The Players of Hop
This handy guide will illuminate the rabbit, chick and human players who populate the Hop universe.
· Fred (James Marsden) is a 30-year-old trying to pull his life together. When he was a little boy, he woke up early on Easter morning, looked out his window and witnessed E.B.'s dad delivering his basket. When Fred told his family and friends of his discovery, they said he was dreaming, even crazy. Flash forward to present day…and we meet a directionless guy who knows he's destined for something. Once he meets E.B., Fred doesn't care if he's a talking rabbit who poops jelly beans, he knows he can take the job his friend has eschewed. If E.B. can be a drummer, why can't Fred be the Easter Bunny? With a little training he'll be ready to pick up the Egg of Destiny--a golden scepter adorned with a golden egg that will give Fred the powers of the Easter Bunny.
· The Easter Bunny's son, E.B. (Russell Brand) has been groomed since birth to take over the family business. Years of sitting through egg-painting classes and candy-production tutorials, as well as honing his lightning-fast reflexes have all led up to the day he is supposed to claim his birthright. But since he was a baby bunny thumping on his bongos, all E.B. has ever wanted was to become a drummer. Hours before his coronation (when he's to inherit the mantle of the Easter Bunny) he flees Easter Island for L.A. to pursue his dreams.
· Sam O'Hare (Kaley Cuoco) is Fred's younger sister. Though only in her mid-twenties, Sam is a driven professional who desperately wants Fred to get his act together. Probably against her better judgment, she sets him up on a job interview with a video-game company…as well as at a housesitting gig at her boss' mansion. Sam is optimistic about her big brother and knows he is on the cusp of rebooting his life.
· Every year, on one magical night in spring, one fabled rabbit is responsible for the delivery of glorious eggs and delicious candy to the children of the world. E.B.'s dad, the Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie), is that legendary hare. The rest of the year he oversees candy production, egg dyeing and the legions of chick and bunny workers. On the eve of his retirement, he's ready to pass the mantle to his son, E.B. There's only one hitch: E.B. doesn't want the job. When he realizes his son has run away, his fatherly instincts prevail and he sends his royal guard to rescue his only son.
· Carlos (Hank Azaria), the Easter Bunny's right-hand chick, often accompanies the Easter Bunny on tours of the candy factory. Firm, tough, and far too large to be a chick, Carlos is all business. Frustrated by the sovereignty of the Easter Bunny and his team of rabbits, Carlos has been serving as No. 2 for years. But Carlos is sick of playing second fiddle. After all, Easter is all about eggs, so why shouldn't chickens be in charge? He has been plotting a coup d'état and wants to replace candy with the more fowl-acceptable birdseed, worms and lettuce cups. This year, with the disappearance of E.B., Carlos has his chance…and a sneaky plan up his wing.
· Just as every general requires disciplined soldiers, the Easter Bunny needs unflappably loyal chicks to make Easter happen. They have to be hardworking, they need to be committed and they need to be the best. Phil (Hank Azaria) isn't any of those, but somehow he got the job anyway. Phil couldn't be happier. He gets to make candy, hang out with a thousand chicks, take naps when no one is looking and loves to dance--life is pretty awesome. Though an extremely enthusiastic worker chick, Phil isn't the brightest crayon in the box.
· Don't be fooled by their adorable name. The Easter Bunny's royal guard, The Pink Berets, are trained professionals. They have the training, they have the tools, they also have the adorable pink hats. These silent bunnies mean business, but they are only to be used in cases of extreme emergency. When E.B. goes missing, this SWAT team is sent to bring him back. They'll get their man, and nothing will stand in their way. Fluffy is the leader and the most skilled huntress who carries her tracking device. Patch is the weapons expert who has a furry patch over her left eye and always has blow darts handy. Bit is the baby sister who tries her hardest to keep up but often messes up missions for the trio. You'll never find her without an inhaler to help with her asthma. The Pink Berets relentlessly pursue E.B. through Hollywood trying to bring him back to Easter Island.
· Fred's father, Henry O'Hare (Gary Cole), is a family man who is extremely proud of two of his three children--the other one needs a big, hard shove out of the nest. Mr. O'Hare just wants to see his son stand up on his own two feet and settle for a boring job that will pay the bills.
· Fred's mother, Bonnie O'Hare (Elizabeth Perkins), is a classic maternal figure and the peacemaker in the family. She doesn't quite understand her son, but she still wants the best for him. Always supportive of her kids, she tries to put a positive spin on any situation.
· Alex (Tiffany Espensen) is Fred's 10-year-old adopted little sister. Just like Sam, Alex is an overachiever who can beat Fred at anything. Alex playfully tells her older brother that she thinks their family adopted her because Fred is such a disappointment. She is so talented that she has been cast as Peter Cottontail, the lead role in her school's Easter play. Just keep your ears alert for an unexpected version of "I Want Candy" at Alex's play.
Angelenos and Easter Islanders: Casting the Comedy
When casting the talent for Hop, the production team knew it needed to bring characters to life that had rich comedic personalities--whether they be animated or live-action ones. In the buddy comedy, the two pals happen to be a rabbit and a human being whose lives intersect at a moment when both are experiencing big changes. The entertainment of this film centers on the comedic interaction of these newfound friends.
Cast as Fred O'Hare, a 30-year-old slacker who still lives at home, was actor James Marsden. Not only has the performer been a staple of the X-Men series in the past decade, his standout turns in Enchanted and Hairspray have familiarized audiences with his sharp comedic timing. Says director Hill: "I was excited about casting James because he's not only funny but he's a grounded actor. He always wants to know where the truth is about the character and where it's coming from. We talked about the bunny as being super real so that James' performance could be modulated to match that, and he could still react to E.B. in a very comic way."
Meledandri was impressed with Marsden's work opposite a co-star that had to be animated in postproduction. "James is a wonderful actor. He has an incredibly expressive face, and it's a perfect complement to an animated character. You saw it in Enchanted, where he played someone who actually was the embodiment of an animated character coming to life. He is a great actor to partner with."
Both the cast participating in Hop and the chance to work with Illumination were selling points for Marsden. "I knew that Russell was onboard," says the actor. "He's very smart and he lends a specific sharp, comic edge to the movie. I wanted to be included in that company. I also think the guys at Illumination are tremendously talented. I have two children who would love to see this movie, so I'd be lying if I said that wasn't a reason why I wanted to do this. Plus, Tim's a terrific director who is definitely in his wheelhouse and excited about doing something special. He's incredibly inventive and great with the actors."
Just as E.B. believes Fred gives off an aura of untapped potential, Marsden found a number of redeeming qualities to Fred. He states: "I admire Fred because he's not backing down from his dream, whatever that dream is. I don't know that he's able to define it at first, but he knows what it's not. He's also kept a pretty good sense of humor about it. He's not, by any means, a loser. He feels that there's something more special for him out there that he has to go and look for."
Paired opposite James Marsden is British comic actor Russell Brand, who voices E.B. Explains producer Meledandri: "This is our second time working with Russell Brand. He did a wonderful supporting voice in Despicable Me as Dr. Nefario. In Hop, he is front and center. The minute that Russell starts performing, he imbues the character with rich, comedic personality that gives the animators so much to work with. He has a level of energy that almost cannot be contained. It is explosive and comedic, but perhaps most importantly for this film is that his voice embodies sweetness."
Both E.B. and Fred have severely disappointed their dads, and both just want them to be proud. Director Hill discusses how Brand was able to walk the line of humor and drama. "Russell brings a lot of edge to the character, but he's also very empathetic," commends Hill. "He has a great range and can play the impish part of E.B., which is the part that gets to Fred. E.B. is also a rock 'n' roll kid, and Russell can play it that way, which is a great advantage for us. He's dry and funny and a little crazy, and that's how I think a lot of teenagers can be."
For his part, Brand looked forward to reuniting with the filmmakers at Illumination. He says: "I was in Despicable Me, in which I played the voice of an old person. When Dr. Nefario said something, I'd step in and do it. I thought the film was really funny and loved Steve Carell in it. The filmmakers asked me if I wanted to be in another film in which I was the Easter Rabbit. I thought that would be brilliant fun, and it's been a thrilling experience."
Providing the vocals for a character with big dreams also appealed to the kid within the performer. "I was attracted to the role of E.B. because I thought I would get to be a mischievous rabbit without having to move around," laughs Brand. "Turns out it was very difficult to provide the voice of an animated character; it takes ages."
Two weeks prior to the start of the live-action shoot, Marsden sat in on Brand's recording sessions and read opposite him. "I found that extremely helpful," Marsden explains of working with the voice that would end up in his backpack. "I requested to sit in on some of Russell's dialogue sessions so that he and I could feel what our dynamic was. I wanted to hear him saying the lines so that it would inform me of how to respond. I read opposite him just to feel what it would feel like when the movie's done."
During the recording sessions in which Marsden wasn't in the room with him, Brand didn't worry about not having a fellow performer with whom to interact as "acting is all about make believe anyway," he says. "Sometimes, I imagined I was doing the whole scene in a racecar, just to add an element of thrill to keep it even more exciting."
In the role of Fred's much more successful younger sibling, Sam, is Kaley Cuoco of CBS' hit comedy The Big Bang Theory. "Kaley is amazing because she's very real," says Hill. "She's naturally very funny so there's not a lot you have to do with her; she just gets it very quickly. Sam mothers Fred a little bit, but he needs it and she's been fantastic as the character."
"She's actually Fred's buddy; she just wants to help," reflects the actress. "She's trying to help him get a job, and she tries to support all these wacky things he does because she's successful on her own. She's got her life much more situated than Fred." Discussing her rationale for joining the project, Cuoco adds: "I've been doing television for so long, and I thought film would be a fun change. I also love that there is an animated component to Hop."
The filmmakers cast The Simpsons' Hank Azaria, who has voiced animated characters for more than two decades, as Hop's principal chicks: the duplicitous, oversized Carlos and the easygoing, somewhat simple Phil. The performer's working relationship with Meledandri extends back to 1997, when Azaria voiced the part of the bat Bartok in the animated film Anastasia. Meledandri discusses the team's choice to provide vocals for Carlos and Phil: "Hank has an unparalleled ability to provide signature voices to his characters that are simultaneously distinct and express a unique comedic personality. The minute we heard Hank's vocals for these two chicks, we were charmed."
Azaria laughs: "I was drawn to Carlos and Phil because it's not every day you get to play a chick, especially a dominating, angry one like Carlos. He's a funny little villain." Discussing his process, the performer compares voice work to acting in front of a camera: "Though there's no body language in voicing animation, ironically, in order to do the voices properly, you need to physically act them out. In a sense, there isn't a huge difference between the two. You need to commit as fully to the performance as if you were on camera. But you can't only act from your voice; you have to do the whole thing. You almost overdo it so that it's sold in your vocal inflection."
To get into Phil mode, Azaria recalls that he made his voice go as cute and high as it could. He appreciated that director Hill "encouraged a lot of the weirdness." States the actor: "Phil is just a happy guy. He's very mellow, insightful, does his job and enjoys it. He also really loves to dance. But I think Phil knows more than he says. He may even be playing dumb a little bit…"
Cast as Fred's parents, Henry and Bonnie O'Hare, were comedic actor Gary Cole, well known for his hilarious portrayal of patriarch Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch films and his classic work on Office Space, and actress Elizabeth Perkins, a longtime favorite on Showtime's hit series Weeds. Shares Meledandri of the O'Hares: "Fred's mother is the peacemaker in the family. She doesn't quite understand her son but she's trying to be the balance to Fred's hard-driving dad--whose confusion about why his son hasn't already demonstrated professional success comes across as being a bit tough. Mrs. O'Hare tries to balance that and make sure that the family dynamics don't implode."
Says Perkins, who has known and worked with her on-screen husband since she was a teenager: "My character is the eternal optimist. Somewhere inside, she still believes in fairy godmothers, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. So she's always very supportive of whatever is going on in her son's life, even if he's still living at home. What I loved about this script is that it is hopeful, and it has positive messages. It's about having faith in things that you don't see or hear or can't prove exist."
Playing the heavy in the O'Hare family was an enjoyable experience for Cole. Of his role as Henry O'Hare, he explains: "As the movie opens, my character is not very thrilled with Fred's career choice, or anything about him actually. He's trying to be tolerant, but he isn't. Even when Fred arrives at a new job with some enthusiasm, my character is a little skeptical…to say the least."
Mr. O'Hare isn't the only disappointed patriarch in the comedy. Explains Meledandri of E.B.'s father's back-story: "The Easter Bunny is in many respects a true traditionalist. He comes from a long line of Easter Bunnies stretching back thousands of years. He loves his son very much and has high expectations for him."
For the role of the Easter Bunny, Hill and the producers selected award-winning actor Hugh Laurie. Laurie appreciated the theme of the film and was keen to provide voice work. Though he plays an eccentric character on FOX's drama House M.D., Laurie actually has a comedic background. Says the actor: "I thought it was a charming tale of a young man deciding what he wants to do with his life and what's important in the world. What people can do with rhythm and with the expressiveness of their voices are things that I've always found absolutely fascinating. I loved the challenge of it."
When it came to his recording sessions, Laurie was game occasionally to ad lib takes for Hill. "I usually wouldn't substitute for something that's there, but I like to try and add because the audience is very quick to detect the life and spontaneity in something that happens by accident," he states. "There are certain moments that are difficult to render on a page, and so the writers tend not to write them. It's important to keep alive the spontaneity of things."
Making cameo appearances in Hop are several unexpected guests, including comedian, talk-show host and author Chelsea Handler. As Mrs. Beck, Handler interviews Fred for a potential job at a video-game company. Unfortunately for Fred, E.B. sneaks into the job interview and causes mischief around the office…making it tough for Fred to make a good impression on Mrs. Beck. Known for her dry sense of humor, Handler describes her character as "very similar to me, except she wears a suit and I don't; it's a bit of a variation from what I'm normally associated with."
Says Marsden about working with Handler: "It was great, that is, when we could keep it together. I've been doing this for 16, 17 years and maybe three or four times I've been in situations where you just can't get through a take because you're laughing so hard. Chelsea's relentless and fearless and made fun of me throughout the whole week."
While Fred is interviewing with Mrs. Beck, E.B. stumbles upon a jam session that's occurring in the studios. Just as E.B. hops past, the living legends of gospel known as The Blind Boys of Alabama--comprised of JIMMY LEE CARTER, BILLY BOWERS, BENJAMIN MOORE JR., ERIC DWIGHT MCKINNIE, JOEY ANTHONY WILLIAMS, TRACY ROMAN PIERCE and WILL CLEVELAND SMITH--are recording a song for the game "Extreme Blues Master." E.B. is able to sneak in on the recording session with the five-time Grammy Award winners and play drums with the band.
In turn, the group hands E.B. a pamphlet for a talent show hosted by a man they consider the "godfather of entertainment." Hoff Knows Talent is looking for new acts, and the eponymous host is none other than…DAVID HASSELHOFF.
Hoff knows talent, and this rabbit's got it. In the comedy, Hasselhoff isn't fazed by a talking bunny, much less one who knows how to wail on the drums, and is quite impressed with E.B.'s percussion skills. After E.B. auditions for Hoff Knows Talent, he is invited back to perform on the live show. When E.B. expresses doubts about appearing during a time when his friends and family need him, it is Hasselhoff who convinces E.B. to follow his heart.