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Brian Villalobos

Janeane Garofalo Talks Ratatouille

Colette, the tough but tenderhearted French chef in Pixar’s latest opus Ratatouille, represents a bit of a departure for actress/comedienne Janeane Garofalo. Seated in a ballroom at Austin’s Four Seasons hotel, she fiddles with a water bottle and talks typecasting, French accents, and yes, Ocean’s 13.

Usually when people go see a movie that you’re in, they know what to expect, I guess, in a good way.

That implies I’m in so many films… “This is a Janeane Garofalo film.” I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I haven’t made a lot of movies since about [whispers] 1999. So I don’t know, but that’s very… thank you for giving me that status.

I guess what I mean, is you could very well walk out of this movie and then be talking to someone three days later and go, “Oh, that was Janeane Garofalo? Are you serious?” It’s very literally a separate character; is that freeing in any way?

You know, it’s a strange thing in the entertainment industry. It’s difficult to complain about anything, because it’s elective. No one forces you to be an actor or a comedian. So, with that knowledge what happens is a lot of times you get known for doing one or two things. Now, whether that’s your personality or not, it doesn’t matter because people are lazy, casting people are lazy. “We need an acerbic kind of not-traditionally-good-looking, not the lead, but the friend.” And then you’re in the Rolodex for a while until you get booted. And a lot of times, the novelty wears off you because you’re labeled a one-trick pony, which is the ultimate, I don’t know if “irony” is the right word. It’s like, “You know, that’s what you kept asking me to do?” It’s certainly nice that people say, “I didn’t know that was you” or “I actually wondered where you were because I knew you were in it, but I didn’t know if you were a rat that I just didn’t…” And I’ll take that as a compliment.

Where did the accent come from?

I had a CD of a French gentleman speaking English. And then I lost it. And then I watched CNN International. There’s a French anchor [on CNN International] who speaks English… and so I just mimicked some of the things that he was doing, not pluralizing certain things. I would think of the word “ce-re-mony” instead of “ceremony” in my mind. I’d say “ce-re-mony, ce-re-mony, ce-re-mony,” and try and figure out how that applied to everything else. But I didn’t take French in high school or anything, so I was sort of flying blind and hoping for the best, because I didn’t want to be the only weak link in an otherwise great film.

What are you feelings on the star power movement in animated film casting?

It’s the same with indie film. There was a time when indie film benefited from you not recognizing who the person was, and you could get lost in the story, ’cause you’re like, you believed what you were seeing. Like Croupier, with Clive Owen before he was Clive Owen. You know what I mean? Or, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, the most recognizable person was Andie MacDowell and James Spader, but not really. I mean, Andie MacDowell was in Greystoke and James Spader was in the John Hughes films as a teen. But now, even in indie films, you have to have a famous person to get financing, or to get the ability to even get the script green lit. You know, and … there’s no evidence to support it helps anything. In fact, the opposite, I would say, is true. Indie films survive by word of mouth and support, critical support, that grows and it becomes a sleeper hit or what-have-you.

Then there’s Ocean’s 13.

Ocean’s 13, I think, gets the street cred of Soderbergh. He’s done such great work, Sex, Lies, and Videotape especially, that it’s like, aw, let him. ‘Cause these are such clear, um, without being crass, masturbatorial money machines. As great as they’re directed, they are, on their face, beautifully directed, beautiful looking, great soundtracked films… there’s no reason to make those movies. No reason to send that great looking group of early-middle-aged to middle-aged people to some wonderful location other than… I do this and then I get to make two [indie films]. And then Brad Pitt and George Clooney go, “We take this money, we go to Darfur.” That’s fine. I love why Brad Pitt and George Clooney are getting that salary, and I love that Soderbergh gives us wonderful gifts of indie film. I just can’t take the blatant, like, “Aren’t we something?” But, you know what? Soderbergh’s worst commercial efforts are better than most people’s [best films].

How does Ratatouille compare with some of the other animated projects you’ve been on?

The level of quality of the project was higher than any other I’ve been in. Not to disrespect the other projects, but this was a certainly groundbreaking film that the software had to be built [for]… that’s why it took five years. I was fired from Shrek years ago.

Who were you in Shrek?

Princess Fiona.

Oh, you’re kidding me.

Yeah, yeah. I still don’t [know why]; I was never told why. I assume because I sound like a man sometimes? I don’t know why. Nobody told me… But, you know, the movie didn’t do anything, so who cares?

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Brian Villalobos lives in Austin, Texas (practically), writes on film and TV, and totally cried at Stuart Little.

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