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The Cast of Dumbo Flies High - Acting with a CGI Elephant | Interview

What is it like to bring the story of a little flying elephant to life?

Mar 26, 2019

By: Lynn Barker

Way back in 1941, Disney released the animated film Dumbo, the heart-tugging tale of a misfit baby elephant born with ears so big that he could fly. Circus owners took advantage of the little guy by making him perform. The cute critter won the hearts of the whole world. Now Disney Studios has re-imagined the movie with live action actors and a very convincing computer-created Dumbo. According to Director Tim Burton, almost everybody in the story is trying to find their place in the world like Dumbo is. They are using a disadvantage to their advantage.

Dumbo Trailer

Colin Farrell plays Holt, a former circus star and World War I veteran hired to care for little Dumbo. His two children Millie and Joe are played by Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins. They love Dumbo and discover that he can fly. The circus ringmaster Medici is played by Danny DeVito. He’s a showman and businessman who pushes the circus performers to their limits. This includes Dumbo. Eva Green plays Collette, a high flying circus aerialist and Michael Keaton plays Vandevere, the real villain in the piece out to exploit Dumbo more than others.

Vandermere has created a huge showVandermere has created a huge showCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Michael Keaton played Batman in the 1992 movie with Danny DeVito as the Penguin. Tim Burton who directs this movie, directed that film so, we get a reunion of sorts.

The actors tell you how they feel about circus performers, their characters, being on set, training and what they hope you take away from seeing the film.  Check it out!

Michael and Danny as Batman and the PenguinMichael and Danny as Batman and the PenguinCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Q. Which performer in the circus do you love the most?

  • Colin Farrell: I’ve never seen the circus. I’ve never except in the world of Tim Burton’s imagination coming to a cinema near you. Well, maybe (I like) a seal.
  • Nico Parker:  I think probably the contortionists. Like when they like climbed on top of each other because I could never do any of that. I just thought all of it was incredible. Then the cape top dancers as well. Because I got to watch that really recently. That was cool.
  • Finley Hobbins:  Probably the jugglers. Because you have an excuse if you like go wrong, you can throw stuff at people’s faces.
  • Eva Green:  Me, I would have to say trapeze people, aerialists. I’ve always been petrified of heights. Like a real phobia. And thanks to Mr. Tim Burton, I have overcome my fear. Yeah. I trained.

Eva Green as aerialist ColletteEva Green as aerialist ColletteCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Q:  So cool! Danny, how about you?

  • Danny  DeVito: I really love the aerialists, the high wire, tightrope walkers. They really astound me. So its balance and grace and daring and all of the things that I lack.  
  • Michael Keaton: The snake. I actually could be the snake. Not the snake handler. The snake. I’m with him. (I also like) the aerialists and Eva. They knock me out. First of all, more than anything, what I wanted to do is fly. That would be it for me. I have those flying dreams. And I say that I like everybody has a flying dream.

Danny DeVito plays the circus ringmasterDanny DeVito plays the circus ringmasterCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Q: Finley and Nico, this is basically your first film, right you guys?

  • Finley and Nico:  Yeah.

Q:  So you kind of had Colin Farrell there to shepherd you. Which seems really fortunate.

  • Colin: No shepherding needed. Trust me. Nico would be like “Colin, you’re two feet off your mark”.
  • Nico: I did that. Yeah. Uh-huh.

Q:  What was your first day on set like? Finley, take us back to that.

  • Finley: I can’t really remember much from the first day. But with Nico, I remember one of the first days of filming, it was like we were in our costumes and we were just going in for like a costume check. And then we would have done I think one of the first scenes. And then Danny worked with us and it was five seconds. And each second felt literally like an eternity of just going, “hi, how are you? Hi, how are you?” And then we met Colin and then Eva and then Michael and then Tim. And it was just terrifying each time the first time.

Colin, Nico and Finley play a Dumbo-loving familyColin, Nico and Finley play a Dumbo-loving familyCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Q: So Colin, what is your character Holt like in the movie?

  • Colin: I think every one of the characters is at odds with either their past or what’s going on in the present or both. And so I was playing a father who was disenfranchised from his kids and from a life that he left behind that is completely different by the time he comes back from fighting in the first war. He’s physically a different man. He’s lost his left arm. He’s seen a lot of brutality. We don’t get into all of that psychological stuff so heavily but my character’s journey was one of just accepting his position as father and how that meant that all he had to do really was get out of his children’s way and let them be who they are.

Holt and family calm Dumbo before he fliesHolt and family calm Dumbo before he fliesCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Q:  Many characters in the movie feel like outsiders as Dumbo does. Eva do you feel that way?

  • Eva: Feeling like an outsider? Right now, I do. Yeah. I think you don’t have to be an artist to feel like an outsider. I think everybody has felt at some point kind of a bit strange or different. And yeah. It’s a big thing. It’s just such a wonderful movie because it has that message of no, it’s okay to be strange or different. It’s actually great. It makes you special. And we just have to embrace our uniqueness.

Collette and Dumbo caught in her netCollette and Dumbo caught in her netCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Q:  Cool. Can you expand on the training that you did in order to conquer your fear of heights, but also to be this aerial performer in the circus so elegantly?

  • Eva: Yeah. I had the most amazing circus people who were very patient, very kind with me. Because I was absolutely petrified. I thought I would never be able to do that. For like two months, every day, I trained. And you need like a very strong core as well. Have very strong abs. Very strong arms. And then little by little, I went higher and higher and higher. And that was amazing. And I found a trick. It was to sing as well….in French, like whoa, and off you go. And you swear and you sing. And I surprised myself. It was a miracle. Yep.
  • Danny: You absolutely look like you were born to be on a trapeze. I mean, it was just amazing.

Q:  Eva, how much of the aerial performance we saw on screen was actually you?

  • Eva: A lot. We had my stunt double Catherine Arnold. She’s just the most amazing aerialist. She was my teacher as well. And she was very patient. I’m just in awe of the circus people because they work so hard. They’re so dedicated and they train and train. They’re ready to sacrifice themselves almost. Because they constantly have to overcome their fear as they put themselves in mortal danger. Actors, we’re nothing compared to those kind of super heroes.

Will Holt and Collette have a relationship?Will Holt and Collette have a relationship?Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Q: Colin, what do you hope kids will take away from seeing this movie?

  • Colin: The same thing adults take away; accepting (and celebrating) the inherent differences that people have from each other. There are simple messages that are very complex it seems to live with as we go through our lives. And those messages are messages of kindness and inclusion and all those kind of things. So that will be cool. Or else if they’re just entertained for a couple of hours and take that as well.

Q: Michael and Danny, you were in a Batman movie in the early 1990’s. What was it like coming back together to perform in these different roles?

  • Danny:  It was great. It was really terrific. When Tim called a year ago or whenever it was, and said he was making the movie, I was really thrilled to be able to be part of it. And then the joy factor went up through the roof when I heard that Michael was in it with me.
  • Michael: The joy factor was the first thing but he reminded me that he got to be the hero and I got to be the bad guy. He was just thrilled with that.
  • Danny:  Him in the mask and the whole Batman thing. It’s just getting too much for me. And me always being the gross penguin grunting and groaning and stuff. It was really so nice to be with him in the movie. This is a great family that Tim (Burton) creates. And we’re all the weirdos.

Vandermere wants to use DumboVandermere wants to use DumboCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Q:  Can we talk about what Dumbo was actually represented by on set? Because I’m having trouble believing he’s not real.  A tennis ball on a stick or what?

  • Colin:  A guy named Ed in green spandex (laughter). Really. I did give him an awful hard time because it was unavoidable. He was dressed in a green spandex suit for five months.

Q:  Nico and Finley, you guys got really close with him, right?

  • Nico: Yeah. Because we were with him like the whole time. And then like I think midway through we found out that he was in Tarzan and could do like the ape walk. Oh my.
  • Finley: We took such advantage of that. When we first found out, we were like ‘Oh yeah, it’s cool’. And then we were like ‘Do it again. Do it again. Do it again’. Then ‘Teach us how to do it. Teach us how to do it’. That went on for about a couple of weeks. We were quite harsh on Ed. Yeah.

Michael Keaton plays baddie VandevereMichael Keaton plays baddie VandevereCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Q: Michael you have a certain look in the film and wear a wig. Was that a choice?

  • Michael: Yeah. I regret the wig in a lot of ways. But it’s so great and weird and odd and kind of off putting. I thought man, I really don’t like sitting in the makeup chair for very long for hair and makeup but Colleen Atwood (Costume designer) is an unbelievable genius and as soon as I said ‘Hey. This is probably a dumb idea. What do you think about a wig?’, Tim’s eyes lit up. Now I’ve got to wear this stupid wig. But I dug the wig. And the wig now has its own agent by the way.

Q: The separation between Dumbo and his mother reminded me of the separation at the U.S. border of children and parents. Was that something that came to your mind when you created that scene?

  • Danny: The movie was made in 1941. And in 1941, if you remember the movie, the baby (elephant) was separated from his mom. So I don’t think it has anything to do with this unfortunate, horrifying thing that’s going on in our current news.

Ringmaster Medici (Danny) can't believe Dumbo fliesRingmaster Medici (Danny) can't believe Dumbo fliesCourtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
  • Michael: Two separate things. But I’m just going to say this. Thanks for bringing it up. Keep it in the consciousness. Because it’s criminal, it’s cruel.

See Dumbo in theaters Friday, March 29th

Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
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