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Ogre and out

What the end of the Shrek franchise means to the star voices....

Written by New York Times |
May 23, 2010 10:32:14 pm

Sooner or later every fairy tale reaches its happily ever after. For Shrek,the long-running animated fantasy franchise about a curmudgeonly ogre (voiced by Mike Myers),his human-turned-ogre wife,Fiona (Cameron Diaz),and his pals Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas),that time is now,as DreamWorks Animation and Paramount releases Shrek Forever After,the fourth—and,the studios say,final—installment in the series,in which the titular green guy is thrown into an alternate version of his Far,Far Away kingdom where he never existed and life turned out much differently for his pals. Before the storybook shuts for good,we asked some of the Shrek stars about the series and what its ending means to them.

Mike Myers,Shrek

How were you originally recruited to play Shrek?

I went to the premiere of Saving Private Ryan,and at the party afterward Jeffrey Katzenberg’s daughter and friends were doing the opening dance number from Austin Powers for me. I didn’t know what to do,because I’m very awkward and very Canadian often. And Jeffrey (the chief executive of DreamWorks Animation) came over and said,“Would you ever be interested in doing animation stuff?” I was really not in the head for it,but I said: “Yes,of course. Out of curiosity,what’s it called?” And he said,“Shrek.” And I was like,“Oh,wow,that’s not a really good name.”

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What was it about that first film that ultimately won you over?

It at once paid tribute to the fairy tale and deconstructed it. It also did one great move,which is,the traditional villain of a fairy tale is now going to be the hero. It took that idiom and inverted it. And everything about it is about class. They had me at the uber-concept.

How did those notions of class play into your performance of Shrek’s voice?

I grew up in the suburbs of Toronto in government-assisted housing. I won’t claim poverty,but I will claim lower-middle class. So I did it in a Canadian accent. But I just wasn’t connected to it. It didn’t sound like it. So the next thing I tried was Lothar of the Hill People,because that was my Dungeons & Dragons voice,and that didn’t connect either. And tore my voice out. I couldn’t talk for three days. Then I thought,if Eddie is offering an American accent to this,and Lord Farquaad is offering an English voice,I’ll keep it Euro but working class,and that’s when I came up with Scottish. So I rerecorded everything. And Steven Spielberg sent me an amazing letter saying: “Thank you so much for caring. You are right.”

How does it feel for you that the Shrek series is coming to an end?

I think it’s very elegant. They’ve managed to keep the integrity of the series. It’s all about that one line: “But you are beautiful to me,” from the first movie. By the ogre falling in love with the ogre girl,he is saying: “I too am beautiful. And you too,you are also beautiful.” That’s a very potent thing. We’ve been doing it for a long time. The door’s probably not locked. But it’s tastefully latched.

Antonio Banderas,Puss in Boots

How were you approached to join the Shrek series?

It was a very straight call from Jeffrey Katzenberg. At that time,I was on Broadway doing Nine,and the first thing that I had to record was getting a hairball out of my throat. So I was,for like 45 minutes,doing this strange noise. When I got to the theatre that night,I practically couldn’t sing.

Did you have any hesitation about voicing a cartoon?

It was unusual,but at the same time,I felt very good because when I came to America,I couldn’t speak the language. At all. I did my first movies learning the lines phonetically,and I had an interpreter to talk to the director. Suddenly,years after,to be called for the use of my voice only,it was interesting. And pretty weird.

Why do you think you were chosen as the cat?

I suppose because of my accent. People recognise my voice immediately. Because I did characters that were bigger than life,like Zorro and Desperado. It gave me the possibility of laughing at myself.

Have you ever been recognised in public for Shrek?

It was at a supermarket in Los Angeles. A mother was with her son,and he was five or six years old. And the mother pointed at me and said,“Look,look,that is Puss in Boots.” And the kid just looked at me and said: “No,mom. That’s Zorro.”

Cameron Diaz,Princess Fiona

Did you have an appreciation for cartoons before you started working on Shrek?

I grew up on the barest of cartoon animation. I grew up with Tom and Jerry and the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. All the great,violent,sardonic characters of the good ol’ days.

Did it take any extra convincing for you to make all the embarrassing bodily noises that Princess Fiona is called upon to produce?

Well,I’m just basically a 14-year-old boy in my heart,in my spirit. So it’s very easy for me. It doesn’t take a lot of prodding for me to make silly noises.

What does it mean for you that the Shrek series is coming to an end?

I realised it’s been a sort of safety net. It’s been a decade of knowing that you finish one and for the next two years we’ll be making another one. To think that that next phase of the story isn’t being told—I’m still crossing my fingers that maybe one day it will be.

What’s changed about your life during that time?

I think that I’m definitely more mature. In some ways. I finally turned 15.

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