Zachary Levi discusses his role in the new animated Disney film based on the classic "Rapunzel" fairy tale
Actor Zachary Levi began his path towards a career in entertainment while he was in high school, living in Ventura, California, performing in regional musical theater productions like "Grease" and "Big River." Levi eventually went onto co-star on the popular sitcom Less Than Perfect, but didn't become a household name until his starring role on the hit NBC spy-comedy, Chuck. Since then he's appeared in last year's extremely successful family film, Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel, and has even recorded a duet with former American Idol contestant Katharine McPhee. Now, the actor finally has an opportunity to bridge his love for music together with his talent for acting in the new Disney animated musical feature film, Tangled, which opens in theaters on November 24th.
Tangled is the 50th animated feature film from Walt Disney Pictures and the last of their planned princess themed movies, based on the classic "Rapunzel" fairy tale. Levi stars as Flynn, a thief who ends up helping the beautiful but stranded Rapunzel escape her fate of being locked up in a tower. The film gives Levi an opportunity to reintroduce himself to the world as an accomplished singer on top of being a successful actor and comedian. We recently had an opportunity to sit down with Zachary Levi and talk to the actor candidly about his new movie, his character, singing on screen, and how it feels to be part of the classic Disney tradition. Here is what he had to say:
We last saw you on the big screen in "Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel" but you didn't get to do any of the fun voiceover work in that movie, is that why you wanted to be part of this project? Or were you already working on it when you made "The Squeakuel?"
Zachary Levi: That's a good question, was I working on this when I was doing The Squeakuel? I don't think I was. By the time I started promoting it I was. No, you know, ever since I was a little kid, voiceover has been a dream of mine. In fact, I must have been five, it was when Top Gun came out. I remember vividly having three vocational options. One of them was fighter pilot, one of them was actor, but the third was not quite actor. I wanted to be someone who talked like Donald Duck. I had a knack for it then and I wasn't even that good at it then. I am a Disney kid. I grew up in Southern California. I grew up going to Disneyland a lot. I grew up watching the Disney channel a lot. I could go toe to toe with anyone when it comes to Disney, whether it is classic Disney, modern Disney or whatever the case may be. So it didn't take The Squeakuel for me to really want to do voice over. I really wanted to get into it my whole life. So this opportunity presented itself and I fooled them somehow and they went "Okay, we will hire that guy!"
You come from a musical theater background but yet we haven't seen you sing in film or on TV before, was that exciting for you to finally show the world what you can do musically?
Zachary Levi: Yes, singing was always something I really, really loved. I have wanted to do more of it in my career, but I have been very hesitant to do that because I think everything has its time and place. If you force it on people they can kind of go, "I don't get it. You're an actor. I know you from this but now you are trying to be a singer?"
So you were really looking for an organic way to reintroduce yourself to the world as a singer, is that correct?
Zachary Levi: Yeah! I do believe there is an interesting fact, that if you are a singer and you want to become an actor, I think the transition is much easier than if you are an actor wanting to become a singer. There is just something, to me, in the public's perception of an entertainer where they will accept someone becoming an actor faster than someone becoming a singer. I have noticed that as I've grown up. You see Jennifer Love Hewitt release an album and everyone goes, "What?" Joey Lawrence releases an album everyone says, "What?" Justin Timberlake wants to become an actor and everyone goes, "Great, bring him in!" But I think that's almost a part of Hollywood, wanting to usher in people who have heat. I do also believe that artistic people are artistic people. If you already have one artistic talent you have others, whether it be singing, dancing, painting or even photography. Like Jeff Bridges is this incredible photographer and plays music. I look at some of these guys and go "why do I even bother?" They are so multi-faceted. But growing up in musical theater, I always loved it and wanted to do more of it, but I waited for the right things to showcase that. So this came up and then simultaneously, Katharine McPhee asked me to do a duet with her. Besides this, I had never really recorded any music professionally. So I said, 'Yeah that could be pretty fun," and that was perceived very well by our fans. So this may all be a stepping-stone toward doing something more in the music world or maybe this is where it ends but I hope not.
Your character in the movie seems like the classic Disney prince, but he is a not really a prince, he is actually a thief. So what was it like to be the male hero in a Disney film?
Zachary Levi: Awesome! Freaking awesome man! I will say, much to the credit of John Lasseter, Roy Conli, Byron (Howard) and Nathan (Greno), and everyone involved, they really did give me a lot to do in the film where they did not really need to. Traditionally Prince Charming does not have that much to do, it is the princess' film. You might see the guy in a couple of spots, at the very end he slays a dragon or a wicked witch and they live happily ever after. There is not a lot of screen time or a lot of dynamic character development. They are very chiseled, handsome and brave. So this was very cool stepping in and this is Rapunzel! So to have a meaty, fun, charming and slightly arrogant, but also real bandit to play was a really cool way to turn it on its head. He's not the prince, he is the bandit and it was really fun. It is a really fun, animated musical, family friendly version of Romancing the Stone. I love that movie and I am sticking to it. They go on this romp together and they are at odds, but they grow on each other in the end. I am going to show up with my sailboat on 5th Ave. in New York and Rapunzel is going to hop on and we are going to see the world.
Finally, you have some great one-liners in the movie, did you get to do a lot of improvisation when you were recording or was that all written in the script?
Zachary Levi: There was a lot of great stuff already written. Dan Fogelman, who I met before, wrote the script and I maybe tested for a pilot or something that he had written in the past. So I already knew Dan was funny and he wrote great stuff. You can always go on and improvise, but it's easier to go on and improvise when they have already set the cadency. When they have set the tone, lines that are funny in their nature and then to go from there. If you are trying to go from what they say, "polish a turd," its difficult. But Dan had already done a great job. So yeah, I definitely ad-libbed, because you got nothing but time when doing voice over. They would say, "We got that, so you can throw your sauce on that now. Do whatever you want to do." I remember growing up watching Aladdin, seeing Robin Williams destroy the Genie and being like, "I want to do that". I am sure he ad-libbed so much to do that movie. You wonder, was that in there or did he just go there? I thought he was genius. It is definitely an incredibly freeing experience knowing whatever the animators end up choosing, they can work it out. As a performer, comedian, or whatever, it is one thing to get a pat on the back for being a good interpreter, doing someone else's dialogue and they like it, but it's a little notch above when you wrote it yourself. When it's your own thing and they go, "that's funny." You go, "Alright I am not totally crazy. See mom!" So that was awesome.