Wayne Newton brings his persona to Jimmy Ten-Strings in Hoodwinked Too!
This Tuesday, August 16th, the hit animated comedy adventure Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil will be coming to 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD. This sequel to the 2005 classic Hoodwinked finds our heroine Red (Hayden Panettiere) training with a mysterious covert group called the Sisters of the Hood when she is called upon to rescue two innocent children, Hansel and Gretel, that have been kidnapped by a ruthless, wicked witch.
In the movie, Wayne Newton assumes the role of a singing golden harp named Jimmy Ten-Strings. Like his real-life Las Vegas alter ego, Jimmy, too, is the star attraction at a swanky Club in Big City. And he certainly bares a canny resemblance to the iconic lounge singer.
We recently caught up with Wayne Newton to find out more about Jimmy Ten-Strings, his role in Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil, and what it's like to be a living legend who's already played altered versions of himself in such Hollywood comedies as Vegas Vacation and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.
Here is our conversation.
Wayne, you truly are a living legend. What does participating in a film like Hoodwinked Too! provide or offer you after such an illustrious career?
Wayne Newton: That is a great question. I got a call from Mike Disa, the director. He was talking about writing this sequel, and he told me he wanted a character based on, not Wayne Newton, per se, but the persona of Wayne Newton. He asked if I'd have any interest in that. I said, "Of course I would!" The truth of the matter is, I had wanted to do something in the animation business, because my daughter is nine years old. She was seven when I did this. But I wanted something she could watch and enjoy with her friends. I had done some video games, but nothing of this magnitude. So, I didn't hear anything...I didn't hear anything...Then, I got a call one day, and Mike Disa says, "When can we start? Can we start next week? Would that be okay?" And so, he flew up to Las Vegas, and we shot the whole thing in two days. When I say shot it, I mean we did the voice over. We took a couple of days to do the musical numbers. It was quite involved. I enjoyed doing all of that.
When you first saw the character of Jimmy Ten-Strings, did you automatically see yourself in the drawings?
Wayne Newton: It wasn't so much that I noticed a likeness of looks as I did of attitude. I knew what Mike was going for with this character. When my daughter saw it, she recognized me immediately, and knew it was a take off on the Wayne Newton persona, if you will. But she thought it was very funny, and she was very entertained by it.
The songs they let you do in the movie are great. Did you have a hand in picking out the musical numbers for Hoodwinked Too?
Wayne Newton: The director brought the whole package, including the songs. When I listened to the songs, I was blown away. I thought, "I understand what Jimmy Ten-Strings is all about." He was an old lounge singer. He is the type of guy I could readily relate to from having seen so many of them during so many years of Las Vegas lounges, when they were the premiere spots. Jimmy is the survivor type of guy. He is the kind of guy that wants to be important. He will survive and make it to the next part of his career. That's who Jimmy Ten-Strings is.
I like the way you put this...Jimmy is based on the persona of you, not so much you as an individual in your everyday life. How do you find that persona once you've removed yourself from it in the third person? Is it just always there after all these years?
Wayne Newton: I think it's the later of the two. It doesn't ever surprise me. For example, when I did Vegas Vacation, it was written specifically for me. If there are any bugaboos within the context of a character that is written in that manner, that is written about a true living person, but having fun with the persona at the same time, it would have to be Vegas Vacation. When the script came to me, I read it, and I thought it was hilarious. The part had always been written with me in mind. But there was one scene in the original script that, thank God, they decided to cut. I say to Beverly D'Angelo, "Listen. I want you to be a Newton broad." She says, "What's that?" And I say, "A nose job, a boob job, and a butt job." I walk over to this wall, I pull a string, and the curtain reveals four hundred pictures of ladies that have had those things done to their body. I told them, "Listen, Wayne Newton having an affair with Ellen Griswold is kind of reaching. I think people will have fun with it. But for Wayne Newton to say this line? That is a step over the line." I found myself trying to protect the Wayne Newton image while still having fun with it. There were some constraints. I think Jimmy Ten-Strings was the same kind of character in some ways.
Ford Fairlane is another comedy that you're in that plays off the so-called Wayne Newton persona. And you kill it in that movie. You steal the picture, and its one of the elements that makes Ford such a classic today.
Wayne Newton: Absolutely. I thought that film was awfully good. In terms of the fact that it was completely built around Andrew Dice Clay and his persona at its height. At its peak, when he could do those lines he was doing then, and get away with it. It was funny. I had gone to my acting coach when I got that film. I said, "Okay, rather than run lines, or do any of that kind of thing, I am playing a guy I know fairly well. I don't have much of a stretch to find him. What else can I do?" And my coach said, "Well, for the first couple of days, you need to let Andrew Dice Clay know that you dislike him." So, some of the heavier scenes were going to be shot in those first couple of days. Like that scene in the recording studio. He starts talking about Julian Grendel being a dumb this, and a dumb that. Then my first scene is, I stand up and say, "My mother always told me, if you are going to say something bad about somebody, make sure the son of a bitch is not in the room." I went out of my way to stay away from Andrew Dice Clay, himself, for about three days. I would do my scenes, and then I would go back to my trailer. Finally, Renny Harlin knocked on my trailer door. He said, "Wayne, can we talk?" I said, "Sure." He says, "Dice thinks you hate him!" I said, "Where would he get that attitude?" Renny says, "You are being so stand-offish. That is not like you." I said, "But it is like the character." I had to go have a meeting with Dice to let him know what I was doing, just for the sake of the character. I always found that funny, because Dice and I have always been friends. We still are to this day.
That relationship rings true on screen, though. Its great. I could feel the hate, even when I was a kid. I love you in that movie. I think its one of the few great comedy gems of the 90s.
Wayne Newton: Thank you! It was a fun movie for me to do. Of course, when it came time for the release of that movie, Fox weren't sure they were going to put all of their guns behind it due to some of the controversy surrounding Andrew Dice Clay. When ShoWest hit Vegas, and The Adventures of Ford Fairlane was a part of the presentation, they asked me to perform instead of having Dice perform. At that point, they felt he was just too controversial. But number one, the film was a lot of fun to do. Number two, I think it's a classic.
It was really ahead of its time, too, especially with a lot of the self-referential humor. That wasn't being done at the time.
Wayne Newton: Exactly!
Back to Hoodwinked. How did these recording sessions differ from your experiences laying down tracks for your vast catalogue of records? Were you isolated and alone, or did you have some help in drawing out the performance that we hear?
Wayne Newton: I didn't get to interact with any of the cast. They actually did my lines two weeks before the final cut of the movie had to be in. Mike Disa flew to Vegas with a couple of his guys, and we went into the studio, and I started reading for it. He would say, "I think the character would be a little more 'this'." Or, "I would like a little more energy with this..." Or, maybe, "A little less energy with that." That's the way we did it, and we knocked it out in two days! Martin Short is a very dear friend of mine, and I was looking forward to working with Glenn Close, of course. But, I got to do none of that.
Have you noticed an influx of kids coming into your shows?
Wayne Newton: Not only that...Not only is that happening, as I told you, I have a nine year old daughter, and I pick her up at school everyday. My wife drops her off and I pick her up. When the film first came out, I went to pick my daughter up from the school, and I noticed the kids huddling around and pointing towards me, and then they would keep on moving. I said to my daughter, when she got in the car, "What's that all about?" She says, "Oh, they are just talking about the film you are in." The next day, I am picking her up, and a line started to form for autographs. It got so bad, I had to say to my wife, "Until this passes, why don't you pick her up? I'll take her to school." That's the way it went. It definitely brought a new crowd to Wayne Newton. There is no question about it.
Did you ever see any kids trying to sneak in autographs for their parents?
Wayne Newton: No, not at all. If one of them had of said, "This is for my mom, or grandma..." Whomever...It wasn't that. Usually I will get that. A kid will come up and say, "This is for my mom, this is for my sister..." But with this, I would ask, "Who do you want this to?" And the kid says, "Make it out to Jim." You know? (Laughs) They wanted it for themselves.