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The villain of 'The Incredibles'

Kevin Smith mainstay Jason Lee gets animated

By Douglas Hyde
Special to

Jason Lee's work amounted to a handful of dialogue recording sessions, but the end result is a well-rounded character, he says.
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Jason Lee

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Jason Lee is "Incredible."

Actually, he's the anti-"Incredible," as in "The Incredibles," a team of computer-animated superheroes who star in the new Pixar film. Lee gives his voice to Syndrome, the film's villain.

CNN talked to Lee about the film, which opens Friday.

CNN: You've never done an animated movie and I don't know if you've ever played a bad guy before. What do you think made them say, "You know, this guy would be just right for this?"

JASON LEE: Well, apparently they liked my dialogue delivery in the film "Dogma," which was with Kevin Smith. The way they do it is they compare dialogue to the drawing, to the sketches, the ideas that they have for a character. And they gather other dialogue, from different movies and then make their decision, based on that.

I had gotten the offer from Pixar, which of course was very flattering. ... [And] when I saw the drawings of Syndrome, the big hair, and the fact that it was Pixar, I was in. But the director told me that a lot of it came from "Dogma" because I was very animated and evil in that movie. I was kind of all over the place with the inflections and the energy, and I guess that's what did it.

CNN: I saw an interview with Will Smith and he was talking about voicing "Shark Tale" and he said that what he liked about it was that there was no makeup, no costume, you're just alone, and it really unlocked his creativity, somehow. Did you have a similar experience?

LEE: Well, of course I liked that I didn't have to go through the hair and makeup process and wardrobe everyday.

[The recording] was spread out. I did four voice-over sessions over the course of eight months. They would call me ... [and I'd] show up for four or five hours and work in what I was wearing that morning. So that was easy.

I found it to be a little bit the opposite [to Will Smith's experience] in terms of feeling free because I didn't have much to work with, in terms of working with other actors. ... I hadn't seen anything, except for a few drawings: This is the secret lair. This is what you look like. This is that and this is that dialogue. I would do it and [director Brad Bird] would correct me. ...

You really have to put trust in the director's hands. ... I would just show up, read a bunch of dialogue into a microphone, while being directed by Brad Bird and then three months later I would go back and do it again. And then I see the movie last night and there's a real, whole character there.

CNN: Can you tell us a little bit about what turned Syndrome bad?

Lee describes Syndrome as a once-rejected kid with "an enormous chip on his shoulder."

LEE: Well, imagine you want to be in with the cool crowd in school and they deny you access. You're a little bit crazy, as Syndrome is, and you will take revenge on these people in some fashion, to gain acceptance, because those insecurities exist.

And that's exactly what happens with Syndrome. ... He has an enormous chip on his shoulder.

CNN: Did Kevin Smith talk to you at all, give you any pointers about getting into that world [of superheroes]?

LEE: Kevin knew a little bit about the fact that I was in a Pixar movie, but I think I downplayed it a lot. I only did four voice-over sessions and I just assumed it was kind of a small part. He saw me at the premiere last night and said, "Man I thought you had a couple of scenes. You were one of the villains. Man, you were the villain." And he said "I'm so proud that one of our guys made it into a Pixar movie." Because apparently he's a huge fan of Pixar.

So he was suprised to see that it was such a big character, and then went on to say that it's his favorite Pixar movie, the best superhero movie ever made.

CNN: When you were a kid, were you like Kevin Smith, a big comic book reader?

LEE: I liked the old "Spider-man" cartoon a lot. But I'm from Southern California so I was more of a skateboarder. ... I was the kid with the long, feathered back hair, riding the BMX bike and listening to Van Halen.

CNN: So what have you got coming up?

LEE: I did "Monster House," another animated movie, from Robert Zemeckis. They're using that motion capture technology now, like in "Polar Express" with Tom Hanks. That was interesting, going from just having a microphone on "The Incredibles" to acting everything out with sensors on and markers all over my face.

And then I did a few scenes in a movie called "The Ballad of Jack and Rose," with Daniel Day Lewis. It was a big treat getting to work with him. So that's coming out soon.

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