Martin Lawrence and Debra Messing Interview

The two voice the lovable Beth and Boog in the animated film

Animated films are getting better and better looking every second, even getting down to the design of a character's hair color. In Open Season, that's what happens to Debra Messing's character, Beth - directors Jill Culton, Roger Allers, and Tony Stacchi gave Beth red hair to match Debra's color.

But that's not the only thing similar about them - both Beth and Debra have a very nurturing and maternal instinct. Beth lives with and works with the 900 pound grizzly bear, Boog (voiced by Martin Lawrence); they have a show together at the local zoo.

But when hunting season comes around, things shake up their comfy little environment. The evil Shaw (Gary Sinise) takes hunting a little too seriously and goes after a helpless and hapless deer, Elliot (Ashton Kutcher). Boog and Beth's lives are never the same - that's because Elliot gets Boog into trouble; Beth has to send the two away into the forest.

Speaking about the mothering, Debra was pregnant while in the recording booth for Open Season. She says it really helped her get into character. "It came to me without looking, and the timing was so perfect; I'm such a big fan of animation and something I've always wanted to try. I just really fell in love with falling out of bed, in my sweat pants, no make-up, and having all of these people who are so excited about this project; it's infectious, their energy is infectious, and inspiring. I was never worried about anyone judging me."

Martin didn't need to worry about the mothering; he was focused on not getting too R-rated. "I would just try to do something that made sense; but I stayed close to the lines, and it's animation, and it's children, and I didn't want to adlib the wrong thing. And I like that; I like the fact that we have the directors - they're like coaches, they run the plays, they draw up the plays and tell you what to run, and I like that guidance because I'm in unfamiliar territory. For me to act like I know what I'm doing, and for me to adlib just anything, I didn't want to take that approach; I wanted to trust my partners and directors, and producers and do the best I can deliver."

None of the main cast had the chance to work together; in fact, Debra and Martin met for the first time in the hallway right before our interview. That was the hardest part for both. "I never had his voice to play off," she said; "The whole process at first was so intimidating and scary, because you have no one to act opposite, and most of it is making yourself look like an idiot, and putting your trust into other people's hands to put it together to make it funny, and tender. They become the architect of the vision."

Martin agreed; "The hardest thing about it was doing something one month and then come back four months later and record it again. But Jill and Roger, the directors, would feed us and get our energy to where it needed to run. When I look at the movie, and see how much fun me and Ashton had and the chemistry we had, Boog and Elliot, without even being in the room, I'm amazed at what they've done."

While recording for Open Season, Debra had her son, Roman; coming back to the studio after giving birth gave her a new perspective on the character. "The animals, and that world - it's so comic and so playful; and then you have this other element, the maternal/child relationship, nurturing, the struggle of when to let go, how to change. They were really encouraging the whole time to give it as much heart as possible, and to ground the film as much as possible. I'm sure had I done this before having a child, I'm an actor, and I would have attempted to do the same thing. But I am a new mother, and it was accessible to me; it's easy to want to protect your child, not wanting to send them somewhere where you don't have control over them, and what that hole would feel like."

It was just about having fun and being a bear for Martin. "I just tried it, and just threw the voice out there and they said they liked it. I didn't have to try and 'Roar, roar, roar' and over-exaggerate him or under exaggerate him, I just had to keep him right there in the center. The great thing was they were there to guide me. They put my voice into a big bear, and made him likeable, and lovable, and energetic and fun. That was interesting for me to see that all come along. I remember having fun; I remember days when I was tired, they calmed me down and it was a smooth experience. I love it, I love it, and to see this movie on screen, I have to say it's one of the best films I've done."

Open Season is both Debra's and Martin's first animated feature film; going into the project, they were a little nervous. "They had just finished the renderings of the animation of the valley, and some of the different characters," Debra said. "I didn't have a script to read, and they just pitched the film to me verbally; I feel like it was already in place, but once they got me, I feel, they had me bring life to the character, and quirk. I've never done that before, but it felt less scary because of Ashton and Martin being the comic focus of the project, and I was the nurturer. I think it felt less chancy when it wasn't chancy."

As for Martin's next film, he's not exactly working with animals, but with some Wild Hogs starring opposite Tim Allen, William H. Macy, and John Travolta. "Those are my new partners, my riding buddies; we rode all over New Mexico. Hell, I should have paid them to do the movie. We were a team, and they all bring something different to their characters, and who they are as people - one of the most genuine people I've talked to and met in the business."

You can hear more of Debra and Martin in Open Season in theaters and in IMAX 3D on September 29th; it's rated PG.