Disney Magazine: Cast and Crew Interviews

From Disney Adventures magazine, July 31, 1995



Irene Bedard

D. A.: Did you do anything special at the audition?
I. B.: No, I just read the lines. But on the way there, my hat flew off my head, landed on a train track and got run over by a train! My husband got it for me, and even though it was a little bent, I wore it to the audition.

D. A.: Did you help out with the dialogue to make it true to the American Indian culture?
I. B.: Yes, we worked a lot on that. For example, one line was, "Thank you very much." But it's much more Native American to say, "I'm honored by this."

D. A.: Do you look like Pocahontas?
I. B.: I think so. A lot of my expressions are there. I wish I looked like her when I was 17!

D. A.: Are you excited to be following in the footsteps of Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine?
I. B.: Whew! Yes! I was so into the work, but one day it sort of hit me. Someone said to me, "It's a Disney movie. Your children and grandchildren will see this." Oh, wow! I can't believe it!

Back to interviews

Judy Kuhn

D. A.: What did you think about when you were recording?
J. K.: I had to use my imagination. I also looked at storyboards and thought about the images people were going to see on-screen.

D. A.: What was the best part of recording?
J. K.: One of the biggest thrills was singing with a 90-piece orchestra. You never get to sing with an orchestra that big in the theater.

D. A.: Which song do you like best?
J. K.: I guess "Colors of the Wind." It's pretty tough to pick a favorite because I love them all so much.

D. A.: Are you like Pocahontas?
J. K.: It would be nice to think I'm like her. She's an incredible young woman, dignified and brave.

Back to interviews

Christian Bale

D. A.: How did you get the role of Thomas?
C. B.: I had to audition for it. When I first started, the directors played with Thomas being Irish and Scottish and younger than I am, so I had to raise my voice and do different accents. But the more we did it, the more he became like me--older and English.

D. A.: Do you think Thomas looks like you?
C. B.: I haven't seen much of the film, so it's all going to be a big surprise. I've been told he looks a little like me. They had an artist sketching me while I was recording, and a camera was rolling to capture my mouth movements.

D. A.: Would you like to be an explorer, like Thomas?
C. B.: Oh, yeah, I think everybody dreams of going off to places they've never been. I went to Africa two years ago and was there for a month or so. I got quite a taste for it. I would like to go back sometime and see more of it.

Back to interviews

Billy Connolly

D. A.: Now, you're Scottish in real life, but you play an English settler. What kind of accent did you use?
B. C.: I did the movie in my Scottish accent. I tried him as a Londoner, but it hurt my throat, so much so that I couldn't speak. As Ben the sailor, I shout all the time anyway--at sea or in battle.

D. A.: Is this your first time recording a voice?
B. C.: Yes. I'm a comedian, but I've never done anything like this before.

D. A.: What was the hardest thing about this job?
B. C.: It was the embarrassment of standing all alone with a microphone in a huge barn, with people looking at me through glass windows. There I was, by myself, yelling my lines, singing, "Heave to, my hearties!" I thought, "I'm a loony, a nutcase."

D. A.: Any exciting things happen while working on Pocahontas?
B. C.: I met Mel Gibson. He was in the studio and heard my voice, so he hired me to do a voice-over for a part in his movie Braveheart. I do the voice of King Robert of Scotland. "See, Mom, I told you I'd be king someday!" It was not lacking in grooviness!

Back to interviews

Joe Baker

D. A.: Describe Lon.
J. B.: Lon is a big, lovable, cowardly oaf who tries to be a hero. He's much older than me. He tries to be a tough guy, but he's really a softy.

D. A.: Have you had any other voice parts?
J. B.: I did the voice of Hula Hula, the little fat Hawaiian man who's Plastic Man's sidekick in "Plastic Man." I was also Ben the gardener in the animated "The Secret Garden." And in Dumb and Dumber, when Harry and Lloyd check into the presidential suite, I'm the hotel bell captain.

D. A.: Since you and Billy Connolly [Ben] have so many scenes together, did you record at the same time?
J. B.: No! The Disney people said, "You're doing a good job on Pocahontas. How wonderfully you and Billy work together." We worked well together--and we've never met! Ah, the miracle of Hollywood.

D. A.: Lon gets into a bit of trouble in Pocahontas. Are you mischievous?
J. B.: Yes. I did a lot of practical jokes in England, when I was doing vaudeville years and years ago. One time, when a singing group was onstage, a friend and I completely emptied out their dressing room, and hid all their stuff!

D. A.: Have you seen the movie? Is it good?
J. B.: Haven't seen it. It better be good, or I'll have to turn the Mayflower around and go home!

D. A.: Well, good luck, Joe. And thanks for talking with us!
J. B.: Thank you, luv.

Back to interviews

Mel Gibson

D. A.: Would you want to trade places with John Smith?
M. G.: No. Oddly, I like this century. Also, in real life he wasn't a particularly nice fellow; he was a bit of a rotter.

D. A.: Do you think he looks like you?
M. G.: No. He's quite statuesque.

D. A.: Now that you've played the part of a blond, do you think blonds have more fun?
M. G.: Well, they have more hair! (big laugh)

D. A.: Have you ever been an explorer like John Smith?
M. G.: Hey, one time, when I was in Thailand, I took a motorcycle and rode out of Thailand and into Burma. That was kind of a scary thing to do because there was a war or something going on over there. I didn't know I was in Burma until someone told me, and then I got out of there real fast.

D. A.: How do you think Captain John Smith would do in the Lethal Weapon movies?
M. G.: Uh, his trousers are too tight, and he sings....He'd probably get arrested.

D. A.: How did you like doing the singing part?
M. G.: It was fun.

D. A.: So can we expect a Mel album soon?
M. G.: I doubt it. My album would be called Songs from the Shower, or My Day in the Shower. Wait till you see the video! (big laugh)

Back to interviews

Russell Means

D. A.: How did you get the part of Chief Powhatan?
R. M.: I went to see Aladdin just prior to auditioning. Robin Williams' character [the Genie] really struck me. So when I got this script, I read it three times--and for the life of me, I couldn't see where I could be a comedic character. I had absolutely no idea how to approach the character, so I decided to play it straight and approach Powhatan as I look at my own ancestors--and voila! I was chosen for the role. But Robin Williams almost ruined it for me.

D. A.: Did you do anything special to prepare for your role?
R. M.: No, I know my culture and my history well, and I know Powhatan. I knew he had to be a great statesman, a great individual and a larger-than-life human being. But I also wanted to play the father of Pocahontas and show that this great man is also capable of tenderness and compassion. I have four daughters of my own, and I hope they see me somewhat like I saw Powhatan in his relationship with Pocahontas.

D. A.: How are you different from Powhatan?
R. M.: I like to joke around, I like to have fun, and in this movie they didn't have Powhatan joking around.

D. A.: Does Pocahontas accurately portray American Indian history?
R. M.: This film is the finest feature film ever done about American Indians in the history of Hollywood. It's so revolutionary, it shocked me when they showed it to me. The first thing that shocked me was the truth. The Eurocentric males are admitting why they came here--to kill Indians and to rob and pillage. That's never been done before. This is also the first time, other than on "Northern Exposure," that a human face has been put on an Indian female. Here's this young woman who's wiser than her father or any man in the village, and she causes peace to reign. It's beautiful.

Back to interviews

James Pentecost

The producer brings together the movie's team--writers, directors, voice actors, animators, composers--and makes sure that everything connected with the movie, from posters to comics, has the right looks. The first time we saw Pocahontas producer James Pentecost, he was in Glendale, running off to look at an animation test. Later, we caught him at a press conference in New York City's Central Park. Then we spotted him in a recording studio in New York listening to a symphony orchestra record the opening music for the film. Finally, we got him to sit down for a few moments back at his office in Glendale.

One of the biggest challenges for the entire Pocahontas team was the fact that the story is based on fact and legend. Because the story takes place at a real location, Jim sent members of the creative team to Jamestown, Virginia, to find inspiration and get the look right.

Jim also set up meetings with American Indian advisers, which were important since the written records of what happened were from the English point of view.

Still, not everything in the movie really happened, Jim reminds us. After all, one of the characters is Grandmother Willow, a talking tree. "This is not the real John Smith, or the real Pocahontas or the real Ratcliffe. For me, the most important thing is that the film delivers a message about two people from differing cultures learning to understand each other."

Back to interviews

Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg

Co-director Mike Gabriel is the one who came up with the idea for the movie. In early 1991, Mike was trying to think of a western romance to bring to the screen. "There weren't too many! Finally Pocahontas popped into my head. The idea was: 'A beautiful Indian princess falls in love with a European settler and is torn between her father's wishes to destroy the settlers and her own wishes to help them.' It was the story of a girl with a problem."

That basic idea has stayed the same, although some of the details haven't. Originally, all the animals were supposed to talk, and Pocahontas' main companion was a turkey named Redfeather. But Redfeather turned out to be a real turkey, so Meeko the raccoon, who had been a secondary character, was elevated to top sidekick.

Governor Ratcliffe's stuck-up pet, Percy, was based on history: The royalty of the time often carried small pug dogs wherever they went. And the inspiration for Flit the hummingbird came from close to home: "I have hummingbirds all over my backyard," Mike explains. "I thought, 'That's a great animal to animate.'"

As an animator, Eric Goldberg is best known for his work on the Genie from Aladdin. "Going from the Genie to a real-life character like Pocahontas was a huge adjustment for me to make," he says. "No big blue guys! No exploding heads! I still had Genie on the brain for the first several months."

When he did get into the right mood for Pocahontas, she turned out to be a great character to work on. "She's mischievous, which is fun, and she's a risk taker. That's one reason she's drawn to John Smith, who's also a risk taker. Sometimes it gets her in trouble, but ultimately, it leads the way to making peace between the settlers and the Indians."

Although known as an animator, Eric's job on the film was co-director (with Mike Gabriel). It was the first time he'd directed a film as long as Pocahontas. But despite everything else he had to do, Eric still found time to animate a scene of the Powhatans doing a war dance, which was based on a demonstration of authentic American Indian dances that he'd seen. The scene is very short--so watch closely or you'll miss it.

Back to interviews

Glen Keane

Glen Keane gets to do all the fun stuff. A supervising animator on the characters Cody from The Rescuers Down Under, Ariel, the Beast, Aladdin and now Pocahontas, he's had a major influence on five of the last six Disney movies. (In fact, Glen's got cartoons in his blood; his dad draws the comic strip Family Circus.)

As supervising animator, Glen had a big say in how Pocahontas looked. He started thinking about her when he was still working on Aladdin. He found an engraving of the real Pocahontas from the 17th century, but she definitely didn't look like the star of a Disney movie.

So Glen went to Jamestown, where Pocahontas had really walked and lived. There he met some American Indians who helped him find his vision of the character. "Some of them had an incredible air of nobility and dignity. Others impressed me with their adventurous spirit. I realized that somewhere between these two traits was my Pocahontas. Someone who was deeply spiritual but not afraid to break out of tradition entirely."

Glen also took time to storyboard the scene where Pocahontas and John Smith first meet. Since Glen and his wife fell in love at first sight, he liked the challenge of creating this scene. "I wanted to capture what it's like to see someone for the first time and have that moment change your life forever."

Back to interviews

John Pomeroy

John Pomeroy's office is right next door to Glen Keane's. Being neighbors came in handy, since Glen and John, who animated John Smith, had to work together very closely: "When Smith and Pocahontas kissed, we had to figure out who was going to do what first!" says Glen, laughing.

John and Glen also pulled some tricks on each other. John showed D.A. a stack of drawings of Pocahontas holding Smith's hand. Glen managed to sneak in one in which Pocahontas is squeezing really hard and Smith is screaming in pain--luckily John caught it, or the finished movie might have looked a little strange.

John had a great time animating this real-life adventurer, but capturing his look was a real challenge. "The first concepts looked like a real well-groomed adventurer. Kind of predictable. Then we started making him a little sloppier. We tried looks where he was sloppily dressed, or where he had a couple of days' growth of beard." At first, Smith carried a lot of guns and daggers, but eventually these were cut out. "Each time the design got simpler, it got better."

John thinks that he and John Smith have even more in common than their first names. "He's a lot like me. Inside, I'm a frustrated adventurer myself. I love challenges, I love to rebel, I love to go up against the system--so he's a character who's close to home."

Back to interviews

Michael Giaimo

Michael Giaimo thinks in colors. As art director, he supervised the look of the entire movie, from the color of Pocahontas' dress to the lines on a leaf.

A trip to Jamestown gave Michael a lot of ideas. "When I went to Virginia, two big themes struck me right away: horizontal and vertical," he says. "I saw these very, very vertical pine trees. They seemed to almost shoot up into the sky. Then I saw these great stretches of flatland that seemed to reach out into infinity."

As you watch the movie, notice how these straight lines are used: Even Pocahontas' hair has a lot of straight lines in it, and John Smith and Ratcliffe have vertical piping on their clothing.

Michael also used actual American Indian designs. For example, petroglyphs (rock carvings) depicting Indian symbols for the sun and trees appear in the song "Colors of the Wind." The waterfalls fall in a sort of zigzag pattern, which is based on designs on Navajo rugs. Pocahontas' tattoo is based on a real Powhatan design, and her father's mantle is taken from a real piece of clothing that now hangs in the British Museum.

Unlike The Lion King, which had a lot of browns and greens, Pocahontas uses very bright, vibrant colors. "I wanted to create an enchanted world," Michael explains, so many of the colors in the movie are just a bit different from what you would expect to see.

Back to interviews

Tom Sito

Tom Sito, head of story on Pocahontas, is the only person we know who has things in his office like a wooden leg and a skeleton. The wooden leg was a present from one of his former animation students. He uses the skeleton to study anatomy--and to scare people.

What does the head of story do anyway? Even D.A. didn't know until we asked. Turns out, Tom was in charge of the storyboard artists who figured out exactly how the action would unfold.

Tom told us about a lot of stuff that was cut from the movie. For instance, on sequence that was cut showed the Indians getting ready for Pocahontas and Kocoum's wedding. "We had a big number with singing and dancing and carrying people in the air," Tom explains. "It was really festive and fun, but it just didn't work with the flow of the story."

Originally, in the song, "Mine Mine Mine," John Ratcliffe was sitting in a chair carried on the shoulders of his two manservants (who were then known as Putney and Chutney.) "We decided it was just too complicated and kind of clumsy," Tom says.

A history buff, Tom points out some surprising facts concerning just what was and wasn't in use in 1607, when the movie takes place. "Tea wasn't introduced to England until 1661, so we're 60 years from any Englishman having a cup of tea," he says. That's right: no tea time for John Smith!

Back to interviews

comments powered by Disqus