It’s been a very successful franchise and more big things are expected from the third instalment, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. I recently had the chance to speak with star Jay Baruchel about the film and the series as a whole…
Matt: I’m guessing with an animated film you’re spending all your time in a recording studio. Do you get to meet or interact with any of the other cast members at all?
Jay: I used to but that’s kind of changed now. We’ve been doing these movies for a while and we know the lay of the land but more than anything, our cast is exceedingly internationally based. I’m in Toronto but others are in Los Angeles, New York, London and Sydney. It’s hard to get everyone in the same place so it’s usually just me at a microphone and sometimes I’ll be with the director on Skype.
Matt: So how does your relationship work with director Dean Deblois? What sort of instruction does he provide?
Jay: Yeah, often he’s in California when I’m in Canada. I would say the relationship is as strong as it’s ever been. He and I have a type of shorthand that we’ve developed over a decade of working together. We take pride and ownership in this character and he’s always afforded me a great deal of trust and respect. I’ve treated him the same way and as a result, there’s a lot less that has to be said. We don’t need to be in the same room to “rock and roll” together because we’ve been through it so many times.
Matt: Is it tough getting into the emotion of the role when do you have other actors to work alongside as you would in a live-action movie?
Jay: Obviously, if I was in period piece Viking clothing with stuff burning around me then it’d inevitably help your performance. I don’t mean to sound coy but the gig is the same whether you’re in front of a camera or a microphone or whether you’re being funny or serious. The job is always to be compelling and truthful. It sounds like a cliché but you just need to keep it simple and remember what you’re there for.
Matt: How long does it take to record all your speaking lines?
Jay: It translates to 1.5 to 2 hours for 3 to 5 times a year over the course of 3 years. That’s me recording a How to Train Your Dragon movie.
Matt: Wow! So why is it spread across such a long period? Is it to tie into the work of the animation team?
Jay: Yeah. These films are significant endeavours and there are armies of artists and animators involved. It takes time to be the movie that sets the gold standard which the How to Train Your Dragon movies have consistently been. I admit that I have no background in animation as a technician but I know that it’s a piecemeal, back-and-forth process that isn’t fully done until the film comes out.
They’ll record me saying stuff and they’ll realise after doing the animation that they need more lines and so I go back and give them more. It’s not like a movie you shoot and put it together in the editing room. This is a thing that is constantly evolving and is fluid.
Matt: Was it like seeing the finished product for the first time? Is it anything like what you imagine?
Jay: It’s hard to imagine how special it ends up being. Even having done two of these and also eight seasons of the TV shows, it’s still amazing to see it for the first time. It’s such a stark transition from sitting in a soundproof booth with script pages at my feet that smells like McDonalds. That compared with the majesty, awe, wonder and beauty of these movies is a million miles away from how it starts.
It’s like an assembly line in that I work on my piece of the car. I take care of my lines and my guy and that’s it. I assume that if you only handle the spark plugs on a Ferrari assembly line and then you see a Ferrari come out of the assembly line, that must look pretty cool.
Matt: You’ve been involved with this franchise for a while now and it’s been a tremendous success in terms of box-office and critical acclaim. What do you think the secret has been? Why are audiences so engrossed by these characters?
Jay: The answer is going to sound hokey but it comes down to sincerity. The movies start from a place of truth. A cursory glance of today’s news headlines may imply otherwise but people, by and large, have pretty good bullshit detectors. People don’t suffer nonsense and I think they can tell these movies have the “ring of truth” to them and that’s because there’s a heart and an earnestness that they have.
They’re also damn good stories. You can be transported into this immersive universe with colours and you could never see here. They’re entertaining stories with really solid characters. It’s a funny thing because everyone knows what a good movie is supposed to be and yet they’re such a miracle.
Matt: The original was released back in 2010. Can you remember how you were first cast? Do you know what it was about your voice that stood out to Dean Deblois?
Jay: I was lucky enough to be making a film called Tropic Thunder in Hawaii. One day on set, I got word that they wanted me to audition for this new cartoon they were trying. On an off day, I went to a little studio on the island of Kauai and read a bunch of lines. A few weeks later they asked me to come in to do the next session and I realised I had the job.
It’s funny that you ask about the quality of my voice. In my first version, I was trying to age my voice down by going with a higher pitch. I was very thankfully that version of Hiccup never saw the light of day.
Matt: What are you working on at the moment? What will we see from you next?
Jay: I wrote a book called Born into It: A Fan’s Life which came out in Canada a month ago and I’ve just finishing going around the country and talking about that. I also directed a film called Random Acts of Violence which we are currently editing in my basement. We just finished for the day 20 minutes ago. It stars Jesse Williams and Jordana Brewster and hopefully it’ll be out in late summer or the fall in 2019.