Sometimes working with an unexpected partner can lead to surprisingly positive outcomes that can change people’s course in, and outlook on, life. That is certainly true for not only Scorch Supernova, the main character in director Cal Brunker’s new animated family comedy ‘Escape From Planet Earth,’ but also for the actors in the movie, which opens in New York theaters today. While Scorch realizes that working with his brother, who’s completely different from him, can help save their planet, two of the film’s stars, Jane Lynch and Craig Robinson, learned about acting from each other while making the project.
‘Escape From Planet Earth’ follows Scorch (voiced by Brendan Fraser), Planet Baab’s famed astronaut, who finds himself trapped by evil forces on the distant “Dark Planet” (Earth), where only his nerdy brother Gary (Rob Corddry), the head of BASA Mission control, can save him. Scorch’s interplanetary exploits are televised for the enjoyment of his fans, and after becoming a global legend, he won the love of television reporter Gabby Babblebrock (Sofia Vergara). Her hero-worshipping son Kip (Jonathan Morgan Heit) also idolizes the astronaut.
But when BASA’s no-nonsense chief, Lena (Jessica Alba), intercepts a distress signal from the Dark Planet, a notoriously dangerous world, Scorch jumps at the chance to attempt to complete the once-in-a-lifetime rescue mission. But Gary tries to discourage his brother from leaving, as no one has ever returned from the faraway world. Scorch realizes too late that he has been lured into a deadly ambush set by paramilitary leader General Shanker (William Shatner). When the trap imprisons Scorch, his brother rushes to his aid, and discovers a plot that only his brains and Scorch’s brawn can stop.
Lynch and Robinson generously took the time recently to sit down for an interview at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria to talk about filming ‘Escape From Planet Earth.’ Among other things, the two actors discussed how seeing their animated characters influenced the way they portrayed them during their recording sessions; how the family comedy includes messages that children and their parents could relate to and understand; and what it was like collaborating with Brunker while filming the movie.
Question (Q): Are you two producing each other’s records? (laughs)
Jane Lynch (JL): We were walking down the hall, and I started singing it, and he jumped in.
Craig Robinson (CR): We’ll show up on each other’s records.
Q: Craig, will you show up on ‘Glee?’
CR: I know, right? (laughs) Wink, wink.
Q: Will you be tough on him, Jane?
JL: Oh no, he doesn’t need my okay, he’s awesome. We just need (‘Glee’ co-creator) Ryan Murphy to say yes.
Q: Do many people ask you for a part on the show?
JL: No, that doesn’t happen very much. If you’re in the business, you know an actor on a show can’t do anything to get you on the show. (laughs)
Q: Do you ever suggest anyone you want?
JL: Oh no, I don’t suggest anything. I suggested one song, and I’ve suggested storylines and a funny situation here and there, and one’s in the script next week. Not a lot of them, I haven’t done it a lot. But they’ll listen, because they have to do 22 one-hour episodes every year, so they’re open. I just don’t have many ideas.
Q: Craig, do you ever make suggestions?
CR: Yes, but none of my suggestions make it.
JL: Most of them don’t ever.
Q: So for ‘Escape From Planet Earth,’ when did you see how your characters would look, and how did that impact your performances?
CR: From day one, they showed me some artwork. Each time I went in, over six or seven sessions, they showed me the progression and some footage. All they asked for was to bring your real voice, and that’s what I did. I don’t know if it impacted it, as I’m a mouse-like alien. But it came out like it did, and I’m very proud of it.
I play Freight Train on ‘The Cleveland Show,’ and I was also in ‘Shrek 4’ with Miss Lynch. So I’m having a bit of an animatronic experience.
JL: I did one massive session, and it had already been animated. So I knew what it looked like and how she moved and what the storyline was, so I did it in one eight-hour session. It was a lot of fun to knock it out like that. I’ve done animated films before where I did five or six sessions over a few years, and this was a quick one.
Q: Did you record your session by yourself?
JL: Yes, all of us did, and that’s how it’s done. Rarely do you get to work with another person, and there’s a lot of benefit from that. But it’s also fun to be by yourself with your imagination. I know Craig and George Lopez and Rob (Corddry), and knew what they might be doing, so I could picture them in my mind.
Q: Sofia Vergara also has a role in the movie. Are you going to meet her for the promotion?
JL: I see her all the time, because we go to all those award dinners. She’s 20th Century Fox (for ‘Modern Family’) and ‘Glee’s 20th Century Fox. So I do see her a lot, but I didn’t see her on the making of this, or for any press. But I do tend to see her a lot, and she’s wonderful. She’s such a lovely person.
Q: If both of you had the chance, how would you save the planet?
CR: I’m a musician, and I’ve thought if there’s an intergalactic competition, I’d bring my band, The Nasty Delicious, and represent Earth. We would definitely kick some butt.
JL: I think saving the planet is a massive thing, and I don’t know if one person could do it. I think the only way you could do it is one heart and mind at a time. If I had a wish, it would be for everyone to be guided by their higher angels, including all those bozos in Congress who are so partisan, and I’m talking both sides, but especially the Republicans. You have to be guided by your heart, as opposed to where you’re going to get your next campaign donation.
Q: Craig, you have worked with kids before, as you were a teacher. How was this experience different?
CR: This was fantastic, because I have an 11-year-old niece, and she might love this more than her Hello Kitty. So I’m really excited to get out there and show her this. It’s always nice to do a family movie, because I do a lot of R-rated stuff. I grew up in Church, so every time I say certain words, I’m like, I’m going to get in trouble.
SY: This movie has some messages that adults might understand, like they go to a planet where they worship money. Can you comment on some of those messages?
JL: Well, they call Earth the Dark Planet on Scorch’s planet. I love how they show our evolution on our planet from attractive, peaceful beings, which were the dinosaurs, to what we’ve become. So I think adults will appreciate that. There’s such perspective to looking at your world from an outsider’s perspective.
Like if I was plopped down as an alien on Sunset Blvd. in L.A., I would think there are no women in this world. The Hollywood billboards are all men looking mean and holding guns. I wonder what an alien would think if they came here, so it’s always fun to step outside of your world.
CR: What was interesting to me was the fact that the character played by Jessica Alba was being manipulated, and that was all for the adults. Also, the belief in each other, as they came together as a family, and everyone was telling the kids to stay away. The brothers had to fight until they respected each other. That was one of my favorite things in the movie.
Q: Can you talk about how you reacted when you saw the movie assembled?
JL: When you’re doing it, you have no idea what it’s going to look and sound like, so it’s always a big surprise.
CR: There was one scene where Doc was in a food fight. As soon as he gets a shoot off, the General comes in. The line he has is, “I told them not to food fight, but they did.” It came out in a way that I would never have thought to say. So you’re seeing what the director did, and I’m sure he gave me a line reading for that. That got a nice laugh.
Q: Have you seen the movie with kids, or with the collaborators?
JL: I saw a screener, so I saw it with an audience of one, and all the personalities in my head.
CR: I saw it with kids at the premiere, and they were really into it. I heard one kid say, “The rat is funny.” (laughs)
JL: Did that make you feel good?
CR: Yeah, it did.
Q: Can you talk about your collaboration with director Cal Brunker? Did he let you do any improv?
CR: It was very encouraged, and he was all about the energy of bringing these characters to life. His vision is so strong, and he was telling me about the vision as we went along. I did about six or seven sessions, and during each one, he showed a little more footage. It started from the storyboards to the actual product. So he knew what he wanted, and that’s so important in a director. He’s so passionate about it that it translated. So he was down for improv, so he was all about making the movie better.
JL: He was always encouraging me. He always wanted me to put my spin on it, and he said “the reason you’re here is because you do what you do.” It wasn’t like I came in to do a funny voice or do something other than what I do. He would say, “say these in your own words, if you want.” I have no idea if any of it was used, because I have such a short-term memory.
He wanted the characters to come to life, and the voices are what gives them the alienanity, so it was always a loving and creative environment. They really want you to feel comfortable, because they like you and want you to bring who you are to it.
CR: There’s no make-up and hair, no prep. You can wear whatever you want.
JL: You can come in your pajamas.
Q: Did they give you any merchandise after you were done filming?
JL: I just ate a cupcake of my likeness. (laughs)
Q: Out of curiosity, out of all your movies, which ones do your fans keep asking you for a sequel?
CR: For me, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’-a lot of people ask me about that. But I think the most mentioned movie that I’ve done is ‘Knocked Up.’ A lot of people remember me from that.
JL: For me, ‘Role Models.’ If you’re 18-27, you’d come up to me and say, “what did you have for breakfast? The line of cocaine.” People ask me about that and ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin.’ People always ask me if we’re going to do another one, and the answer is, I don’t know.
CR: I auditioned to be the store manager in ‘40-Year-Old Virgin.’
JL: It was a man’s role, yes. It was written for a guy. You know who I have to thank for that, and sorry you didn’t get the role, but Steve’s (Carrell) wife, Nancy Walls. She’s a wonder actress in her own right. She said, “you have so many men in the film, and Craig Robinson doesn’t need another job. (laughs) she said, “why don’t you read Jane for the store manager?” That’s how I got it. Sorry, man.
CR: I couldn’t be happier.
Q: Jane, do people do Sue (Sylvester, your ‘Glee’ character) to you, and come up and be blunt and rude with you?
JL: No, they don’t. It’s funny, they giggle. I think because Sue’s not a Hannibal Lector and not dangerous, people go, you make me laugh. People don’t come up to me and say, “be mean to me,” and I’m glad that doesn’t happen. I don’t want to perform when I’m doing coffee.
Q: The ‘Glee’ episode of ‘Sesame Street’ was just on the other day. There was a Sue Sylvester muppet.
JL: I had heard about that, but I haven’t seen it.
Q: Does that make you feel like you’ve arrived, since you have a muppet?
JL: I guess so. I didn’t know my character was a muppet. I’m in the wax museum, too, so it’s all very surreal. I’m glad I got to be part of an iconic expression of a character. I don’t think that happens more than once.
Q: Do you both have any songs you would want to do in any of your shows or movies, besides the duet you gave before?
CR: Yeah, I feel like we should do that at some point. I’d want to do Sly Stone’s ‘If You Want Me to Stay’ on ‘Glee.’
JL: I’d be dancing in the background.
(Robinson begins singing ‘If You Want Me to Stay.’)
JL: I hope you’re listening, Ryan Murphy.
Q: Do you have a favorite animated movie, besides this one?
JL: Favorite animated film, besides this one, of course? I love the one with the family of superheroes, ‘The Incredibles.’
CR: ‘The Incredibles’ was awesome.
JL: Craig T. Nelson was great in that one, and Holly Hunter was awesome.
Q: They could have easily done a sequel to that one.
JL: Yeah, I wonder why they haven’t. I also love ‘Phineas and Ferb’ on TV.
Q: Jane, you started in the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, in which such talented actors as John Malkovich and Gary Sinise attended. What was that experience like-did it shape your career as an actor?
JL: That’s a very good question. They’re a little bit older than me, so I had gotten to Steppenwolf after they had left and became movie stars. Some of them went to Illinois State University.
CR: I went there, too.
JL: You went there? You’re a Redbird? Were you a theater major?
CR: No, I did a couple plays, but I was a music major.
JL: I went to the theater department, and a lot of the Steppenwolf people went there, like Laurie Metcalf. So they studied with these amazing teachers at Illinois State, and I kind of stumbled into the theater department. It was the only school I could get into. I was taught by these amazing people, and got in touch with the Steppenwolf people.
While I was in Chicago, doing theater for free, they asked me to understudy somebody. Before I knew it, I was on stage, and I did a couple plays. What I love about Steppenwolf is that it’s an actor’s theater. It was started by actors. Everything serves the actor, and that’s not everywhere. It’s all about collaboration wherever you go. It’s actor-focused, and they do beautiful productions. They take their craft very seriously. I learned at Illinois State and Steppenwolf to take my craft very seriously. But we had so much fun. They were renegades and rebels at the time.
Q: Will you be in any plays coming up?
JL: I may be doing some Broadway this summer. I may be sealing the deal, but you’ll be hearing about it. I just can’t talk about it. I’ll be in New York for a few months doing it.
CR: As for stage productions, I don’t have anything in the works. I do have a pilot that I’m working on and will be shooting. This is the sweet part of the bittersweet part of ‘The Office’ ending. The pilot will be going into production right after ‘The Office’ ends, so there’s a chance I’ll be on television again next fall.
Q: Is it a spin-off of ‘The Office?’
CR: No, it’s not a spin-off of ‘The Office.’ It’s loosely based on my comedy and my life as a music teacher and being in a band. It’s like a nightclub person coming in to teach kids. So far, it’s untitled.
Q: Are we going to see more of the documentary crew on the end of ‘The Office?’
CR: Yes, I think.
Q: Will that movie they’re making ever be released?
CR: We’ll see. Don’t get me fired in my last four weeks.