It’s been four years since audiences fell in love with the heroic young Viking Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), who befriended an injured dragon named Toothless, in the critically acclaimed animated feature How to Train Your Dragon.
In the sequel, which opens on June 13th, the Vikings and dragons are living in peace in the town of Berk. But when Hiccup’s father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), hints that he wants Hiccup to become the leader of Berk, Hiccup and Toothless take to the skies on a new adventure where he meets his mother Valka (Cate Blanchett), who he thought was dead, and encounters the evil power-hungry Drago (Djimon Hounsou) who wants to destroy the harmony between dragons and Vikings.
The actors in the movie gathered at the Cannes Film Festival and in Los Angeles to talk about their new movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2.
Cate, how did you get involved in this project?
Cate: My children and I adored the first film, so when Dean (DeBlois, the movie’s writer/director) ambushed me a few years ago at an awards ceremony I was intrigued.
As an actor you’re used to using your body, your face, everything you can to communicate stuff, [then] you have to only do it through your voice.
I found it an intriguing ride over the last four years to watch the character evolve quite separate from me, and how you can enhance and work with what the animators are doing.
How had Stoick changed from the first film?
Gerard: I think in the beginning of the movie you meet a Stoick who’s much more relaxed and having fun. The pressure’s off, there’s not a constant war with the dragons and his son’s doing great, he’s not the weird effeminate boy that he was when he was growing up.
So it’s a different world where it’s full of fun and adventure. But I also feel that my time’s coming to an end, so I want to pass on the mantel to Hiccup, it’s time for him not just to show that he can slay dragons, which he’s done, but to show that he can be a leader.
How has Hiccup changed?
Jay: With Hiccup, we’ve seen some of the promise in the first movie realized a bit here, but the obligations of adulthood are starting to pile up. It doesn’t take a math whiz to know that as the son of the chief, he’s next in line, and he struggles with that.
[Hiccup] has constructed this really wicked flying suit that not only keeps him warm and looks cool but is outfitted, on his forearms, with everything he needs on his aerial excursions. He’s got a dagger, which he uses as a tool; extra paper for his expanding map; a pen and a rudimentary compass; and not only can he ride Toothless now, he can also fly side-by-side with him, which is pretty special.
Djimon, how did you come up with the voice for Drago?
Djimon: For Drago I felt extremely challenged because I remember seeing the first one and I thought, ‘Wow, Gerry’s voice has so much power, he’s such a presence in the story.’
So when I got called in for this I had to outdo this man, challenge this man. (Gerard laughs) I was anticipating a serious fight with him.
Were you worried about making the voice too scary for children?
Djimon: I saw the first movie with my son, never dreaming of being in the second one. But with a name like Drago Bludvist, I could not be limiting myself as far as how much you’re giving to a character like that. Obviously, he’s a bad guy. You can’t tone it down just because you’re doing a film for kids.
How do you see the relationship between Stoick and Valka?
Gerard: The story goes to deeper and darker places than most animated movies would dare to go. And one of them is separation and abandonment.
In a way, Valka abandoned her child and she’s apologetic about it, and she had a deeper cause that she wanted to fight, but she could have returned and checked up on them.
There was always this part of me, Gerry, I wanted to say, (yelling), ‘Where were you? Not even a hello, not even I’m alright? I’m making helmets out of your breast plates and you’re having a blast tickling dragons under the chin.’
What do you think about Valka, who leaves behind her baby?
Cate: We did discuss a lot about that particular issue, because of course there is a judgment on how women parent, and I think the film actually deals with it really beautifully, deeply and emotionally.
Valka’s departure was an accidental one, and when she’s reunited with her son they discover that even though they’ve been estranged from one another, there’s a deep genetic understanding of the dragons, and that re-bonds them.
There’s an enormous amount of humor in the film, but there is an incredible amount of heart that comes from that core family unit of Hiccup, Valka and Stoick.
Any final thoughts on the movie?
Gerard: At this point you know who you are, you know your voice, you know the guy and you can throw out extra things and play with it more.
And what’s cool about the movie is there’s already a momentum from the first one, and that can kill you if you don’t live up to that, but if you get it right and you put a lot of thought into where you can take those characters, then that momentum becomes something powerful.
I think that’s what they did in this movie. We had a chance to go richer and deeper into a really cool story.
Jay: Being a part of the Dragon franchise is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I had no idea when I showed up for the very first recording session, the adventures that it would take me on.
I played one role out of thousands of people involved, but I’ll just say I’m privileged to be involved in a movie that means as much as How to Train Your Dragon does to people.