The Young Folks had the chance to sit down with Jay Baruchel, Dean DeBlois and American Ferrera who are the voice actors in the upcoming sequel to How to Train Your Dragon, How to Train Your Dragon 2! Jay Baruchel plays Hiccup, a young inventor who loves nothing more than to go explore with his pal Toothless. Toothless is a dragon he tamed and befriended in the first film– come on guys, get with the program. The wonderful America Ferrera plays Astrid, a quirky female Viking who knows a thing or two about Dragon riding… she’s also totally in love with Hiccup– again, catch up people! Lastly, Dean DeBlois is the writer and director of the amazing film franchise, a kid at heart, he just wants animated films to be enjoyed by adults as well as kids. Let me tell you, do these 3 deliver. I don’t want to spoil too much about the interview, but we talk about their favorite scenes, struggles they encountered for the film and of course the themes in the film that surprised everyone in the theater. I will tell you this– it’s a spoiler filled interview, so I understand if you want to save this to your favorites and come back once you’ve already checked out the movie. So let’s dive into Hiccup’s world and read up on the process of making this extraordinary film.
Do you feel hiccup had to experience a loss in order for him to step up into his role?
Jay Baruchel: Oh, definitely! As I think anybody would, I believe it’s a part of maturation and coming-of-age. Without a doubt. Listen, he would follow in his dad’s footsteps regardless but I definitely think it expedites it.
Dean DeBlois: Well, we approached Roger in the first film and he joined us for the whole production which was his first time doing that. He had a fantastic contribution, just about every frame was affected by his prolific career as a live-action cinematographer; his use of natural light is unlike any other. So, we benefited from that and he came back for the second film, but we actually took a trip to Norway then to the deep Arctic into Svalbard where we rode around on snowmobiles, avoided polar bears and took incredible photographs of the light up there and how it sort of just filters in at the northern latitudes. That all found its way into the movie so, it’s kind of like a master class having Roger around.
Do you find that more Latinas are finding themselves playing all kinds of roles and not being stereotyped by looks?
America Ferrera: I think that’s what’s awesome about animation. You know, the human can play a donkey. Or, a Latina can play at Viking. It’s about creating a world that requires the suspension of our beliefs. It’s so much fun, I’m so glad that they were looking for the essence of the character and not just somebody who looked like her because then I would’ve never gotten to play her!
DD: the biggest one was creating a sequel that we didn’t feel would disappointed. That was something we were acutely aware of from the beginning. We wanted to make sure that this movie, that had become beloved and continued to grow a fan base — that those people wouldn’t be let down by simply a rehash of the same material. Which is why we decided to start the story at a different crossroad for Hiccup and Astrid and the other characters. In particular Hiccup, stepping into his adulthood, unsure of who he is and feeling the pressure from his father to step into the family business. It’s an epic adventure, but it’s driven by this core restlessness that’s within Hiccup. Meeting Valka is part the answer of that, meeting the other half of his soul.
JB: I think just sort of making sure that we did justice to the people who liked the first one. There was sort of no reference point or comparison for the first one. If we would’ve just falling flat on our faces, it wouldn’t have really made a difference to anyone, at least not to me. You know, I didn’t fund the movie. But now we have a precedent, every day this movie becomes more and more of an institution so now the caliber of the first one is the basement for the quality of this one. It has to be as good as the first one if not better. So there’s a bit of weight that comes with that.
AF: I actually saw great advantage in the second film because in the first one we went through a lot of steps, discovering who are these characters and what is this world. It was more of a discovery process. Then for the first film to kind of be this wonderful gift of “this is now the world we live in”. Going into the second film just felt like we weren’t creating anything we were just playing on what we had already established.
JB: Personally, for Hiccup, I think in the first one he was trying to reconcile the fact that he’s a square peg in a society that he’s so different than. Five years later we see the repercussions of Hiccup and his revolution. Now, dragons are ingrained in the culture, there isn’t a Viking on the island who doesn’t have a dragon of their own, that doesn’t mean there’s no work left to do! So what he’s dealing with now, at 20, is quite universal for anybody that age which is who they think they want to be versus what their parents want them to be, or what their culture expects of them. Is there a means of connecting the two? Can I find my way of being?
AF: I think in the first movie Astrid was sort of the model Viking. She was ready to be a dragon slayer, she was ready to be the BEST dragonslayer out there. She was very resistant to Hiccup’s way of looking at the world; she was the convert in the first film. I think in the second one she’s really moved, even though she’s very much her own person and they differ in their opinions, she can see how Hiccup sees the world as inspiring and she’s his partner in it. She believes now that he CAN be the chief, that it lies within him. The first time around she thought that she would be a better chief… and well, she might still think that a little bit.
America, any chance of an “Ugly Betty” reunion?
AF: Ummm… Anything is possible.
JB: Personally, I actually prefer it. For me, even though I’ve been acting since I was 12, it’s still unnatural to me to have a bunch of people staring at me, with lights on me, and having to wear makeup and costumes for 14 hours a day. That’s not me disparaging it, but this is just so much more comfortable for me. Just me and my own skin and it amounts to an hour and a half to two hours every couple of months over the course of three years. At the end, you’re rewarded with this treat. When you shooting something, you at least know kind of what it’s going to look like, but with this we know about 10% of what it’s going to be. When they finally open the curtains we get to see it as fans whose voices are in it. There’s no parallel for that. It’s absolutely incredible!
My question has to do with a throwaway line by Craig Ferguson where he says “that’s why I never got married” and no that’s not the reason, so I’m wondering as an openly gay filmmaker how has it changed for the filmmakers to be able to incorporate things like that into a movie that’s very mainstream?
DD: I think it’s a sign of the times. It’s really such a non-issue. I like to think of the movie speaks to everybody and it represents everybody. It’s actually treated as a throwaway line because essentially it is a joke. It’s a little insight into a character who is in this romantic scene where a husband meets his estranged wife after 20 years. It’s a great lived from Craig, I can’t take credit for it because he’s the one that brought it up and decided to say it. But I fully endorse it and I think it’s just really nice. It’s not in your face but it’s reflective of the norm.
AF: which I think is what’s pretty powerful about the film as a whole. You can read into the film a ton of social messages, personal messages but ultimately a lot of outliers live in this world and it’s not a big deal. Astrid is a dragonriders and Valka, the number one Dragon tamer, is a woman! And while that’s so incredibly empowering to see, in the world of Burke it just IS and people accept it. Which is a really wonderful step to just get to see it and not have a discussion about it necessarily.
America, I’m a big fan of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and they just announced the third movie. I just wanted to know if you had any plans to be in it?
America, what do you think, from your upbringing, has given you the strength and the ability to just keep going and achieving your success?
AF: Well, to link it into this film, I think it’s what the audience responds to in Hiccup; such a sureness and what you believe in. For me, I have always had a passion for telling stories and I believe that we are all more the same than we are different. Since the beginning of my career, I’ve had the good fortune to be playing very specific characters that have appealed to massive amounts of people of different backgrounds. To me it just continues to prove to me throughout my career that we are all alike. It’s exciting to me, to be an industry where these opportunities are becoming more and more accessible. In the Latino community, it’s important for us to realize that we can be in front of the camera and behind the camera as well, telling our own stories. I think there’s a lot of room for discovery in that. I do think there’s a lot of Latina in Astrid, she’s very tough.
When you saw the final cut, what ended up being your favorite scene?
JB: My favorite was definitely when she does her impression of me.
Somehow, I knew you were going to say that…
JB: I’m a narcissist, what can I say? [laughs]
AF: That was a relief for me. I’m really glad he took it well, I was really nervous because he was in the room with me while I was doing it. My favorite scene, is between Valka and Stoick, where they’re seeing each other again for the first time. I can’t believe the nuance in the story and the animation. At that point it didn’t matter that it was an animated film. I was just feeling it.
DD: My favorite scene, because I was most nervous about it, was when Valka and Stoick are singing together. Now, this isn’t a musical, I don’t like musicals, and I knew it had to be handled very delicately. I wanted it to be a reconnection by way of song that was THEIR song.. 20 years before that had been passed down through Viking culture. There was a high risk of it being cringe-worthy. It was a beautiful piece of music. The way it’s delivered– Gerard Butler did a fantastic job singing his part and with a little bit of comedy from Craig Ferguson, it turned out to be non-melodramatic and sweet, as it was intended to. I think it communicates a lot.
JB: It was less about doing a voice in a kid’s movie than it was a great opportunity as an actor. Listen, less than 10% of us can feed ourselves from acting, it’s just the God’s honest truth. Most actors work a bunch of other jobs. To be able to have a consistent career is a blessing and to be able to do things you like within that is even better. So when you have the opportunity to be a part of something this cool, I’d be a fool to pass it up. I like different kinds of movies, so I want to be part of different kinds of movies.
AF: Animated movies were a huge part of my childhood and I think as I grew into adulthood, I still found myself wanting to steal other people’s kids so it would be okay for me to watch an animated movie [laughs]. I think it’s so clear that it’s just another medium; that storytelling can transcend. I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into, no idea that it was going to be this amazing of a project. It felt like an opportunity to tell another good story.
DD: And I’m on a mission to lift that stigma. I don’t want animation to be just for kids. I definitely don’t want to exclude kids, but I think it reaches to all people and I want it to get to the point where an adult won’t feel bad about going to see an animated film without a child.Hopefully, this type of movie, which has dualing story lines, one that speaks to children and another that speaks to adults, creates the broadest experience possible. I hope to hear from as many adults as possible who enjoyed the film as much as kids.
AF: MY favorite is that Hiccup is a hero because of his ideas in a culture that’s about strength. He changes his world with what he believes. There are so many reasons for him to change his mind a long the way and as an audience member you’re torn because you don’t want him to go towards the danger, but you also don’t want him to give up on his beliefs either. I think it challenges the audience, you know? What would you do? Would you believe enough in what you stand for to keep going even in the face of loss and danger?
JB: For me, it’s the refusal to accept the status quo. You know, just because things are a certain way doesn’t mean that’s how they’re meant to be.
DD: There’s a lot of forgiveness and a lot of not giving up on one another. I think that’s representative in Hiccup and Toothless’ relationship and really every other character. They’re all kind of either losing or finding themselves throughout the story and that tends to be an overall theme. The characters can let go of their regrets and be completely forgiven and be brought back in by the people who believe in them.
There you have it Young Folks! We’d like to send a special thank you to Jay, America and Dean for chatting with us and sharing their insight on the film. I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite movies I’ve seen this year. It’s got a little bit of everything and it’s definitely enjoyable for adults as well as kids. I hope you all go check out the movie when it hits theaters on June 13, 2014!