×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How Replacement Villain Became Unlikely Hero in ‘Despicable Me 2’

After Al Pacino ankled 'Despicable Me 2,' toon studio Illumination had less than six weeks to substitute a replacement

The animation community was shocked to learn that the “Despicable Me 2” team was recasting Al Pacino’s role in the toon sequel less than six weeks before the film’s Annecy festival premiere. Though both sides are mum on the reasons for Pacino’s departure, citing “creative differences,” the larger question remains: How do you replace a lead voice in a major toon after all the animation work is complete?

“I’m not aware of any of the major animated films of the last 15 years that … has brought an actor in at such a late stage,” admits Illumination Entertainment honcho Chris Meledandri.

The role of “El Macho” had been fully voiced and animated at the stage Pacino and the studio parted ways, which sent the filmmakers back to some of the names they had considered during the casting process — including Benjamin Bratt. “He loved the first movie, and he had actually come in and done a voice audition for the role, and so we went back and we listened to that again,” Meledandri says.

Co-helmer Chris Renaud, who had directed the actors during most of the voice sessions, still felt enthusiasm for Bratt’s take on the character, so they invited him in to watch the film with Pacino’s voice (Bratt complimented the brilliance of Pacino’s performance at the film’s press day). As Meledandri remembers it, Bratt said to him at the time, “Look, there’s no question that what you’re describing to me is theoretically very challenging, but I’m curious, and I like a challenge.”

Popular on Variety

Over the course of five days, Bratt worked with Renaud and editor Greg Perler to re-record El Macho’s performance, starting with an almost mathematical approach, where Bratt attempted to precisely match the character’s mouth movements (the way an overseas actor might dub the foreign-language version). According to Meledandri, a day or so into the process, Renaud decided to switch gears, telling Bratt, “Stop thinking about anything other than what you’re feeling from this character. Stop thinking about any voice that was done before and just own it.’”

Instead of trying to match Pacino (whose facial expressions fans may still detect in the animation, which didn’t change at all after he ankled the project), Bratt focused on reinventing the character. His performance settled into a more natural vocal range and found a fresh way to inhabit the existing animation.

“I have to tell you that some of the best ADR mixers in this town, their jaws were on the ground by Day Four,” Meledandri says. “They were like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. You look in the eyes of this character, and you listen to that voice, and there is a complete marriage of that vocal performance and that character performance.’ Benjamin had risen to this challenge, creating something that really defies expectation.”

More Film

  • Channing Tatum Roy Lee

    Film News Roundup: Channing Tatum, Roy Lee to Produce 'The Maxx' Movie

    In today’s film news roundup, Channing Tatum and Roy Lee are developing “The Maxx,” Leslie Uggams has joined “The Ravine” and Safehouse Pictures is expanding. PROJECT LAUNCH Channing Tatum and Roy Lee are teaming up to produce a movie based on the Image Comics series “The Maxx.” Tatum will produce through his Free Association, along [...]

  • Jason Derulo

    Jason Derulo Celebrates Music Career Milestone, Reveals Action Movie Ambition

    Warner Records celebrated one of its own on Thursday night (Nov. 21), presenting Jason Derulo with a plaque commemorating 190 million overall sales worldwide. The event at the Argyle in Los Angeles came on the heels of his latest release, the EP “2 Sides” (Side 1)” and also marked other milestones. Variety caught up with [...]

  • JKR_DAY030_102518_0688465.dng

    How the Crafts of 'Joker' Tell Arthur Fleck’s Story

    The phenomenon that is “Joker” continues to break records, as Oscar buzz grows for Joaquin Phoenix and several other categories. It is a film filled with visual and sonic clues to help tell the story of his emotional journey – wherever it takes him. From the squeaking of the apartment door to the single cello [...]

  • John Turturro The Batman

    'The Batman': John Turturro to Play Carmine Falcone in New Film

    John Turturro is set to join the cast of Matt Reeves and Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” starring Robert Pattinson. Reeves announced on Twitter that Turturro would be playing Carmine Falcone, the Gotham City gangster and adversary to the Caped Crusader. He joins a cast that includes Zoe Kravitz, who will play Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, [...]

  • Dutch art dealer Jan Six and

    IDFA: Oeke Hoogendijk's 'My Rembrandt' Debuts Trailer Before World Premiere (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer to “My Rembrandt,” directed by Oeke Hoogendijk, which has its world premiere on Sunday in the Masters section of the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA). The film is set in the world of the art market for paintings by the Dutch Old Master. While art collectors [...]

  • Martin Scorsese'The Irishman' film premiere, Arrivals,

    Martin Scorsese Honored by Palm Springs Film Festival for 'The Irishman'

    Martin Scorsese has been selected by the Palm Springs International Film Festival as the recipient of its Sonny Bono Visionary Award for “The Irishman.” He will be presented the award at the festival’s gala on Jan. 2 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival runs Jan. 2-13. “Martin Scorsese has directed another masterpiece about [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content