Q & A Session with Joan Cusack (of “Mars Needs Moms”) (J!-ENT Interviews and Articles)
August 9, 2011 by Dennis Amith
When it comes to voice acting for animated films, actress Joan Cusack is not a stranger. Having provided the voice of the female cowboy Jessie in the “Toy Story” films, Cusack (“Working Girl”, “Say Anything”, “Confessions of a Shopaholic”) does make her first entry to the world of motion capture for the Disney film “Mars Needs Moms”.
In the film, Cusack plays the character of Mom, mother of protagonist Milo. A loving but strict mother, she tries to make sure her son eats his broccoli. But after Milo tries to pretend he did and feeds it their cat (who ends up getting sick), Milo is sent to his room and an argument ensues between mother and child in which Milo tells his mother that he wishes that he has never had a mom.
Milo does regret what he said but when he goes to apologize to her, he notices that aliens have kidnapped his mother. And now, Milo races towards the spacecraft to save his mother. Can he do it?
“Mars Needs Moms” is directed by Simon Wells (“The Time Machine”, “The Prince of Egypt”, “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West”) and produced by filmmaker Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future” films, “Cast Away”, “Monster House”, “Polar Express”).
The film also stars Seth Green (“Robot Chicken, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Austin Powers” films) who does the motion capture of Milo, Dan Fogler (“Take Me Home Tonight”, “Kung Fu Panda”) as Gribble, Elisabeth Harnois (“A Single Man”) as Ki 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.
We kicked off with actor Seth Green and now for this second Q&A, we showcase a Q&A with actress Joan Cusack who talks about her experience working on the film.
How would you describe your character in the movie?
JOAN: I play Mom in the movie, and she’s a universal, caring mother. She has fun with her son, Milo, and she teases him to get him to do the right thing. I think there’s a wonderful playfulness to her and a wonderful sense of caring and nurturing.
What do you think of the look of Mom in the movie?
JOAN: Well, she looks a lot like me and she acts a lot like me, but it’s a little bizarre to see her staring back from the screen. The whole filmmaking process was so interesting on Mars Needs Moms. It was fascinating and it was really great to be involved with cutting-edge filmmaking.
What attracted you to the role of ‘Mom’ in Mars Needs Moms?
JOAN: I was immediately interested in the project because it had such a great story and there were interesting, fun people working on the movie. It doesn’t take very long to shoot a performance capture movie like this, which was also attractive to me. The film shoot didn’t go on for six months, which is very mom-friendly for a mother like myself. On top of that, it was also cool to discover what this next generation of filmmaking was going to be like.
What did the filmmaking process involve?
JOAN: You’re dressed up in a crazy, skin-tight suit and it feels like you’re doing experimental theater in a large room filled with cameras. Your face is covered in dots and you wear a huge helmet with mini cameras pointing directly at you. It was strange, but I was excited to be part of it. Not only was it interesting to work with all of the technology, but I also had such fun and interesting performers around me. I immediately bonded with [co-star] Mindy Sterling, so I had a blast.
Did you feel self-conscious wearing the skin-tight suit and having hundreds of dots strategically placed around your face?
JOAN: No, I was fine with everything. There are so many weird things about being an actor. Sometimes you spend an entire day talking to a piece of tape on set, so I was fine about running around in the suit. The dots were a little surreal at times. I couldn’t believe how much effort they put into getting the dots in exactly the same position every day. You’d hear them fretting, “This dot needs to be a little more over there.” And, “This dot needs to be a little higher here.” It was fascinating.
How different is it to work on a performance capture movie compared to a regular live-action film?
JOAN: Working with performance capture was very liberating. The cameras are placed around the room and they capture every angle and every shot in the scene. You don’t have to re-shoot close-up shots or change the angle of the cameras or the lighting every time you tackle a new scene, which is quite luxurious. There are not so many people around on set either, simply because there aren’t so many props or things to do. On set, it’s all about your acting. There’s nothing else that takes precedence. It’s very different to live action.
Was the work fun or stressful?
JOAN: I love acting, so it was pure fun. There is so much freedom to do whatever you want to do when you work with performance capture. The cameras are situated pretty far away from you, so you’re just acting with the person next to you. You don’t have to worry about makeup, hair or even wardrobe. It was a completely new experience for me, but something I will never forget.
What was your toughest challenge in working on Mars Needs Moms?
JOAN: Apart from the difficulty of going to the bathroom in the crazy suits, there wasn’t anything else too difficult to deal with.
This film explores the relationships between mothers and their children. What does motherhood mean to you?
JOAN: Being a mom is a tough job, and it’s easy to lose your patience. You find yourself wanting things to be done correctly, but you don’t always have time to make sure your kids feel okay about all these things. It’s not your job to be their friend and it’s really hard work being the person saying ‘no’ to them all the time. You’re constantly pointing out the things that they do wrong, but you’re doing all this to make sure they get better at it. It’s because you truly love them.
What was the best piece of advice you ever received from your mother?
JOAN: I was thinking about my mom’s passion recently. She has always been someone who cared about politics and the poor. I’m not political, but I love that I experienced her being a passionate person and I want to make sure my kids know that about her. I want them to find something in their life that they feel equally passionate about.
How much of your character’s dialogue in the movie comes directly from your own experience as a mother?
JOAN: All of them! The whole conversation about the cat, the vomit and the poison in the movie are a daily occurrence in my life. I have a son named Miles, and in the movie my son’s character is called Milo. I constantly found myself calling him Miles by mistake. I couldn’t help it.
What would you like children to take away from the movie?
JOAN: I think it’s good if they understand that it is hard for moms to not be their kid’s friend. It’s another level of love that’s harder to understand than if you let yourself just be their friend. You want to help shape your children and you think about all aspects of their lives. Friendship is a smaller kind of relationship than what a mom really wants to have with her child. Well, that’s what I think anyway.
MARS NEEDS MOMS is Available August 9th on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray Hi-Def, DVD & Digital Movie Download!
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