Trolls, Bergens, Music, Hugging, Happiness and his Positive Philosophy on Life: A Conversation with Russell Brand
From DreamWorks Animation, TROLLS is a funny and irreverent musical adventure, starring Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake. Kendrick is the voice of Poppy, the feisty and fearless leader of the Trolls, who are naturally cheerful and optimistic. They love to sing and dance, and they have rainbow-colored hair. Timberlake voices Branch, a gray and fearful troll. He is convinced that the Trolls’ mortal enemies, the Bergens, will track them down in their forest Utopia and capture them. The Bergens are miserable monsters and they are only happy when they eat Trolls.
The gifted comedian Russell Brand joins the cast as the voice of Creek, a wise, Zen-like, but rather arrogant, yogi Troll, who is captured by the Bergens, along with a group of Poppy’s best friends. They await a terrible fate. Unless Poppy and Branch can save them, they will be devoured.
The upbeat and exciting 3D film, from the creators of the SHREK movies, was directed by Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn. Timberlake is the executive music producer.
Everyone loves Russell Brand’s wise Creek. Purple with greenish-blue hair, he is a hippy guru Troll, who loves yoga and is perpetually positive and supportive. In the Troll community, he’s considered to be a Super Troll, the wise teacher who knows everything. He is a close friend of Anna Kendrick’s Poppy, but as the plot unfolds, it emerges that there are hidden complexities to Creek. The Trolls are contented, living in the forest, far away from their sworn enemies, the Bergens, who are comical gloomy creatures that are only happy with a Troll in their stomach. In contrast, the Trolls hug regularly and are the essence of kindness and loyalty. Their world is characterized by cupcakes, rainbows, and celebration.
Poppy, (Anna Kendrick) is the Trolls’ inspiring leader. Branch (Justin Timberlake), however, is a fearful, pessimistic Troll. He doesn’t sing or dance; he isolates himself and hunkers down in his secure hideaway, preparing for a Bergen attack. In fact, Branch’s fears are well founded. When Creek and several other Trolls are kidnapped, Poppy and an initially-reluctant Branch embark on an exciting, dangerous (and very funny) journey to Bergen Town, intent on rescuing their friends.
The DreamWorks Animation team behind TROLLS was also responsible for the hugely popular SHREK films. Like SHREK, TROLLS is witty, sharply written, warm-hearted and irreverent, with strong, relatable characters. The film was inspired by the quirky cute/ugly looking dolls with brightly colored hair that were invented by a Danish woodcutter in 1959 and have been popular globally since the 70s. Visually, the world of the Trolls is stunning and original, with a distinct felt-like hand-made look that is delightfully tactile. Justin Timberlake was in charge of the upbeat music and the film is full of classics and original songs he wrote for the film, including ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling!’ (a number one hit). Also starring in the film are James Corden, Gwen Stefani, and Zooey Deschanel.
Russell Brand started his career as a stand-up comedian. He rose to fame in the UK, with appearances on MTV and the BIG BROTHER spin-off, BIG BROTHER’S BIG MOUTH, which was followed by two stand-up tours. In 2009, Brand took his stand-up comedy tour to the United States with RUSSELL BRAND: SCANDALOUS. He hosted several award shows including the Brit Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards. His films include FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, ROCK OF AGES, ARTHUR, GET HIM TO THE GREEK, BEDTIME STORIES, THE TEMPEST, and the phenomenally successful DESPICABLE ME movies. Brand is the author of ‘My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs and Stand-Up’, and the follow-up, ‘Booky Wook 2: This Time It’s Personal.’ His most recent stand-up show was the critically acclaimed MESSIAH COMPLEX. He also wrote the best-selling book, ‘Revolution’. Brand launched a YouTube series, ‘The Trews’, offering his unique take on current affairs, and started ‘The Russell Brand Podcast’. He opened Trew Era Café in London last year, a social enterprise community project funded by his profits from his Revolution book. Russell Brand sat down for the following interview at DreamWorks Animation Studios in Southern California.
How would you describe the world of the Trolls?
They are innocent and very joyful… That’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film, that they’ve got proper joy to them. They have ‘hug time’ built into their culture, which is a really good thing. Hugging releases oxytocin in human beings, a self-manufactured chemical. So when we hug each other more and love each other more, we’re making a commitment to move closer to one another and overcome our fear that other people might hurt us and harm us. Hugging is an essentially optimistic act. One of the key mantras or themes of the film is ‘No Troll Left Behind,’ so I suppose a key to the Trolls’ identity is that they are a unified entity, and they represent that emblematically, through hugging on the hour when their little flower watches go off. I think that idea is really cute.
What kind of Troll is your character Creek?
Creek is a particularly enlightened troll. He’s spiritually advanced, he’s moved beyond the material world, (even if that material is felt), and into a more spiritual domain. He is a guru with an unexpected side. Creek is a transcendent character who believes that Trolls can expand beyond their mirthful, giddy joy and into a place of true bliss. He was a very positive character to play. But Creek’s relationship with the other Trolls is one of haughty superciliousness and condescension. He considers himself to be better than the other Trolls, more advanced intellectually and spiritually, and to be vibrating on a higher plane of consciousness.
What initially appealed to you about the film?
I was very interested because the Trolls are everywhere in people’s childhoods. Those little Trolls were always cropping up. I’m a person who was born in the mid-70s, so I was always aware of them being around, I didn’t know what they represented, except that they had great hair. So when someone told me about TROLLS, it was almost like I was activated by an unconscious awareness of the significance of Trolls from my earlier life. Plus I thought: ‘if they need motion capture, my hair will be useful!
How do the Trolls use their hair?
Their hair acts as a superpower in a way. It is a bit like an elephant’s trunk; it’s a dexterous entity that the Trolls can use to reach out and grab things. They can swing from trees with it. They use it frequently to get out of jams, to grab one another. You see people getting strangled by Troll’s hair; you see Troll hair being used to swing from branch to branch. It’s used all the time, and it is also an iconic piece of visual architecture.
What did you particularly enjoy about portraying Creek?
I actually like being in the (sound) booth and showing off. I would read the script and then Mike (Mitchell), one of the directors, would usually go: ‘do your own version of the scene and say some things that you would actually say if you were about to be cannibalized by an ogre.’ I’d say, ‘well, that’s not hypothetical for me, that’s merely a childhood memory (jokes).’ So it was the opportunity to improvise that I’ve enjoyed most.
What do you think of Creek’s appearance and the unique look of the movie?
I like the look of Creek very much. I particularly like his green felt pants. I don’t know if I could have that texture next to my own skin in real life, but if I was covered in a fine fuzz, like The Trolls, that’s the kind of garment I’d be looking for! I think some excellent aesthetic choices were made regarding the softness and the wonder of the environment. There’s a magic to it, and I really enjoyed that sense of softness in the film. I watched it with my girlfriend and that was the thing she loved too.
Can you discuss the plot of the film?
At the commencement of the movie, the Trolls live a kind of blissful life, having been led to freedom from their enemies, the Bergens, by King Peppy (Poppy’s dad). They now live in a new Utopia, a blissful forest dwelling, but there is one harbinger character, Branch, played by Justin Timberlake, who says that danger is just around the corner. The other Trolls, in their blissful, one might say, ungrounded optimism, don’t pay heed to his warnings. They just want to party and enjoy life. They don’t see that there really is the threat of danger. When danger eventually comes, in the form of the returning Bergens of course, only Branch, the cynic, is prepared for danger.
Creek and a group of Trolls are kidnapped by the Bergens; can you talk about Poppy and Branch’s rescue mission?
Poppy, as the Trolls’ hero, goes to rescue her friends. But she is a cockeyed optimist and she doesn’t have the attributes needed in order to do the rescue on her own. Branch is a survivalist kind of character that lives in a bunker, and he does have that skill set, but he doesn’t have the optimism and love that Poppy has. The two of them together have exactly the required characteristics to fulfill this mission … or do they? That is the great question posed in the TROLLS film: will they rescue their friends, and will they again achieve Utopia? You will have to go and see the film to find out!
What does Anna Kendrick bring to the character of Poppy?
She brings mirth and lightness, and she also has a really good singing voice. She brings a sort of puckish, spry, wry playfulness to Poppy. She is a twinkle-eyed, affable girl next door, a sparkle-toed, whimsical girl with an element of edginess, which means that she is accessible to young children and fun for older audiences too.
What do you think Justin Timberlake has achieved in terms of the crucial musical aspects of the film?
The music elevates the ambiance continually, and the way it does in all musical films, in this film, music is used to illustrate the essence of the film. So there’s a lot of joyful, fun music, which I imagine kids will love. Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick are vocally gifted stars, so there is a very good use of music. I suppose that now, children watching the TROLLS will forever have a peculiar attachment to Simon & Garfunkel’s song, ‘The Sound Of Silence’. They will think of it as a campfire song between two star-crossed felt lovers, which is great. I think Justin has created an accessible and entertaining soundtrack. It seems to me that it is a very good marriage between the visual aesthetic and the music. So everything seems joyful and inviting and inclusive. I actually just met Justin for the first time and he’s a very warm human!
What was your experience of working with the directors?
Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn are really cool. I like them a lot. Mike seemed to me to be a very funny guy, he was up for a laugh, and he gave me some good direction. There’s a bit where I was doing something, and I guess I had one eye on the comedy of the lines, and he said, ‘Oh no, do it sincerely,’ which was great. They are both very good directors, and I think that comes across the film; there’s a beautiful aesthetic and excellent music. The film is also really well cast, and there are good performances from everyone. It stitches together really well. Mike and Walt were encouraging and they give you a little freedom, which I liked.
What stands out about the comedy in the film?
It’s a funny film. I really laughed a lot at the fairy tale conceit in the story, where the Bergen character Bridget, has had a makeover and looks glamorous, in order to date Prince Gristle. It’s a bit of a twist on Cinderella. I liked that a lot. There is another funny scene, which was actually quite beautiful, where the trolls are hiding in Bridget’s hair, secretly whispering advice to her, it’s a [twist on] the classic CYRANO DE BERGERAC story. I really like that idea of someone being in our hair, giving us words of advice, telling us how to speak to someone in a romantic situation.
Has comedy always come naturally to you?
Comedy does come naturally to me, although sometimes it does have to be engineered, in case you feel a bit down inside. It is the most beautiful thing in the world to constantly be acknowledging that the reality we live in can be peeled away at any moment.
Are there any other moments in the film you particularly like?
There is a heartening moment when Justin Timberlake’s character, Branch, begins to open up and he shows a hitherto unseen capacity for romance, which hints at sincerity and sweetness in his character. This trait has been concealed up to that point because he’s protected himself and he has been hurt in the past … like so many of us have.
What do you think of the Bergens, who are perpetually miserable monsters, but funny too?
I like the Bergens very much. They seem like a species of ‘Shrek’, a group of malevolent ogres. Whereas the Trolls are joyful, the Bergens are joyless. They are cynical beings and think that they can only attain joy, happiness or any pleasure through consuming Trolls. I like them a lot. The Bergens are like zombies. They have no life force. They think that you can only get happiness from outside. I like John Cleese as King Gristle and I like the Bergen Prince Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). I like Chef a lot too (Christine Baranski). One of my favorite bits of the film is the Gorillaz song (‘Clint Eastwood’) where the Trolls sing joylessly about happiness. I really found that remarkable.
What are the themes of the movie do you think?
It is about the positivity of the Trolls, the negativity of the Bergens, and the necessity of compromise and collaboration when we’re seeking to achieve an objective. Now that is a relevant lesson whether you’re aged 5 or 40. I think that modern mastery is being achieved in this film. The escapism that most movies have escalates when you’re in the world of animation, particularly now with the way technology has evolved. It is all about perspective and I feel that TROLLS has a very positive central message about perception. In life, there is really no objective reality, there is only the way that you reconstruct reality within your consciousness. This film shows that if you make a decision to be positive, life will be more abundant than if you zombie around in Bergen Town cannibalizing adorable Trolls.
The Bergens are kind of like the living dead when you see them in Bergen Town. They can only achieve happiness from outside, from the Trolls. They are pretty funny.
There are some great metaphors…
Yes, the Trolls I think represent the optimistic, positive aspect of us as human beings, and the Bergens have not learned the central life lesson that happiness comes from within. The film shows that we have the option to be joyful, reaching out optimistically into the world.
So you think we all have the choice of being positive or negative at any time?
I think it is intrinsic in all of us to make optimistic choices. That’s the option that all of us have, moment-to-moment. It is the only choice that we have: how do we interface with external phenomena? You can say: ‘I choose to treat people lovingly, with respect, no matter what anyone else does to me because that is their own narrative, not ours.’ We can choose not to internalise feelings of sadness.
Are there any ways you do that?
I meditate for 20 minutes, twice a day [TM: Transcendental Meditation].
What is next for you in your career?
I would like to do work that feels directly connected to how I feel, so I would like to do more stand-up, I am writing another book and maybe there’ll be more films, things which come along and resonate with me. I did this film TROLLS because it is positive. I only want to do films that are joyful and glittery from now on (laughs). I don’t want to do anything morbid about characters who live in a swamp, gnawing away at mulch and detritus. I want to do films about joyful, rainbow colored spectral beings like the Trolls. I don’t really have criteria for what I do; I just try and judge things on an individual basis as they come to me.
One of the central themes is simply about happiness. What makes you happy?
When people are open-hearted and kind, that makes me happy. I think you have to carry happiness around with you internally. You can’t overly associate it with some external phenomena; otherwise, you’ll get into terrible trouble. Often, people have overcome real difficulties, and still are happy. In a world that can have so much fear in it, when anybody makes a decision to be loving and open, that is a form of defiance, and that is a choice I admire in humans. I’m a little bit like the Trolls in that I get happiness from hugging, from mindless optimism, singing, and dancing. I like hanging out and being calm. My dog Bear, gives me a lot of happiness and comfort. I like my cats, Jericho and Morrissey, they’re really beautiful. I’m hoping that they will drift together and become a couple because we have my girlfriend’s cat and my cat, but as yet, they’re showing no signs of any kind of alliance!
DREAMWORKS TROLLS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY™ AND DVD FROM 13TH FEBRUARY, FROM TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX HOME ENTERTAINMENT