Less than ten years ago, Christopher Mintz-Plasse got his start as an actor when he was cast as the nerdy “McLovin’” in the Judd Apatow-produced comedy Superbad, and playing the nerd is a role the actor has embraced for much of his career since.
But he’s also managed to start a fairly prolific career as a voice actor after being cast as the voice of the Viking “Fish Legs” in DreamWorks Animation’s How to Train Your Dragon. While Mintz-Plasse has continued to voice that role through a sequel and a number of “Dragons” TV series, he’s taking on a new role for DreamWorks Animations’ latest animated film, Trolls.
As some might suspect, the movie is based on the “Good Luck Troll” dolls that have permeated little girls’ doll collections for decades. Mintz-Plasse voices the role of King Gristle, king of the Bergens, a race of miserable beasts who can only find joy by eating the lovable singing and dancing trolls. Gristle has never found the joy that comes with eating trolls, since they escaped and went into hiding, but when his Chef (voiced by Christine Baranski) find the trolls, it seems like Gristle might finally find happiness. (There are also trolls voiced by Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake trying to find their pals, and the king’s maid Bridget, voiced by Zooey Deschanel, who has a crush on the king… and it’s a musical, too!)
LRM got on the phone with Mintz-Plasse last week to talk about his role in Trolls, as well as his new CBS television show, The Great Indoors.
LRM: I know you've been doing stuff with DreamWorks Animation for a while now with all the "Dragon" stuff. At what point did they present King Gristle to you and how did you get involved with “Trolls”?
Christopher Mintz-Plasse: You said it, I've worked with them on the first two “Dragon" movies and about three seasons of the “Dragons” TV show, so they're super kind to me and I guess they like what I do. They keep hitting my team up and told me that they're interested in me doing Trolls and I went in for a meeting. They showed me all the artwork for my character and for Anna's character and Jessica's character, and they told me they just wanted me to be a heightened version of myself. I said, "Let's do it, man." It's one of the best relationships I have out there, with DreamWorks.
LRM: You've been doing quite a bit of voice work with DreamWorks, so what's been the appeal of doing that kind of stuff and creating these characters without actually performing them fully?
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah, without actually like performing. It's really exciting just doing it with your voice. You get to go in a room, and you don't have to worry about what you're wearing or what your face is doing, or hitting your mark or any stuff like that. You just go in and develop these characters with your voice, and I don't know why I keep working in this voiceover business, I guess they just like what I do.
LRM: You have a very distinctive voice. It's one of those voices that just really works for these characters.
Mintz-Plasse: Oh thanks, man.
LRM: What did they tell you about King Gristle? Do you know a lot about the story and stuff like that when you go in, or just about that specific part and they hand you a page with dialogue?
Mintz-Plasse: You know, they try to break it down for you in the first meeting that this is the villain, or so-called villain, who obviously thinks he needs to eat trolls to be happy, but he's got a nice little arc in there where he discovers that true happiness comes from within and loving yourself and he finds true happiness with Zooey Deschanel's character.
LRM: Yeah, it’s a great little thing there that he has with Bridget with some really nice scenes. I know they do all the voices separately, so you probably didn't get to work with her.
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah, something that disappoints me. You line up such an incredible cast with Timberlake and Kendrick and Deschanel and John Cleese, and you're like, "Oh man, maybe they'll get us in a room together and we'll be able to riff and improvise and do all that," and you just go in a room and read opposite a plastic screen, really.
LRM: It's definitely a strange way to do stuff, but I guess you get to meet the rest of the cast at the junket at least.
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah, I haven't even seen them today at the junket. They put me in a room by myself again, but it was fun. I think I'll see them all tomorrow at the premiere, which will be exciting. That will be the first time I really see the finished product.
LRM: Oh, you haven't even seen the finished movie yet?
Mintz-Plasse: No, I saw a cut maybe like four months ago, like 30 or 40% actually complete with the animation.
LRM: I saw it in a theater full of kids this morning.
Mintz-Plasse: Oh, nice. How'd it play?
LRM: It played really well, a lot of laughing... I don't how this happened, but I actually starting tearing up a little bit during Justin's "True Colors” song.
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah, the Cyndi Lauper song. It's a good moment. I'm so happy that the movie has that emotional arc, you know?
LRM: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, I was wondering if you were going to do any singing in this, and I think you did a little bit. Did that make the soundtrack album or is that sort of just like something to do in that one scene?
Mintz-Plasse: It did not. They sent me the soundtrack last week, and with no surprise, my song was not on there. It's only like thirty seconds long anyway, and I sing it pretty crummy.
LRM: Was it nerve-wracking to have to do that? I don't know if you sing or have done any kind of singing before this.
Mintz-Plasse: It was. Doing anything you're not comfortable with is always terrifying and I'm not a singer by any means, and of course you have Justin Timberlake musically directing the whole thing, so he's in there with me when I'm singing my part. I'm like, “Oh great, one of the greatest singers of our generation is watching me do a terrible job.” But he was super-comfortable and helped me get it right.
LRM: That's amazing, because he did do the music for the movie. Was that done separately from your normal voice recording?
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah, it was a separate day for sure, but like I said, I only sang about thirty seconds in there, so I went in for an hour and knocked it out.
LRM: I also saw that you have a new TV show with Joel McHale, “The Great Indoors,” which is pretty cool. That starts next week or something, right?
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah, it airs in five days. It airs on Thursday October 27th. We're very excited for that, very nervous. We've been working on it for four months now and it all leads up to one day, and it all gets judged on that one day, but yeah we're excited, man. We love the cast, we love the writers, we love the concept, so hopefully people respond to it and watch, and we can make more.
LRM: Is this the first TV stuff you've done besides the "Dragon" shows?
Mintz-Plasse: I did a sitcom about four years ago for CBS. We did eight episodes, and it never aired. Must be a testament to how it was, so it was probably better that it never aired.
LRM: How has that been different as far as doing the show? I assume with that you can do a lot more improv, too?
Mintz-Plasse: It's not a crazy amount of improv. We do a live audience taping, so we improvise every Wednesday night in front of the crowd to keep it interesting for them, but it's a different world. You get the script on Thursday, you rehearse on Friday, they rewrite the script on Monday, you rehearse it again, they'll rewrite again on Tuesday and then you start shooting and blocking. You really don't have a chance to start learning your lines or really connecting to the story until the day or the day before of shooting. It's a crazy process.
LRM: Oh, wow. Is that an ongoing thing, or did you just make eight episodes and now you have to wait to see how it does?
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah, we shot thirteen. We got picked up for thirteen and we shot nine of them, so we have four left and then we'll know, I think, within a month after the first three or four episodes air if we get picked up for the “back nine.”
LRM: That's cool, good luck with that. I saw a few of the previews, and I generally like Joel from “Community.”
Mintz-Plasse: Oh, Joel is amazing, dude. If you like him, you're going to love the show. He's killer.
LRM: What else have you been doing, have you still be doing other live action movie stuff?
Mintz-Plasse: Not at the moment. The Great Indoors, the TV show really took over my life for the last four or five months, but I've been making music. Yeah, I've been doing the TV show, doing the promotion for Trolls and I've been making music with my band as well, which is a very big passion of mine.
LRM: Do you sing in the band? What do you play?
Mintz-Plasse: No, definitely not singing after watching Trolls. I play bass in a band called Main Man. We're finishing up our first record right now.
LRM: Oh, that's very cool.
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah man, it's a blast.
LRM: How long have you been doing that?
Mintz-Plasse: I've been making music for ten years, but this project is about a year old.
LRM: I don't know if you heard but Greg Motolla was interviewed recently as saying that they wouldn’t want to make a sequel to “Superbad,” because he said it would be a bad idea. I was curious how you felt about that.
Mintz-Plasse: Who said that?
LRM: Greg Motolla. I mean, it's been a while ago, but do you still feel the urge to do something more with Jonah and Seth?
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah, I love those dudes and they've been super kind to me. I've worked on three or four movies with Seth and Evan, so I always continue to love working with them, but I just don't think a Superbad 2 is in the cards anytime soon. I think everyone is super-busy, but you never know down the line. It could be fun to make a sequel in thirty years and find out what the hell these characters are doing when they're eighty years old. Maybe that's the way to go.
LRM: You know they're doing the “Trainspotting” sequel like that, which I’m really curious about, since it’s one of those mysterious sequels they've been wanting to do forever. They literally waited twenty years to make that sequel.
Mintz-Plasse: No way, you mean Danny Boyle Trainspotting?
LRM: Yeah, you haven’t heard about this?
Mintz-Plasse: Have not heard of that.
LRM: Yeah, it's going to come out early next year.
Mintz-Plasse: Oh, they've already filmed it?
LRM: Already filmed it. It has Ewan McGregor, all the original guys, but now they're all twenty years older.
Mintz-Plasse: That's going to be brilliant.
LRM: Yeah, it could be interesting. You never know.
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah, the typical thing to do is just make the sequel a year or two after. I think that's pretty cool to wait that long.
LRM: Yeah, exactly. I thought the three of you were just so great together, so it would be good to do something else, even if it's not the same characters.
Mintz-Plasse: Right, yeah. We'll find something, for sure.
LRM: Let me see if I have any more questions for you. I think that's pretty much it for me. It's funny when you talk to actors for animated movies, because there's just only so much you can ask them other than, "What's it like standing in front of a microphone?"
Mintz-Plasse: Yeah, it's the greatest job in the world.
LRM: Have you already started doing some voice stuff for the third "Dragons" movie, too?
Mintz-Plasse: No, I think we got the contract and everything all settled, but I believe they're working on the script still. I'll be working on the TV show for Netflix next week, and we'll probably get started on the movie early next year I would think, but we're definitely getting it going.
Trolls opens nationwide on Friday, November 4. You can also see Christopher Mintz-Plasse on the new CBS show The Great Indoors on Thursday nights at 8:30 PM.