Kung Fu Panda 3 - Angelina Jolie Pitt DVD interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
IN her extraordinary career, Angelina Jolie Pitt has been a sharp-shooting assassin, a vengeful fairy, a grief-stricken mother, a video-game adventuress and a tragic supermodel. However, it’s her role as Master Tigress, the cold, cool, super-smart, kung fu mistress co-star of the hugely popular Kung Fu Panda series, which has resonated like no other for the Golden Globe-winning actress.
Co-directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and Alessandro Carloni, this third movie in the Oscar-nominated series finds our heroes battling the evil spirit Kai (JK Simmons), who is terrorizing China and stealing the chi of defeated kung fu masters. It’s up to Po to train the occupants of the panda village and come to the rescue.
Angelina Jolie talks about some of the challenges of returning for a third time, as well as some of the pleasures…
Q. The last two Kung Fu Panda movies were the most successful animated films of their years. Why do you think they’re so popular?
Angelina Jolie: Each film has its own thing in which you can find something unique. They’re about family, and they raise questions like, ‘Where do I belong?’ Also, because of the influence of China, people get to know this other world; they get to understand a different place. There’s a wisdom of the ages that comes out of these characters, and for a lot of children it’s the first time they’ve ever heard these things. It’s very nice to entertain them and give them a bit of culture and a bit of grounding.
Q. You mention China… the movies are particularly big there, and known for their accurate knowledge of Chinese culture. Have you learned anything about China through the process?
Angelina Jolie: I think what you learn about China is that when you separate yourself from any politics, you just see the history and the beauty and the landscape that is China.
Q. Kung Fu Panda 3 is partially set in a new world for the series, the secret Panda Village. What can you tell us about it?
Angelina Jolie: Po meets his birth father and is now no longer the only panda around. We learn about other pandas and where they are and who they are, and Po has to learn to understand what that means and who he is. Plus there’s a fun, new element of a zombie attack, which kind of just throws in everything that kids like – zombies and pandas!
Q. After all of these years, what do you like about Tigress, and which of her qualities do you think you have?
Angelina Jolie: I think she can take things too seriously – I think I have that problem. I can want to be in battle all the time and take things very seriously and forget to have a laugh. It’s good for me to be around Jack [Black], just like it’s also good for Tigress to be around Po. It’s nice to be with somebody that’s so full of life and humour and music… in that way, we’re similar. And she’s kind of private; even though I’m a very public person, I’m quite private.
Q. Do you like her?
Angelina Jolie: I do like her, yes. I was very happy that I got to be her.
Q. What do your kids think of her, and do they have a favourite character?
Angelina Jolie: How can they not love Po? Though I’ve never actually asked them if they have a favorite. They’re all different ages, so probably some will like the baby Pandas and some will like Seth Rogan because they’ve seen his movies, and some will like Jackie Chan… but everybody loves Po.
Q. In Kung Fu Panda 2 we saw a softer side to Tigress. Does that continue?
Angelina Jolie: She doesn’t have a big arc in this one, but that’s part of who she is – she doesn’t change very much; she is consistent. When she softens, it’s just a small amount. That’s kind of true for the Five – they represent different things, different types of people, different personalities, so we maintain who we are as Po goes on his search. We do see a little bit more of her friendship with Po, but she still has moments she wants to kill him because he still drives her crazy.
Q. What happens to her over the course of this movie?
Angelina Jolie: Through the course of the movie she’s fighting – her whole life is fighting and protecting. She goes through a period where she thinks she’s lost everyone, and like in any good story, you have that moment where you feel that all hope is lost.
Q. Do you personally have any influence over her destiny?
Angelina Jolie: A little bit, sure. If there’s anything we didn’t like we were not forced to do it, and as we do the scenes we can improvise and say, ‘Well, I think she’d say this’, or ‘I don’t think she’d do this.’ We tend to pass it back and forth, and because there are so many of us in the Five, we tend to pass it to each other. ‘Monkey would say that, it’s not me.’
Q. Is there much opportunity in the vocal booth to improvise?
Angelina Jolie: I’m not funny, but I play around a little bit. With Jack you get into it and learn how to do it a little bit. I can improvise as an actor, but it’s very different improvising in a real moment in a real scene as a person than just staring at a mic and only using your voice to tell funny stories. It’s a different kind of art – Jack’s better at it.
Q. Do you get to work together much?
Angelina Jolie: Finally, after all of these years, Jack and I worked together for the first time on this film.
Q. How does that influence your performance?
Angelina Jolie: The strange thing is, even when we’re not together – because we know each other so well, and know the characters so well – we can imagine how the other would be. But it just made it more fun, more playful, enjoying the process together, being a bit goofy. I think we got a little silly, and maybe a few lines or moments came out of it.
Q. Where did the voice for Tigress originally come from?
Angelina Jolie: What’s strange is I thought that when you did voice acting you were supposed to make a voice, and I came in my first time and started to make every strange voice under the sun. Then they explained to me that that’s not necessary, so it’s my voice, just in the deepest tone. It stays lower, stays strong, because she’s so absolute – she never gets flighty, or curious. She’s me right down the center.
Q. She’s very calm….
Angelina Jolie: She does have that thing that I do not have. She’s very Zen, very absolute. I’m absolute, but I’m not Zen. Sometimes you play a character and it’s not adding things to yourself, it’s more just stripping all the other elements of you away, and then you’re left with that one part of yourself that relates. So you take away this and that, and that one side of me that likes to fight and is a bit stubborn… that’s Tigress.
Q. There are a few new characters joining you in this movie, particularly Kai and Li, voiced by J.K. Simmons and Bryan Cranston respectively. What can you tell us about the newcomers?
Angelina Jolie: They’re great! Bryan Cranston is very moving as Po’s father – very moving. Certain people really know how to use their voice and take it very seriously. Yes, it’s animated, but take it seriously and give a performance; you can tell he’s really committed to this relationship and bringing across what it is to lose your son and find him again. It’s very lovely. And J.K. is just good crazy; he’s powerful, he’s nuts and he’s beautifully out of control.
Q. Sounds not unlike Fletcher, his character from Whiplash…
Angelina Jolie: His strength is in there, but it gets a little crazier, more fun. He’s crazy and strong but he’s having a good time.
Q. For you, are there any frustrations or advantages to removing your physical self from the process?
Angelina Jolie: I love it! I’ve heard some people don’t, but I think it’s the greatest thing. Maybe if that’s all you did you’d feel restricted and feel like you also had other things to share, but for me you get stripped of so many things and you are just using your voice. So as an artist you think differently about how you approach and how you communicate with just one part of your instrument and just one thing. And you can come to work in your pajamas – just throw yourself together, it’s fine, nobody cares.
Q. They don’t video your performance for reference?
Angelina Jolie: I feel like they have in the past, but not always. They know us so well now, it’s weird… it’s like they can almost start doing that funny thing that Tigress does that’s now not me, it’s her.
Q. Do you think she looks like you at all?
Angelina Jolie: I don’t think so. I think she was created before I was even there, but she has developed my mannerisms, which is really fun. I think she has a way of standing and a way that’s very upright. She has her hands on her hips probably more than I would care to notice. It would be scary if I started to analyze it, how much they have adapted her to me.
Q. Has playing her changed your fan base at all?
Angelina Jolie: I was once in a hospital and a little girl had a Tigress doll, and I was able to go over to her and start talking to her. I think it just confused her, to be honest! ‘Why are you mimicking my doll?’ In my house, with my kids, it’s something I can share with them. I can’t share all my films with my kids, and they’ve jumped in on this one to be little pandas.
Q. How was that for them? And you?!
Angelina Jolie: It was really fun. I told them they didn’t have to and that it would just be a few lines for fun, and they’re not interested in being actors, but they enjoy the movies. We’ll be in this little, crazy world together, and it’s a really fun world. If you can share it with your kids, it’s so cool.
Q. Is this their first time in a movie?
Angelina Jolie: Oh, yes! And I didn’t know how they were going to do. I didn’t know if they were going to get quiet or nervous, but they all did it really, really well and then I said, ‘Are you ok?’ and they said, ‘Acting’s easy!’ Now I’m going to hear about that the rest of my life. ‘It’s easy, Mom. Why are you always so tired?’
Q. You think they might have caught the acting bug?
Angelina Jolie: Maybe for voiceovers – they were very happy there were no cameras on them. I think they would have gotten really shy. But just the idea that you’re going to do a voice and become a panda. How can you say no?
Q. Are you generally a fan of animated movies?
Angelina Jolie: Yes, especially the Miyazaki movies like Ponyo, and when I was growing up, it was Disney – Dumbo.
Q. What makes a good animated movie?
Angelina Jolie: I think what makes a good animated film is just making a good film, making a film that’s about something that will resonate with kids and has great characters. Same thing that makes any film great. I think great animation studios know that and they don’t rest on the fact that they’ve got a cute little Panda. They know they really have to focus on story. To shoot a scene in a regular film, you rehearse it, write it, you turn the cameras on and you’re pretty much done. With animation, they have to build the worlds and the plates and draw each gesture… it’s a big, big process. Every single move is much more thought out than on a regular film, and it could teach directors to pay more attention to every single frame. If you’ve made an animated film I imagine you have skills that most directors can be a little lazier with.
Q. Is there an animated movie in your future as a director?
Angelina Jolie: I don’t think I’d be very good at it. I’m fascinated by watching the process – I’m producing one right now called Breadwinner, and learning about the process, but I think I have learned a lot about directing from Kung Fu Panda. When I first started directing I was really shy and didn’t understand storyboards and I wanted to be free with the actors, but since working in animation and directing now, I’m much more interested in the storyboards and how to really define your visuals and understand the visual language.
Q. So, you’re saying that Kung Fu Panda has had a major influence on your filmmaking…
Angelina Jolie: I guess so! Yeah! Of course, every film does, but I’ve seen the process for years that these directors have to painstakingly redo and redraw and reconsider, so I think it’s just that respect for the detail. So yes, as a director I would say I’m influenced by animated directors. I should remember the detailed process an animated director goes through and how much decision is made even before it begins, and have that discipline.
Q. Finally, Jeffrey Katzenberg has said he’s ready to do at least another three Panda movies… are you in?
Angelina Jolie: We’ve heard it could go to six or seven. I’m on board, yes. I don’t know where we’re going to go with it, but it’s a really fun journey and a beautiful world we live in in the film. I think the films are lovely and say really nice things, and then every once in a while we get to be in the studio together and meet at the premiere – this big, crazy, strange family we’ve developed into. It’s really nice.
DreamWorks Animation’s Kung Fu Panda 3 is out now on Digital HD and on Blu-ray™ and DVD on July 11, 2016.