ANIMATION CONVERSATION


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

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel             SHARE 
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 other matters.

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 year. 

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 year.

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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