Keith David with his animated alter ego
Cat, whom he voices in "Coraline", the world's first stop-motion animation film
to be shot in Stereoscopic 3D. (Photo: Focus Features)
If That Cat Sounds Like This Cat, Then That
Cat Is Keith David
The man behind the voice behind the cat in the new animated 3-D
film "Coraline" talks to The Popcorn Reel via telephone
Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel
January 29, 2009
Early on, Keith David gently corrects his interviewer, mentioning that he has
done a variety of animated work in his distinguished acting career. The
latest foray into such voice work on film for Mr. David is "Coraline"
(pronounced Corra-lyne), the world's first stop-motion animated feature film
ever to be shot and developed in Stereoscopic 3D. In the film, directed by
Henry Selick ("The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D"), Mr. David voices Cat. Yesterday via telephone from Los Angeles he talked about his work in
"Coraline", which opens in 3D across the U.S. and Canada on February 6, as well as
Mr. David spent two days contributing to Mr. Selick's film. "It was a
wonderful experience for me. It was good working with the director.
[Henry] was very clear. He was also very open to whatever suggestions I
had, and I think we came up with a very nice, clever, cool operation."
"Coraline" is about the adventures (or misadventures) of a young girl who just
wants to escape the humdrum of her own life. Voiced by Dakota Fanning,
Coraline encounters a world of wonderment and possibility in the house in which
she lives. The fantasy fable adventure was a journey for its creators.
Employing no fewer than 500 people, including 35 animators, "Coraline", which
also stars Teri Hatcher, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, John Hodgman and Ian
McShane, took four years to complete, with the principal photography on the film
taking 18 months.
Over the years Mr. David has had voice roles in "Spawn", the television series
"Justice League" and a litany of other projects. He has a galactic resume
on film and television. Born and raised in Harlem in 1959, Mr. David has
won two Primetime Emmy Awards and has been a consistently distinctive presence
on the big screen, memorable to many in such feature films as "Clockers", "Dead
Presidents", "Armageddon", "There's Something About Mary", "Requiem For A Dream"
and "Crash", which won best picture of 2005 at the Academy Awards the following
With his vast experience in the world of both animation and live-action feature
films Mr. David was asked if there were any additional challenges that the
medium of animation presented to him as an actor. "Acting is acting, you
know? I mean the difference is when I'm in an animation studio there are
times when I'm working by myself, you know, and sometimes you hear the other
voices in the recording already. And although you don't see my body, you
can act with your whole body," he declared. With a considerable amount of
noise and sounds of human animation going on in the background during this
telephone conversation, Mr. David added, "In fact sometimes it can be funny as
hell watching somebody in a recording studio voicing an animated character.
You're doing all this stuff with your body and your arms, especially like if the
character runs into a wall or something . . . you get beat up, you know.
You physicalize those things. And it can be very funny. And the
animators also pay attention because a lot of times you're being recorded while
you're recording (your voice) for the film."
Mr. David saw some rough sketches of parts of "Coraline" to get a sense of the context of
the character and then it was off to the races.
For the actor known for his signature vocal intonations, 2009 will be a very
busy year on the big screen. Mr. David, who displayed a great sense of
humor during the conversation, has at least ten new feature film roles
completed, all or most of which are scheduled to be released in theaters this
With his memorable character portrayals, especially in films like "Requiem" and
"Crash" the actor was asked whether he ever brought the characters home with
him. "I've been an actor all my life. I've been an actor for 30
years. I don't kick down the door. I don't beat my wife. And
if it looks like I'm about to, she puts me in check," Mr. David said
tongue-in-cheek. "So, no. "
As for if he had to personally defend any of the indefensible behaviors of the
more unvarnished portraits he has crafted on the big screen Keith David had this
to say: "Look, I believe the average asshole doesn't think that he's an asshole.
And it's not for me to judge. Each of us is given to asinine behavior.
Sometimes I might feel justified in being a jerk. And I'll know that I'm
being a jerk. But I don't care that I am. I try to be
empathetic in my portrayals. I don't judge them."
Mr. David then mentions a scenario concerning a man who just thrown coffee in
another man's face. "You look at the guy who threw the coffee and think,
'what an asshole!', but you may not know what the other guy who's just been hit
with the coffee said to get the coffee thrower upset."
Recalling the valuable lessons Keith David has learned in his own personal life
from the character Kirby, whom he played in the film "Dead Presidents", the
actor made the lesson plain and simple. "Good people do bad things and
until you walk a mile in somebody's shoes, you can't judge."
"Coraline" opens across North America on February 6. The film is
distributed by Focus Features and will be shown in Real 3D and 35mm.
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