Interview: Frozen's Josh Gad
John Shearer, AP
Actor Josh Gad isn’t exactly going out of his way to put pressure on himself. But he knows how big a responsibility he was taking on when he put his voice to Disney’s new animated feature, Frozen.
The 32-year-old is a veteran of animated film and TV, having featured in Ice Age: Continental Drift and the MTV series Good Vibes. But this current trip as Frozen’s comedic linchpin, a sweetly naïve snowman named Olaf, is one Gad elevates to a higher category altogether.
“You certainly hope you get it right,” he notes, sitting cozy on the loveseat of a downtown Toronto hotel suite, “because if you don’t, then it’s, you know – what a letdown.
“There are so few of these,” Gad points out. “I believe there are 53 animated Disney films. So, they’re part of a legacy that is valued generation after generation. Playing a comedic sidekick who gets to sing in a Disney animated movie is something that I only dreamt of as a child. So, I can only imagine how many kids go into these movies and have that same dream. The influence that a movie like this can have on a kid is profound.”
Based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1845 tale The Snow Queen, Frozen chronicles the troubled relationship between two orphaned princesses: idealistic Anna (Kristen Bell), who misses the close relationship she used to have with elder sister and new queen Elsa (Idina Menzel), who exiles herself because everything and everyone she touches become ice.
Olaf, the snowman Elsa used to build for her sister in better times, reappears as guide and playful foil to Anna as she sets out in search for her lost sister.
“I would definitely say that this character was fleshed out brilliantly before I got involved,” Gad says. “But they certainly allowed me to play, and they certainly encouraged that playfulness. In fact, the very first session we had was just a test, and it was a test for the purposes of animating to some kind of track, and it was about the discovery of the voice.
“I was originally involved in the project when it was a 2D effort and it was called Anna and the Snow Queen, and it was completely different. Completely different. Megan Mullally was playing Elsa and it wasn’t really about sisterhood at all. I think it had more to do with the source material of Hans Christian Andersen’s story. When I did that version, Olaf was a different character entirely.”
Everything changed once Gad went into the sound studio.
“I said ‘This doesn’t feel right,’” he recalls. “And I kind of looked at the storyboards and I said: ‘You know what? I just want to try something.’ And they said ‘OK.’ I tried to find out what it would be like to play this snowman as a child – as a child who never grew up. And I immediately opened my mouth, and that was the voice. It was something that I think really, really connected to the story in the best possible way.
“This was about these two girls who created this snowman at a time in their life when the future was endless with possibilities, and he’s the last remnant of that childhood optimism. That test that we did that day is the final scene in the film for Olaf’s introduction. So, once we discovered it, we were on our way.”
Santino Fontana arrives at the sisters’ kingdom to romance smitten Anna, but his Prince Hans might not be as wonderful as he likes to portray himself. Hans guards the castle of a kingdom now suspended in perpetual winter, while a mountaineer named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) who first saw Anna when they were both children becomes a somewhat unwilling passenger and co-navigator on the search.
It is Gad, though, that gets the showstopper song of Frozen, sweetly rhyming off the virtues of In Summer while imagining himself – unknowing of the consequences for a snowman – frolicking and basking in beach sunshine.
That song, as with the entire soundtrack of Frozen, is written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the latter having worked with Gad before on the Broadway run of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s stage hit The Book of Mormon.
“There’s something incredibly, incredibly brilliant about Bobby Lopez and his wife Kristen and their musical efforts – whether it’s Bobby’s work on Avenue Q or Book of Mormon, or the two of them collaborating on Winnie the Pooh and now this,” Gad says. “They are the real deal, and it feels like a throwback to the Ashman/Rice collaborations, or Elton John and Alan Menken – all those kind of efforts that I grew up with and the songs that I loved.”
Frozen is a further trail that Disney really started blazing in 2010’s Tangled, a take on the old Grimm fairy tale Rapunzel, featuring Mandy Moore in the lead. Continuing through last year’s excellent Disney Pixar feature Brave, the latest animated features from the fabled studio have focused more on strong female leads negotiating their own way through life.
“I think it was hard for a while over there,” Gad surmises. “You have Pixar kind of standing over you in many ways; you have to find your own voice. And I think people kind of forgot about Disney. And they’re sneaking up, and now with Frozen I feel that it’s a true return to form that people could only have hoped for.”
The return has certainly been helped by Disney’s expansive Blu-ray releases of such classics as 1942’s Bambi, a home-video release that firmed up the beauty and wonder of the great feature film with a trove of revealing production notes and back story.
“It’s about two sisters,” Gad says of Frozen. “But it’s about the relationship of siblings, I think – which is, thematically, something that I haven’t really seen explored in an animated movie before. However, I’m about to be a father two times over. I already have a three-year-old, and we have another little girl on the way. So, the fact that I’m going to be a father of two little girls and have this particular movie is – it’s incredible, because I can’t think of a more thematically appropriate film to show my daughters than Frozen.”
Not shying away from future big challenges, Gad confirms that he is set to play explosive late and legendary comedian Sam Kinison in a biopic to be directed by Seinfeld and Sacha Baron Cohen collaborator Larry Charles.
“We’re going probably in the next six to eight months,” Gad says. “I’m really excited and terrified of it. Sam is obviously had a dark history, but he’s such a profound influence on so many people that I really want to capture the essence of his spirit and live up to the expectation that everybody has for his life story.”
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