By Angela Dawson, Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD — After more than 50 years of stealing Christmas from the merry residents of Whoville, everyone’s favorite holiday party pooper is at it again in an all-new animated feature The Grinch.
Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War) provides the voice of the green villain in this eighth fully animated feature from Illumination (makers of the Despicable Me movies) and Universal Pictures, in this latest iteration of Dr. Seuss’ beloved holiday story. The holiday comedy is directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheeney from an adapted screenplay by Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow.
The popular British actor spoke about getting into character as The Grinch, who lives on a secluded mountaintop high above the village of Whoville, where preparations are under way for the annual holiday celebration. The Grinch, whose sole companion atop Mt. Crumpet is his faithful dog Max, is literally green with envy over the unshakable happiness of the Whos. He plots to dress up as Santa Claus and steal their presents overnight on Christmas Eve. But when he discovers the next morning that they are still filled with the joy and spirit of Christmas, he has a change of heart. Previous iterations of the story by Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) have appeared in a 1966 animated TV movie and a 2000 live-action feature film starring Jim Carrey.
Mr. Cumberbatch’s Grinch is slightly less mean and moviegoers are provided a backstory as to why he became so antisocial. He travels to Whoville to pick up some food for Max, and he isn’t as brutal with his pet as he plots to steal the Whos’ presents. He even manages to include a misfit reindeer in his dastardly plot to ruin Christmas. Mr. Cumberbatch leads an all-star voiceover cast that includes Rashida Jones, Keenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury and Pharrell Williams.
Q: What is your secret to providing the voice for the Grinch?
Cumberbatch: (I had to) find out who the character was and experiment with that a lot and push it around. That was kind of key for me. The writing is pretty blissful. They’re taking a lot from the book as well. That kind of jam, the poetry the riffing of rhyming couplets and the rhythm of that is important to different parts of the story to get who he is. There is a lot of backstory on him in this film so you know what motivates him. You have the usual actor questions about that I guess, even though he is a green fluffy guy who wants to steal Christmas and has a heart that is two sizes too small.
Q: What makes your Grinch different from previous Grinches?
Cumberbatch: A lot of things. One is the revelation that he was an orphan. The idea that he’s somebody who didn’t have family love and care and a home to return to and would naturally feel traumatized by seeing everyone else having that and question why he didn’t have or deserve that. It’s everything that makes him bitter. When he is offered love and forgiveness by Cindy Lou (voiced by Cameron Seely) and the Whos, that disappears. That makes him unique. You understand why he is the way he is but love it when he’s good again and his heart grows.
Q: What is your favorite Grinch character trait?
Cumberbatch: Emotional eating. I’m doing some of it today. I’m far from home and tired and hungry so I share that with the Grinch.
Q: Is there something positive about him?
Cumberbatch: I like that by the end of the film he figures out what the true value of Christmas is and life in general which is love and kindness, the things we need most.
Q: Do you personally love or dread the Christmas holidays?
Cumberbatch: I’m kind of in the middle. I’m not as high as a Who on it but not as grinchy as a Grinch. I don’t dread them, that’s for sure. I seem to put more pressure on myself to get them right than I need to. That’s sort of the materialistic thing creeping in ‘Got to get the presents. Got to get the right thing for the right person’ instead of remembering that people are grateful for you to be there. You have a good time with those you love.
Q: True. What scene was a lot of fun for you to voice?
Cumberbatch: A lot of them. The hunt for the reindeer, getting frozen as he climbs the mountain with Max. It was fun to get into that moment when the Grinch goes full psycho to steal the thing and the end as well, just playing that social misfit who has never experienced belonging before. This guy is out of his comfort zone and learning.
Q: What else makes this new version of the story different?
Cumberbatch: This version is very loyal to the book which is a very thin book but tiny phrases in the book are catapulted into massive set pieces. The amount of energy makes this a very special version of the story, the amount of visual invention, flair and freedom that the animation artists have and the message wraps up in a very wonderful, modern way. There is a lot of comedy and invention.
Q: Why do people like the Grinch so much?
Cumberbatch: I think people get a vicarious thrill out of how the Grinch behaves. How curmudgeonly he is, how the over magnified and overproduced elements of Christmas can be just too much. Also, he’s funny. That will be memorable about this Grinch. He’s very witty and self-aware. There is also a very strong, beating heart to this.
By Angela Dawson, Front Row Features