She’s won four Grammys, four Golden Globes, three Emmys and a Tony Award, but nothing she’s done prepared Bette Midler for her new role as the devious Kitty Galore, the former agent for the spy organization MEOWS.
I spoke with the Divine Miss M, who talked about voicing the malevolent cat, and the most important thing in her life, her charitable efforts in New York City.
What was the best quality about Kitty Galore?
She’s an Egyptian sphinx cat. She’s hairless except for a little hair on her tail. She’s very cranky because she’s been rejected by her beloved human family and she’s determined to rule the world. I don’t think Kitty is misunderstood; she’s just evil. Villains are the most fun to play; they’re so over-the-top and usually the silliest. Here you have a wonderful combination of evil and absolute ridiculousness, which was irresistible.
I came in for a number of sessions and it was really curious because, when I first started, it was just a sketch. As the time went on, the backgrounds of the other characters got more and more filled in. That was very, very exciting to watch. I’ve never experienced that before.
Are you a cat or dog person?
In real life, my pet passed. I’m a non pet person at this point.
What was the process of doing the voice? Did you get to work with the other actors?
No, and it’s not just isolating, it’s a little bit lonely because it’s just you in a dark room with a sketch of a character, or sometimes a filled in scene, but still you don’t work with the other actors. It’s like one long looping session. I was like, “Oh, my god, it’s ADR for days.”
The real thrill comes from seeing the finished product. The fact that Brad (Peyton, the director) could keep all these balls in the air and make all these elements that would form into one movie was absolutely staggering to me. I can’t imagine how he did it because he was working with live actors and with animals.
There’s nothing harder than working with animals. Those animals really looked like they knew what they were doing, but honestly, they’re animals. I worked with animals before and it’s like, “Oh, god!” He was working with live actors, and then the robots and the cartoons, and it all melds together and you say, “Well, I can’t tell which part is drawn and which part is a robot and which part is a real animal.” I couldn’t get over it. I think it’s really an extraordinary achievement.
Did you channel anybody to play evil?
No. I’m just plain evil. It’s true. Now you know the real me.
Did being a singer help you get a handle on voice work?
There are some parts of it that are quite musical. The timing is very important in this kind of work, because the phrasing works with the mouth of the character. Once the mouth of the character is moving, you have to phrase along with the character that’s drawn.
That is musical and, if you listen to that, you can hear where the beats are skipped and where you drop a beat, or when you rush and catch up a little bit.
I will say that the fact that I’ve sung for a long time has really helped a lot with that. I don’t think it helped the character, but it helped me get through the sessions.
If anything happened to your fabulous hair in real life, would you also go maniacal and try to destroy the world?
No, no, no, never. Something happens to my hair in real life every day and I don’t. A long time ago, when I first worked in the theater, I was in Fiddler on the Roof. I think I was 19 or 20. One of the girls in the show was a brazen Puerto Rican girl, and she became famous.
The reason she was famous was because, the opening night, she had done something to her hair. She had tried to straighten her hair and her hair fell out, literally, and she didn’t even blink. She went out, got a piece, slapped it on and went out and gave the performance of her life. She went on and became a really famous opera singer, and I never forgot that. I thought, “Wow, check that out.” She didn’t waste any time.
From that time on, I never thought twice. I just look around, grab a piece and put it on.
How is your activism going?
A couple years ago, I teamed up with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to plant a million trees in New York City. We’ve planted about 375,000 so far, in the last two years.
I also am the founder and chairman of an organization called New York Restoration Project . We clean abandoned parks and public places, and we also own 55 community gardens where people in the community grow their own food. We teach kids about nature, environmental science and all that sort of thing. This is our 15th anniversary this year, and it’s been fantastic. It’s been one of the great projects of my life.
Do you have a favorite childhood toy that evokes any fond memories?
Actually, my mother made our toys. She made a rabbit for me, and I still have it. He had little corduroy overalls. My mom was really a seamstress. She was fantastic. But, in those days, they used to have patterns and all the women would buy them. The pattern would come with the fabrics and you would put it together. The stuffing too. That was a great little enterprise.
Is the Divine Miss M in Kitty? Was world domination always a plan?
Oh, always. I think a lot of female entertainers think about that when they start out!