Heather Keets
March 25, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

Before Gilbert Gottfried commissioned his vocals to Disney for the voice of Iago, feathered sidekick to the evil Jafar in Aladdin, he was a cartoon. In Thumbelina, that is. Here, his thoughts on the art of employing that misanthropic nasal whine for family entertainment:

EW: What kind of creature are you in Thumbelina?
GG: I play Berkeley, an eight-legged or 10-legged beetle. You’ll have to call PBS to find out how many legs they have.

EW: Are you a specific species of beetle?
GG: A loud, irritating, Jewish beetle.

EW: What does Berkeley Beetle do?
GG: He tries to pick up Thumbelina by inviting her to the Beetle Ball. He invites her there thinking she’s really beautiful. …Because she’s not one of them, the other beetles think she’s ugly. Insects react that way; there’s no accounting for taste in their world.

EW: Tell us about performing as a cartoon character. How do you prepare for the job?
GG: I work like De Niro. For Aladdin I lived with a family of parrots for a year.

EW: How did you land the part of Iago in Aladdin, anyway?
GG: (The producers) were looking for someone to be the parrot. At first it was reversed, where the villain, Jafar, was completely crazy, and the parrot was the logical one. They switched it, and the parrot was the crazy one who exploded all the time. They had me come in. They said, ”He’s annoying enough.”

EW: When the film was complete, how did it feel to watch yourself as a parrot?
GG: It was very strange. Not only was the voice the same, but the head animator watched a bunch of my tapes and drew the parrot with my personality. He had my teeth — I mean, not that many parrots I know have teeth — and my eyebrows, and he moved around the way I move around on stage. That was very odd to watch.

EW: There’s a sequel coming out on video, The Return of Jafar, and we understand you have two solos. Is it a strain to sing in that voice?
GG: It’s painful, but more so for the people listening.

EW: Now that you’ve starred as two animated creatures, are you concerned about getting, uh, pigeonholed?
GG: Yeah — I mean, I guess I could be playing beetles and parrots for the rest of my life.

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