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It's Not Easy Being Green, or Beautiful

Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz confront the challenge of voicing animated characters for 'Shrek' and deliver a 'be yourself' message.


If you've seen the poster art for DreamWorks' latest animated feature, "Shrek," you probably thought, "That's an odd title" and "What an ugly-looking green character with funny ears." And that is the moral of the story: Looks are only skin-deep.

"Shrek," the first computer-animated feature for the studio since 1998's "Antz," stars Mike Myers as the voice of the lovable ogre Shrek, Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona, Eddie Murphy as the hyperactive sidekick Donkey and John Lithgow as snide Lord Farquaad. The film opened Wednesday in L.A. and New York and will be released nationwide Friday.

It is a contemporary morality play about an ogre who begrudgingly becomes a hero and discovers how to love others in the process. The film references (and pokes fun at) classic fairy tales, the kind that teach there is more to Shrek than his appearance. He happens to be a thoughtful ogre who nonetheless is angry about the way the world perceives him.

In a recent interview at Westwood's trendy W hotel, Diaz and Myers discussed their first animated film and their first project together. Both actors approached the roles as dramatic performances, seeing the film as a timely fable about modern society's obsession with looks. The stars recorded their voices to the animation off and on for nearly two years.

Question: How did you become involved with this project?

Myers: [DreamWorks executive] Jeffrey Katzenberg asked me [if] I would like to be in an animated fairy tale. He said that Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow would be in it and I said, "Yes, please." I asked him what it was about, and he said it was about an ogre who starts out unhappy with being an ogre and ends up accepting himself as an ogre.

Q: [To Myers] So you were among the last to sign on to the project?

Diaz: Well, I was told that you were going to do it! See how things happen? They called me up and asked if I wanted to be in an animated fairy tale and that the story was about an ogre and a princess and how they become accepting of themselves and one another and the beauty of that message. I said, "That sounds great. Who is doing it?" And they said, "Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and John Lithgow" and I said, "Please, can I do it?"

Q: How much input did you have with the characters?

Myers: It was extremely well-written [by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Joe Stillman and Roger S. H. Schulman]. I have written everything I've done for the most part. So, I just loved coming in and just micro-managing one part. And I thought the story was great. I would hear what John and Eddie and Cameron had done, and I thought they were brilliant. They really sparked me creatively.

Q: How does the process of taping and matching your voices to the animation work?

Diaz: There wasn't a script or anything. You come in and there is a storyboard. I learned how the acts sort of played out the first time I went in to work with them. Andrew [Adamson, co-director of the movie with Vicky Jenson] would stand with his retractable pointer stick and sort of act out each story point. I didn't even see the end of the story when I first started working on it. They had not finished the storyboards yet. The first time I read it, and then I just did it. After you watch it, you say, "Now I get it." I've seen the movie, and now I get the character and I understand what she was going through. And you kind of just say, "God, I wish I had known that before I did this!"

Q: That seems like a difficult way to get in character or to act if you don't know where you're going with the performance.

Diaz: Yes, it's a strange process. It happens over several years. You do a performance, then they animated over about two years, then you do another performance [in what amounts to looping dialogue that doesn't quite work], and they take that.

Q: So how do you become the character?

Myers: I had done Shrek as a Canadian [affecting a Canadian accent] like, "I'm an ogre, eh?" I'm very proud to be Canadian and everybody was very happy with how it turned out, but I knew I could give more to it. My mum is from Liverpool, England. She's a trained actress. When I was a kid she used to read fairy tales to me. The bookmobile would come by, and fairy tales would be in the back of the bookmobile. My mum would read all the different parts. So all children's books and fairy tales have English accents to me. Like, Curious George is from London, Babar is from Liverpool.

I realized I wasn't making that nice connection to the process and to Shrek because it was missing that Mum connection. Once I had made that connection--he's Scottish and had been living in Canada for like 20 years--once I'd made that connection, it all opened up for me in terms of my heart energy and warmth for me.

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