Many of you may know Julie Bowen from Modern Family, but she has branched out into the world of Disney animation with her turn as Dipper in the new film Planes Fire and Rescue, in theaters July 18th.
I got a chance to sit down with Julie to talk about her character. Let me tell you, she is exactly how you might picture her in real life – small and spry, but big on personality and character. She has more energy than I have ever seen in one person. She is animated and excited, like some of my other celebrity interviews didn’t quite know what to expect from a group of “mom bloggers”, but embraced us as friends.
Is this your first time playing an animated character?
Julie: For a movie, yes. I did like a couple little quickie things like Scooby-Doo. Because they don’t watch, they’ve never seen Modern Family.
They don’t want to see me on a screen that much. But they like the voice thing. So when I got an opportunity to do this, I saw how much mileage I got off Scooby-Doo. I couldn’t believe how much mileage I got from them. They were like worshipping me. So this, like I mean I’m genuinely excited to show off to my children.
It’s kind of nerve-wracking. ‘Cause you- there’s nothing there. Also my big fear is like you’re in the booth, and then there’s a glass thing. And they’re like “And this is what I’m analyzing, like. It’s really bad. Is it too late to re-cast this?” And so day one I went in and Bobs (Gannaway, director) [and the sound engineers] just chitchatting about lunch. I’m in here dying a thousand tiny deaths [thinking they are talking about me], and they’re like, you want pickles on it?
But once we got that out of the way then I could relax a little, because it’s just that silent alone in a room thing. And, you know, just please, please validate me. Makes me feel very uncomfortable. Yeah.
How was it to do animated versus Modern Family?
JULIE: Oh. Oh. So different. So different. I am not a trained voice actor. I’m keenly aware of my weaknesses and that may be because there’s something that obscure or high, there’s no like, “I think we might have seen your boob there”. You know what I mean? It’s just your voice, and if you aren’t getting across clearly, the humor, the message, the real sentiment, you can’t deny it. You can’t go like, “yeah, but she looks really big in that shot”.
Or your hair looks nice, so maybe no one will notice. So I was keenly aware of it. Luckily they are perfectionists and they are so pro that they very quickly figured out that the best way to work with me was just let me go. And then some poor editor had to sit somewhere going, oh my god. I mean I was leaping around, swearing. The original Dipper had quite a mouth on her. But that- but to get to the like sassiness of the way that she thinks, I kind of needed to spout some garbage.
On getting her likeness into the character of Dipper:
I was shocked to see how specific they made the plane. I mean a plane doesn’t have a lot of…it doesn’t have a front grill like Cars did. Like they didn’t have even a bumper to do mouths and stuff with, or hands. Like they were really limited. And they made it look really human and kind of like me. I think it’s all in the mouth.
I didn’t meet anybody [pilots] about that kind of a job and I only recently discovered what I’m called. ‘Cause I didn’t realize I had to be a real thing, you know. I- I- I underestimated the level of research that they had done. And I thought I was just, you know, one of those planes that picks up water. Like, noooo. You know, it’s much more than that.
Do you watch the film first and then voice it?
JULIE:They draw- it- it’s kind of like what you would imagine as far as there’s like a, there’s a rough sketch copy. Like pencil drawing, and then sometimes it’s more than that. It’s the pencil drawing against the backdrop because I guess the backdrops are more static, or they- those are painted in- in total, and then they…I’m not exactly sure how that happens. But what I see is just mostly some loose drawings in the very beginning.
Then I come back like six months later and they’re drawn more. And the cool thing is, six months or eight months later, they’ve taken all that spouting that I did in the booth, and running around and sweating, and they incorporate it into the character. And now they’ve started to draw her- her movement and her mouth and everything to fit that. And that was very cool to see. Somebody had to work very hard.
Uh, but then it was not until I saw this in the final film, but the last things I’ve seen have been, to my eye look finished. I’m sure a professional will have tweaking to do or something.
Are you ever with other actors in the booth or always by yourself?
JULIE:No. I was always by myself which is, um…When I did Scooby-Doo it was in a room with a bunch of people. But, but those are, um, serialized. You know, it’s weekly.. So they’ve got a much faster production piece. Um, I don’t think you can afford to bring one person in at a time. No, I was completely alone. But luckily, Dane Cook was done. It was completely done. So I could hear him, I could hear Ed Harris, I could hear everybody else.
At the end of the day did you walk away feeling different?
JULIE:You know, I think when I actually get to see the whole movie it’s gonna be really exciting. Um, I’m not very good at watching myself, but I’m okay at listening to myself. Like I’m very excited about this. It also feels so collaborative, it doesn’t feel like I’m raising the ‘I am awesome’ flag, which always makes me cringe a little. Um, I can look at this and go, wow, I was part of something that was so awesome so it’s easy when you’re done to embrace the whole thing.
On adlibbing her character
JULIE:Yeah, like a lot of adlibbing. I’m not super great at joke telling or reading a line, um. Sometimes it’s not the exciting stuff, it’s not the jokes, but they’re laying it out. They’re like, you know, Luke has the flu and Alex is here, and then Phil gets to go, oh…and my butt is frozen. Or whatever the funny line is.
And this was, everybody else for the most part, were laying pipe and I had to come in with this romance in my head. So really the possibilities were endless because they weren’t necessarily a hundred percent connected to what was going on. Like one thing, you know, oh, we’re gonna go here and then I would take that to, “well what do you want me to tell him”? It’s a date, it’s our third date? Our second date? I don’t know anything. I still am not sure a hundred percent what’s in there. But I’m sure it’s very, very perfect for children.
It’s in there and it’s hysterical.
JULIE:Well there’s always something for the parents, too, and it doesn’t have to be like dirty filthy, but they can know. There’s something nice when you watch this, it was like… [LAUGHTER] It’s not just the- because this is family entertainment, but it’s primarily aimed at- at kids. And when there’s something for the parents to hook into… And the kids have no idea. I love it when they do that.
How intensive was the process for the animators compared to your work on Modern Family?
JULIE:I mean this was so great and short, and, um, even though I sweat a lot and get really anxious whenever I had to go in, I didn’t have to go in that many times. Um, I think but because Bobs was so great and they just let me go, instead of trying to get the lines. They just were like, just do whatever you want and we’ll tell you if we need something else. So they had a lot more material probably than they needed.
And so I just went in to like polish up bits, or change it for legal reasons or whatever. So, um, it’s kind of hard to believe it’s actually coming out as a movie. It seemed like a fun place to go where I didn’t have to wear makeup. So yeah, Modern Family is, it’s a process, but I’ve been doing TV for a long time so you’re getting there six a.m. and somebody makes you look like, you know, a much better version of you.
And, you know, by the time you get to the stage at seven thirty in the morning it’s been hours and you’re like, it’s like go team. Um, this was very different.
Did you audition or have a say in Dipper’s name?
JULIE: They contacted the people that represent me and asked me if I would do it. And I was like, oh yeah, yes I will. Especially given that Planes was just coming out soon after I got the offer. But I was deeply familiar with the land of Cars. Deeply, deeply. Like intimately. So I knew…I knew what the world was. It wasn’t like, there’s a lot of worlds I don’t know that are older than my boys or something, you know, that I would, I’m not sure what that world is yet.
I got offered the role after she had been named. So then they sent me a three ring binder with like the story, and the script and some drawings. So that was it. There was…I- I didn’t come in and was like I’m thinking Doris, and they were like, we’re thinking of Dipper. Um…I did not have any- any say. I was just so excited and was like do I get to be a toy? I want to be a toy so badly.
I don’t know. I…there’s so many toys in my house, and one of them will be something when I step on it I will be happy. One trips me in the middle of the night and I will want to kill it ‘cause it’s actually… It’s me.
On getting into character
JULIE: I mainly needed to leap around. Which was great, because you can’t do that on camera. Um, I actually took my shoes off and would definitely do a lot of jumping around. It’s funny, because Ty Burrell, who just came off of two big animated films back to back, he needs to sit in a chair – I don’t think he’ll mind me telling this. He goes, (she gets a stoic look on her face while calmly pressing her fingers together) but he sits like this and has the microphone here and doesn’t, and hands like this, and doesn’t move.
And like, and it works for him. Everything he wants comes through his voice. And I kinda can’t. I can’t. Which is just different. Um, I can’t even sit still right now. So it was great to be able to kind of like…I mean I had to come back to the microphone. But like I would run around and like scream and yell, and then do whatever it is I needed to do. Especially in scenes where like, you know, we’re flying over fires and we’re putting them out and you’re like yelling. And it’s weird when you’re alone in a quiet room in a beautiful building. It’s ridiculous.
Planes Fire and Rescue is in theaters July 18th!
*I was supplied with an all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles to facilitate this post. All opinions expressed are my own.