I’m going to spoil the last act of the new Shrek right now, so avert thine eyes if thou desirest an unmolested viewing of the film.
The novelty of Shrek the Third is that a group of princesses normally relegated to the damsel-in-distress role end up saving the day at the end. This is empowering. Now, when young girls are, say, kidnapped at gunpoint, they’ll take matters into their own hands rather than wait for a male authority figure to rescue them. This is a message embraced by the effortlessly funny gals voicing the princesses (Amy Poehler as Snow White, Maya Rudoloph as Rapunzel, Amy Sedaris as Cinderella and Cheri Oteri as Sleeping Beauty), and, to prove to you I’m not lying, I’ve got Saturday Night Live’s Poehler and Rudolph gushing on the record about how much it means to them. They also discuss their future at SNL, the joys of voiceover work and Amy’s upcoming projects. There is also ninety-seven-percent less Jeffrey Katzenberg adulation than the Mike Myers-Antonio Banderas interview I ran last Friday. This will either please or upset you.
By the way, this is a roundtable interview, so don’t automatically attribute all the questions to me, okay?
Did you princesses record together?
Amy: No. Maya and I both did it in New York, and we would go back to work [at Saturday Night Live] and talk about what we had done, but we never got to do it together.
Maya: It’s like a vortex. You’re pretending someone else is in the room. It’s very lonely.
Is that a switch from skits in which you guys are improvising with each other?
Maya: The director is in there and somebody’s reading with you. It just isn’t Amy’s voice or Cheri’s voice or-
Amy: We were kind of lucky, because we were able to picture what the girls would be doing. Being fans of these films, you now know these characters, but you do [your voice work] in your own little world. So it’s very exciting when the final project comes out.
Did you have stills or some kind of visuals to look at?
Amy: In the beginning, a little bit. They keep adjusting, though, because they do videotape you when you’re doing your stuff to get some ideas and physical characteristics and attributes. But we play very iconic characters, so there’s a little leeway in it, but not a lot. Snow White can’t be blond, and Rapunzel has long hair.
Were you approached to play specific princesses, or did you get your pick?
Amy: Oh, they laid out all the characters, and I said, “I want to play Shrek!” They said, “No, he’s already taken”.
Maya: And you’re like, “How about Shrek?”
Amy: I kept going “How about Shrek?
Amy: “But the movie’s called Shrek!”
Maya: We did not get to pick.
Did you get to improvise with the roles?
Maya: Yeah. I don’t know what made it, but definitely part of it. They have an idea of what they want; there are obviously lines. But within that there’s a bit of fun to be had. Fun with improv!
Amy: And there were good jokes in there. It was a well-written animated script.
Maya: They know what they’re doing.
Maya, has your daughter seen the movie?
Maya: She’s only a year-and-a-half, so she doesn’t really know Shrek that well, so this was her first official Shrek movie. She was a little nervous with the [talking] trees and stuff, but when it was all over she pointed at Princess Fiona and said, “Mama!” (Laughter) But it’s a good introduction. The animation is so different than anything she’s ever seen; it was interesting to watch her watch it. We didn’t have stuff like that when we were kids. Cartoons looked like cartoons; this just looks otherworldly.
Amy: It must be cool to watch animated movies with your kid for the first time.
Maya: Amy was there. My daughter got nervous: she was gripping me, and clinging to me, but then she started patting me on the back. I think she was telling me I was doing a really good job.
Amy: Maya’s daughter is also her agent.
What’s the point of doing this?
Amy: MONEY!!! (Laughter) To be able to work with these ladies is a real privilege. I’ve never worked with Amy [Sedaris] or Cheri. And Jeffrey Katzenberg has put together an amazing, special experience, and to be able to be in one of those films… they’re really beautiful and say really great things. It was great to be part of a bunch of princesses that take care of themselves and didn’t wait for somebody to save them. It’s a great message and an iconic film with iconic characters. I don’t know how you could say no.
Maya: Also, to do something totally different than what you do is so great. To be able to do a movie in the summer if you’re working on Saturday Night Live, for example… it’s nice to be able to do that. Voiceover really is a completely different world. You really are going to work by yourself, and you are able to transform. I don’t get the opportunity very often to be blond.
Maya: She’s not a real blond.
Do you think voiceover work can lead to more live action work? Can this be good for your career?
Amy: Sure! There’s a lot of fantastic talent. To do a film with Julie Andrews, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz – I’m privileged to even be in this group.
Maya: Being asked to do it is like someone saying, “We think you’re funny, so please come be a part of this thing.” That made me feel good.
Amy: They give Academy Awards for Shrek, right?
Maya: Sure. But they’re called The Shrek Awards.
Amy: I need to get an animated Academy Award.
Maya: Don’t worry, you will.
Amy: I’m spending a lot of money on public relations.
Was there any apprehension about taking these iconic characters and turning them on their heads?
Amy: I decided that because Snow White is a Type A personality – she has a lot of people to take care of, she has many dwarfs and animals living in her home… I decided that she’d be really bossy. She’s usually played very lovely, but she’s kind of the head of a big business. And she kind of controls everybody. But you didn’t in any way want to ape any of the things you’d seen before. There are so many wonderful voice actors who’ve done Snow White. I was a little nervous about trying to have a new take on it, but then the script laid out, in some ways, how we were specifically different.
Maya: Rapunzel was a no-pressure situation because it’s not like kids go, “Oh, mommy, I want to watch that Rapunzel movie again!”
Amy: You always remember the person asking Rapunzel about her hair, but [not Rapunzel].
Maya: I remembered the tower and the hair, but it wasn’t like living up to Snow White. It was a nice situation.
What about the singing?
Maya: My singing wasn’t in there originally.
Amy: I have to get clarification on this. I did sing, but it sounded so good that I don’t think it’s me.
Maya: I do recognize some of your voice in the Led Zeppelin part. (Snow White sings the opening to “Immigrant Song”.)
Amy: I did do the Led Zeppelin part, and I’m layered in, but I think there might’ve been some sweetening.
Maya: It’s called Pro Tools. There’s nothing wrong with it.
You did the Robert Plant part in “Immigrant Song”?
Amy: Yeah! Actually, it’s the first time Led Zeppelin has been used in a film.
Maya: Really? It was in my student film.
Amy: It was pretty cool when I heard I got to sing that. Robert Plant is probably shaking in his boots.
Maya: My singing in the movie was supposed to be bad anyway, but it does lend itself to sound like that Disney stuff. So there was a moment where I was like, “Wow, I’m kinda singing in that animated movie kind of way!”
What fairy tales did you enjoy as kids?
Amy: We were talking about that earlier. We were never big into princess-y stuff.
Maya: I think I was into it like other girls. I do know I wasn’t allowed to have Barbies.
Maya: My parents were hippies. I think they thought it would give me a bad self-image. It was the 70s. I grew up in Westwood, and they were like, “Be who you are! Curly is beautiful!” But I think I played “princess” like every other girl.
Amy: The ladies in these stories aren’t always the most dynamic. They’re always getting saved. Not Snow White, actually. She turned out to be a little bit more in control. But the classic stories… there’s a lot of swooning and getting swooped up and a lot of beautiful women at rest.
Maya: Or dead.
Amy: So it was an empowering moment when the princesses literally burn their bras. We do that, don’t we?
Maya: There is a little bit of that.
Amy: And I have a “Dopey” tattoo. Snow White’s got a past.
How much SNL do you have left?
Amy: I don’t know. I’m going to be back for another year. My contract’s for another year. Maya’s contract is… maybe…
Amy: (Laughing) Yeah. But I’m going to be back for another year. It’s a really hard job to do and a really hard job to leave. It’s filled with great, great people, and it’s such a unique experience. It’s its own animal, but you do have to know when it’s time to leave.
Maya: Everybody had to leave. Except for Lorne, of course – although, technically, he did leave once. It ends up being your home and your family and your universe. It’s live TV, and doing what that show is really doesn’t exist anywhere else.
Amy: It’s never boring.
Maya: Even when it’s boring.
Are you guys considering leaving?
Maya: My contract’s up. This is my last year, but we’ll see what happens.
Amy, you have a lot of films in the can. You’re in another animated movie: Horton Hers a Who.
Amy: Yeah. Steve plays the mayor of Whoville, and I play his wife… ugh, I forget her name.
Maya: That’s what happens when you’re doing animated characters.
Amy: And I’m doing an animated show for Nickelodeon called The Mighty B. It’s a character that I developed with my friends Cynthia True and Erik Wiese, who work on Spongebob Squarepants. She’s like a savvy girl scout character who lives in San Francisco and skateboards all over [the city]. I’m lucky, because I get to do a lot of voiceover, and my husband [Will Arnett] does a lot of voiceover stuff. I have a lot of respect for voiceover actors in general. It’s kind of unique, and I’m just a neophyte.
And you’ve got other live action movies.
Amy: Yeah… (hand to forehead, struggling to remember)… what is coming… (sees a reporter looking at her IMDb page)… what?
Amy: Spring Breakdown! That’s coming out! Right!
Amy: Yeah, that’s not been made yet. Not in the can yet. Not in my can yet.
But you did just get Sigourney Weaver for Baby Mama.
Amy: Yes! That’s really exciting. I’m a big fan of hers. She plays a fertility specialist who runs a real lucrative business. It’s been nice to be able to do all of this stuff, and be able to do Shrek as well. It’s cool to be a part of a giant movie. (Sarcastic laughter.) It is a giant movie. It is about a giant, and it is a giant movie. It is giant all the way around. It is first class.
Maya, do you have any projects coming up that you want to mention?
Maya: No, I don’t. (Laughter) I didn’t say, “No, I don’t want to mention them”. I just don’t have anything.
Is there something you’re looking to do?
Maya: I would really like to-
Amy: -a live action movie of Rapunzel? You’re doing Rapunzel on Ice, right?
Amy: We do want to do the princesses again, live-action, on a party boat.
Maya: A pink party boat.
Amy: It would be a low-budget film.