One of the most important aspects of any animated film is the voice cast, and like all Disney projects, the actors cast for Frankenweenie are top-notch. In addition to such performers as Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau and Winona Ryder, Frankenweenie features a number of young actors in key roles. Charlie Tahan plays the lead role of Victor Frankenstein, Robert Capron plays Bob, and Atticus Shaffer takes on the role of Edgar “E” Gore. At the white-carpet premiere, I had the opportunity to meet these young men and discuss the movie and their careers.
On Tim Burton:
Tim has always been one of my favorite directors since before I started acting, when I was like three or four, and I was obsessed with Nightmare Before Christmas and I didn’t even know it was a Tim Burton movie at the time [Editor’s Note: Burton wrote the story for Nightmare, but Henry Selick directed it]; and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, that was pretty funny.
Victor is kind of like loosely based on Tim’s childhood I think a little bit. So it’s just like I said, he’s been one of my favorite directors, so I was honored to be able to sort of play him.
He’s surprisingly normal. I didn’t expect him to be like a scary guy but, um, but he knows how he wants each scene to be. Because Frankenweenie is really pretty personal to him, I think, and like it’s sort of about his childhood issue, I think that he knows exactly how he wants each shot or scene to go.
On the challenges of voice acting and the animation process:
This is my first voice-over thing ever. So I thought it was going to be a lot harder, especially after I found out that I wasn’t going to be with the other cast, to read with them. Then, I think it was a little bit easier because half my scenes are just with me and Sparky, so because I have a dog at home, I kind of just imagined that my dog was there.
On the original Frankenweenie:
I thought it was cool because it seemed like the original Frankenweenie was kind of like a rough cut, like a sort of a sketch of this one. I feel like I read somewhere that it was a short that Tim tried to pitch to producers so they can produce it. And I think he wanted to make it a feature film at first, but he never was able to because people shut it down, whatever. It’s been a pretty long time before that, that was one of the first things that he did. It’s cool to compare that one to this one, like there’s so many more characters; it’s a lot more complex.
I have one pet left. Samantha the dog, I’ve had rabbits and a hamster, and lizards before. They’re all dead now. I have a dog named Samantha.
On Tim Burton:
My favorite Tim Burton movie was the original Batman. Because that was the first one I saw because I love Batman. And so when I found out I got the part, I was like flipping out when I first met him, like literally the first thing I said to him was, I was, “you directed Batman! That’s awesome!” It was really funny.
His character in the film:
The thing I like the most about Bob is that despite the fact that he’s like a really big guy, like his character, like he’s huge — despite the fact that he’s really big and he could very easily be like a bully, he’s not, he’s actually a very nice person. That was one of the things I liked about his character.
For my first two recording sessions, I hadn’t actually seen anything from the film yet, because they were still working with the puppets. But I’d seen a couple of sketches. And I remember the first time I actually saw my character, for my first recording session, they just had the puppet there. They didn’t have any footage, but they just had the puppet. And the first thing I said when I saw the puppet, I was like, is it even possible for somebody to be that big? Because in the movie my character is ridiculously big and that’s one of the things I liked about it. And because of that, when I was recording my lines, I would have to imagine what it would be like to be this ridiculously big kid, and try and incorporate that into my voice.
On acting for animation:
The thing that I like about voiceover is that it’s significantly easier than actually filming. It’s way easier, because there’s so many different variables that go into filming, like because you need the lighting, you need to look good with the hair and makeup. With this the character is already made basically. So all you need to do is supply the voice. But a challenging part of it was that you’re not actually recording with other actors. You’re just doing it by yourself. And that can be kind of weird, because you’re talking to yourself, in a way. And that may sound weird but usually somebody else will read the other lines first, and that makes it easier.
The thing that’s funny about working on a voiceover thing is that you may think you’re done with it and then like five months later, they’ll come back and say, oh we need a couple extra grunts, and like some breathing noises. One session I had to go into, I had to say like one line, then all I had to do is go like (makes panting sound) and scream, “come here.” That kind of thing.
I don’t have an actor that I specifically model, like I don’t try to be like them. But my favorite actor for a while and probably still is one of my favorite actors, was Jimmy Stewart. Because the first like really good movie I saw was Rear Window. And I saw that when I was like nine, which is kind of creepy now that I think about it. But when I saw the movie, I remember thinking I was like, “that is awesome! I want to be in a movie like that!”
Goals and hopes for the future:
When I was like four years old, I was obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, and I would — I know it probably seems really random, but I’m leading into it — and I would memorize every single episode of that and I would always say it, like word for word, to my family. And now afterwards, after that, I realize now that I like doing that kind of thing. And so I love acting, but I think in the future, I’d like to go into directing and writing as well. That was a really weird way to start it off, I’m sorry.
On Tim Burton:
My favorite was of course The Corpse Bride. That was the first one I saw start to finish, because I had seen bits and pieces of like Nightmare Before Christmas and whatnot, but Corpse Bride was one I just sat down and watched start to finish. And I fell in love with it immediately, just because the way that Tim Burton, he takes all these shapes, these objects, and then transforms them. And makes them more so or less so and then creates this own world of his.
On getting the role:
It was actually a yearlong audition process for me to get the part. And after all the waiting and that, and I’d go into auditions, I don’t want to expect to be like, oh, I’m going to get hired, I’m so good. No, I’m not that at all, I’m just very like, well, oh, I’ll do the best I can and, and if I do get it, that’ll be awesome. And if not, well at, at least I was able to try out for it. And I get a call and they’re like, hey, Atticus, by the way, we were just wondering, what’s the longest audition process you’ve done, in a while? And I said well, Frankenweenie, that one has been going on for about a year and that one seems to be the longest. And they go, oh, you got it. After the defibrillator woke me up, I was brimming over with emotions, this is just, oh my god, I’m going to be a part of a Tim Burton legacy, at the same time I was like, “AAAAHHH! want to be in this!” and so, it was just awesome.
On his character:
The characters that I normally play are, either they are my voice, they are kind of the very calm eye of the storm characters. And some are smart, you know, they know how to figure out problems and whatnot. But then this one, he’s just so over the top, and he’s kind of like this, he’s a semi-villain, he loves everything morbid and over the top and, and also being able to do the impression of Peter Lorre for the voice is just awesome for me. Because I love doing impressions, I love doing accents, and during the audition process, during the very first one, they just said, all right, hey. And he’s kind of like the Igor character and I knew how to play that off, but like the second or third audition into it, they said, if possible, do a Peter Lorre impression. And I was like this is so new for me, it’s going to test my acting abilities, I want to do this. And so my mom and I, like the homeschoolers that we are, rented The Maltese Falcon, and we already had Casablanca, and just sat down and really studied and that alone was just such a thrill for me.
Man, I love doing voiceover, I mean I — that’s the whole reason I got into the business in the first place, is because I love to play with my voice. I love telling stories, being able to put myself into these new, completely new characters. And also with the fact that there is such a long list that you do have to worry about for, for theatrical, because you have wardrobe, makeup, memorizing lines, choreography, everything. But whereas you just have a small list for voiceover, which is making sure that your voice is well, and you know what the character is like, you know the character voice. And also that you are able to take direction and kind of form. I like to say that you put your soul into the character, because you’re giving it the voice, and especially in a Tim Burton animation. It’s stop motion animation, it’s not drawn up, these are things that you can move and touch with your hands. And it’s almost as if the character has been built and then you give it a voice, and now it’s able to talk. And then you have the animators who are able to move it, now it has motion. Then with Tim Burton, and the set designers, they create this world that it’s in. And so now it has its own earth, its own portion of earth, its own fantasy world. And so in a way it is kind of creating like your own little monsters in a sense.
As you continue, it’s almost as if each time that you go in for a recording session they almost have something new to kind of help and help along the character. So at first it would be some of Tim’s sketches, and then later it would be some model statues that they’ve made. And then later on than that, then they’ll have some animation footage of the thing walking and jumping and kind of test footage like that. So in seeing how he walks or in how he moves, how he behaves, that also kind of puts you more and more into the character. And me personally, even though I’m not on camera for the part, it’s just my voice, I still go into this world of like making the fingers and the strange teeth and the hunchback. Because I feel that puts me more into the character. And when you’re more attached to that character it will come out in your voice.
And also too because it is stop motion animation and it does take such a long time to film something like that, they broke the script up into acts. So you have act one is from the first recording session and then when you come back, you kind of redo things for act one that kind of fit into the storyline more. And then you record act two and then so forth and so on until finally after act three, um, you just kind of come back to redo things from act three. And also maybe sound effects or grunts that you kind of need and to make the characters seem more real.
Actors that inspire him:
I’m a big fan of Liam Neeson and Russell Crowe, just because they are so professional in their craft and they do voiceover along with actual theatrical. And so when, when I am performing and I do want to be professional, I do, uh, I’m the anal germophobe of my town, so I always like being on time, I always like being prepared, and I never like to be second best. I like to give a hundred and fifty percent and my all. And if someone doesn’t like that, then that’s okay with me. But I can take comfort in my heart that I was able to give my all.
On the original Frankenweenie:
During the audition process, one day, I was about the fifth kid called in. And I’m there and everyone was still waiting and they hadn’t started the auditions yet. And so again I was about fifth kid in. And they put on the original Frankenweenie short. And so I was one of the few kids that while being there was able to sit down and watch it start to finish. And then I went in and I definitely feel that to have that in the back of my mind and to see how the original did it and then now how he’s doing it, uh, it was just definitely very helpful.
And something else that I found interesting, and this was with the part talking to Martin Landau some of the few times I was able to — Originally it was Edward Scissorhands and Frankenweenie that Tim wanted to make. And he was rejected for both. And then coming back again, he had made the Frankenweenie twenty-five minute short and then made Edward Scissorhands. And that’s where he met Johnny Depp. And so in hindsight, it does seem like things were meant to happen that way, because then he would have never met Johnny Depp and Frankenweenie may not have been able to be made into this stop motion, and also like it should be too, because it is a black and white film and hopefully will inspire a new generation of kids to want to see the old classic films and see where the ideas originated from, and then not lose that part of of our history.
Goals and hopes:
The whole point of me getting into the business was to be a storyteller. And then, because I grew up, my mom and I would read books out loud together. We would do little character voices, not for any thought of being in the business at all, it was just because it was fun, we love to read. And that’s just the way that we were. And so being able to kind of carry that and take it into adulthood and be a form of storyteller is phenomenal. And being in this business in particular, I am the character of the story, and so I can tell the story from that perspective. But my hope is to go to college and learn how to become a director and a writer, and then be able to tell stories from that point of view. Almost like the narrator.
A great many, where I live, I do have chickens and I do have two dogs and a rabbit and five cats. And actually over the course of being on the film, it’s grown closer to me, because after we had finished recording and it was just before I went to see the screening of the film, a dog that we had for six years passed away. And so I became even closer to the film and I definitely knew how Victor must have felt and how a lot of people have felt, and I feel like this film is another way of tributing [sic] them, because it does show that you can be that bonded to an animal or a person, or a thing, and you would go to whatever extent possible in your world to either honor their memory, or to bring them back.