“Escape From Planet Earth” is a sci-fi 3-D animated film about a macho astronaut named Scorch Supernova (voiced by Brendan Fraser) from the planet Baab, who find himself in danger when he lands on Planet Earth. A team goes on a mission to rescue him. Part of the team includes lobster-like creature named Io (voiced by Jane Lynch) and a rodent-like creature named Doc (voiced by Craig Robinson).
Lynch and Robinson have done several movies, but they are best known to TV audiences for their respective roles in “Glee” and “The Office.” At the New York City press junket for “Escape From Planet Earth,” I sat down with Lynch and Robinson during a roundtable interview with other journalists. At the beginning of the interview, Robinson and Lynch, ever the comedians, started singing together Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.”
Craig, is this your audition for “Glee”?
Lynch: He doesn’t need my OK. He’s perfect. We just have to get [“Glee” co-creator/executive producer] Ryan Murphy to say yes.
Jane, do you get a lot of people asking you to be on “Glee”?
Lynch: No, it doesn’t happen very much. If you’re in the business, you know that an actor on the show can’t do anything to get you on the show.
So you never suggest any guest stars for “Glee”?
Lynch: No. I don’t suggest anything. I suggested one song. I suggested story lines and a funny situation here and there. And it’s in the script. Not a lot of them. I haven’t done it a lot, but they listen. They’ve got to an hour of 22 episodes a year, so they’re open. I just don’t have many ideas.
Craig, did you ever suggest ideas for “The Office”?
Robinson: Yes, but none of my suggestions make it.
Lynch: So there you have it.
When did you first see how your “Escape From Planet Earth” characters would look? And how did that impact your performance?
Robinson: From day one, they showed me some artwork. Each time I went in for about six or seven sessions, they showed me the progression to “Here’s some of the footage.” All they asked for was “Bring your real voice.” And that’s what I did. I don’t know if [seeing the artwork] impacted it as much. It was like, “OK, I’m a mouse-like alien.” It came out like it did. I’m very proud of it.
Lynch: I did one massive session. She had already been animated. I knew what she looked like. I knew how she moved and what the storyline was. And I did it in one eight-hour session. It was a lot of fun. It’s really great to knock it out like that. I’ve done animated films before where you do five or six sessions over a few years. And this was a quick one.
And you recorded this session by yourself?
Lynch: Yeah. All of us [voice actors]. That’s kind of how it’s done. Very rarely do you get to work with a person. There’s a lot of benefit from that, but it’s also fun to be by yourself with just your imagination. And I know Craig, and I know George Lopez, and I know Rob [Corddry], so I had an idea of what they might be doing, so I could picture them in my mind as I did it.
What can you say about Sofia Vergara, who has the role of Gabby Babblebrock in “Escape From Planet Earth”?
Lynch: I see her all the time, because we go to those award dinners. And [“Modern Family”] is [produced by] 20th Century Fox, and [“Glee”] is [produced by] 20th Century Fox. I see her a lot. I did not see her in the making of [“Escape From Planet Earth”]. I haven’t seen her at any press [interviews for the movie] yet. But I do tend to see her a lot. She’s wonderful. She’s such a lovely person too.
How would you save the planet?
Robinson: I’m a musician. And I kind of sell myself that if there as an intergalactic talent competition, I would bring my band, the Nastylicious, to represent Earth, and we would definitely kick some butt.
Lynch: I think saving the planet is a massive thing. I don’t know if one person can do it. I think the only way you can do it is by one heart and mind at a time. If I had a wish, it would be for everybody to be guided by their higher angels, including all those bozos in Congress who are so partisan. I’m talking about both sides, but especially Republicans. Be guided with your heart, as opposed to where you’re going to get your next campaign donation.
Craig, can you talk about your experiences with animation before “Escape From Planet Earth”?
Robinson: I played Freight Train on “The Cleveland Show.” I was also in “Shrek 4” with Ms. Lynch over here. So yeah, I’ve had a little bit of an animatronic experience.
Craig, you used to be a teacher of school kids. What will appeal to kids the most about “Escape From Planet Earth”?
Robinson: I have an 11-year-old niece, who might love this more than her Hello Kitty. I’m really excited to get out there and show her that. I do a lot of R-rated stuff, so it’s always nice to do that my family can see and go, “Hey! Great!” I grew up in church and stuff, so every time I’m saying certain words, it’s like, “Oh, I’m getting in trouble!”
What can you say about some of the movies’ social-commentary messages that adults might understand?
Lynch: They call Earth “The Dark Planet.” I love how they show our evolution on this planet from attractive, peaceful gentle beings, which were the dinosaurs, to what we’ve become. And I think adults will appreciate that. I think there’s such value in looking at your world from an outsider’s perspective.
I was thinking that if I were plopped down as an alien on Sunset Boulevard in L.A., I would think that there are no women in this world, because everything is so — I sound like a feminist, but I guess I am — the Hollywood billboards are all men. They’re all men looking mean and holding guns. I think, “What would an alien think if they weren’t from here? What would they think?” So I think it’s always fun to step outside and look at your world.
Robinson: An interesting adult topic that they had was with [Jessica Alba’s character in “Escape From Planet Earth”] … that whole relationship, she was getting manipulated.
Lynch: By the guy.
Robinson: That was all for the adults. And definitely the belief in each other as they came together, from the aliens to the family. The brothers fighting until they had to respect each other. That was one of my favorite themes in the movie.
What did you think when you saw “Escape From Planet Earth” being assembled?
Lynch: As you’re doing it, you have no idea what it’s going to look like or sound like, so it’s always a big surprise.
Robinson: There’s a part where Doc is in a food fight, and just as he gets a shout-out, the general comes in. And the line is, “I told them not to food fight, but they did” in a way that I wouldn’t have thought to say it. So you see what the director, because I’m sure he gave me a line reading for that, and to see that part, it wowed me because it got a nice laugh. It was like, “OK, I can work with people.”
What kind of audience did you have when you first saw “Escape From Planet Earth”?
Lynch: I saw a screener, so it was an audience of one and all the personalities in my head.
Robinson: I saw it with kids at the premiere. The kids were really into it. I heard one kid say, “The rat is funny.”
Can you describe what it was like working with “Escape From Planet Earth” director Callan Brunker?
Robinson: He very [much] encouraged [us]. He was all about the energy of bringing the characters to life. His vision was so strong, he was telling us the vision as it went along. As I said, I went to about six or seven sessions. And in each one, he was showing a little bit more footage, starting from the storyboards to the actual product. So he knew what he wanted. And that’s so important, obviously, in a director.
He’s so passionate about it that it translated. He was down for improv. Let’s say I started and it was OK, and then we got to the end of the session, it was like up here and it was like, “Let’s go back here and match that energy of that, because now you’ve found the character.” So yeah, he was all about whatever was best for the movie and the script.
Lynch: Yeah, he was always encouraging me — it was a long eight-hour session — to bring myself to it. “Do your spin on it. Don’t let me tell you how to do anything. The reason you’re here is to you do what you do.” It wasn’t like I came in to do a funny voice or try to be something other than what I do. I’m a one-trick pony. I admit it!
And he would say, “Say these in your own words if you want.” I don’t know if any of it was used because I have no long-term memory. They want the characters to come to life. The voice is what gives it the humanity or alien-anity.
It’s always a very loving and creative environment when you do these things. They really want you to feel comfortable and feel like you’re there because they like you, and you’re there because they want you to bring who you are to it.
Robinson: There’s no makeup, no prep. You wear whatever you want to wear.
Lynch: You can show up in your pajamas if you want.
[Says jokingly] Did Callan Brunker make you close one eye, since Io has only one eye?
Lynch: He did not. I was able, though visualization, just use my third eye.
Did they give you any “Escape From Planet Earth” memorabilia?
Lynch: They didn’t. No.
Out of all the movies that you’ve done, which ones do your fans keep asking if you’ll do a sequel?
Robinson: For me, it would be “Hot Tub Time Machine.” A lot of people ask about that. But I think the most-mentioned movie that I’ve done would be “Knocked Up.” A lot of people remember me from a scene in that, which is cool.
“This Is 40” was a sort-of sequel to “Knocked Up.”
Robinson: Sort of a sequel.
Lynch: For me, it’s “Role Models.” If you’re 18 to 27, you come up to me and say, “What did you have for breakfast? The line is cocaine.” People ask me about that and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” And “When will Chris Guest do another movie?” And my answer is: “I don’t know.”
Robinson: I auditioned to be the store manager in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
Lynch: Because it was a man’s role. Yes, it was written for a guy. You know who I have to thank because you didn’t get the job? Sorry about that. I have to thank Steve [Carell’s] wife, Nancy Walls, who’s a wonderful actress in her own right. She said, “You have so many men in your film, and Craig Robinson does not need another job. Why don’t you read Jane for the store manger?” And they did.” [Robinson laughs.] I am sorry, man.
Robinson: I couldn’t be happier.
Jane, do people try to portray your Sue Sylvester character to you, and try to be blunt and rude like Sue is?
Lynch: No, they don’t. It’s funny. They giggle. I think because Sue is not a Hannibal Lecter, and she’s not dangerous, that people mostly go, “Oh my God, you make me laugh with how mean you are.”
People say, “Do people come up to you and say, ‘Be mean to me?’” That never happens, and I’m glad, because I don’t want to have to perform when I’m getting coffee.
What did you think about the “Glee” tribute episode on “Sesame Street?” Did you feel like you’ve arrived, now that Sue Sylvester has been made into a Muppet?
Lynch: I didn’t actually know that my character was a Muppet. I’m in the [Madame Tussaud’s] Wax Museum. It’s all very surreal. And I’m really glad that I got to be part of an iconic expression of a character. I don’t think that happens more than once in one’s life.
Do either of you have a favorite song that you would like to perform on TV or in a movie?
Robinson: Someone was asking today what would I do on “Glee,” and I said, “Sly Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay.” [He then starts to sing the song.]
Lynch: If you’re listening, Ryan Murphy …
Do you have a favorite animated film, other than “Escape From Planet Earth”?
Lynch: “The Incredibles.” I loved “The Incredibles”!
Robinson: Oh, that was awesome!
Lynch: Craig T. Nelson was great in that. And Holly Hunter. They were just awesome. And I like “Phineas and Ferb.” I love “Phineas and Ferb” on TV.
How did your experiences with the Steppenwolf Theatre Company shape you as an entertainer? John Malkovich and Gary Sinise are among the alumni.
Lynch: They’re a little but older than me, so I got to Steppenwolf after they had left and become movie stars, but they went to Illinois State University — not all of them, but some of them did.
Robinson: So did I
Lynch: You did too? You’re a Redbird? [They do a high-five.]
Lynch: Did you do theater?
Robinson: No, I did a couple of [theater] things, but I was in music.
Lynch: I was in the theater department, and a bunch of the Steppenwolf people went there. Laurie Metcalf and Terry Kinney and Jeff Perry. There were a bunch of people. If you’re a Chicago actor, you know these people. So they studied with these really amazing people at Illinois State, and I stumbled [into it]. It was the only school I could get into. It was easy to get into.
And I stumbled into the theater department, and I ended up being taught by these really great people, kind of making a connection with the Steppenwolf people. So while I was in Chicago doing off-Loop theater for free, they asked me to understudy for somebody. And before I knew it, I was on stage, and I did a couple of plays after that.
So what I love about Steppenwolf is that it’s an actor’s theater. It was started by actors. It’s about the ensemble. Everything lives to serve the actor. And that’s not everywhere that it’s all collaboration wherever you go. But there is kind of an actor focus. Everything kind of falls from there.
They do beautiful productions and they take their craft very seriously. I learned at Illinois State and at Steppenwolf to take my craft very seriously, but in a light way. They were fun. We had so much fun. They were renegades and rebels at the time.
Do you have any future plans to do theater?
Lynch: I might be doing some Broadway this summer. I’m about to seal the deal. I’ll tell you right now that you’ll be hearing about it. I just can’t say anything. My agent, “You can tease it.” But I’m going to be in New York for a few months.
Robinson: Stage production, I don’t have anything in the works. I do have a pilot that I’m working on. This is the bittersweet part of “The Office” ending. We have a pilot that we’re going into production in right after “The Office,” so there’s a chance I’ll be on television next fall.
It’s not a spinoff [of “The Office”]. It’s loosely based on my comedy and my life as a music teacher and being in a band. So it’s like more of a nightclub person, but coming in to teach kids. So far, it’s untitled. It’s going to be on NBC.
Will we see more of the documentary film crew in “The Office” series finale?
Will that film ever be released?
Robinson: We’ll see. Don’t get me fired in my last few weeks.
For more info: "Escape From Planet Earth"