Kodi Smit-McPhee, best known for his role as the boy opposite Viggo Mortensen in The Road, and Owen in the vampire thriller Let Me In, is the voice of Norman in the 3D stop-motion animated film ParaNorman. In this roundtable interview, Kodi talks about his voice role as Norman Babcock, the misunderstood local boy who speaks with the dead to prevent the destruction of his town from a centuries-old witch’s curse.
Is this your first voiceover work in an animated film?
Kodi Smit-McPhee: No, it’s my second. I just did a little thing in Australia. But nothing compared to this.
So how do you like not having to be in front of the camera and just use your voice to get the character through?
KSM: It’s a weird kind of feeling, but it’s a lot of fun because your can let loose and go crazy to let that emotion out.
How different is it to create a character that’s not you physically? You know what the words are but you still have to turn him into something?
KSM: It’s so weird, thinking that I’ve got to somehow make these guys connect and make this character look real. And that’s the thing we all kind of worried about. We all did character work. And they kept us up to date on how we were doing. It’s very hard but at the same time easy and laid back.
How different is your character’s voice from your speaking voice?
KSM: It’s very different. (Norman’s) High pitched. It doesn’t even sound like me at all.
Were you very influenced by the Norman puppet when you first saw it or did you already have something in mind?
KSM: The puppet’s actually really crazy and I wish I’d brought it with me. When I got the script and read it over, I got a feeling for the character. I drew this older-looking guy and it was literally identical to the character—even before I’d seen it. So I guess I got the right idea.
How did you prepare for the role? How did you psyche yourself up?
KSM: Preparing (for ParaNorman) was basically the same as preparing for a real film. It’s just making a whole life for the character. I work with my dad. He got me into acting. When you’re in those moments, you just feel it.
Are you a fan of horror movies? What’s your favorite?
KSM: I love horror movies. Even though it sounds weird, I’ve never seen The Exorcist, I always try to push myself to see it, but I never can. I bet that would be my favorite. And obviously Freddy Krueger and Jason—they’re all my favorites.
Do you actually record in the booth with other people?
KSM: That was the cool thing about it, because we actually got to interact with other people, and I think that made the conversations a lot more real. And we had a lot more fun other than just being there by ourselves.
Did you audition for this role?
KSM: I did. I was in Australia and just had this vibe that I could do this character. It turns out my voice has dropped and I can’t do it anymore. My whole plan was to do this voice and have people come up to me and say, “Can you do this voice?”
What kind of weird physical characteristics do you see in your character that are like you when you’re in the booth?
KSM: I think his whole body. He sort of looks like me. He’s kind of lanky and weird. I just feel he’s very much like me.
When you’re recording in the booth together with the other actors, do they let you do a lot off the script or do you pretty much stick to the script?
KSM: I did a lot of improvising with Tucker (Albrizzi). And that was hilarious and we actually put some of that in there when, in the film, he’s throwing a stick at his dog. That whole part was improvisation. Other than that, we have these huge paper cardboard posters that were stuck to the windows we read from.
Did you visit the set and watch some of the animation?
KSM: We did, separately for some reason. I went to this huge factory-looking place where these scenes were being shot all at once. And it’s just mind boggling. I would never have the patience to do that.
Are you a fan of stop motion?
KSM: I’m a huge fan of stop motion. I wish I could do that kind of work, but I it’s just not for me. But I love how it looks in the end.
One of the weird things about shooting voice work is that you do a lot of sequences and then you don’t do anything else for three or four hours. How do you get back into Norman after you been away from it for that long?
KSM: I think it’s just stuck in your head. But sometimes I would go back in and think, is my voice the same? Do I have the same accent? But it usually sticks with you. Sometimes, you forget and realize you’re doing a stop-motion film. I think we did ten sessions and there was a few months in between.
Did the film’s anti-bullying message resonate with you?
KSM: I was never bullied and I was never a bully. I just kind of went under the radar. But this movie is cool because a child can watch it and just have fun watching it like an adventure. For adults, there’s some horror movie things in it like Goonies or Scooby-do and the bullying message. It’s also saying that being normal or weird is fine, and that you should go with whatever you love—for you might just save your town.
Are you being approached by other studios to do more voiceover work?
KSM: I went on a bunch of interviews with Disney before this came out. I’d love to do a TV show.
Any exciting roles coming up?
KSM: I just finished Romeo and Juliet in Rome and that was amazing. I also did a film called The Congress, which was a sci-fi kind of thing, and one called Dead Europe, in which I play a ghost kind of kid.
Was it different being directed by two directors when you’re doing voiceover work?
KSM: I just thought of them as a team working together on this film. But I think it was good that there were two different minds working on it. It brought a lot of ideas together.
ParaNorman hits theaters August 17th.