Set Visit: The Smurfs 2 with Neil Patrick Harris and Brendan Gleeson

We visit the set of The Smurfs 2 with Neil Patrick Harris and Brendan Gleeson, in theaters this August

We pick up our set visit on The Smurfs 2 in lovely Montreal, with the primary scene we've come to observe. Gargamel's (Hank Azaria) lair, moat and all, is the setting of the climactic showdown as our heroes, Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris) and Victor (Brendan Gleeson) rescue The Smurfs. I reiterate from the first article how incredibly detailed and intricate this set is. The production design and sets on The Smurfs 2 are amazing. You can't help but feel like a kid surrounded by this fantasy environment. The Smurfs 2 is Sony's sequel to the The Smurfs with Neil Patrick Harris, Hank Azaria, and Jayma Mays returning as the primary leads.

As we waited for Brendan Gleeson to finish a shot, we were introduced to another costar of the film, a couple of cute ducks. That's right, ducks. Azrael is not the only animal star of The Smurfs 2. Brendan Gleeson stars as Victor, the goofy stepfather of Patrick. He's turned into a duck by Gargamel during their initial encounter. So on set, you have a bunch of cats and ducks being wrangled by the extremely skilled animal trainers. We each got a chance to play with the ducks. They were damned cute, and to the credit of the trainers, exceptionally tame. It takes years to train the ducks to quack and move on cue, but they do have it down.

Time is money on any set, so we had to literally run from hanging with the ducks to get our interview in with Brendan Gleeson. It's hard to believe such a towering character actor, known for his gruff roles in Braveheart and the Harry Potter series, is such a sweet, lighthearted gentleman in real life. With his thick Irish accent, and infectious smile, Brendan discussed how he came to this film and working with Neil:

All of your favorite Smurfs are back in The Smurfs 2 this August
Can you talk about how you got this role?

Brendan Gleeson: Basically I read the script. (laughs) I loved the character. I loved the part. I thought this would be fun. I just liked him. He's kind of goofy. When you have to jump through the hoops he goes through, I was a little bit tense walking the line between being a complete idiot and a complete innocent. You have to trust a lot of people to go there. But I knew if it was going to be fun. It was going to be a lot of fun.

We've just met your duck counterpart...

Brendan Gleeson: Yes, he's my alter ego. We're very well acquainted.

Have you done any of the voice over work yet?

Brendan Gleeson: I did a little opening gambit with the duck. We shared a set at one point. I think we're in tune with one another. (laughs). I'm looking forward to laying down a few lines. This is absolutely true. The day before I left to come over for the first rehearsal and costume fitting, three mallards landed in my front garden. I took that as a sign. Then this morning when I woke up, I heard this noise. I thought they were crows. It was a duck. Then I totally forgot I set my alarm to a duck noise. (laughs)

What was your knowledge of The Smurfs before this movie? Had you seen the first film? Where you aware of the cartoon?

Brendan Gleeson: Not particularly, it wasn't something that was on my radar. My kids are old. It wasn't happening at the time that they were growing up. I knew of them, but I wasn't intimately involved. Which is ok, because my character of Victor knows nothing of them.

Did working on Beowulf prepare you for working with characters that aren't there?

Brendan Gleeson: Beowulf was a different kind of experience. You were interacting with other actors. The thing you hand to get used to was the props, which were like chicken wire. But you had objects you could see. The environment was virtual but the people were real. You weren't really speaking to anybody who wasn't there. It was like theatre. Here, you're addressing nothing.

Is that hard to get used to?

Brendan Gleeson: I didn't find it overly difficult to be honest with you. I'm with the faeries most of the time anyway. (laughs) It's always an imaginary experience. Trusting your eyes is the most important thing, so when you address something the focus has to be on something that isn't there. It's all about suspension of disbelief.

Supposedly Bob Hoskins started hallucinating after filming Roger Rabbit...

Brendan Gleeson: Yeah, but that had nothing to do with the movie! (laughs) Not so far, my hallucinations are only in the duck world. I had quite a lot of fun when The Smurfs props arrived. It's a lot of fun to jump around and pretend to be five or six again.

Can you talk about how Victor deals with Patrick as his stepfather?

The Smurfs hatch a plan to save Smurfette in The Smurfs 2
Brendan Gleeson: He's a larger than life kind of guy. But he's simple emotionally. He sees this kid whose dad has gone away and he assumes the best thing that he can do is be the actual father, not stepfather. So he changes his name to his, all that stuff, kind of assuming ownership. It's done from kindness. It was misunderstood and maybe a little tactless at the time. He embraces the young Patrick, but the whole thing kind of goes wrong. He stepped into a breach that Patrick hadn't figured out. In that's way, it's kind of an adult theme. When I read the script, I thought this was interesting stuff, apart from pure escapism and joy we're bringing to kids. It's an adult role. He's a stepfather that's unwelcome by the stepchild.

Did you and Neil Patrick Harris talk about the back story? Did you two improv any lines together?

Brendan Gleeson: Not really, every movie process is quite different. This one was quite thorough. We spent a lot of time with the writers. We both understood fairly clearly from the script the dynamic between the two. Any rehearsal of that nature tends to happen prior to going on set. There's so many different elements, various runs with and without The Smurfs. You don't really have time to lark about in large improve. The preparation is loose. But once it's done and decided on. We keep it fairly straight.

How has your experience with Neil been?

Brendan Gleeson: Great, absolutely great, he's a fantastic guy. He's really trustworthy, almost generous to a fault. He's meticulous, but there's a great freedom in the way he goes at it. I was a little tense to begin with. This could have been cheesy. A lot of it depends on the people around. My tension decreased as we went through the weeks. We settled in. And Neil was definitely a part of the process.

Brendan was scurried away by a production assistant before I had the chance to press stop on my recorder. That's when the star of The Smurfs 2, Neil Patrick Harris, is seated for a quick interview. Neil is a phenomenal performer. He hosted The Tony's while filming The Smurfs 2 last summer in Montreal. It's staggering to think he was able to do two such different, high pressure roles at the same time. He had literally flown back from New York City the previous day and had been running nonstop ever since. Neil, who I've been lucky to interview several times is a consummate professional, but has this distinctive whimsical personality. He's a serious actor that doesn't take himself too seriously. I wish we'd had more time with him on set, but duty calls. Here's our interview with Neil:

We've been told that this sequel is funnier and more adult themed than the last film. Has that been your experience?

Neil Patrick Harris: Yes, everyone has more confidence in this movie because we saw how the first one turned out. It was more than it being successful. When you're acting with invisible things that don't exist in the real world, then you see the film and go, oh, that's how they look. Visually we're more confident. For my character, three years have passed; he's a more committed father. He was nervous in the first film. Would he be a good father? He's proven himself to a good dad.

How has the success of the first film changed your life?

Neil Patrick Harris: (pauses) Really not at all. (laughs) I'm trying to think of how it has...

Do you get recognized more by kids?

Neil Patrick Harris: I guess so. I suppose a really younger demographic knows me from that. Parents think I'm cool because the kids think I'm cool. That's always a perk.

You're hosting The Tony's in the middle of shooting this film? What's that like?

Neil Patrick Harris: An exorbitant amount of effort went into hosting The Tony's, and a lot of that happened while I was here. We had face time chats during preproduction, coming up with ideas, who to hire, what's lyrics should be used, is this song better than that. I was multi-tasking a lot for the last two weeks. Then I was there for eight or nine days. Thankfully I had a little break in the schedule here. I finished The Tony show, went to the post show parties, got an hour and a half of sleep, then came here and filmed yesterday morning. I was far from perky. They let me go early last night, so I'm in a much better place today. It's hard to concentrate on two things at one time. Especially when that one is the ball in the Indiana Jones movie, it's coming at you, its gaining momentum and you can't stop it.

Did you play with The Smurfs as a kid?

Neil Patrick Harris: I didn't. I watched the show, but I wasn't a collector of the figurines.

You're a father in real life now. What's it like playing a father in a family film?

Neil Patrick Harris: I suppose there was awareness in the first film that I wasn't a dad. In this film, I am a dad playing a dad, so that little nagging voice in my head saying I'm not believable isn't there. Because I am more like the character. That being said, our kids are still young, I have no concept of what quality means to them. They don't watch TV yet. I sneak in Yo Gabba Gabba!, but I don't sit them down in front of the TV. Maybe in a couple years I'll be worried about the content. It's my job in this movie, even though it's a family movie, to make sure it's more amusing to adults on another level. It's like Sesame Street where parents can watch with their kids. Jayma Mays, and I, and Brendan have a whole lot of weird other things that we're doing.

How do you strike the balance for an adult level? We've been told that you worked extensively with the scriptwriters?

Smurfette and Papa Smurf are just a few of your favorite Smurfs heading to Paris this summer
Neil Patrick Harris: I feel like I was more concerned with the tone if the first movie. They had think tanks, comedy writers. A lot of times these movies go through phases of writers. One writer will write the film, then two more will punch it up, then seven writers will add notes, then another writer will re-write the movie. (laughs) That process happens a lot. So you're not sure what you get when you sign on. Some of these family movies are really cut and paste. At one times it's silly, then poignant and heartfelt. So it's kind of whacked from one extreme to another. The first film I wanted to set a tone. I wanted Jayma Mays and I to be a real couple, finishing each other's sentences, not talking over each other. Once that's established then this movies is easier, better. I had fewer notes and concerns. They knew the characters. Jordan Kerner, the producer, is very paternal to this film in a sincere way. The original conceit of this movie, I have this stepfather I have a conflict with, creates a great duality between the relationship with my son. Then Papa Smurf's involvement with them. I loved the idea of Paris. I loved Montreal. I liked the comedy. They were very open to my notes. It's been very smooth.

So you've enjoyed Montreal?

Neil Patrick Harris: I love it here. I filmed Beastly three years ago here. It's a wonderful town. People are super nice. It feels European, and the food is great. I love when it's warm here. People really appreciate the warm weather. Everyone is out enjoying life. And I have an apartment, so I feel like I have a life.

Does having kids affect your choices? Would you do another or let them see Harold and Kumar?

Neil Patrick Harris: I don't know. I'm less concerned with shielding them from content or sheltering them away from things. I'm a parent that explains things when they have questions. I'd rather explain a fist fight than turn them away. I pride myself on trying to hit random demographics all over the place, so that won't stop me from doing soft core porn. I'll eliminate my middle name so they won't find me on YouTube. (laughs)