Dr. Seuss described The Lorax as “shortish. And oldish. And brownish. And mossy. And he spoke with a voice that was sharpish and bossy.”
It’s the role Danny DeVito was born to play.
“Well, I always think of myself as being a little gruffer,” DeVito laughs. “But I knew it would be such a trip to hear my voice coming out of this wonderful, cuddly character.”
In the big-screen animated movie debuting tomorrow, DeVito not only voices the little furry guy who “speaks for the trees” in English, but also in the Spanish, Italian, Russian, and German versions. After the jump, we’ve got exclusive video of the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia actor grappling with the languages.
Meanwhile, DeVito answers a few burning questions for EW, such as: What does the Lorax eat? And how did he end up with that Jersey accent?
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re someone who cares about the environment, but apart from that, which elements of yourself are in The Lorax?
DANNY DEVITO: He’s very tenacious and has stuff on his mind. He’s trying to be a really good neighbor to all the animals and all the people he lives with. They live in paradise, and I would say he’s like a guy from my old neighborhood, where if you came in and started messing things up, [he would say], “You can change it and modernize it, but you have to protect it.”
Is that where he gets the accent?
[Laughs] Yeah, this is a guy from the forests of Anywhere, U.S.A. – or the world – but he’s got, you know, ancestors from New Jersey.
For a woodland dweller, he is pretty streetwise.
Well you know, he forages. He has to get along on berries and nuts. And he’s probably eating a lot of roots, I would say. He’s got these friends, the swans and the fishies. I don’t think he’s barbecuing them! [Laughs] He’s probably eating off the land, like an herbivore. He may milk a fish every once in a while.
Milk a fish?
[Laughs] For fish cheese!
Of course! That must be a deleted scene. How do you feel about people comparing the two of you?
He’s a little, tough guy and I can’t figure – wait a minute… Did [Dr. Seuss] write this after he saw Louie De Palma [DeVito’s breakthrough role as the crabby dispatcher on Taxi]? But he didn’t. He wrote it before.
Any time a family movie attacks the idea of greed, or encourages kids to care about the environment, there are some pundits who attack it. What does The Lorax actually have to say as a moral?
[The Lorax] is not to be confused with the person who says we should shut down all commerce, and shut down all innovative ideas. He’s a person who says we can do all these things, but we need to make room for everybody else, and make room for the forests and the environment to live along with us. Coexist, rather than us taking over and, in the case of the Once-ler, losing our way.
We have this video of you learning all the different languages so you can perform The Lorax in French, German, Spanish, Russian…
I was on the phone with [Illumination Entertainment CEO Chris Meledandri] one night talking about that. We were coming close to the end of the movie and brushing up a couple of things on the English version. I asked who did it in other languages, and he said usually it’s just dubbed by artists in other countries. I said I’d love to give it a try.
Were you fluent in any of these before?
I don’t speak any of the languages. I speak a little Italian, but just enough to get around in Italy, like to order food. But I could be laughed at in a second.
So how did you learn it well enough to act out an entire movie?
They would give me two coaches and an editor, all from the country, and I’d go to the studio and we would dig in. We’d do it phonetically and I’d learn how to say the lines so that they felt I didn’t have an accent.
What was the trickiest part?
Sometimes the parts of speech are in different places, and the verb is here, or the noun is over there, and you still had to make sense of it. It was kind of fun. You had to say the line, “You have been warned,” and in the other languages “warned” may be first. “Warned you have been.” All the sudden I sound like Yoda! [Like a good New Jersey boy, DeVito pronounces it “Yoder.”]
Once you started, there was no going back, I guess. Did you ever think: Why did I agree to this?
[Laughs] Yeah, every language was the same basically, where I’d get to a certain point and go, “Oh my gosh, I just climbed half of Mount Everest.”
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