On the eve of the release of Robert Downey, Jr.’s passion project Dolittle (originally titled The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle) arriving in Australian cinemas, The AU Review’s Peter Gray chatted with one of the film’s multitude of voice talents, Craig Robinson, to discuss the isolating process of vocal recording and whether or not he’s actually met any of his famous co-stars.
After gloriously belting out Australia’s National Anthem, querying as to why we as a country were so curious about his character in Brooklyn Nine Nine (“That’s all anybody asked me about when I was there”), and graciously asking of Peter’s safety in regards to the bushfires, it was finally time to talk all things Dolittle.
I saw the movie and it was good fun, good family fun, and your character Kevin is certainly one of the funnier animals, how did you get involved with the film?
I got an offer to do it. They said it was “Downey, Jr. doing Dolittle” and I just said “Yeah, sounds like a winner!” It was pretty much just like that. Took a look at the script and I was in.
And you knew from the get-go that you were going to be voicing a character?
I knew I was going to be voicing a character, but from the get-go it was originally going to be a different character. I was going to be in a scene very early on, and once we played around with that and we had a good time they made my character part of the voyage.
Did you have anything to work off, did the studio show you any footage?
Yeah, they had some early drawings, obviously nothing like what you all see now, but after recording about 4 or 5 times we could see what they were going for.
With the script, are you able to ad-lib any of the time? And if so did they take any of that, or is it all strictly what’s on the page?
Ad-libbing was encouraged! A lot of collaboration with the ad-libbing too. I would throw out stuff, Steve (Stephen Gagham, the director) would throw out stuff, so would the producers, so there’s a lot of playing around to get Kevin to where he’s at in the final product.
Are you isolated when filming these?
Yeah, you’re not around any of the cast. It’s just you, the recorders and the producers.
You could almost be considered a pro in this field at this point given all the voice-over work you have done, has it gotten easier or more comfortable since you first started?
Definitely more comfortable. There’s always that first take, those first few takes that you’re not quite there yet, you’re just warming up but now that I know what the game is I have a lot more confidence going into a voice-over session.
Do you think there’s any sort of gravitational pull towards voice work for comedians?
They surely want people who are going to be quick on their feet. You know when Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy did the voices for Genie (in Aladdin) and Donkey (in Shrek) I think that opened up a few doors.
And speaking of Eddie Murphy, you recently worked with him (on Dolemite Is My Name), what was that experience like?
Could not have dreamt it! It was amazing to be just in his presence but seeing him make us all laugh, and making him laugh, and just listening to his stories…it was just fantastic.
And when you were working with him had you already been involved with this Dolittle? It’s rather funny given that he starred as Dolittle so many years ago…
I know right?!?! I didn’t get Dolittle until later though.
Were you able to interact with any of your co-stars, or have you met any of them at previous events? It’s an incredible line-up involved…
I know Kumail (Nanjiani), I know Octavia (Spencer). Doing press at the moment I met Robert and John Cena, as well as Michael Sheen and the two kids that are in the movie (Harry Collett and Carmel Laniado), and Emma Thompson, I know her too.
Having done a family-aimed film such as this among the vast selection of films you’ve already stared in, is there any specific genre you wish to seek out?
I enjoy diversifying my portfolio. It was nice to do a little something like this, and then turn around and do something darker like Mr Robot, and then follow that up with Brooklyn Nine Nine…I love it!
Well I hope this film does well for you. It’s nice to have something aimed at families that enjoys being in that lane in the current climate of the world right now…
Thank you. Yeah it’s a strong family vibe in this one about coming together and bonding through trials and tribulations, so thank you.
Dolittle is in cinemas now.