you come up with the voices for your characters? 

Tim’s a great director, so he guides you through the process. He’ll laugh at something and say: “Yes, go there, go there. Go with that.” or, “Right, what about going back to what you were doing before? Go there again.” You play around and experiment for the first couple of sessions – then you zero in on who the characters are.

Do you record the voices for all three characters in the same recording session? 

Yes, I recorded all three characters in most sessions, but it was one at a time. It usually started with the mother, because hers is the closest to my voice Tim would play a recording of what he liked from the last session to put me in the right frame of mind. I’d always end the session with the gym teacher because she yells a lot and that would tire my throat.

How tough was it to come up with the voices? 

It was challenging and scary because you want to do well and you want to honor these characters that have been in Tim’s head for so many years. If you see how stop-frame animation works, you know that hundreds of artists have put so much beautiful work into creating these characters and the sets and the story around them, so you want to treat it respectfully and do it justice. You also hope to add something to it.

How difficult is it to convey emotion just through your voice? 

You have to stay very focused when you’re recording your voice.  You’ve got these big headphones on and you can get hyper-aware of every breath or swallow you take. It can be very distracting if you’re not totally in character. But if you’re doing your job, the emotion comes through.

How different is it from live-action? 

On the set with a live-action project, you have a hundred people around you, all involved in shooting the scene. But when you’re recording for animation, it’s just the director, the sound engineer and you.

Which of the three characters you play do you hold closest to your heart? 

I’d love to be as kind and nurturing a mother as Mrs. Frankenstein. I try, but I’m sure my kids would say I’m not quite pulling it off

Martin Short plays Mr. Frankenstein in the movie. Did you get to record any material together in the sound booth? 

Yes, we did – and I thought that was very smart on Tim’s part. The lovely tone for the film is set in part by Victor’s home life with his parents and I know having Marty and me record together helped us get the intimacy that we needed for those scenes.

You’ve worked with Tim Burton on a variety of projects. How has he changed over the years? 

He hasn’t changed at all. Everyone around him has changed, but he’s the same guy he’s always been. Tim is great fun and he’s inspiring. Plus, his art is so beautiful. He’s really fun to work with, too. He’s very collaborative and he’s got a great, dark sense of humor that I appreciate. He makes you feel like you have lots to offer, which is great.

What was it like to see him again for Frankenweenie? 

It was great because he was just the same as he was on the set of Beetlejuice. He is open and loose, but he absolutely knows what he wants. It’s scary, that moment when you first dare to voice your character – whether it’s for live action or animation – but Tim makes you feel very safe, so you jump in and you start playing. I’ve only had a great time working with Tim and I hope to do it again soon.

The film is about a child named Victor who is a bit of an outsider at school. Were you one of the popular kids, or were you an outsider? Neither. 

I never felt like I needed to be connected to any kind of club at school because I’m one of seven kids and I always felt like I was already part of a great club. In high school I’d sometimes eat lunch with the tech kids and other times with the sorority kids, and they’d get mad at me for moving around. I was in a sorority, but it was on the lowest rung of sororities at my school.  I was a cheerleader but that was because the gym teacher was determined not to have the most attractive girls as cheerleaders. Ha. I wasn’t particularly popular, but I was fine. Like Victor, I was lucky enough to be given self-confidence at home. I knew I was safe at home and I was appreciated there.

Frankenweenie is out on DVD & Blu-ray 25th February.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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