Interview: James Marsden on recording The Boss Baby sequel during a pandemic; “I made a makeshift studio with duvets and pillows”

Four years after an infant Alec Baldwin steered Dreamworks’ The Boss Baby to over half a billion dollars at the global box office and an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated feature, the troublesome tyke is back in The Boss Baby: Family Business, and he’s bringing his household along for the ride.

Joining Baldwin and fellow returning voice talents Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow is James Marsden, the actor voicing the character of Tim, the adult (but for too long) father at the centre of the latest shenanigans.  As the film prepares for its Australian release, the actor chatted with our own Peter Gray about how being a father influences his roles, how it was to record during a pandemic, and where he sits with the streaming vs. cinema debate.

I will say one thing about The Boss Baby 2 in that it embraces such random, wild humour, and I really do mean that in the best possible way.  It goes for it, in terms of its premise.  How did you become involved with it?

I was a fan of the first movie.  As you said, it’s such a bonkers premise.  I found it really enjoyable and moving, and I watched it several times with two of my youngest kids and they loved it.  I got a call from my agent saying that there was interest in gaging me to play the adult version of Tim from Boss Baby, and I just went “I’ve been waiting for this phone call!”

I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life watching these animated Dreamworks and Pixar movies with my kids.  I’m a father and that’s the stuff I get to watch.  Occasionally you’ll get to see a Best Picture nominee or something, but I have a real deep respect and fondness for these types of movies.  I love the storytelling and I love that there’s heart to all of them.  I got the script and I was like “Yeah, I want in.  I know this character and I know what Alec Baldwin’s going to do… so let’s have some fun.”

Does being a father alter the types of roles you go for?

Yeah, I think so.  I mean, not entirely, because I still have that desire.  It’s not like just because I’m a dad I’ll only do kids movies, but it makes you want to do more of them.  You kind of shy away from the more nihilistic stuff and focus on (material) that’s entertaining for the whole family.  But, you know, I did the first two seasons of Westworld, and Dead To Me is certainly not for kids.  The Stand from Stephen King… I can get my creative juices flowing in other areas as well, but it makes you want to do more of these.  They’re fun projects to be a part of and it’s something you can sit and enjoy with your kids.

Given that you’ve done a few of these animated films now, is there a certain freedom in doing them knowing you won’t be physically seen on screen?

(Laughs) Yes, because I do think it’s one of the most appealing things knowing you can roll out of bed, put a t-shirt on, baseball cap, sandals and go and do voice work.  You don’t have to shower, you can have coffee breath, and none of it will show.  But, weirdly, it strips you down to everything but your voice and it can almost make you feel naked.  You’re like “Oh, I can’t hide behind my wardrobe or my hairstyle or what my actions are”, so you got to be a real actor (laughs).  You have to colour it and make it interesting.  In that regard, I came away really respecting voice-over artists.  It’s a real gift that some people have to hit those different notes and different energies.  I love the process.  It’s just you and the microphone.

You’ve worked with Alec Baldwin before, but did you get to meet any of the other cast members? You have Jeff Goldblum and Eva Longoria joining, did you work with any of them?

No (laughs).  They might want me to keep that a secret, but it’s a very isolating (experience).  You isolate yourself for just your stuff, you read all the scenes opposite Tom McGrath, the director, so there is back and forth with someone who’s incredibly capable, but we were never in a room together.  Half of it was just because that’s the process, but the other half was COVID.  I was doing some of this from home.  I had a microphone set at home, and I’d be zooming to work it out… I made a makeshift studio with duvets and pillows (laughs).

I was going to ask about that because I knew that some of this was done remotely during the pandemic.  Did this film start prior to that though?

Yeah it did.  I don’t know how many months it was, but it was definitely (started) in 2019.  We had to do some of it at home, and I’m not sure if they used any of that or not, but we gave them plenty of material.  I think I did each line about fifty times.  But that’s part of the fun in exploring the character and trying new things.  They’re very cool about improvisation and if you want to bring anything fun to it in taking it off the page.  It’s just you and an audio recording, so if it sucks they can just throw it out.

Alec Baldwin and Amy Sedaris have mentioned that they would like a third Boss Baby and that development chats have started.  Have you heard of any rumblings of a return for your character?

I mean I haven’t, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s in the works, or at least something Dreamworks are thinking about.  I’ve learned to not get ahead of myself with that stuff.  I thought we’d be doing an Enchanted sequel right away and 15 years later you finally get it, or a Hairspray sequel… but who knows? I don’t like to just pin my hopes on that but I’d love to do it again.  It was such a blast.  But this one only just came out…

And you have this one in cinemas, as well as (in the United States) streaming on Peacock.  Do you see the industry maintaining that streaming hold or is there still that need for cinema?

I think it’s both.  It’s hard to ignore the evolution of where the entertainment industry is going.  I think even before COVID there was a lot of streaming happening, but I still think there’s a desire for a shared experience, and I will preach that until the end of my days.  There’s something special about sitting in a giant room in front of a 70 foot screen and sharing something like laughing with a bunch of strangers.  I think that’s just something that is really special, and that’s the element that’s different.  Sure, you can share that with friends and family at home, but you’re still in your home.  It’s the event of leaving your home and buying the popcorn and the Sourpatch Kids and whatever other crap that costs $300 (laughs).  It’s that assault of pleasure.  I think people are still going to go to the movies.  I’ve just watched my 20-year-old son, who’s into music recording, go back and buy records and a record player!  And people are still shooting on film… so I think there will always be people that are for both. There’s a world where (streaming and cinema) can exist.

The Boss Baby: Family Business is screening in Australian theatres from November 25th, 2021.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.

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