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In Frozen 2, Olaf, the affable snowman, is beginning to grow up, but that doesn’t mean Josh Gad has to be a grown-up all of the time. Gad, who’s mastered the art of good-natured trolling, actually received inspiration for Olaf’s maturation by recording a moment with his daughter three years ago, when she was 5.
“She looked at my wife and I with tears in her eyes, and she started bawling out of nowhere…. She goes, ‘What if I don’t want to grow up?’” Gad tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I showed it to [Frozen 2 directors] Chris [Buck] and Jennifer [Lee], who both had smiles on their faces. I think that they both had the same instincts — that it was time for Olaf to grow up.”
Back in 2017, Gad established his reputation for having Internet fun as he produced a series of iPhone-recorded videos that essentially trolled Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley for answers about Rey and the still upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The videos went viral almost immediately as Gad eventually sought the help of Judi Dench and J.J. Abrams, who had yet to return to the director’s chair for The Rise of Skywalker.
“At this point, I’ve done everything that I could to help the Star Wars fan base get answers from Daisy Ridley. I’m not gonna lie — she’s made it nearly impossible,” Gad explains. “I should’ve just gone to J.J. directly now that I’m thinking about it. But, I will tell you, I may have one more trick up my sleeve. That’s all I’m going to say….”
(Several weeks after this article published, Gad unveiled this.)
Gad’s playful hijinks didn’t stop with Star Wars as he then set his sights on the world of DC comics and the character of The Penguin. Gad’s lark quickly led to headlines and speculation around the Internet that he was in the running for Matt Reeves’ The Batman, but he eventually set the record straight this past summer, confirming on Twitter that he would not be playing the role. And, recently, the door was definitively shut with the casting of Colin Farrell.
“Matt and I had a brief exchange about it, and the truth is that there was never really any serious attempt to play the role of The Penguin in The Batman,” Gad says, adding that he kept the fan speculation going just for fun. “There were talks along the way with DC about it. There were talks along the way with Matt about it. But, the truth is, I never went in to go discuss it. I never went on tape for it. Frankly, I think they made a really cool choice. I cannot wait to see Matt’s Batman movie, and…for the most part, it’s been just a great laugh between the two of us.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Gad discusses the process behind recording Olaf’s song and voice work, as well as his time visiting The Mandalorian set.
So, when does your viral marketing campaign for The Rise of Skywalker begin?
(Laughs.) I have another Disney franchise to open first, and then, I’ll try and lend my support to that little, independent feature film about the Skywalker family. Look, at this point, I’ve done everything that I could to help the Star Wars fan base get answers from Daisy Ridley. I’m not gonna lie — she’s made it nearly impossible. I’ve tried. It hasn’t been for lack of creativity; I’ll tell you that much. I’ve gotten everybody from Judi Dench to J.J. Abrams…. I should’ve just gone to J.J. directly now that I’m thinking about it. But, I will tell you, I may have one more trick up my sleeve. That’s all I’m going to say…
Did Lucasfilm send you a carrot cake for saving them P&A costs on The Last Jedi?
You know what? I’m glad that you mention that. I think I’m gonna have to call my business manager and lawyer to get into that.
Perhaps, they can get you the same cake that Tom Cruise sends many of his former castmates every holiday season.
(Laughs.) Explain this. Is there a type I should ask for?
Every December, he sends his friends and castmates a White Chocolate Coconut Bundt Cake from a bakery in the Valley.
I feel like this is just one more reason to do a Tom Cruise film — not that I needed any more. No co-star in the history of co-starring with others has ever sent me any sort of pastry or cake.
It is surprising. I think it says something about the fact that they’re trying to help me lose weight. I would imagine they’re trying to support me being more fit in my life.
Still, there are plenty of healthy alternatives such as an Edible Arrangement that’s heavy on the pineapple.
(Laughs.) Yes! Actually, the [Frozen songwriters Robert and Kristen Anderson-] Lopezes sent me a thing of fruit last Christmas — like apples — and I wrote them back, “Is there something you’re trying to tell me?” So, I think you’re right.
Speaking of the Lopezes, what typically comes first: vocals for Olaf’s songs or his voice work?
It was different on the first Frozen. “In Summer” was pretty early on when we recorded it. It was pretty early on when Bobby and Kristen wrote it, and it was probably my second session ever that I recorded that number. The sequel was much different. There was a little ditty [“Unmeltable Me”] that we recorded that ended up on the cutting room floor but is currently available on the deluxe soundtrack to Frozen 2. It was apparent when I was singing it that it was probably not going to make the final film. You always know when Bobby and Kristen are up against a deadline or when they’ve been inspired. That one was definitely leaning toward deadline, and then, as they always do, they just unexpectedly deliver something that is so beyond your wildest dreams in terms of the brilliance, in terms of the music, in terms of the comedy and in terms of the subversiveness. “In Summer” was a celebration of naivete and the audience was in on the joke that this is a character who doesn’t realize that what he wants right now would lead to his ultimate destruction. In Frozen 2, it was a case of how do we send up the fact that Olaf is obviously having growing pains and having an existential crisis, but is still the same innocent character we love. He believes that the things he’s witnessing — which we all know are insane — are going to somehow make sense when he’s older, and the truth is that the audience sits there and laughs because they know that it won’t make sense when he’s older. Those things remain as insane when you’re older as they are to Olaf during the film. They’re always finding that absolute perfect way into a song, and it’s been my experience, not only on both Frozen films, but of course on Book of Mormon with Bobby Lopez as well. So, “When I Am Older” was probably recorded six months into the process.
Olaf has definitely matured a bit, and it’s apparent when he says things like “place of transformation” or “the ever-increasing complexity of thought.” How did you and the filmmakers arrive at this mind-set for Olaf?
My first conversation that I can remember with regard to Frozen 2, there was a video that I took of my daughter Ava, who was 5 at the time. She’s 8 now, so this would’ve been about three years ago, and it was before I ever went into the booth. It was this moment that was so unbelievable where she was laughing, and then all of a sudden, she looked at my wife and I with tears in her eyes, and she started bawling out of nowhere. I said, “What’s wrong, baby?” and she looked at us and she goes, “What if I don’t want to grow up? What if I don’t want to be a grown-up and I don’t want to have to do all of the things that a grown-up does like live by myself and have a job?” She started to list all these things, and of course, my wife and I — trying to control the tears that were about to burst out of her eyes — tried to assuage her and tell her that there’s a long time before she has to worry about that. But, I thought it was such an interesting point of view and perspective, and I showed it to [Frozen II directors] Chris [Buck] and Jennifer [Lee], who both had smiles on their faces. I think that they both had the same instincts — that it was time for Olaf to grow up. Remember, in the first film, he was literally new to the world. He had just been created. So, he didn’t have the perspective that comes with time. And now, we thought it would be really interesting to take him from a toddler to more of a fully-grown child. So, that was the initial conversation, and off of that, we played around with the levels of how much maturity should there be and found that balance along the way.
With voice performances, do you perform each line exactly as you would in live action, or do you add more emotion and inflection to each line since you don’t have your eyes or body to supplement your performance like you do in live action?
It’s a mixture. It depends on the scene. Obviously, there is a necessity for a lot of inflection. You have to give every single moment the depth of your voice because you have to relay not only insight into the character, but any emotional instinct that that character is going through in any particular moment. I think that it’s always important to go in with a fresh voice, and it’s why I always save my screams until the end of a recording. Oftentimes, if Olaf is thrown off the side of a mountain or going down a waterfall, it leads to a very long and rough recording if we start with that. But, the thing that I love the most about the process on Frozen is that it truly is one of the most collaborative processes I’ve ever experienced. The creative team, specifically Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, they not only invite me to improvise every step of the way, but they’re always seeking out my input. I think that’s the case with all of us now — two films in. There’s just a common trust that we have certain instincts into these characters that may or may not be helpful, but they always give us the opportunity to explore those instincts. A lot of the comedy in Frozen 2 was discovered by virtue of us playing around.
During the making of the recent The Lion King, Donald Glover, Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner were able to record some of their scenes together, which is a rarity for voice work. While you can’t argue with the results that the Frozen brain trust has attained, do you ever wish you could perform in the same room as Jonathan Groff, Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel?
I would love to perform with Groff, Idina and Kristen, but the truth is, I’m so used to this process now. There’s such a safety net in knowing and being so familiar with the process of sitting with Chris and Jenn that as much as I would love to explore that with Jonathan and the ladies, I really feel like we found our niche for our process. I think it’s led to pretty good results, and I think part of the joy of working on these films is when I get to see this movie, I literally have no idea what my co-stars are gonna sound like or do in any particular scene. I love the thrill of discovering that along with the audience.
Because you’re able to do live action, voice acting and stage work, I’m curious as to how you make your choices. Do you ever find yourself saying that you need to do a live-action project next since you’ve just come off of two voice performances in a row? Or is it just a matter of choosing the best material regardless of what medium it is?
It was very funny because I had no intention of doing any other voice work, post-Frozen. I felt like I had achieved everything that I wanted to achieve with that film, and then Angry Birds fell into my lap. I was blown away by the caliber of talent that was signing on to do it; I was blown away by the presentation. And frankly, I thought it was a hilarious and subversive approach to material that I was kind of skeptical about when it was first presented to me. It also gave me an opportunity to play a character that was almost the antithesis of Olaf. And then, again, I literally gave the mandate to my team, “I don’t want to do any more voice work,” and then A Dog’s Purpose fell into my lap. I watched a screening of it with a temp voice and bawled. I was on the Dreamworks lot, and I sat there with the intention of saying, “There’s no way I’m doing this movie.” And, of course, by the end, I had gone through an entire box of Kleenex and said, “OK, I’ll do it.” You always go in with certain intentions, and when you least expect it, you fall in love with a piece of material for any given reason. It could be because you want to work with the creative team; it could be because you see something in it that speaks to you artistically. So, with every project, I try to look at it through the prism of what is it going to provide for me? What is it going to allow me to do? How is it going to speak to my audience if I do something like this? That’s usually the approach. It’s not very scientific, but it seems to work for me.
I’m always fascinated by actors who consistently work with the same studio, but whenever I ask such actors about it, they really won’t acknowledge that they’re likely fast-tracked or shortlisted for certain roles because the studio likes and trusts them. Since you’ve worked with Disney a lot, can you speak to your ongoing relationship?
Disney is obviously the preeminent studio right now just in terms of content. They have the keys to the kingdom for so many incredible franchises. They have the keys to the kingdom for so many incredible opportunities and assets. The experience of working alongside Alan Horn, Alan Bergman, Sean Bailey and of course, the entire animation team, up to the top with Bob Iger has been one that has been so unbelievably rewarding to me on so many levels. It’s not just the fact that I think that they are truly operating at a level that is very unique in the history of our industry, but there’s such a collaborative nature over there. They allow for a process that feels so unbelievably organic to what you want to create a process to be, and I don’t necessarily feel that that’s very commonplace, especially at a time when, frankly, I think so many studios are terrified by the ever-changing marketplace. I’m the biggest fan of every single outlet that’s trying to just make movies right now because I know how difficult it is. For whatever reason, I think Disney, along with Warner Bros and Universal, right now, are having this opportunity to still safely deliver movies that, for the most part, people will go see in a movie theater. That’s the big reason that I love working with them. From a selfish perspective, I get to do movies with them that I get to share with my kids, which I also think is great. I also get to share it with four quadrants, which is always what you want to try to do with your work. That’s not to say that I don’t love to do stuff that is edgy. I just did a movie called Little Monsters that I’m sure Disney is not going to be very happy I did around the release of Frozen 2, but I love to do one for them and one for me. I love to be able to share, at least at this point in my 8-year-old and 5-year-old’s lives, movies like Frozen, Frozen 2 and Beauty and the Beast. And then, I’ll go off and do something as insane as my upcoming Armando Iannucci series on HBO, Avenue 5. The fact that I get to do both is what speaks to me. I’m just grateful that Disney has given me the opportunity to do so much cool stuff with them.
The Penguin. I know you were mostly having fun with the casting idea on Twitter, and that you’re friendly with Matt Reeves; however, did you guys ever talk about the role over bottled water?
Matt and I had a brief exchange about it, and the truth is that there was never really any serious attempt to play the role of The Penguin in The Batman. It actually started off with me posting a picture one day and just having fun trolling the Internet. This was before any Penguin project was even announced. This was before Matt Reeves was even attached to do a Batman film. At a certain point, it just became really fun because of the speculation. There were talks along the way with DC about it. There were talks along the way with Matt about it. But, the truth is, I never went in to go discuss it. I never went on tape for it. Frankly, I think they made a really cool choice. I cannot wait to see Matt’s Batman movie, and we happen to be really good friends because we’re fathers at the same school. So, for the most part, it’s been just a great laugh between the two of us. (Laughs.)
If nothing else, at least you got the BossLogic treatment.
Is that man not the most talented human being just doing what he’s doing right now? I am obsessed with everything he does. He’s such a genius.
What do you think of The Mandalorian so far?
I only saw the first episode, and I streamed it when I was in Miami on the very first night that it was out and absolutely loved it. I had the opportunity to visit the set when my friend Bryce Dallas Howard was directing one of the episodes. I got to see that little, soon-to-be highest-grossing plush toy of all time in person, and I was just like, “OK, this series is going to make all the money in the world.” It’s great. I hear that the second and third episode are even better. I can’t wait to just have the time to catch up.
Do you refuse to make appointments by phone now in case you’re recognized as Olaf?
(Laughs.) It’s a good question. The thing that really freaks me out is the little double takes that kids do when I’m in a grocery store or just walking down the street. I’ll just open my mouth to say something on the phone, or to my wife or to my kids, and you’ll just get this look that is just pure unadulterated confusion, a little bit of shock, a little bit of disbelief and a great deal of disappointment that Olaf’s voice has somehow been hijacked by a man who looks like this. (Laughs.)
Dec. 11, 4:16 p.m. Updated with a link to Gad’s Star Wars promotional video.
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