Fresh from the success of his Oscar nomination for playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg plays Rio’s lead, the domesticated Spix’s macaw Blu. Though born in Rio, the young Blu was transported by smugglers to the States, where he’s been living comfortably in a small town in Minnesota with his owner and best friend, Linda.
To help save the species, the domesticated Blu is sent back to Rio to mate with the fiercely independent Jewel. Like his character, 27-year-old Jesse is also enjoying Rio for the first time, and shares his views of the city and his experiences working on the movie.
How has the animated movie experience been for you?
JE: This has been such a wonderful and unique experience – I’ve never done an animated movie before, so it was so interesting to see what the characters looked like prior to performing as the character, and it was wonderful to see the world that Carlos and the other wonderful animators had created. It was interesting to act in, and in some ways almost more interesting to watch how this process is done.
What can you tell us about your character?
Blu’s a fish out of water. He’s led a protected life in Minnesota, he’s very smart, reads everything, and is very analytical. But none of that helps him fly. He’s got a checklist, a pile of books about the science of aeronautics, and a mountain of advanced math equations in which he’s quadrated vector angles – adjusting for wind shear, of course – but it doesn’t work, because no book can unlock the art of flying for a bird.
What did you like most about your character?
One of the things I really liked about Blu was that he had an eagerness to learn about other cultures and he had such an open mind, but he’s very cautious. I thought I could relate to that because I love to travel – I’ve travelled all over the world. I’m so eager to learn about other cultures and to experience life in other places, and like Blu, I also do it cautiously.
How has the experience of inhabiting an animated character like Blu compared to working on a live action film?
In a way it’s very inspiring – it gives you ideas about the character that you’d be unable to come up with otherwise using your own imagination. Here you’re supported by around 300 incredible artists.
How did it work on a practical level for you?
Well, we would record a session and they would animate to that session, and then we’d go in a month later and it would be light years ahead of what I expected it to be.
In what way?
They would have animated entire sequences in that period of time, and then I would re-record based on what they had done. It was so much fun – you get comfortable over the several month period of recording, and by the end you’re kind of acting like a child with Carlos jumping around the room with your shoes off telling you these ridiculous scenes. Then you open your eyes and see there are several people watching and you realize you must have looked like an idiot. It became really comfortable and fun to do, and unlike acting in a live action movie where you’re focussing on different kinds of things, this is a uniquely freeing experience.
How did you come up with the voice?
I worked on the voice with a Scottish vocal coach for six years, then threw all that away and just used my own exact voice!
It has to be said – Blu does sound very much like what we know of Jesse Eisenberg….
Yes, though I actually didn’t know what they wanted. I read the script and really liked it and I’d seen the images and thought they were beautiful. Then I spoke with Carlos and I thought he had an incredible passion for the story and I was so happy to see it was a personally derived story, but I didn’t know if they wanted a silly voice or not. I met again with Carlos and with Vanessa, who runs Fox Animation, and they encouraged me to do my voice and bring my personality to it.
Did you improvise much?
Yes, I was encouraged to do jokes that I thought were funny in addition to what they had written, and so it became a collaboration between what I could bring to it, and what they had spent years and years creating – which, to be honest, was 90% of the character. It was so inspiring to see all the work that they’d done – when I stepped into the recording studio, like I said my character had been 90% created.
And how have your experiences of the real Rio been?
You just can’t believe what the city looks like and what it feels like to be here until you’re here. It’s incredibly unique geographically – it’s a huge city that’s been built surrounded by wonderful rock formations and mountains, and it’s just astounding to be here. You can’t just look at an image and get that feeling.
Rio is released in UK cinemas from 1st April