In anticipation of Tuesday’s release of Gnomeo & Juliet on Blu-ray & DVD, I wanted to share with you these Q&A interviews with Elton John, Emily Blunt, Ashley Jensen, Bernie Taupin, and Matt Lucas. How did you approach the music for Gnomeo & Juliet? What attracted you to taking part in Gnomeo & Juliet? What do you think about your character Juliet? Find out the answers to these questions and more!
SIR ELTON JOHN
Multiple Tony®, Grammy® and Oscar®-winning singer, songwriter, musician and humanitarian Sir Elton John SIR ELTON JOHN is one of pop music’s living legends. Over his five-decade career, he has sold more than a quarter of a billion records, and enjoyed more than 50 Top 40 hits. His success runs the gamut, from recorded music and the concert hall, to film and Broadway triumphs like “Aida,” “Lestat” and “Billy Elliot the Musical.” Billboard Magazine has ranked him the most successful male solo artist in history. His first effort writing music for a Disney animated film was “The Lion King,” a 1994 box-office hit that spawned the Tony®-award-winning Broadway show.
John has collaborated with Bernie Taupin for 45 years. Together, they’ve created numerous hit albums, including “Elton John,” “Madman Across The Water,” “Honky Chateau,” “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only The Piano Player,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “21 At 33,” “Too Low for Zero,” “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,” its sequel “The Captain & The Kid,” “Rocket Man – The Definitive Hits” and 2010’s “The Union,” among many others. For “Gnomeo & Juliet,” John serves as executive producer and provides the music.
What attracted you to taking part in “Gnomeo & Juliet”?
“Romeo and Juliet” is one of the greatest love stories of all time. And garden gnomes are huge in many countries throughout the world. We thought this would be a really good idea.
It’s very accessible and funny. And there’s a message in this film—the two gnome families, the Reds and the Blues, are diametrically opposed and are always at war with each other And in the end, peace is better than war. Two people fall in love and it brings about harmony and peace in the two warring factions.
Who will most appreciate “Gnomeo & Juliet”?
I don’t think you make this kind of movie for just a certain kind of audience. You make it for everybody. There are adult jokes in it; there are things kids will love. They will love the characters. They will love the gnomes, they will love the flamingo, they will love the frog. There are so many little things in it that kids will love. And it’s got very, very witty visual things in it.
What music did you contribute to the production?
There’s a lot of music from our catalog that’s being used—songs like “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” which is crucial in the lawn mower race along the back alley with Tybalt and Gnomeo. Plus, two brand new songs, including “Hello, Hello”—it’s the first time Gnomeo and Juliet get together. But
I think “Love Builds a Garden” is the best song in the movie. The flamingo explains to them that even though his garden is overgrown, it once flourished because the two people that lived there loved each other. Once they stopped loving each other, the garden died. But love can bring the garden back to life.
How did you approach the music for “Gnomeo & Juliet”?
It’s a collaborative experience. It’s one that I really like. I’ve always been a team player, I’ve always written with Bernie [Taupin]—he writes the lyrics and I write the melody—I like it that way. You get a good reaction and everyone’s happy and we can celebrate together.
How do you feel about the cast of “Gnomeo & Juliet”?
James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are two of the finest young actors out there. We were so lucky to get them, and they fit in perfectly. Michael Caine is a great friend of mine, one of the greatest actors out there, and I adore him—as Juliet’s father, he is perfect. We have a who’s who of actors and actresses in this movie: Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas—everyone.
Who is your favorite character?
I think Featherstone the flamingo and Nanette the frog could really steal the film. They’re really, really excellent characters played by great actors.
What can audiences expect from “Gnomeo & Juliet”?
We are so proud of the film. It’s been a labor of love, it’s full of Elton John/Bernie Taupin new music and old music, and I think it’s a really brilliant, funny movie. I hope it’s a big smash. I hope it will give people pleasure for the rest of their lives. We want to make a movie that people can look on in 12 years time and say, “Well that still holds up.” If we can do as good as Will [Shakespeare], we’ll be all right.
EMILY BLUNT shot to international prominence with her lead role in the multi award-winning “My Summer of Love.” She started her career at the 2002 Chichester Festival, in which she played Juliet in a production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Blunt’s credits include TV’s “Boudica,” “Death on the Nile,” “Henry VIII,” and the critically-acclaimed “Gideon’s Daughter,” for which Blunt won a Golden Globe® for Best Supporting Actress in Television. On the big screen, Blunt’s credits include “The Devil Wears Prada” “The Great Buck Howard,” “Dan in Real Life,” “The Jane Austen Book Club,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Sunshine Cleaning,” “The Young Victoria” and “The Wolfman,” plus the upcoming films “The Adjustment Bureau,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” “Looper” and “The Muppets.” In “Gnomeo & Juliet,” Blunt lends her voice to Juliet.
What do you think about your character Juliet?
She’s very cute. I was really thrilled with those rosy red cheeks. It’s a weird thing because you wonder what face your voice will end up being lent to. But I’m very happy with my Juliet.
She’s very fiery, and very much her father’s child, so I was really thrilled to see that they’ve made her kind of a tomboy.
Is it exciting to take part in a project that features a classic story and phenomenal animation, plus Elton John music?
As soon as I heard about this project I think I said, “I’m in,” before I’d spoken to my agents or anything. So, I called them saying, “Oh, I’m doing this thing.” And they’re like, “Right, did you want to talk it through with us first?” It was very easy for me to say yes but I think if I’d had any hesitation, a gently persuasive phone call from Elton John would have been just the ticket.
Do you find that, despite the twist this film takes, “Gnomeo & Juliet” is true to its inspiration?
It is very, very funny and it’s a very heightened world to invest in, but I really feel that the core of what is so sweeping and romantic about Romeo and Juliet is still there. This truly captures the essence of forbidden love and it really captures the teenage frustrations that we’ve all felt. It’s a very human story at the end of the day and quite an emotional one. And I think this is definitely the ending that people always wanted from Romeo and Juliet.
How do you balance the comedy with the story’s roots?
When you’re doing a comedic version of something, I think it always has to be ingrained in some kind of truth because people don’t laugh if they’re not invested. We all very much wanted to play real people in this.
What does the audience have to look forward to with “Gnomeo & Juliet”?
I think there’s something in it for parents who take their kids or people who go on a date. I think there’s something in it for everyone. There’s obviously Shakespearian references that we will go over the younger generation’s heads. But I really feel that for the parents there will be that moment in the cinema where their kids will look at them and be like, “Did you see that?” It’s those kind of wink, wink, nudge, nudge jokes, which I think are really entertaining for everyone.
BERNIE TAUPIN is arguably the most relevant and important lyricist of our age. He celebrates 45 years with Elton John this year. In 2001, Taupin and Elton John marked their 35th anniversary with the release of their 27th studio album, “Songs from the West Coast” featuring the hit singles “I Want Love” and “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore.” In 2006 the duo received rave reviews for “The Captain & The Kid,” the much-anticipated sequel to “Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy.” The recipient of countless Grammy nominations and British Music Awards, Taupin’s lyrical accomplishments have resulted in six Ivor Novello awards, induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and 1994 ASCAP Songwriter of the Year honor. He’s an INA International Award of Excellence recipient and an American Academy of Achievement inductee, and only the second lyricist in history to receive the ASCAP Golden Word award (the other is Sammy Cahn). John and Taupin are behind classic recordings like “Rocket Man,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “I Want Love,” and albums like “Elton John,” “Tumbleweed Connection,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “The One” and “Made In England.” Hit singles include “Your Song,” “Daniel,” “That’s Why They Call It The Blues,” “I’m Still Standing.” Between 1972-1975, Taupin and John enjoyed seven consecutive #1 pop LP’s, in addition to countless chart-topping singles. The duo’s “Captain Fantastic” was the first album in history to enter Billboard’s album chart at #1. For “Gnomeo & Juliet,” Taupin and John contributed classic songs, as well as new music.
Describe the music you wrote for “Gnomeo & Juliet.”
I had to reevaluate myself with any pop sensibilities still lurking in my decidedly un-pop brain. Cue some old Beatles circa “Magical Mystery Tour” and voila that sounded like a good starting point. Gnomes are very poppy wouldn’t you agree? Colorful, energetic and ABBAesque so it seemed only natural that the songs suit the characters. Guess I just put my pointy hat on and went out into the garden.
What kind of direction did you get from the filmmakers?
Any direction came simply from sitting around a table with the creative team and listening to their enthusiasm. I’m pretty immediate in these things so just describe what you want from me, what the scene is where you want it and leave me alone, I’ll handle the rest.
Why does this music (new & library) work so well for this story?
From what I’ve seen certain elements of our catalogue lend themselves to the technicolor carnage and unrequited love present in this production. Gnomes like a good tune.
ASHLEY JENSEN won the hearts of Europe and Hollywood for her breakout performance as the loveable loser Maggie Jacobs on the BBC/HBO series “Extras,” in which she stars opposite Ricky Gervais. For her work in “Extras,” she has received two British Comedy Awards (Best Actress, Best Newcomer), the Golden Rose of Montreaux award, Best Actress at the Monte Carlo International Television Festival, Glamour Magazine’s Comedy Woman of the Year award and she was nominated for a BAFTA and Emmy® Award. Other notable television work includes ABC hit drama “Ugly Betty” and the new CBS comedy series “Accidentally On Purpose.” Jensen’s film credits include “Topsy Turvy” and “Cock and Bull Story.” Jensen appears in the upcoming television drama “The Reckoning” and will star opposite Maggie Gyllenhaal in the feature film “Hysteria.” In “Gnomeo & Juliet,” Jensen lends her voice to Juliet’s best-friend, the romance-obsessed frog, Nanette.
What attracted you to taking part in “Gnomeo & Juliet”?
Well, the fact that it’s an animated film was a huge appeal. This was the first animated film that I’ve done and I thought it was such a clever and charming idea. And I think it’s always good to bring things like Shakespeare to children, and what a fun way to do it. The animation is beautiful, it’s so colorful and it’s so accessible and funny.
Do you see yourself in your character Nanette?
The first image that I saw of myself I thought, “That’s amazing. That’s great.” But then the next time I went in, they said, “We’ve kind of gone this way with it.” They had made me more feminine with lovely long lashes and voluptuous lips and they had definitely made my mouth bigger because—well because I have quite a big mouth.
Did you find the process of doing an animated film challenging?
It was a whole new way of working, which is great and very exciting because you can really let go. I got very carried away with my frog acting. The special thing about doing voice work for animation films is that you become uninhibited the way you were as a child in your own room playing. It’s those parts of the imagination you are calling upon. After a three-hour session you are pretty exhausted, because it is incredibly physical, but it is also quite freeing being in this little recording booth on your own in the middle of nowhere and you can just let your imagination go wild. So it was good fun. I really enjoyed it.
MATT LUCAS is an actor, writer and comedian best known for his BAFTA award-winning series “Little Britain.” Lucas and comedic partner David Walliams have been awarded multiple BAFTA Awards, and the two have been voted GQ Comedians of the Year. They wrote and starred in “Little Britain USA” for HBO in 2008. Lucas lent his voice to Summit’s animated feature “Astroboy,” and portrayed the Tweedles in “Alice in Wonderland” for director Tim Burton. In “Gnomeo & Juliet,” Lucas lends his voice to Gnomeo’s impetuous best friend Benny.
Who do you portray in “Gnomeo & Juliet”?
I do the voice of Benny, who’s Gnomeo’s right-hand man. He’s a small character that doesn’t feel small—in his mind he’s big. He’s a very good-hearted character, but he’s quite impetuous. He’s quite childlike in a way. He doesn’t always think before he acts. But he’s very spirited, very warm and funny. Just not quite as intelligent as he would like to think.
Are you a fan of the garden gnome?
My mother and stepfather have a couple gnomes. I don’t mind the gnome. They’re kind of fun. People have them in their gardens, so it’s almost a ‘what if these gnomes could talk?’
What did you think of the animation process?
In animation, you don’t record with the other actors. It’s really the job of the director to have the great overview. In some ways it means you can be a bit more indulged in a vocal session because you are on your own. You can be a bit more experimental. I think it would be nice to be able to do a few sessions with other actors. But the caliber of talent in this film—they’re such big stars—you probably can’t get them altogether in one room. I don’t include myself in that. I’m available. Give me a bell, I’m around. Trust me.
I was excited to hear I was working with Kelly [Asbury]; he’s directed things like “Shrek 2.” He’s great, because he knows what he wants, but he allows you a lot of freedom to improvise and have fun. Then they go away and rewrite the film a little bit based on the way we performed, which is a very organic way of working. When the gestation of the film is so long you do have time to keep shaping it, keep changing it, keep building it.
Enter to win a cute prize pack consisting of a Gnomeo & Juliet pot stake set (each set contains 1 Juliet, 1 Gnomeo, 1 Mushroom & 1 Nanette) and Gnomeo & Juliet Blu-ray/DVD combo pack! Three winners will be chosen! (Please leave comments at giveaway post to be entered for prizes)