In James Marsden’s eclectic career he has starred in comedies (Death at a Funeral, 27 Dresses), musicals (Enchanted, Hairspray), sci fi films (Superman Returns, X-Men trilogy) and dramas (The Notebook and the upcoming remake of Straw Dogs).
He’s now voicing the role of Diggs, a German Shepherd, in the family film Cats & Dogs 2: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. Diggs is a police dog who protects the streets of San Francisco, but he has leadership issues, he wants to be in charge and seldom follows orders, so he his retired from force.
Almost immediately he’s approached by the canine agency DOG, to track down and stop Kitty Galore, a rogue agent from MEOWS.
What was the best quality about Diggs?
He’s a dog that worked for the police force, but was rejected because he had difficulty following orders. He has a lot of raw ability and talent, but unfortunately his ego eclipses all of those natural abilities.
He’s recruited by this separate group of dogs to thwart Kitty Galore and, ultimately, has to team up with cats, which is the end all, be all.
He has to overcome his own sense of pride to work together with them. I like his confidence and his boldness. He doesn’t really know about teamwork so much, but he’s very comfortable in his own skin.
What was the process of doing the voice of Diggs?
It was an interesting process. When you’re in a film or doing television and you’re in front of the camera, you have a tool box. You have your expressions in your face and your body language. This experience for me was challenging because you really do rely on your voice to convey emotion, to play a scene. It was definitely a journey.
Early on, we had some scratch track sessions, where we were just finding the voice of the character. It was important to find the voice that matched the physicality of the dog, and to match the energy that was needed for the animators.
All of that was very new to me and it was a big learning process. It was a great journey where we went many times, all over the place, to try to find the voice of Diggs.
For this type of movie, you’re in a dark room with a microphone sitting in front of you and not a lot of imagery to go along. We just had Brad (Peyton), the director, saying, “Say that again, but remember that what you’re yelling at, that you can’t see right now, is actually 50 meters ahead of you, so you need to be a little louder.” You put a lot of trust into Brad because he is the guide.
It was unlike any experience I’ve ever had before and it was very gratifying to see the final picture with all these puzzle pieces coming together. It’s great because you don’t always have that luxury on film sets, to be able to play and go here and there. You’re not burning film. You’re just burning time in the studio.
What is it about voice work that appeals to you, at this stage of your career?
It’s the fact that you can just roll out of bed. Vanity gets set aside. You really don’t have to worry about going through the works. I’d be lying to you, if I told you that wasn’t a part of it.
One of the fun elements of it is definitely that you get to go and really focus on one tool, which is your vocal performance. Voice work is usually not that big of a time commitment. You can go in for a couple of days or a couple of months, here and there, and just go in and play. I like being able to do that. You don’t have that luxury on film sets or television sets.
Time is money. Time is money in the studio as well, but one of the great things about getting in there and working with Brad was that we just would run the gamut. What didn’t work would be set aside, and what worked would be enhanced and embraced and then given to the animators.
Are you a cat or dog person?
I’m allergic to cats so, by default, I’m a dog person.
What do your kids think of your family roles?
They’re sort of over it now. The whole thing’s been demystified for them. I have a 4-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. When my son was about 4-years-old, I got excited because I thought, “Oh, he’s going to get to see his dad in this film.” You forget that a child’s mind, at that age, believes that what they’re seeing on screen is real to them.
They don’t see the manipulation. They don’t see the smoke and mirrors, and the Hollywood of it. It’s very real. So, I remember thinking, “Oh, he’s going to love this. It’s going to be great.” My son was freaked out by it when he saw me in X-Men, which he probably shouldn’t have been watching.
Now, I’m this dorky dad in the movies. But, my daughter is getting a kick out of it now. One of the reasons why I like doing these types of films is so I can be a part of something that I can enjoy with my kids, if they’re into it.