Danny DeVito on The Lorax, reading Dr. Seuss and Triplets

Actor, producer and director, Danny DeVito took a little time out during his visit at the London MCM Expo for a roundtable interview. Having starred in Hollywood hits such as Batman Returns and L.A Confidential, he also directed the dark comedy The War of the Roses and family film Matilda. Promoting the animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, DeVito lends his voice to the title character, a grumpy orange creature that once served as a guardian of the land protecting trees and animals. He also talked about the appeal of Dr. Seuss, his upcoming directorial feature St. Sebastian and that Twins sequel, Triplets.

Already a big hit in the US, The Lorax follows the young Ted (Zac Efron) as he tries to fulfil the wish of his girlfriend, Audrey (Taylor Swift), to see a real and natural tree. Travelling outside the artificial city of Thneed-Ville to a barren wasteland, he finds the Once-ler (Ed Helms), who tells Ted the history of the trees and the story of how he met The Lorax (Danny DeVito).

DeVito’s involvement on The Lorax came about after Illumination Entertainment’s CEO Chris Meledandri offered him the role. “I think his son got him hooked on [It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia] and Frank Reynolds,” said DeVito, on how his character on the show appeared to be a good fit for The Lorax. “They said, ‘Oh man, this guy playing The Lorax has gotta be a trip, right?’ So they brought a drawing of The Lorax over. I remember it from the book of course, because I read the book to my kids. But then I said, ‘Man, imagine your voice coming out of that guy! That’s gonna be like a trip’. I just go for it man, I’m wild in this movie.” When it came to how much he and The Lorax are alike he said, “In terms of being bombastic and crazy, I love that kind of thing, you know that! And so one of the good things about The Lorax is he’s not a guy that keeps his feelings to himself. I’d relate to that. I’m just saying that if somebody does something to somebody that I don’t think is right then I think you gotta speak up. You could keep quiet, but that’s not my M.O.; I speak up.”

On describing the character, DeVito said, “The Lorax is a ball of fury for sure, once he finds out what’s going on. This guy, he’s just naïve this Once-ler; he’s chopping down the trees. The obvious thing is that if you do it indiscriminately you’re going to chop down every tree and wind up with nothing. And that’s it, that’s basically the tale. It’s an awareness tale.” At this point DeVito began employing the relevance of the tale to real life. “If you’re gonna take a tree, plant a tree. Don’t change the environment to the point where now all of a sudden you’re worried about mudslides because you have no groundcover. It’s simple things like that which we may at the moment have to think about.” 

DeVito also backed the environmental message promoted in the film, saying, “I am totally behind 100% the message of the movie, in terms of sustainability, and what we have to do eventually, to kind of clean up the mess that we’re making all over the world.” As for playing his part to protect the environment he said, “Basically, I’m a green lefty. I drive a LEAF.” The LEAF being the name of Nissan’s electric car, which DeVito says he has been driving for about a year. “It has no emissions. I don’t ever go to the gas station.”

When asked about the enduring appeal of Dr. Seuss, he talked about starting his own children out with reading picture books. “Chris Van Allsburg stuff…even Winnie the Pooh, or any of those things,” he said. “Then you start moving into word-books, books that have words and pictures, and what happens is you find Dr. Seuss! And you find Dr. Seuss is not only fun, because it’s colourful and it’s got a cool story about a guy who hears something in the middle of the flower – Horton Hears a Who! – but also, he’s got the rhymes going on, and they’re like silly-ass rhymes. You love that stuff! I do anyway! It makes it more palatable basically…and it varies it up, chops it up a little bit, so you’re not only reading Maurice Sendak, you’re also reading Dr. Seuss. So, you throw a Roald Dahl in there and you got Matilda, you got The BFG, and then you got something else going on, so it makes it more enjoyable and a better way to reach the minds of your loved ones.”

Having directed Roald Dahl’s Matilda for the screen, with a musical version showing at the Cambridge Theatre in London, DeVito was asked if he was interested in seeing it, to which he replied, “I have no desire to go and see the play. I just don’t feel like I’d want to go there and see someone else doing it. I would pick it apart.” Of his adaptation, which was released back in 1996, he mentioned how, “the movie is amazingly popular. Everybody watched it.” Reminiscing about the film’s production, DeVito described Matilda as, “the classic story about how you fight to get the movie made, which I did. The studio beats the s**t out of you while you’re making the movie. It happens to every director. They beat you down and make you feel like you’re wasting money and you’re like a piece of dirt. Then all of a sudden the movie comes out halfway decent and every single kid in the world owns the movie and [the studio] make a lot of money on it. Now that movie is evergreen. They call that an evergreen movie, where whoever watches it passes it on to their children, their cousins, their nieces, their nephews.” Of the film’s slightly dark streak and his role in it, he said, “I kind of enjoy the fact that I was mean to Matilda! In the end it worked out for her, she wound up with Miss Honey and that was good.”

He was asked about his next directorial feature film, St. Sebastian, an apocalyptic thriller that revolves around an injured cop, a wounded drug dealer and a nurse. “When I say apocalyptic, I mean the city’s under siege,” said DeVito. “It’s like one of those movies where there’s a lot of interiors, there’s a lot going on outside, but the dilemma is basically these two guys. One’s a drug dealer, who’s shot in the stomach, and one’s a cop who shot him, and he’s shot in the stomach. They’re in this hospital, the nurse is taking care of them. There are no doctors, everybody split because the city’s under siege. She’s taking care of a couple of patients who are just hanging on by a thread, and these guys are given clues to why they’re there. They don’t know really why they’re there, and during the movie they’re given clues, and finally they find out. But you have to go see the movie!”

Talking of the stars in St. Sebastian he said, “I have a wonderful cast; Lance Reddick, who is just a wonderful actor who was on The Wire, played Lieutenant Daniels. He’s just an amazing man and a really great guy. He’s my partner basically, he brought the piece to me while we were doing [It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia]. And then I have William Fichtner. Right now he’s doing the bad guy in the Johnny Depp movie about the Lone Ranger. And he’s terrific. And Constance Zimmer, who’s kind of tough, cute, tiny, petite, really pretty girl, who plays a nurse. Having already finished shooting (“I shot it on a Alexa camera, a beautiful camera”), the film is currently in the process of editing, which DeVito is doing on his “trusty Final Cut.”

As for when audiences will see him in front of the camera and on screen again, he was asked about the Twins sequel, Triplets. “Yeah that’s going to happen,” said DeVito. “I’ll tell you the way it’s going to go. I went with Arnold first; we had our meeting. There were couple of agents there, which is always a terrible thing to have, and the studio, which is really crazy because once the studio wants it they’ll string up your first born to get it,” he laughed. “We like Universal! Universal are the people who are doing The Lorax, and these people have been so good to us, good to me anyway, so I’m really looking forward to it.” Although the script hasn’t been written yet, the idea that it should be Triplets meant that they needed to find another brother. “Who better to play the part than Eddie Murphy as our brother,” he said. “We don’t have the story yet, but the idea’s going to be that we wind up as scientists.”

With time drawing to a close, the final question put to DeVito had him pondering which character from the world of Dr. Seuss he would most like to have lunch with. “Oh God, that’s a really good question,” he said as he mused it over. “Well… you know I gotta say, I don’t want to be prejudiced about this or anything, but The Lorax! Here’s what I think, I figure he’s a vegetarian. I figure he eats a lot of berries and nuts and stuff. He does come out of a tree; he’s got a little magic. I wonder what the community of Lorax looks like. I mean, I assume he’s a guy and I’m assuming that there is going to be a girl somewhere in his life, down in that stump on the ground somewhere. He must live somewhere. He’s a creature of the forest; you don’t get to see him a lot. But if there’s one of them, there’s got to be two of them. So I wouldn’t mind going to lunch with the Loraxes!”

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax opens in the UK on July 27th.


Photo supplied by Vikki Luff Photography

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