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Kristin Lehman
Sid Haig
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Kevin McKidd, Kevin Falls
October 10, 2005
Helena Bonham Carter shows off her acting choppers for director Nick Park in Wallace & Gromit


By Mike Szymanski


Two of the most exciting celebrities attending the Toronto International Film Festival couldn't speak. Nick Park brought in his two creations, a 10-inch wide-eyed Wallace in Plasticine (modeling clay), and the silent dog Gromit. The trio have already won two Academy Awards for the short stop-action movies The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, and they were at the festival promoting their first feature.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which opened nationwide on Oct. 7, uses the voices of Peter Sallis (for Wallace) and Oscar nominees Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, who were also in Toronto to talk about making the movie.

It's taken Park five years to do another stop-motion feature after his runaway hit Chicken Run, and he said it will take at least that long to do it again, because there's no way to make the process easier. He discussed the surprising genesis of his characters and the tedious filmmaking process with Science Fiction Weekly, as did Bonham Carter, who was also in Toronto with Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.
Nick Park, these characters are your creation, and you're finally bringing them to the big screen after winning two Oscars with them. Was it hard to do?

Park: To me, the shorts were a prelude to the feature film. Feature films are a big endeavor, and we were putting all our eggs in one basket, but DreamWorks really wanted to see it on the big screen, and this is their first time out.
Were there any changes made when you had test screenings?

Park: Yeah, [we] tested it for the American audiences and we made sure the British accents were more even and understandable, and more clear.
What is the attraction to clay animation? [Park molds the characters he has brought with him and changes their expressions.]

Park: I'm so attracted to claymation or Plasticine, or clay molding, it's all the same, but I prefer it to any other medium. Wallace and Gromit were born out of clay, and I find that they can be very expressive. It's a very immediate medium in a very slow way. We're tweaking them in tiny increments, every 24th of a second, and we're involved with the characters and slowly nudging and teasing the character, and can manipulate the expressions. It's so much more interesting than CG [computer generation].
Was there any computer generation in the film?

Park: Sometimes it was too difficult to do it all with clay, like the first time the Bun-Vac 6000 is turned on and the bunnies are floating around. It's in a glass case, and we couldn't suspend them all. So we painted them digitally. We gave one of the clay rabbits to the Moving Picture Company in London, and they did it. I'm not against CG, but I'm a clay man.
Where did you come up with the character of Gromit, the brilliant dog?

Park: He was going to be a cat at first, and then when I was molding him I found out it was simply easier to make a dog. They became a couple, like an elderly husband and wife, and Gromit is the long-suffering wife, always rolling his eyes.

I had Gromit with a Scooby-Doo kind of voice, a bit gravelly. In the drawings he always had a mouth. He became more intelligent that way, and it became more of a dog-and-man relationship.

You look into an animal's face and wonder what he is thinking, and that is the idea. Gromit is the dog I never had. Some say he's more human than Wallace.
You have a lot of film references in this movie, don't you?

Park: Yes, some references to Hitchcock, King Kong, and Ray Harryhausen references, of course. We looked at Lon Chaney Jr., the Wolf Man, werewolf movies, the Universal horror pictures of the 1930s, the classic Invisible Man and many of the secondary characters in them, like the priest or vicar, the skeptical policeman, those kind of characters.

For the aristocracy, for the characters that Helena and Ralph voice, we looked at films like Barry Lyndon and the pomposity of many of the characters played by Charles Laughton, or the dashing aristocrat like Orson Welles, or the characters in Wuthering Heights. Helena and Ralph really put a lot into their characters. In fact, Helena called home and got her prosthetic teeth from her bathroom that she used in Planet of the Apes, and so we added teeth to the puppet.
Helena Bonham Carter, we heard that you found a new use for the teeth that you had as Ari in Planet of the Apes and pulled them out for the character of Lady Tottington.

Bonham Carter: Yes, I looked at her and noticed she's got teeth, and I thought, "I've got teeth at home," and I used my teeth to help with the character. I didn't know what to do with the part in Charlie; it wasn't much of a part, really, so I used teeth for that, too. I looked like a chipmunk in the outtakes, but I have a new philosophy: When in doubt, pop teeth in!
You've got Corpse Bride and Wallace & Gromit coming out so closely. Were they different to work on?

Bonham Carter: They are different worlds, and the stop-motion world is very tough. I was pregnant at the time; I couldn't do any other role. It is a coincidence that I'm a voice in both of them, but the two movies are very, very different and very different styles. They people are the same—they are people who don't want to grow up.

You sit there for six hours and read dialogue and don't have another actor there. Some actors are quite traumatized by the whole process.
You must have known many ladies in London to model your character after.

Bonham Carter: Oh yes, but I'm not naming any names. There are women of a certain age in the upper classes who have a love for their gardens and a love for their dogs. London has a lot of them. I borrowed a bit from some of them for Lady Tottington.
What animated films did you love as a child?

Bonham Carter: I loved Mary Poppins, and I was a big fan of Snoopy. I was in love with Snoopy. I still have a bean bag with him on it. I loved The Rescuers and Dumbo and The Jungle Book, too.
Do you think you're more like the Corpse Bride or Lady Tottington?

Helena Bonham Carter: I think I'm more Corpse than Lady T. I want to get the eye that pops out—that would be me.