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Mr Peabody & Sherman - Ty Burrell interview

Mr Peabody & Sherman

Interview by Rob Carnevale

TY Burrell talks about bringing the iconic cartoon character Mr Peabody to the big screen in animated adventure Mr Peabody & Sherman and why he took some time to find the right voice in order to pay homage to an iconic creation and keep things up-to-date.

He also talks about the joy of playing Phil Dunphy on Modern Family and why playing smarmy assholes used to be his way of paying the bills.

Q. Were you a fan of the original cartoon?
Ty Burrell: Well, I knew of it peripherally. Considering that I’m actually now 100-years-old, I was actually too young for it, which is weird. But my older brother, who is about seven years older than I am, loved it and I remember him laughing hysterically when watching it, which left a huge imprint on me. So, when it came across my desk I was very, very excited to be a part of something that, in the US, is part of Rocky & Bullwinkle and is iconic. More specifically, the originals are actually five or six minutes long, so I was sort of curious about how they were going to make a feature length movie. But then reading the script that Rob [Minkoff] and Alex [?] had worked so long and hard on, that was really the biggest seller for me – the fact they had actually fleshed out this relationship, which you can’t get into in the five or six minute snippets. But I found it very touching the fact that they were able to flesh out this father-son relationship.

Q. Was keeping the whole pun thing going important too?
Ty Burrell: Yes, it’s clearly the one thing that Peabody doesn’t do well.

Q. Is there something of Ty in Peabody?
Ty Burrell: They gave the character these Frankenstein eyebrows! [Laughs]

Q. Is there any dog in your performance?
Ty Burrell: [Laughs] I am sort of a talking dog! So, there’s that. But that stuff is… usually at the end of every recording funny it was always the funniest because it falls into the category of all of the grunts and things you have to collect at the end of a recording session. So, for instance, you might get told: “OK, he’s going to be lifting a rock into a truck, so do that.” [Grunts several times as an example]. And that would be for, like, 10 minutes! So, that stuff is part of that. But there are a few elements in there where Peabody does show his dog side. I think the rest of it… Peabody is so – and this is the inherent irony of the whole thing – far from being a dog that probably might day job character of Phil Dunphy on Modern Family is much closer to an actual dog… just very, very little fore-thought!

Q. Was it a bit weird having Ariel Winter, who plays your daughter in Modern Family, playing someone else’s daughter in this?
Ty Burrell: Definitely… she’s just so talented. But that was one of those things where that didn’t surprise me at all. She does a lot of voice work. What’s interesting about this process is that I actually don’t work with her in the making of this film. What’s hilarious is that we would talk about it at Modern Family – that’s where we discussed working on this. But not weird at all. Honestly, she is amazing. But all of the young actors on that show are just so talented. I think every year we learn more and more about just how good they are.

Q. Did you bring any aspect of Phil Dunphy into Peabody?
Ty Burrell: No. It really, really is sort of like… they couldn’t be any further apart. Peabody is so rational. He really is the embodiment of rationality, whereas Phil Dunphy is the embodiment of irrationality… just no introspect at all in Phil, or very little fore-thought. But it is really fun to play somebody so different. Playing somebody so perfect also is hilarious and just so much of a stretch for me because I’m so far from it.

Q. The voice of Mr Peabody is so distinct and your voice in this is very close to Bill Scott, who did the original. Was that something that came naturally or did you try and work on it?
Ty Burrell: Well, I don’t know how many of you have seen the original but he is really an iconic voice actor. He did so many voices that you would recognise. But I wanted to pay homage to him but, by the same token, because this is a feature length film the five minute shorts are sort of flippant in a way. They are inherently flippant and we were really trying to develop this relationship between Peabody and his son. So, while trying to pay respect to him there was also a lot of, especially in the beginning, trying to come to a voice that could also warm and also a parent. So, that was kind of the balance and it took a while to get to a place where I was still very much Peabody but also at the same time someone who had – and I don’t want to say human – a little bit more sensitivity to him. So, it was a process.

Q. Did you get to bond with Max Charles, who plays Sherman, at all before doing the voices?
Ty Burrell: Yeah, we did have a session, which is not necessarily something that you do. But we all wanted to have at least one experience where we could kind of get a feel for each other. He’s just such a talented young man, young boy. But it was really cool to be there with him. The stuff we actually went over was primarily the stuff at the end of the film. But he’s very good and it was interesting to get a feel for who he was and his energy.

Q. I loved the Dawn of the Dead remake, where you played a brilliant s**t in that. You’re now better known for doing the Modern Family kind of stuff. Which is more fun for you – doing the family friendly stuff or being a real bastard?
Ty Burrell: [Laughs] Well, I’m a real bastard in my life, so that was a blast! You kinow, it’s funny because actually that was my source of empliyment for so long, going from smarmy asshole to smarmy asshole. That sounded terrible [laughs]!!! But it is fun because you’re saying all this stuff that you could never say in real life. But I have to say it’s a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning and go to work playing someone who is well intended. I feel so lucky to… and by the way, I still occasionally play a bad guy or do more complicated, grown up material, but it is really fun day in, day out to play somebody – both in Modern Family and in something like Peabody & Sherman – where the person is trying their best and not trying their best just to sabotage everybody else.

Read our review of Mr Peabody & Sherman

Read our interview with Rob Minkoff