Meet Jesper. He’s the rich son of a royal postmaster and just so happens to be the worst student at the postal academy. However, that all changes when his dad decides to ship him to Smeerensburg, a frozen island above the Arctic Circle inhabited by feuding locals, with the task of mailing 6,000 letters within a year if he ever hopes of returning to his cushy life. While there, he meets an old hermit named Klaus, who creates handmade toys. The two join forces, resulting in an unlikely friendship that tells the origin of how Santa Claus came to be.
For the release of KLAUS, the animated feature film from director Sergio Pablos, I had the opportunity to chat with Jason Schwartzman, who does the voice of Jesper. During our talk, Schwartzman discussed everything from his wonderful experience working with the first-time director, to what attracted him to the role of Jesper, as well as the joys of doing voice-over work.
What was your experience like working with first-time director Sergio Pablos and what was it about the role of Jesper that attracted you to the film?
Jason Schwartzman: It’s funny, I’ve never really experienced anything exactly like this before with a role. When I read the scripts, and when I first talked to Sergio, there were actually multiple versions of the way the character could be and they were pretty distinctly different like they were different people. It was really neat because Sergio was like, “You know what, when we go to the first day of recording, let’s just do all of them – all the different Jespers and then let me go through it and put some images to it to see what works.” It was such an incredible experience because the majority of the making of it was so collaborative in that respect.
An animated film can take many years and the animators are working on it every day. Often, the actors are going in once every three, four, five weeks, for two days of very intensive 8 hours of lines and then you don’t see them again for another 5 weeks or two months. It was interesting because you almost have amnesia because you don’t remember what you did because you did so many different things and so many versions of things. When you act in a movie and then see it, you go, “Oh, that’s what they did with that,” but this is like that but elongated. Every time I would come back to the studio, Sergio would show me a clip or two of the beginning and rough animation of things they edited together based on the previous recordings. From those little samples, I always was informed more about my character. It was like I did a bunch of things and from that, it was distilled which taught me more about my character. It was neat because they were showing me the character based on the recordings I had done, it was so bizarre!
I was so honored to have worked with [Sergio] in that way. When we met for the first time, I remember I had asked him a question about a scene and he was trying to answer it and was struggling to. He said, “Here, it’s better if I can do this,” and he took out a sketch pad and a pencil and he drew the scene very quickly. He answered [the question] without words and when I saw the drawing I just said, “Yeah, we have to work together,” because the less you say, the better, in a way. We live in an era of so much talking and to be able to communicate in a very human way, even with just images, was just so powerful. That really helped me in discovering the character.
Can you elaborate on doing the more physical aspects of certain scenes, such as running or screaming, when it’s shown via animation?
Jason Schwartzman: It’s interesting – I don’t have a basis for voice training or such. Every time we would do the screaming and all the different things, it would be sprinkled throughout the dialogue that I would be doing that day. I would always end up hoarse from the screaming. At the end of every two-day session, we would do all the efforts, which is the word they used for doing the more physical scenes. We would go all out, trying to get as physical as possible, but you can’t go too crazy because you’ll be away from the microphone. But it’s a lot of holding your breath and running and picking up stuff and moving it. It’s also so silly because I remember telling my kids, “Guys, daddy has gotta go to work” and then an hour later I’m like [insert ridiculous noise] as I pretend to slide down a tree (laughs).
This obviously isn’t your first time doing an animated film. That said, is there something that you enjoy more about doing voice work as opposed to live-action?
Jason Schwartzman: Well, there’s a lot of eyes on you when you are doing a live-action film. You often have many things to do and you’re trying to get in there and do the best that you can and keep things moving. I also feel sort of embarrassed the first few days of anything – it’s not the most ideal situation (laughs). Everyone is quiet as they stare at this person doing his lines and once they say cut, those people start talking again. In that respect, [voice work] is nice because no one is watching you. But also, I feel less nervous having to ask for another take to try something. If I’m doing live-action, I’m aware that 30 people are going to roll their eyes if I ask to try one more take with a Polish accent (laughs). In live-action, your body is the character you’re doing, but this is just the voice. I love that you are just trying to do the best you can to give the person who is going to animate it some excitement.
My last question for you is, was there ever a time when you were a kid that you wanted to send a letter to somebody, whether it was a fictional or non-fictional person?
Jason Schwartzman: Oh yeah, definitely! When I was younger, I would get this magazine called Modern Drummer. I remember being 10 years old and on the back of the issue there was this piece of paper that you filled out for a chance to win Rod Morgenstein‘s drumset. I remember buying two copies of the magazine, filling it out, putting it in the envelope and sending it in to try and win it. Clearly, I’m still waiting to win.
KLAUS will be available to stream on November 15. For more on the film, check out our review here.