Say What? How Kevin McKidd Brought Scotland to 'Brave' (Q&A)
The veteran actor spoke to THR about his role in the new Pixar film, which included giving the studio some valuable advice when it came to his home country.
If, while sitting in the theater watching Pixar's new film Brave this weekend, you can't understand what one of the young suitors is saying, don't worry; it just means that Kevin McKidd was doing his job. And, that you've never been to Elgin, Scotland.
The film, about a young princess named Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) who rejects the traditional path of semi-arranged marriage (to the winner of a medieval sort of olympics) set for her by her parents, is Pixar's first foray into the British isles. Known for its meticulous research and long production times, the studio sought to ensure the authenticity of its 13th major feature film. Enter McKidd, one of Hollywood's top Scottish imports, who was tapped early on to voice one of the father-son combinations in the new-age fairytale from the animation powerhouse.
McKidd spoke by phone with THR about his role in the film, as well as several other projects, including the medical drama Grey's Anatomy.
THR: How did you get involved in the film?
McKidd: Like most other things. One day I’m washing my car or whatever and one day I get a one call saying they want you to do a voice in a Pixar movie. That was four years ago – these movies take a long time to be built up. I love Pixar movies, I’ve been a fan for a long time, I’m a fan of Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson and all those guys and it seemed like a no brainer really, to accept.
THR: So did you say yes right away? Or did they send you a script?
McKidd: It’s a slow process, you get pages. You never get an entire script because a script is being workshopped and developed, as the animation happened the story happens. The bare bones is there from the outset, you get talked through a rough idea of that finished story is going to be but that certainly changes as that goes forward. You do some lines, you go away fo r12 months at a time, they animate, and a few months later you get a phone all saying [there’s] more lines. They’ve very inclusive and want your input, especially being a real Scotsman, I think they really wanted that authenticity.
THR: So what did they initially tell you?
McKidd: The main thrust of the story: a mother and a daughter and mother’s power struggle and a mother and daughter’s relationship as they struggle with their own opinions, always been the heart. Certain things change, young MacGuffin was going to be the one was going to be the one Merida picks, but that changed eventually because they decided it was more interesting to keep her free and single to keep her mother and bury the hatchet.
THR: Since it was always changing, did you get to have any input into the story, or your characters?
McKidd: They asked, what kind of accent should they do? They suggested nonsense Scottish words, but I said I could do that, but [I’d rather do] a dialogue from my hometown Doric, my grandfather used to speak, a lot of people still speak it, and it’s hard to understand it. They were blown away – are you making that up or making a real dialect? Pixar is so thorough so they like the idea of a real dialect.
THR: So they gave you a lot of freedom.
McKidd: The lines they would come up with wouldn’t quite ring true to Scottish ear, so they were flexible to us just changing stuff, say this is what I would say, my mom would speak it or my dad say it.
THR: So, as a Scotsman, how do you think they did capturing and recreating the country?
McKidd: It definitely is a fanaticized version of Scotland but I think that they did capture the essence and spirit of the landscape and spirit. The humorous and wildness but warmth still exists, really captured that, kind of a love letter to Scotland in a way. I think the landscapes they created were almost more beautiful than Scotland.
THR: You know, given that you co-star with Kelly MacDonald, they really could have sold the film to older audiences as a Trainspotting reunion of sorts. Did you get to reminisce?
McKidd: We hadn’t worked together since then, it was a long time ago. Even when you do a recording session, you don’t do anything else, you don’t get to hang out, but we’ve gotten to reconnect.
THR: Have you watched it recently? Do you still get asked about it?
McKidd: Still today, it still stands up. I saw it about a year ago, it still works as a movie. People still mention it, I’ve got a lot of fondness for it and it helped all of us get a foothold in this business.
THR: You’ve directed a few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy; do you plan on doing more directing, heading in that direction?
McKidd: Definitely going to be directing more of Grey’s as we go forward and its been a great experience and I’m very grateful to them for taking a chance on me, I was untested. Hopefully I’ll be able to do some more. Definitely I think beyond that, I’m interested in doing TV directing, but independent European film, hopefully I'll be able to do. But acting is still sort of my first love, really. But the directing, I think I'm gaining confidence in it.
THR: Last year on Grey’s, you were involved in an abortion storyline, and that received plenty of attention. Did you get a lot of reaction? Did people comment to you on it?
McKidd: I think that’s what Grey’s Anatomy does will, it’s willing to go headlong into sensitive subject matters and I think the writers always deal with something in sensitive interesting ways and tell stories in a new way, most of the responses I saw were very responsive, and it was really about two characters struggling, one of them really wants to like the children and one of them doesn’t. That’s a source of drama. It’s fun to play that. Sometimes you wish the characters were happy for a while, it’s always fun to play characters that are haunted and struggling… it’s always more interesting.
THR: This is a bit of an old rumor, but I remember hearing reports that you were in talks to star in a reboot of Highlander.
McKidd: Yeah, nothing came of that. I don’t where that rumor came from.
THR: So, you just saw Brave for the first time; was it what you expected?
McKidd: It really is something. You realize the number of people involved to make one of these films, the number of man hours is vast. It’s a labor of love, everyone who works there I think, they love telling those stories and everyone who makes at Pixar. Its kind of awe inspiring to be a small part of the large machine, I feel very lucky to be a part of it. It’s a testament to [John] Lasseter and the way it works and the way ideas are shared and creativity is encouraged. It’s mind-blowing to see out of that hot house of intellect and talent.