The Cast of 'Anastasia,' Then and Now

6:00 AM 11/21/2017

by Tara Bitran

Twenty years ago, a cast of star-studded greats lent their voices to the tale of an ill-fated Russian princess with a happy ending in Fox Animation's first feature.

Anastasia Still 1997 - Photofest - H 2017

No, Anastasia is not a Disney princess.

Despite the animated character's now canonical status among fans of Disney's princess films of the '90s, Anastasia hit theaters as part of the debut of Fox's animation studio on Nov. 21, 1997. The story is loosely based on the historical mystery revolving around the disappearance of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna after a fateful night in 1916. Fox had previously adapted the story into a live-action film starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner in 1956.

Anastasia went on to earn $139 million, receive two Oscar nominations and even inspire a stage adaptation of the musical film that premiered on Broadway in April 2017.

To celebrate the legacy of the 20th anniversary of the film's release, The Hollywood Reporter travels on a quick "journey to the past" to track the careers of the voice actors who brought Anastasia to life once upon a November.

  • Meg Ryan as Anya/Anastasia

    Dancing bears, painted wings, things Anya almost remembers. Meg Ryan led the voice cast of Fox Animation Studios' first feature as the would-be Russian princess Anya/Anastasia when the now-cherished animated film debuted in 1997. But aside from voicing the missing royal, Ryan is known as Hollywood's long-standing romantic comedy queen and disciple of Nora Ephron. Just think of You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, and Ryan immediately comes to mind. And for all three films, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. But in order to persuade Ryan into accepting the role in Anastasia, directors Gary Goldman and Don Bluth actually drew a scene from the film and dubbed in Ryan's voice from When Harry Met Sally, which naturally convinced her to take the part according to screenwriter Bruce Graham. Since discovering that "Paris Holds the Key (to Your Heart)," Ryan has also appeared in films like The Women and made her directorial debut with Ithaca. The film premiered in October 2015 at the Middleburg Film Festival and featured Ryan herself, Sam Shepard, and Tom Hanks.

  • John Cusack as Dimitri

    As soon as Dimitri first announced that there was "A Rumor in St. Petersburg," John Cusack's dashing conman with a penchant for a particular music box and long-lost Grand Duchesses instantly fluttered into the hearts of young girls everywhere. Aside from his foray into animation, Cusack starred in a string of coming-of-age films such as Class, Sixteen Candles and Say Anything… Does the image of a guy in a long trench coat holding a boom box above his head ring a bell? And in case you missed it, Cusack's sister Joan is also an actress, with whom he often starred in these '80s classics. After voicing Dimitri in Anastasia, Cusack appeared in films like Being John Malkovich and The Thin Red Line before scoring a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in High Fidelity in 2000. He also co-wrote and produced the film adapted from Nick Hornby's 1995 novel. In recent years, Cusack has continued acting in films such as Adult World, Love & Mercy, Chi-Raq and Singularity.

  • Kelsey Grammer as Vlad/Vladimir

    Kelsey Grammer is most famous for his role as Frasier Crane, the psychiatrist who appeared on Cheers, Wings and his own spinoff, Frasier, which ran for 11 seasons until 2004. Grammer won four Emmy Awards for his portrayal in addition to two others for his voice work in The Simpsons and Trollhunters. But in Anastasia, Grammer brought Dimitri's lovable friend and sidekick Vlad to life with his voice-over talents. Formerly a courtier, Vladimir Vanya Voinitsky Vasilovich helps Dimitri conjure up the scheme to find "the Grand Duchess Anastasia," which turns out more complicated than he expected, of course. Since his days on Frasier ended in 2004, Grammer has appeared on Back to You, Boss and The Last Tycoon. He has also pursued a career on Broadway, garnering a Tony nomination for his portrayal as Georges in the 2010 revival of Les Cage aux Folles and originating the role of Charles Frohman/Captain Hook in Finding Neverland in 2015.

  • Christopher Lloyd as Rasputin

    "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." Christopher Lloyd may have been delivering those lines as "Doc" Brown in Back to the Future, but he surely could have applied that dialogue to Anya's journey in the 1997 animated film. And because of the popularity of his role in the Back to the Future series, Lloyd was selected to play the part of Rasputin, the vengeful adviser-turned-sorcerer who sells his soul in order to destroy the Romanov line — forever. Before Anastasia made it to the Metropolitan Opera House for its premiere, Lloyd also starred as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family and its sequel, Addams Family Values. On the television side, Lloyd earned two Emmy Awards for portraying Jim Ignatowski on Taxi and a third for guest-starring on Road to Avonlea. Since 2002, Lloyd has voiced "The Hacker" on Cyberchase for PBS Kids and "The Woodsman" on Cartoon Network's Over the Garden Wall. He is set to appear in Boundaries and The Sound in 2018.

  • Hank Azaria as Bartok

    Hank Azaria is The Simpsons voice guru. He has been a regular since Season 2, voicing more than 20 characters on the show, including Chief Wiggum and Carl Carlson. And he has won four Emmy Awards for his voice-over performances on the series. But in Anastasia he played the batty wingman — literally — to the vile Rasputin, often providing comedic relief even in the darkest scenes of Anastasia. According to screenwriter Bruce Graham, Azaria even ad-libbed a few of his lines that made it into the film when he busted a few kung-fu moves in-studio. Azaria won an Annie Award for his work as Bartok. Azaria has also performed in other features like The Birdcage, Along Came Polly and The Smurfs as well as appearing in recurring roles on Mad About You and Friends. In 2005, Azaria took his voice talents to the stage, originating the role of Sir Lancelot in Spamalot on Broadway. He earned a Tony Award nomination for his portrayal in the comedy adapted from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Azaria currently stars with Amanda Peet in Brockmire on IFC.

  • Bernadette Peters as Sophie

    Bernadette Peters is an unequivocal Broadway legend to thespians and theatergoers alike, particularly for her performances in Mack and Mabel, Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods and Gypsy, among numerous others. She won Tony Awards for her work in On the Town and Annie Get Your Gun. Peters also starred in Annie alongside Tim Curry and in The Jerk with Steve Martin. But in 1997, Peters brought a few distinctive musical roles to the screen. In Anastasia, she portrayed Sophie, the Dowager Empress Marie's cousin and confidante who is tasked with previewing each girl claiming to be "the Grand Duchess Anastasia" before finally finding Anya. And in the Whitney Houston-produced Cinderella, Peters played the cruel Stepmother forbidding Cinderella from going to the ball. Since 2014, Peters has starred as Gloria in Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle and since 2017, recurs on CBS' The Good Wife as Lenore Rindell.

  • Kirsten Dunst as Young Anastasia

    Kirsten Dunst was the hottest child actress of the '90s, staking her claim in Hollywood in films like Jumanji, Little Women and Interview with the Vampire, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination at 12 years old in 1994, before voicing the younger version of Anastasia Nikolaevna in 1997. Dunst's Anastasia was devoted to her beloved grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie, and the music box she bestowed upon the princess at the Catherine Palace in 1916 before they were separated. Dunst went on to become the muse of Sofia Coppola, starring in The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette and most recently in 2017's The Beguiled, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. She won the best actress award at Cannes in 2011 for her role in Lars Von Trier's Melancholia. Dunst also played opposite Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker as Mary-Jane Watson in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy and spawned a series of cheerleading films after her portrayal of Torrance Shipman in the original Bring It On. She also co-starred in the second season of Fargo on FX, earning Golden Globe and Emmy Award nominations.

  • Angela Lansbury as the Dowager Empress Marie

    DBE Angela Lansbury's career has spanned seven decades, making a name for herself with her debut role of Nancy Oliver in Gaslight in 1944 and following it up with Sibyl Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray one year later in 1945. Both films scored Lansbury Academy Award nominations.  A sprinkling of Lansbury's films before Anastasia include The Manchurian Candidate, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and, of course, the maternal Mrs. Potts in Disney's Beauty and the Beast in addition to her portrayal of Jessica Fletcher in CBS series Murder, She Wrote from 1984 until 1996. In Anastasia, Lansbury voiced the Dowager Empress Marie, Anastasia's grandmother who seeks refuge in Paris to nurse her pain over the loss of her family. Lansbury has also had an extensive stage career, receiving five Tony Awards for her performances in Mame, Dear World, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Blithe Spirit. Lansbury will next appear as the Balloon Lady when Mary Poppins Returns is released in 2018.

  • Liz Callaway as Anastasia (singing voice)

    While Meg Ryan may have been the grounded voice of Anastasia throughout the 1997 film, one would be remiss to neglect the performer who sang "Journey to the Past" and "Once Upon a December": musical theater veteran Liz Callaway. Callaway lent her singing voice to many animated films, including the roles of Odette in The Swan Princess, Jasmine in the Aladdin sequels The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves and Simba's daughter Kiara in The Lion King II: Simba's Pride. Fun fact: Callaway and her sister Ann Hampton Callaway sang the theme song for Fran Drescher's '90s sitcom The Nanny. Onstage, Callaway has performed in Merrily We Roll Along, Follies, Evita and Miss Saigon. Her most recent film was 2014's The Rewrite with Hugh Grant.

  • Lacey Chabert as Young Anastasia (singing voice)

    Unfortunately, Young Anastasia's father did not invent Toaster Strudel, but he was the Tsar of Imperial Russia, after all. In addition to Kirsten Dunst providing voice work for 8-year-old Anastasia, Lacey Chabert also offered up her talents to sing "Once Upon a December" along with Anastasia's grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie. Chabert got her start in showbiz playing Young Cosette in Les Misérables on Broadway, but she first appeared onscreen in Party of Five, playing Claudia Salinger for six seasons from 1994 until 2000. Simultaneously, she voiced Eliza Thornberry on the Nickelodeon hit The Wild Thornberrys until 2004. But the role Chabert is most famous for is the one that tried to make "fetch" happen: Gretchen Wieners in Tina Fey's ode to teenagers everywhere, Mean Girls. Since portraying the member of the "Plastics" whose hair was "full of secrets," Chabert has performed in numerous films for the Hallmark Channel such as Moonlight in Vermont, All of My Heart: Inn Love, and The Sweetest Christmas, which are all set for release in 2017.

  • J.K. Simmons as Ensemble and Character Vocals

    Luckily for songwriting team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the ensemble work in Anastasia was just quite J.K. Simmons' tempo back in 1997. For his role as Terence Fletcher in Damien Chazelle's 2014 predecessor to La La Land, Simmons received widespread acclaim and the best supporting actor Oscar, Golden Globe Award, BAFTA Award and Screen Actors Guild Award. But long before Whiplash introduced the world to Simmons' jazz band instructor prone to throwing chairs on occasion, Simmons was part of the ensemble voice cast in Anastasia. Perhaps surprisingly to fans, Simmons is no stranger to musicals, as he played Benny Southstreet into the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls before Anastasia came along. Since the '90s, Simmons has worked steadily in film and television, portraying Vernon Schillinger in Oz on HBO, Dr. Emil Skoda in the Law & Order franchise, J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy, and as the unsatisfied lounge owner kicking Ryan Gosling off the keys in La La Land. Simmons has also lent his voice to other animated works like Zootopia, but perhaps he might be most recognized for his appearances in a series of Farmers Insurance commercials.