In Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland Matt Lucas impressively plays both Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Crispin Glover portrays The Knave of Hearts walking on stilts throughout the film, and Michael Sheen gets the easier task of doing the voice for the White Rabbit. At the press junket for the movie, the three actors spoke of their roles in this unique and visionary version of the classic Lewis Carroll story.
What was your experience reading or seeing Alice as a kid?
Michael Sheen: I think I knew the characters of Alice in Wonderland before I ever read the book. They are just ingrained into western consciousness. In some ways for me the allure of the story is that we all live in this illusion that we’re civilized and that everything makes sense and that everything has a place, and Alice in Wonderland shows you that actually it’s a very thin film between sanity and insanity and total wildness, chaos and fear. And somehow that seems to be the most true expression of what it’s like to be a child, I would imagine, where things are both familiar and strange at the same time, and when you think you know what something is, suddenly it shifts and it has become something else.
We grow up and forget the truth of that, or buy into the illusion that’s not the case, and I think one of the things why we’re drawn back to Alice in Wonderland all the time is it somehow reminds us, as all great Greek drama does, of what the actual truth of our life of is.
Crispin Glover: Strangely, I’d never read it, even before starting the film; and I felt like I had. I’ve done a few films that are based on preexisting written elements, and I did read the books if it was based on something, right before I started acting in it. I realized it was a mistake for me to do it, not for everybody, but for me I would get very stuck into this certain concept. I realized as an actor it’s better for me not to get stuck on things. I want to become expansive and want to give different versions for the editor to play with, so I purposely don’t read things, although I’m reading it right now and I’m really enjoying it, it’s tremendous.
Michael, you do the voice of the White Rabbit. Would you have liked to physically have played the role?
Michael Sheen: I literally I would have given anything to put the ears on and the tail and jumped around. But when I watched [the movie] the other night one of things that I loved about the film mostly was that the animals really do look like animals, they’re not humanized in any way. So that when a horse suddenly turns around to Crispin and says something disparaging about dogs, you really don’t expect it, it’s really effective. So I can see exactly why [they went for] the idea of really going for animals, but I still look very cute with a little bunny nose, so maybe if there’s a sequel.
I just did a couple of sessions with Tim, I had him all to myself, in London and in America, and I was filmed, and Tim said, ‘Really perform it, don’t just do the voice, move and do as much performing as you can, twitch your nose as much as you can,’ and I was amazed when I watched it how much all my hand movements were there. I really recognized my hands. .
Matt, you play two characters, obviously not both at once, how did that work?
Matt Lucas: I was in one of these green, but fetching, suits, very slimming, but it was my face matted on to the chubby casing that you see in the form of the Tweedles, on both characters. But there was another actor called Ethan Cohen, who was great and he played whatever Tweedle I didn’t play at the time. He had a brilliant memory, because he’d say, ‘Remember, you did it like that,’ and I’d say, ‘Oh yeah, thank you,’ because it might be a couple of hours from when I played one Tweedle to the other. So he in a way was my memory as much as anything else and I really wouldn’t have been able to play this part without him.
Did you improvise at all with the dialogue?
We did a little bit of improvising, there’s a bit where the Tweedles have been brought to the Red Queen and she’s saying, ‘Where are my fat boys?’ which I know is now going to follow me around, I’ll be screamed at in the streets. There was a bit where I’m going, “He pinched me, ‘ ‘He pinched me first,’ I was just improvising that little bit, pinching, kicking and that kind of very childish sense of one-upmanship that I wanted to put in there.
Crispin, is it true you actually worked on stilts doing this?
Crispin Glover: Yeah, I was on big tall green painter stilts for a lot of it, but I loved it, I had a genuinely great time working on this film and I’m just grateful to be in it. I’m excited about it.
Matt Lucas: (looking at Crispin) He looks younger now than he did in Back to the Future. Have you actually gone back to the future? (Crispin laughs)
What was your family’s reaction when they first saw you as the character?
Michael Sheen: My daughter is still living off the fact that I’m in New Moon, so now I’m in Alice in Wonderland as well, it’s just gone stratospheric. At that school, I’m treated like royalty now. Everyone is convinced that I have red eyes, because of the two characters, well, I have pink eye in this, but red eye in that.