Good vs. Evil Who's Who in Gru's World?
While it's initially a bit uncertain who is naughty and who is nice in Despicable Me, all will be revealed as the story unfolds. Below is a guide to the dastardly and delightful players in Gru's world:
· Gru (Steve Carell) is a villain who finds great pleasure in doing deliciously wicked things to other people. Whether it's freezing a long queue of customers ahead of him at a coffee shop or creating a balloon animal for a small boy just to pop it, Gru gets to do all of the things we only wish we could. He's on track to become the greatest villain of all time by committing the crime of the century, but Gru's about to face his toughest challenge yet: Fatherhood.
· Gru's nemesis, the nerdy Vector (Jason Segel), is way too geeky to be this cocky. Holed up in his sleek house/fortress, Vector can usually be found in his orange warm-up suit, playing video games while plotting his next move. His favorite weapon is a gun that fires live piranhas. Unfortunately for him, Vector has a hard time keeping the carnivores inside the gun's barrel...
· The eldest of the three orphans, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) is naturally protective of her two sisters. Raised without a family, she distrusts most people and knows the only ones the girls can count on are one another. A tough cookie and a strong protector, Margo is not afraid to challenge Gru as he tries to parent the girls. He has finally met his match.
· The kid who tests all limits, Edith (newcomer DANA GAIER) might just be the last girl in the orphanage you would run to adopt. Wearing a hat pulled down over her eyes and eager to test out Gru's dangerous weaponry, she is seen as a bit of a scoundrel. Though this middle child needs (and wants) limits, she'll never let you know it.
· An innocent little girl who loves unconditionally and wants desperately to be loved, the youngest of the three orphans lives to hug. Agnes (scene-stealing newcomer ELSIE FISHER) is obsessed with unicorns and says random, sweet things. She longs for nothing more than parents to make her family complete…and that unicorn wouldn't hurt.
· Gru's Mom (Julie Andrews): Behind every great villain is a disapproving mom. Nothing Gru has done has been good enough for his judgmental grump of a mother. While she believes she's quite smart in her parenting approach, the 80-year-old still treats Gru like he's eight years old. Her overly critical attitude has inspired him toward ever-increasing feats of villainy in order to impress his harrumphing mom.
· Gru's resident mad scientist, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) looks to be approximately 150 years old and vacillates between flashes of brilliance and black holes of spaciness. Always hard at work building his boss the latest in incredible vehicles and weaponry, Nefario is (sometimes) sharp as a tack. His hearing, however? That began to fade at least 50 years ago.
· Small, mischievous yellow creatures, the minions (Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud and JEMAINE CLEMENT) form Gru's not-so-bright pit crew. Hardworking and devoted to their leader and his mad exploits, the minions are content to serve as his crash test dummies. When they meet Gru's adopted children, however, they find three little girls who are just as much fun as they are.
· Miss Hattie (Kristen Wiig) runs the local orphanage where Margo, Edith and Agnes live before they are sent to live with Gru. A seemingly kind and concerned caretaker, Miss Hattie is actually a stern Southern belle who believes in tough love and big business. If you're not making your quota by selling cookies, you're headed for Miss Hattie's "Box of Shame."
· Gru's noodge of a next-door neighbor, Fred McDade (Danny McBride) is, naturally, the president of the homeowner's association. Quick to point out any minor infractions of the neighborhood code, McDade is a constant thorn in Gru's side. He just needs to keep an eye on his dog unless he wants to incur the wrath of Gru.
· An unforgiving loan manager who runs the Bank of Evil, Mr. Perkins (Will Arnett) has long funded Gru's wicked plans. A monster of a man who has grown unsatisfied with Gru's imperfect track record, Perkins has reached the end of his financing rope and refuses to give Gru a loan to finance his intricate plot to steal the moon.
· The tackiest tourists you'll encounter (Jack McBrayer and The Office's MINDY KALING), this family is on vacation with their young son. Armed with wild clothes, disposable cameras and bad fanny packs, the tourists are in for a more exciting trip than they could ever dream of when they discover someone has stolen the Great Pyramid.
· The Carnival Barker (also voiced by Jack McBrayer) at Super Silly Fun Land has no intention of allowing Margo, Edith or Agnes out of the park with a prized stuffed animal. Calling out taunts like "Someone's got a frowny face!" will only motivate Gru to pull out the big guns to win Agnes her beloved unicorn.
· A cross between a bulldog and a piranha with the attitude to match, Kyle is Gru's guard dog. The recipient of many unwelcome hugs by Agnes, Kyle isn't sure whether he wants to swallow the little girls whole, or just cuddle up next to them.
Populating Despicable Me: Casting Comic Talent
When bringing together the cast for Illumination's first animated feature, the directors and producers of Despicable Me were adamant about selecting actors who could not only bring out the humor of their voices, but also channel their comic physicality to inspire the many animators who worked on the project. Cohen explains: "The way we approached the casting is that we wanted to find the absolute best improvisational comedians out there. They brought a level of spontaneity and naturalistic performances to the film."
To choose the comedy's primary super-villain, a character who is at his wit's end trying to become the best in his profession, the team members had to look no further than a former collaborator. Performer Steve Carell is known to millions of fans through his roles on television's The Office and popular films including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Get Smart and Date Night, but it was his voice that most interested the filmmakers. He first worked with Meledandri on Horton Hears a Who!, in which he vocalized the role of the Mayor of Who-ville.
"Steve has great pathos in his voice, but his voice also carries his comedy effectively," says Meledandri. "Working with him is unique because he comes to the process as an actor, an improviser and a writer. It's rare that Steve will not give you a version of the scene that everybody agrees has just taken that comic or dramatic sequence and made it significantly better. The process of working with him is one of discovery. You never quite know where he's going, and yet he always takes you to a place that's a more elevated level than where you started."
When the team sat down with Carell to discuss his ideas about a vocal approach to Gru, Carell made the observation that great villains in movies have very memorable voices, and he didn't want the audience to pinpoint the accent. Explains Meledandri: "Carell started to play with different vocals that involved accents, and he came up with one that lands somewhere between Ricardo Montalban and Bela Lugosi. As soon as he started playing with that voice, it began to inform our visual conception of the character."
It wasn't only the opportunity to play a villain that attracted Carell to the project. "The story is really sweet," he offers. "That's what drew me to it. As crazy as Gru sounds and as diabolical and mean and awful as he is, there is humanity to him. It comes out in little bits, all the way through. It says a lot about how people can change, and how aspects of a person can come to the surface, given a different circumstance. People aren't either good or evil…there's always some good to evil and there's always some evil within good. When you see someone who on the surface just seems despicable, and then they're not, that's interesting and fun to explore."
Carell also appreciated how Gru was in competition with Vector to win the title of World's Best Villain. "It's very frustrating for Gru to be the second-best villain in the world, because he's a perfectionist," the actor adds. "He's somebody who takes pride in his work, and he wants to be the best at being bad. But there's someone out there who is upstaging him…and he doesn't like it a bit."
To play Gru's archnemesis, Vector, the team chose comedy actor/writer Jason Segel. A formidable opponent to Gru, Vector is described by Carell as "younger and with a lot of technology at his disposal. He really gets under Gru's skin. When you're competing for stealing the moon, you can't really be friends."
A newcomer to the world of animation, Segel was excited for his first time out. He also had a chance to tap into his geeky side when he came up with the voice for Vector. "I'd never done anything like this," says Segel. "The closest I'd come to it was puppetry, but this was pretty spectacular. I didn't realize that I wouldn't be working with other actors. You read all the lines on your own, so it's a real exercise in imagination. To get into character as Vector, I tried to find my dorky self from when I was really young. I'd left it behind, but I re-channeled."
Just as Gru is struggling to impress his considerably dour mother, Vector will do anything to get attention from his aloof and evil father. Segel explains: "My character's relationship with his father is a bit strained in the film. He doesn't have faith in me and that's actually one of the driving forces, as it is with most villains. It comes down to a weird relationship with your parents."
Teen superstar Miranda Cosgrove of television's juggernaut hit iCarly joined the Despicable Me production as Margo, the eldest of the three sisters whom Gru adopts. A veteran of Nickelodeon since her time on Drake & Josh, Cosgrove has helped to build her show about an entrepreneurial teen who produces webcasts with her best friends into the highest rated live-action show on the network and the No. 1 series on all of television among kids 2-11. Indeed, an episode of iCarly holds the record as Nickelodeon's highest-rated and most-watched live action telecast in the history of the network. It was Cosgrove's deadpan vocal timing and inherent knack for physical comedy on iCarly that snagged her the part of Margo.
As the most suspicious of the orphans whom Gru attempts to dupe into doing his malevolent deeds, Margo remains vigilant in protecting her little sisters. The directors and producers knew they wanted Cosgrove to be their Margo the moment they met her. Renaud explains their choice: "The role is a tough role, and Miranda landed something important for us. The girls are the soul of the movie, and Margo--more than even the other two--is the conscience for Gru and she's the big sister to everybody…including Gru. It was an important choice to get Miranda, who has fantastic acting capability and gave Margo exactly the voice we needed, one with weight to it."
What sealed the deal for Cosgrove was the chance to work with a fellow comic performer she admired. "Steve Carell is one of my favorite actors," she says. "So when I found out he was a part of the film, it was icing on the cake. The whole story's fun. I love that he's the villain, and that the villain is the lead for once. Gru ends up having this amazing heart and being a really nice guy in the end. I love stories like that. I also liked being the oldest orphan, the one who is keeping it all together. I get to say a lot of witty, fun things."
Cast as the middle sister, Edith, was newcomer Dana Gaier. Describing Edith, the young actress says: "She's mischievous and sarcastic. She's really a troublemaker, which is something I can almost relate to because I make trouble with my sister. Edith likes to touch lots of things when she's told not to. She's the kind of person that really doesn't listen, but it's just because she's curious and likes to explore. It's all in fun for me and for Edith. We really love our sisters."
As well, the filmmakers discovered young Elsie Fisher to play Margo and Edith's littlest sister, Agnes. Whenever the directors needed Agnes to dissolve into a fit of giggles, Fisher was always game to provide the laughs. In fact, some of the biggest laughs of the production came from off-the-cuff deliveries that Fisher gave. Whether it was when she was asked to vocalize what Agnes would say when she gets the unicorn of her dreams ("It's so fluffy!!!") or how she would deliver one of Paul and Daurio's lines when Gru demands the girls not bother him ("Does this count as annoying?"--before she playfully taps her cheeks), Fisher never failed to amaze the filmmakers with her natural comic timing.
For Fisher, she loved knowing that her character would be getting a father of her own. She says, "I have a really great dad, so I know it's important for Agnes to have one too."
One of the greatest finds of the production was when beloved actress Julie Andrews signed on to voice Gru's demanding, never-pleased mother. At every opportunity, she's poo-pooed Gru's many successful diabolical ventures and let him know he's never good enough. Meledandri remembers his first meeting with the legend: "When we asked Julie to become involved in the movie, her reaction was an initial excitement, and then a resistance when she learned about the character. She plays a character in this film that is almost the anti-Mary Poppins, someone who is a mean and nasty and demanding mother."
Writers Paul and Daurio had imagined a mother who wants her son to be the best that he can be, but who is also a woman with a quite awful parenting methodology. "Julie's response was that not only had she never played anybody like this, but that she had never met anybody remotely like this," Meledandri continues. "That initial resistance very quickly turned into her excitement about taking on a challenge and performing a role that was unlike anything she had done before."
When describing our super-villain's often scowling, nagging kickboxer of a mother, Andrews laughs: "Gru's mother is a terrible lady. I was sometimes appalled at what my character was trying to do, and sometimes it cracked me up so badly." However, she loved the project enough to trust Renaud and Coffin's vision. "The film has such heart," the actress notes. "Ultimately, it's about the power of love and about the wonder that children have. These three little children have no idea that there's such a thing as evil or anything else. They just want to be loved."
Just as Carell adopted a curious accent for his character, so did Andrews find a signature voice. Of Gru's mother's vocals, she explains: "Her voice ends up being a little European and a little bit Jewish, German, Middle European, English white bread. I knew that Steve was going for a very low, slightly halting voice. So I thought, 'Well, where would he have gotten that? Wouldn't he have gotten that from Mum? Maybe they came from a sort of Middle European background, and then came over here.'"
Describing his on-screen mother, Carell laughs: "If there was a less appropriate person to play a nasty, terrible mom, it would be Julie Andrews. But she's fantastic." He deadpans: "Maybe there's a side of her that's really awful, and it comes out in this movie."
Helping to bring Gru's plans to fruition and protect his fortress from interlopers (be they girls selling cookies or overly friendly/nosy neighbors) is Gru's mad scientist-in-residence, Dr. Nefario. Brought onto the production to voice the dotty and hearing-impaired inventor was British comic performer Russell Brand.
Brand explains that he tried different vocal tones with the filmmakers until they found one that fit the character they'd imagined. "I looked at how Nefario walks and how he thinks and tried to have a reaction to it. He sounds sort of like a Ray Winstone-y gangster, but with a mellowness underneath. I also had to add some age to the voice. I made a vocal cake out of vibrations in my throat."
The role of the raging, blustering Mr. Perkins was given to Carell's fellow Horton Hears a Who! comic voice talent, Will Arnett. The actor, who has a number of animated films--from Ratatouille to Monsters vs. Aliens--to his credit, had to delve into his wicked side when he composed the voice for the Bank of Evil's manager. Perkins wants nothing more than to see the loan-seeking Gru grovel at his feet while his own son, Vector, beats Gru in the race to steal the moon.
"I wanted him to have a holier-than-thou, haughty accent that was snobby and moneyed," Arnett explains. "I thought he should sound like he was working his way through sentences. He almost eats the words; he chews them over and devours every situation that he's in. He's a monster in human form. The writers created such a great moody world, and it was a terrific opportunity to get into a really heavy, awful, growling, animalistic and beastlike character."
Not all of the villains in Despicable Me are male. Perhaps the most evil mastermind of the players in Gru's world is Miss Hattie, the proprietor of the orphanage where we meet Margo, Edith and Agnes. If she is not plunking down girls in her "Box of Shame" for a perceived slight, Miss Hattie may be found sending her orphan army out into inclement weather to hawk minty mints, choco swirlies and coconutties cookies.
When the filmmakers searched for the perfect villainess, they recruited the woman of a thousand faces and voices herself, Saturday Night Live veteran Kristen Wiig. "I grew up watching animated movies; they were such a big part of my youth," notes the actress. "I always try to do something different with my voice, especially coming from SNL. It's really exciting to do that and then have my character built around it."
Wiig met with the filmmakers to discuss the inspiration behind Miss Hattie. "We had an afternoon of finding her voice," she says. "We discussed Miss Hattie sounding sweet, but not saying nice things. We found this saccharine, Southern lady who is not really meant to be trusted…but she sounds nice on the phone."
30 Rock's Jack McBrayer was one of the only performers who provided vocals for multiple characters in Despicable Me. "When I first met the team, they showed me pictures of what my first character would be, which is this larger, Southern gentleman…a tourist. I was also asked to play the Carnival Barker, and both of these characters look exactly like me."