“Brave”: Merida and her Scotsmen
By: Lynn Barker
Kelly MacDonald, Craig Ferguson and Kevin McKidd give voices to lead character Merida; the fiery-haired Scottish princess, Lord Macintosh and Lord MacGuffin; the two Scotsmen who are dads of sons hoping to win the hand of the rebellious princess. Kevin also voiced suitor Young MacGuffin and felt like he had a split personality for a while.
In the film, Merida’s mom thinks it’s time for her to marry and do her royal duties. Merida had rather ride her trusty horse out into the forest and target practice with her bow and arrows. Merida’s adventures lead her to take charge of her own fate and learn some tough lessons along with way.
We caught up with the Scottish actors at a hotel in Hollywood.
Kidzworld: Kelly, to what extent did you identify with your Merida character? What aspect did you relate to?
- Kelly: I wasn’t Merida-like when I was a teenager. She’s very adventurous and outdoorsy and I was not. I was indoorsy but I was a teenaged girl so that was the thing I identified with. All teenagers are awful but teenaged girls are kind of worse.
Kidzworld: Were you rebellious?
Kelly: My mom was very easy-going so I really didn’t have anything to rebel against. I moved away from home when I was seventeen and that was fine. I made my own choices quite early.
Kidzworld: Kelly, the Disney princess franchise is huge. How did you feel when you knew you would be the next Disney/Pixar princess in an animated film?
- Kelly: It took me a passing while to (get) that I was going to be the first female protagonist in a Pixar movie. I’m kind of glad I didn’t know it while I was doing it. It’s a lot of pressure. But, I don’t think I, personally have watched a Pixar movie and felt robbed that there wasn’t a female protagonist. (Merida is Pixar’s first female lead character).
They make films about fish and toys and robots and there are some very strong female characters in those films, in The Incredibles and Toy Story so I never felt like I was missing out but I feel very privileged having said that.
Kidzworld: Most of the time voice actors go into a booth to record their session and just the director is there. Did any of you have an opportunity to work with each other in the booth or with anyone else?
- Kevin: No, we were all in different areas of the country and parts of the world. It was a shame but I think Katharine (Serafian, Producer), said that if we were all in the same room we would never have gotten any work done. It was a shame we didn’t get a chance to do sessions together.
Kidzworld: So how was working solo then?
- Craig: I think it’s nice because you make the movie in your head and while you’re doing it you can close your eyes and see the film in your head and just participate in it. The interesting thing is when I saw the film, after I’d seen it in my head, it was better (laughter) which means that Pixar are better than me at making animated films. I think that’s not going to be news.
Merida outshoots her suitors
Kidzworld: Animation is a long process and characters change through that. How did your characters develop?
- Kelly: I was kind of a late-comer to the movie. They started making this seven years ago and I’ve only been involved for the past eighteen months I think.
- Kevin: I started about four years ago and young MacGuffin, at that time, was going to end up winning Merida’s hand in marriage and then the story…
- Kelly: I didn’t know that!
- Craig: No one would believe that.
- Kevin: But the change was a good one. The whole message is that (Merida) has said “I’m gonna find the one in my own sweet time”. So young MacGuffin didn’t get to win the hand of Merida but I think for the greater good of the film and the message, it was a good thing. And Lord MacGuffin was always much as he was, a grumpy old man.
Kidzworld: Kelly, what’s the best part about playing princess Merida?
- Kelly: The best part is I had so much fun. I got to play this part that I would never get to play in a live action film because I’m not a teenager. I got to be really cheeky and obnoxious to my mom which was quite fun. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at work without having to wear a costume.
Kidzworld: Kelly, did it influence your performance to play this girl with curly red hair?
Kelly: When I went in for my recording session, we already knew what she was going to look like. I didn’t think (about how she looked) too much. It was in my head. When I saw the finished product, I felt like I was watching a different movie.
Kelly MacDonald at our interview
Kidzworld: Kevin, how did you go about developing two distinct voices for the two characters you portray (Lord MacGuffin and Young MacGuffin)?
- Kevin: I started as Young MacGuffin and it took us a while because we wanted Young MacGuffin to be where nobody could understand a word he says in the film because his accent is so thick. So we started messing about with that, making up words and that didn’t seem to work so I suggested this dialect from my area (Scottish highlands around Inverness) called Doric which my grandfather spoke and it’s a very thick, almost Norwegian-style dialect that’s quite strange and so I did that.
Then they offered me Lord MacGuffin, the older character, the dad, and we started doing sessions where I’d do both at the same time and I ended up meeting somewhere in the middle and I was between a rock and a hard place so we just had to do Lord MacGuffin first thing in the mornings when I’d just woken up so my voice was like that (he speaks in a low, gravelly tone) and then, after lunch, we’d do young MacGuffin. I basically channeled my dad for Lord MacGuffin because he’s grumpy and old (laughter) and I channeled myself as a young boy. I was a very painfully shy boy. That’s why I became an actor.
Kidzworld: There is a “Mum-bear” in the movie. If you could turn your mom into an animal, which one would you choose? Or if you could seed the idea…
- Craig: If you could be part of a conspiracy to turn your mom into an animal (laughter). I don’t think I ever would have done that. I don’t think my relationship with my mother could have been improved by her having claws. (laughter).
- Kelly: She’s a homebody my mother. I think I would turn her into a cat because I think she’d be very happy by the fire.
- Kevin: I’d turn her into a beautiful hummingbird so she could fly and be free. My mom would like that.
Kidzworld: Awwww. Do you feel gratified that this is a cast of people mostly doing their own Scottish accents and are your voices in the film close to your own speaking voices?
- Craig: I didn’t understand a word of that. (laughter). I think the world is different from the way it was twenty or thirty years ago when regional accents were a very exotic and odd thing. With the internet and YouTube and all the different communications systems that exist in the world, I think that people’s ears are much more attuned to authenticity in accents now and I think that’s more of the smart planning of this film. If you’re going to make a film about Scotland, I think it’s probably a good idea to have Scottish people in it.
- Kelly: Also, I’m Scottish and I’ve read things that say I’ve got a terrible Scottish accent so people don’t know.
Kidzworld: Pixar is famous for going to the locales and researching. Did you, being Scottish, make any corrections or suggestions?
- Craig: The film was pretty well-formed by the time I joined it. The story was pretty much set. I think they just wanted us to bring our voices. They were very much open. They’d say “This is the line of dialogue” and we’d say “Yeah, but it would be more natural” or “A Scottish person would say it more like this”. Or “It would be funnier of we said it like this”. So they were very open to us changing things and giving us different options but as far as the look of it, I think they had it right.
- Kelly: I think the filmmakers have seen more of Scotland than I have.
Kelly and her character Merida
Kidzworld: Craig, can you contrast this voiceover experience with doing the voice of Gobbler in How to Train Your Dragon? Were they different or the same?
- Craig: It’s a different person so that’s different. But the technique of doing it is much the same. It’s not the biggest stretch in the world to go from one Scottish speaking character to another Scottish speaking character, but I assume that’s why they asked me to do it. The contrast, if any, were the personalities of the characters involved.
Kidzworld: It was fun then, even though it was two Scottish characters?
- Craig: Lots of fun. I was always interested in the fact that some people questioned my Viking character (in “Dragon”) had a Scottish accent but no one questioned that the young Viking had an American accent.
Kidzworld: All of you have played real, live action characters. Is it more fun to do animated characters?
- Kelly: This is my first.
- Craig: It’s good for me because I’m not a very good actor (he’s kidding). I’m pretty good with voices and the people who are good at acting can draw in good acting. Plus, I have a day job so I can’t go and make a film. I can go to the Valley (to record) for a couple of hours but I can’t go away on location. What I like about it, and Kevin said this, you’re not limited by who you are physically. Kevin and I have done radio work in Scotland. And doing voiceover work is very similar.
Kidzworld: Was there ever a moment in your life where a situation was out of control and you had to take control over it like Merida does?
- Kevin: There was no national theater of Scotland or anything. We had sheep.
- Craig: They were very tough sheep.
- Kevin: I wanted to be an actor so I had to take matters into my own hands. So I think the message (of the movie) is a very powerful one. I was going to be a plumber like my dad.