Alvin and the Chipmunks’ Cool Dad – Jason Lee
By: Lynn Barker
In the new Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked film those cute, furry, singin’ and dancin’ critters are back, on the high seas and living an adventure that includes an island, a pretty but crazed treasure hunter and a worried “dad” searching for his lost “munks”.
Popular actor Jason Lee [The Incredibles, “My Name is Earl” and previous Chipmunk movies] has kids and knows how to relate to these fluffy, adorable creatures as their human “dad” Dave; frustrated when they act out and push his buttons as they do in the new film.
Just how does an actor interact with creatures not really there on set? Why have the Chipmunks [and now Chipettes] been so very popular for so long? We got the answers to these and other Q’s while having a fun sitdown with Jason.
Kidzworld: We didn’t see you much in the last movie “The Squeakquel”. You are in this one a lot. Weren’t you busy with your TV show [“My Name is Earl”] last time?
- Jason: Yeah. I couldn’t do the whole movie that time but I was fingers crossed that there would be another one because they’re fun movies to make and [this one] certainly made up for the second one. I’m in it a lot and it was a lot of fun and more of an adventurous undertaking, certainly a more fulfilling version of the movies.
Kidzworld: So you shot on a real Carnival Cruise ship? Did that get old after a while?
- Jason: We were only there for a week but yeah. My idea of a getaway is not being on a cruise ship with thousands of people especially. You eat all day and all night and you’re out at sea. It’s quite surreal, the cruise thing. We were only there for about five or six days on the ship.
Kidzworld: Could you talk about the relationship between Dave and the chipmunks because they’re his children in the movies, not pets. It’s a strange relationship.
- Jason: Yeah, it is but they’re so real I think. They feel more like kids which says a lot about the performances of the chipmunks, the animation… the whole thing is very surreal because he lives with talking chipmunks. I don’t think that happens often. I think it’s the heart of it too.
- These guys are likable kids. It’s very heartfelt and heartwarming and there’s an accessibility to it. I think it’s cool that you see that these chipmunks are more like kids than animals. I think, really, it’s just the furry little chubby Theodore who makes the whole thing cute.
Kidzworld: You’re a dad so do you think the father figure you play in the movie is authentic?
- Jason: Sure. Being a dad, I certainly know what it feels like to give lots of love and understanding but I also know what it feels like to be antagonized or have my buttons pushed at midnight when my son or daughter just will not go to sleep. “Dad, can I say one more thing?” “Okay one more thing then we can go to bed because it’s three hours past your bedtime”. “Okay one more thing”. It’s that with the chipmunks too. You’ve kind of just got to let them be what they are at the end of the day.
Kidzworld: What is it about Alvin that makes him and the other chipmunks so endearing and makes them popular for so long?
- Jason: The easy answer is I guess they’re cute. Also, I think kids like chaos in an interesting way and the chipmunks certainly create a lot of chaos. I think kids like to push buttons in adults. They like to antagonize and cause trouble and, certainly, Alvin does a great job at that.
- I think kids identify with seeing Dave [his character] being driven crazy and I think kids like to do that. They identify with that. It’s the kidlike spirit that kids respond to I think. These guys kind of get away with lots of things and kids feel like they represent childhood.
Kidzworld: When you are holding the chipmunks, are you really holding a “stuffy” or a beanbag on set? Is there anything actually there?
- Jason: Yeah, it’s like a little tan beanbag.
Kidzworld: So is it easier now after two movies to relate to the tan beanbag or pretend a chipmunk is there when it really isn’t?
- Jason: It’s probably a little bit easier because you’ve done it for three movies now but it’s always a little bit surreal when you’re looking at pieces of tape and stuffed animals and beanbags [laughter]. “Theodore! I miss you” and it’s a beanbag in your hands. It’s kind of strange but it’s a good challenge.
Kidzworld: You are saying a lot of emotional dialogue to these little uh, “beanbags”. Is that embarrassing?
- Jason: You get over the embarrassment factor pretty quickly. You realize there’s a bunch of rough crew dudes standing around watching you give love to a beanbag and you gotta go just “What the heck? This is a part of the gig. And I want to make it real”. You just pretend that it’s the thing. And you just kind of go for it. It is a nice thing when you see the movie and you say, wow, it really looks like I’m talking to these [chipmunks]. That’s a great challenge. That’s something I never thought I’d do as an actor so I get to check that off my list, so to speak.
Kidzworld: You had talked about the physical aspects of the role [running around the island) and said that you changed your whole diet regime. Have you now stopped that?
- Jason: Oh yeah. I’ve stopped it, absolutely but that certainly helped when you are running around doing stunts. I’m my own Jackie Chan now. It was easy running around Hawaii. Probably [the most challenging was] the running, action, “Where are the chipmunks?” Then, grabbing them, that kind of stuff because it’s the eyeline marks thing. And it’s the volcano’s erupting and you have to yell really loud. And stuff’s falling down. And you’re trying to remember which Chipette is Jeanette, and which one’s … that stuff gets a little tricky at times.
Kidzworld: What was your approach to perfecting the way that Dave yells “Allllllvin!” during the course of these movies?
- Jason: I don’t know. I just kinda did it. The only time I ever got any direction outside of the director was with Ross Bagdasarian helping me with some “Alvins” which I thought was kind of cool. He’d say “Could you do it longer?” “Do it shorter”. “Do it louder”. That kind of thing. Ross had to carry that torch after his dad doing the Alvins so he felt it only necessary to give me some direction with it.
Kidzworld: You were mentioning your kids. Does doing this make you kind of a hero at home? Or, is it nice to have something you’ve done that you’re comfortable with them watching?
- Jason: Yeah, absolutely. I always set out to just work as an actor and try to do as many different things as I possibly could and not be so selective or not be too careful. I think that just working is fun. I like that I’ve done kids’ stuff. I like that I’ve done more dramatic stuff. I like that I did all the Kevin Smith stuff. I like that I’ve bounced around a lot. But, certainly, as a dad, it’s nice to have movies that my kids can watch because they certainly aren’t watching Chasing Amy.
Kidzworld: What do they like best; The Incredibles [Jason was the voice of bad guy Syndrome] or The Chipmunks?
- Jason: They love the Chipmunks because they can really see it and it’s cute and especially my 3-year-old daughter, she’s very much into saying “Awwwwwww” which is really cute. But they love The Incredibles. That’s certainly a proud one for me. But the Chipmunks is such a classic thing and to have my kids be able to have that and have their kids have that, I think it’s really cool.
Kidzworld: What kids’ shows and animated characters were you into when you were a kid?
Jason: I really liked “Tom and Jerry”. “Tom and Jerry” was huge for me. I watched it every morning before I walked to school. I think, as a kid even, [I thought] there was something really smart about it. I thought it was very clever and I still watch it today when it comes on from time to time. I love that old animation.
Kidzworld: If you were a chipmunk, who would you be; Alvin, Theodore or Simon?
- Jason: I think that’s the other thing [that makes them popular]. They each represent a trait that we all kind of have so we get the chaos from Alvin, the smarts from Simon and the innocence from Theodore. I think, together, they make a nice combination of what I think we all have so we can identify with each one of them. I would say, for me though, if I had to pick one, ooooooo, again, a little bit of all of them.
Kidzworld: Who is easier to parent? Chipmunks or Chipettes?
- Jason: Chipettes. Women are more well-behaved.
Kidzworld: Just wait till your daughter grows up.
- Jason: I’m certainly looking forward to that.
Kidzworld: Have your kids shown any interest in going into the movie business, especially the older one?
- Jason: I would definitely encourage what he wants to do, but I might make him wait a little bit.
Kidzworld: [Producer] Ross Bagdasarian mentioned that there were 23 Bond films. Would you be down for 23 Chipmunk films?
- Jason: Sure. Why not?
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked Trailer