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Hop – How James Marsden got to grip with his CGI co-star’s chemistry

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Hop - Russell Brand and James Marsden
Houseguest: E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand) and Fred (James Marsden) © 2011 Universal Studios

Just in time for Easter comes a new comedy, Hop, which blends state-of-the-art CG animation with live action. The movie tells the tale of E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand), the teenage son of the Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie). He reside on Easter Island, under a giant stone which covers a magnificent candy factory, always in training to one day take over the job of Easter Bunny from his father.

But E.B. longs to be a drummer, and takes off for Hollywood to pursue his dream, leaving the chicks on Easter Island to plan a coup. In Hollywood E.B. encounters Fred, played by James Marsden, who has just been thrown out of his parents’ home, and the odd couple find themselves locked in an epic battle to save Easter.

At the press day, James Marsden spoke of his role of Fred in the movie, and working with a CGI Russell Brand in the persona of E.B.

You got to spend some time watching Russell Brand do his recording sessions, how did that inform your performance, perhaps giving you an advantage in terms of knowing what he was doing?

Hop - James Marsden
Out-of-work slacker Fred (James Marsden) © 2011 Universal Studios

It was really helpful. I had requested it. and Tim [Hill, the movie’s director] had already had it in his head that he wanted to do that. I’d just finished a movie before this called Cats and Dogs, where I was a voice and there was living action stuff as well.

Through that entire process I kept thinking, ‘Chris O’Donnell is up there and he can’t change his performance.’ When you lock picture you lock picture, but as a voice over artist you can go back in and if something doesn’t work you can come back in any time and change the lines.

I thought here I was with Russell Brand, the world’s greatest improvisational comedian, and if there’s any sort of back and forth banter he’s always going to get the good end of it because I’m going to be stuck with what we shoot. He’s going to go in and make it funnier.

Mainly I wanted to get together because this movie, to me, hinges on the dynamic and the chemistry between these two characters. I wanted to explore what that was going to be and what his take was going to be on the Easter Bunny. It was really great for me to just sit in the room together and riff off of each other.

Is there a method that you use for working against an actor that’s not an actor but a CGI rabbit? Or is it something that each actor has to just go for in the best way that they know how?

Hop - James Marsden and director Tim Hill
James Marsden and director Tim Hill on the set © 2011 Universal Studios

It’s kind of that. There is a process that makes it a little easier for you. We had a read through and there was this great British actor by the name of Greg Ellis. He’s in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He came to the read through and he did Russell’s part.

I said, ‘Can we just pay him to be right off camera so that I can hear a British accent with somebody with a similar sensibility and humor?’ And we did. We got him for a few weeks until he had to go do the next Pirates movie. So that was massively helpful.

Do you have anything in common with Fred?

What I would say that I have in common with Fred is that I’m sort of a perpetual child as a thirty seven year old adult. I have two kids. I have a ten year old and a five year old. My point in saying that is that I’m always acting very goofy and silly with them, but when I was younger I didn’t really.

Up until I was nineteen years old and in college I was surrounded by people in high school who felt like they knew what they wanted to do with their lives. That was intimidating to me because I didn’t. I didn’t know what I was here on earth to do or even what my passion was until I discovered the dramatic arts in junior high school. I realized then, ‘I like this.

This is something that I feel like I’m good at,’ but it was really unrealistic, the idea of moving to Hollywood and becoming an actor. I guess what I have in common with Fred is that I’m a little lazy. I’m a little bit of a slacker and I didn’t want to settle for something that I didn’t feel was right for me.

What kind of values or message do you feel like this film is communicating to kids? Is there a moral?

Hop - James Marsden and Kaley Cuoco
Fred (James Marsden) and sister Sam O'Hare (Kaley Cuoco) advising him to get his life together © 2011 Universal Studios

I would say that it’s following your dream, finding your passion in life. That’s certainly it when I think of my character. It’s pretty sad that he’s in his early thirties and still living at home and without a job.

He saw the Easter Bunny when he was a kid and that opened his world up to a sense of magic, a real magic that most kids don’t get to see. Then he grew up in a world that doesn’t have a lot of magic, and yet he held onto that.

I think that was one of the reasons why  he didn’t want to settle for something that he wasn’t passionate about. It just turns out that him being the Easter Bunny was his passion which is strange, but I think it’s about following your dreams.  It’s about finding your passion in life and going for that.