LOS ANGELES — It seemed like both Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey signed on to voice characters in the new Laika Studios animated film “Kubo and the Two Strings” for very similar reasons: their young children.
Sitting down for a joint interview in Los Angeles recently, the two Oscar winners agreed the family-focused theme of “Kubo” was a big draw for them.
“I hadn’t made a film my kids could watch,” said the father of children ages 8, 6 and 3, “and decided it was about time I did! Now I have, and they’ve seen it, and for about eight days after they first watched it I was hot in my house! That faded, of course, but for those eight days I was one cool dad.”
He explained that before he even began taping the voice of the samurai “Beetle” in the film, he spent a number of evenings reading the script to his kids as a bedtime story. “I did it for several reasons. First, I just wanted to hear it for myself. Second, I wanted to see how it translated to my children’s young ears. And third, I wanted to see what they would be scared of in the script — plus where they would giggle or laugh and ask me to go back and ‘Do that part again!’ ”
As McConaughey explained his attraction to the story, Theron smiled and nodded. “I had wanted to do something like this for a very long while. I think I was in a very special place, when this came my way. Maybe it was serendipitous. At that point, I was about two years into motherhood, with my first child. In my heart I wanted to do something like this. When I read it, it really touched me — and not because I thought, ‘Oh, this is a kids’ film.’
“I, as an adult, was very touched by this material. I found it very powerful”
The film is an original action-adventure epic set in a fictional interpretation of ancient Japan. It tells the tale of Kubo, a young boy with strange but wonderful magical gifts. He lives alone with his mother — who is caught in a mystical, trancelike state — in a cave high above a small village. On a daily basis, Kubo goes to the town square and entertains the local citizens in the market, spinning wild and wonderful tales that are created out of the folded paper art form known as origami.
In a series of circumstances, Kubo accidentally summons a spirit from his infancy — leading him to take off on an adventure where he encounters both Monkey (voiced by Theron) and Beetle (McConaughey).
When asked if playing Monkey in “Kubo” made the actress look at simians in a new way, Theron joked, “Perhaps a bit.” Turing to look at the film’s poster featuring her animated self, the actress added, “She is cute and adorable. I just think perhaps she’s a bit gassy. That’s what gives her that expression, because, as we come to know, she’s really not as mean as she looks.”
As for the voice of Kubo himself, that fell to the young Irish actor Art Parkinson, best known to the enormous fan base of “Game of Thrones” for his role as Rickon Stark. He said it took some concentration to maintain consistency during the five-year process of making “Kubo.”
“It was especially hard,” said Parkinson, now age 14, “because at the time I started ‘Kubo’ — or shortly thereafter — my voice was sort of beginning to break. It was a challenge to keep the same American accent [which the filmmakers wanted for the character, despite him being Japanese], and at the same time maintain the same tone and same pitch in my voice.
“Fortunately, [director] Travis [Knight] made it so much easier by helping us to keep totally immersed in the story and our characters. We always had the clay figures of our characters right in front of us — at all times. It made it so much easier to imagine what we were doing at all times.”
For Parkinson, the family themes of “Kubo and the Two Strings” also resonated, as the young actor revealed, “I’m really close to my family. … I loved the fact when my mum came to see the film for the first time a few weeks ago at the Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin, she really ended up having tears in her eyes at the end!”
However, for the teenager, his love of the film centers on “the fact that, for me, this is a huge, epic, adventure movie. Maybe it’s because I play Kubo, but I think it’s about how he overcomes those enormous challenges that he faces. For me it’s an adventure coupled with a coming-of-age story, and that’s how I think audiences my age will relate to it.”