Zachary Levi stars on the successful TV series Chuck, as a reluctant spy, which just began its third season. In Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel his role as Toby Seville even out-geeks super-nerd Chuck.
The cousin to Dave Seville, the manager of the Chipmunks, the mischievous rock group, he is called into action when Alvin, the group’s lead singer’s onstage shenanigans causes an accident that lands Dave in a Paris hospital. Now the chipmunks must go to school under the supervision of Toby – not the best idea in the world.
How did you get involved with this, did they think of you and contact you?
No, I wish I was at that place in my career where they go, ‘We like that guy.’ But that’s not the case. My agent called and said, ‘Hey, Alvin and the Chipmunks 2, what do you think?’ And I was like, ‘Let’s go, I need a job.’ The first movie did gangbusters. As an actor you’re always trying to find the balance between doing films that are soul films, independent and whatnot, but also giving yourself studio credit and cache, and that can come in a myriad of different ways, this being one of them hopefully.
I was actually on a lunch break from Chuck, I went in and auditioned for Betty Thomas and the casting directors, and Betty was like, ‘Alright, that was great.’ And then Fox and Warner Brothers were able to work the schedule out. The day that I wrapped Chuck at 5 in the morning,
I went home and slept for 3 hours, and then got picked up and driven down to Long Beach and started being Toby Seville. It was the weirdest day, I was with a whole different crew, I was a different person, it’s like bipolar, it’s very odd, but it was a cool experience, and very different working with stuffed animals and thin air, although that’s more than I get from some actors I’ve worked with.
I’m kidding, it’s just the standard joke, I have to throw that out there.
When you were younger, did you watch the Chipmunks cartoons?
Oh yeah, my younger sister and I used to watch every cartoon together, one of them was the Saturday morning Chipmunks that was around in the ’80s, there have been so many iterations since ’58 really when they first came out, which is so crazy to think that the chipmunks are that old and yet still so young, just now going to middle school.
It was such a trip to be doing this movie, and then meeting Ross Bagdasarian (whose father created the franchise) who is such a lovely person, almost so nice that there’s got to be something hiding behind the curtain. He has done an incredible job of just maintaining the innocence, the purity, the entertainment value of this brand throughout the years.
It hasn’t been handed off to anybody else; he’s been very involved in every single step of either the films or the cartoons.
Chuck has green screen, so did that help you with this movie?
We have green screen on Chuck. I thought we were going to have a lot of green screen in Chipmunks but we don’t. Green screen is like artificial environments and Chipmunks are artificial characters. We would rehearse with stuffed animals that the prop people would have on this long antennae. And they’d move them around. They’d be on the computer, and then on your head and then jump out the window, and I’d yell “Alvin!”
So we’d rehearse it and they’d film one pass with the stuffies, that’s what they called them. Short for stuff animals, I suppose. After that first pass, you had to remember what happened so we’d have three girls reading off camera all the characters and you’d have to time it to all that.
Do you have a favorite chipmunk?
Alvin is the funest, obviously. Theodore has the best heart, I think. But for whatever reason I have a heart for Simon because Simon is the responsible one. He’s trying to keep things from getting screwed up. But it never works. Alvin is always screwing things up so I feel bad for Simon; there’s an unfairness there.
What’s coming up on Chuck?
Chuck 2.0. Lots of physical abilities that Chuck now is empowered with that are also glitchy, that lead to more action and more comedy.