Forest Whitaker and the voices behind Where the Wild Things Are

Oct 13, 2009 at 4:00 p.m. ET

The voices behind Where the Wild Things Are -- Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker, Catherine O'Hara and Lauren Ambrose -- dish the delightful children's film that speaks to kids of all ages.

Spike's surprises

"The emotion is coming from within them," Jonze said of the filming process of his voice actors. "That is something I'm inspired by."

Forest Whitaker and Catherine O'Hara talk to Max in WTWTA

O'Hara, Whitaker and Ambrose gathered on a theater stage instead of an audio studio to add their part to the magical journey that is Spike Jonze bringing Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are to life.

Whitaker portrays Ira (above left), O'Hara is the wildly emotional Judith (above right) and Ambrose is perfectly cast as the sensitive KW (below with Max).

SheKnows: Where the Wild Things Are is about to be revealed to the world. What are your emotions right now after all this difficult work?

Forest Whitaker: I'm really excited about it. It was one of my favorite books as a kid. I thought it would be great to get out to the world as a film. It seemed like the right thing.

Catherine O'Hara: Yeah, I had high anticipation for this film. Now, we can share it with the world.

SheKnows: The process of making the movie, I heard from Spike, was very theater-like.

Catherine O'Hara: It was great to be with each other.

The room falls silent.

Catherine O'Hara: Maybe not…

The room erupts in laughter.

Lauren Ambrose: Yeah, it was alright.

Where the Wild Things Are, in theaters FridayActing like kids

Catherine O'Hara: We were all on a stage wearing sweatbands with remote mics so we had free movement. We were surrounded by 20-something digital cameramen.

Forest Whitaker: We started out in (Spike's) house and then we moved to the mountains. That's where we started a dodge ball fight in the hills. That's how we started our rehearsal process. Then, we went to the stage. Then, we were all took our characters to the next level. We tried to find out more and more about the characters. Spike played the little boy. It was like a big game but it helped us find our characters.

SheKnows: Was that what you expected from the audio recording process?

Forest Whitaker: I had no idea.

Catherine O'Hara: I had no idea.

Forest Whitaker: I don't think you can anticipate that. Hitting each other with Styrofoam logs and stuff like that. Hitting people with bread. I've never felt bread hit you and sometimes it got a little tense.

They laugh.

Catherine O'Hara: Doing other voice jobs you just think you're going to show up and go to a studio. Then, you're done. When I got to the Wild Things rehearsals, I was like, 'what are we doing?' We went to Spike's house and he took us up into the bush and he's running with twigs. It was just: let go. Let go. Let go! Everything you thought this was going to be, just let go. It was such a great opportunity -- such a great gift. We welcomed the chance to let go -- to be a little kid. You also have to let go of preconceptions of what you're job is going to be. It was so great.

Expectations versus reality

SheKnows: Based on what you knew about the book, what were the expectations of filming Where the Wild Things Are?

Lauren Ambrose: I was really surprised. The book is only 15 pages of words.

Catherine O'Hara: Ten sentences, something like that…

SheKnows: Exactly ten sentences….

Lauren Ambrose: So, we had so little. It's this little jewel so what is Spike Jonze going to come up with to make this alive? I think, I don't know…I was shocked by the sheer imagination of it all. How are you going to fill that in from when he gets there and when he wants to go home? I think there was just once sentence for that (laughs)! What happened? That's what the movie is about. In creating these relationships, all of that was an interesting discovery to see what he came up with.

SheKnows: When you first saw the visual recreation of yourselves on screen, what was the reaction?

The actresses' chime in at the same time.

Catherine O'Hara: We haven't seen it yet.

Lauren Ambrose: We haven't seen the CGI work to our faces.

Max and KW in Where the Wild Things Are

Catherine O'Hara: It's like the book. It feels real to you and you attach yourself to it. I got scared, actually, when I heard they were going to animate the faces. I thought, 'oh, no!'

'Technology as an emotional paint brush'

Lauren Ambrose: It's amazing how they use technology as an emotional paint brush. The subtlety that's there is incredible. I'm sure it would be tempting to go in there and animate the whole thing. That's what's so cool about what Spike has done as an adaptation is that it's so simple and subtle and wonderful.

SheKnows: How on earth were you Wild?

Catherine O'Hara: You have to be The Wild Things. It has to be the Wild Things. But, yeah, you want it to be, but you will never really be the Wild Things. Some of them were 10-feet tall. If you're playing a building, you're not going to be the building (laughs). You can get the spirit of the building…I felt from shooting, that I was really in the movie.

SheKnows: Any desire to get in the costumes and fly to Australia?

Catherine O'Hara: I think we could have pulled off being inside. But, you know, I don't think so. They did incredible stunts (laughs). There's no way.

Lauren Ambrose: They had these incredible puppeteers in these heavy, heavy costumes. They had to be athletes in there.

Read on for more

Spike Jonze dishes Where the Wild Things Are
Catherine Keener and Max Records find the Wild Things
The SheKnows Fall Family Film Guide