Q & A Session with Elisabeth Harnois & Kevin Cahoon (of “Mars Needs Moms”) (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)
August 11, 2011 by Dennis Amith
For our next Q&A with the voice talent of Disney’s “Mars Needs Moms”, we feature Elisabeth Harnois and Kevin Cahoon.
Elisabeth Harnois plays the character of Ki, the rebel alien hooked on Earth’s hippie culture and is sympathetic to the Milo and Gribble. Kevin Cahoon plays the part of Wingnut, the not-so-bright male alien who hangs out with Gribble.
The film also stars Seth Green (“Robot Chicken, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Austin Powers” films) who does the motion capture of Milo, Joan Cusack (“Toy Story 2 & 3”, “Say Anything”) as Mom, Dan Fogler (“Kung Fu Panda”, “Horton Hears a Who?”, “Take Me Home Tonight”) and Mindy Sterling (“Austin Powers” films, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”) as the Supervisor.
With the August 9th release of “Mars Needs Moms” on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and DVD, J!-ENT will be showcasing Q&A’s with the talents of the film and with producer Robert Zemeckis.
Here is a Q&A with Elisabeth and Kevin:
How do you go about portraying a Martian in a movie like Mars Needs Moms?
KEVIN CAHOON: You have to jump off a cliff when you’re playing a character that speaks a completely different language. You have to follow each impulse and you have to feel free to be very physical with your role. You have to zone into the character and let your feelings fly.
ELISABETH HARNOIS: That’s exactly what I did on set, too. The inspiration behind my character was the notion that everybody has a free spirit that embraces love and happiness. Everything is okay and beautiful in my character’s eyes, so that’s what I had to think about when I was playing her. I just had to focus and forget about being self-conscious. You have to live and breathe your character for it to work.
Is it true that you guys created the Martian language in Mars Needs Moms?
ELISABETH HARNOIS: That is very true! Well, it wasn’t just Kevin and I; there were four of us who helped to create the language. It was a really fun process. Each of us had our own idea of what these Martians would sound like, but then we all got together to create something that was a hybrid of all of our sounds. They recorded all of our sessions back then. In fact, you can watch us coming up with the language on one of the Blu-ray and DVD extras.
How difficult was it to come up with an entirely new language?
KEVIN CAHOON: It was an interesting process. The producers and writers gave us a list of feelings, such as disdain or joy, and we had to express our interpretation of that in a Martian language. Then Stephen Kearin [who plays another Martian in the movie] went through all of the tapes and figured out which words were associated with each sound. He created our Martian dictionary, which was a huge board with all of the Martian words written out phonetically. The dictionary was hung on the studio wall for everyone to follow. It was cool.
How familiar were you with the process of performance capture before you started work on Mars Needs Moms?
ELISABETH HARNOIS: I‘ve always been a fan of new technologies. I went to film school, and I’ve always been interested in new filmmaking developments. That’s why this role was a dream come true for me. The performance-capture process allowed me to be a big goofball on the set because you lose all of your inhibitions. To be honest, this role has allowed me to flex my goofball muscles like I never have before!
How does it feel to see your face and movements on a Martian in the finished movie?
ELISABETH HARNOIS: It feels awesome. There’s no vanity involved in shooting a movie like this. It’s not like I’m going to look at the screen and scream, “Oh no! I do not like the way they have lit me there.” Part of the fun is getting to see yourself as a strange character from another planet. Even though she’s not human, I can see my little quirks and characteristics shine through. It makes me have a great appreciation for the technology involved.
KEVIN CAHOON: It’s really wild when you see yourself as a Martian for the first time. I can see my eyes, my smile and my body language in my character, Wingnut, and yet he’s an alien. He’s a Martian! It’s amazing what the technology can capture and what the artists and animators can do. The heart of each character really shines through from the actors, which is remarkable. I’ve been blown away by the process. I’m constantly amazed by it. It’s fascinating.
What was your toughest challenge on the set of the movie?
KEVIN CAHOON: I had to hang sideways in a harness for some of my scenes in the movie, and that was tough at times. The takes were really long because we didn’t cut between scenes, so I’d be hanging there for quite a while. It was tough, but it was worth it.
ELISABETH HARNOIS: I got to do a lot of aerial stunts and wirework for the movie, which is something I had never done before. I got to fly around the room at high speeds on wires like I was an action star, which was pretty special and thrilling – but it was also very challenging at the same time.
Would you describe Mars Needs Moms as a kids’ movie?
ELISABETH HARNOIS: Mars Needs Moms is a really fun, smart family film – and it’s full of sophisticated and adult humor, as well as touching scenes and exciting moments of adventure. There’s no cursing, but it’s certainly not just a kids’ movie.
KEVIN CAHOON: Mars Needs Moms doesn’t pander solely to a kids’ audience. Anybody who’s ever had a mother, or anybody who’s ever wanted to be parent, is going to be weeping at the end of the story. It’s action packed, but it’s heart wrenching at the same time. There’s something for everyone with this movie.
Mars Needs Mom is a tale about motherhood… What’s the best piece of advice your mother ever gave you?
KEVIN CAHOON: My mom loved me unconditionally and celebrated everything about me. She encouraged me and fertilized all of my interests as a child. I grew up in Texas and I’m an only child in a rodeo family, so acting wasn’t really in our history. When I decided I wanted to be an actor in New York City and Los Angeles, they embraced me and loved me for every bit of eccentricity in my bones. That was the greatest gift my mom ever gave me, her complete acceptance, as well as her understanding and encouragement.
ELISABETH HARNOIS: My mom has always supported me in anything that I wanted to do, but she also always reminds me where I have come from. My mother is my biggest fan. She always tells me to have a real sense of self in a business where other people tell you who you are all the time. I think that’s probably the best advice she’s ever given me.
What advice would you give to people who want to follow in your footsteps and act?
ELISABETH HARNOIS: If you want to become an actor, you’ve just got to go for it. You have to figure out who you are and what you want from life – and that’s often the hardest part. Once you are confident within yourself, you can then lose your self-consciousness and start to take risks.
KEVIN CAHOON: I totally agree. You can only be who you are, so don’t try to be anyone else. It never works. If you want to become an actor, embrace your strengths and learn your craft. Don’t let anybody tell you that you’ll never make it. Follow your heart; keep your dreams alive, and go for it!
MARS NEEDS MOMS is Available August 9th on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray Hi-Def, DVD & Digital Movie Download!
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