Meet the Boys of Frankenweenie

I first met Atticus Shaffer by accident. It was the premiere of Real Steal and I was with my son. The place was packed and he lost me in the crowd. I called his name.

“Atticus!” I shouted above the din of Hollywood chatter.

“Yes?”

I looked down and there was Atticus, just not my Atticus. It was only slightly awkward. I then spent the next few minutes (don’t worry, my son appeared, too) talking to his father about the name we both chose for our sons and the different responses that we get from people. For example, “Did you know that name is from a movie?” ranked high with both of us.

The answer, of course, is yes, an excellent movie, but we got the name from the book. Stay in school, kids!

This time, when I met Atticus Shaffer and his family it was in the quiet comfort of a hallway in the Loews Hollywood Hotel, and when I met his mother I had to recap the original tale. Still awkward.

However, Atticus was excited to see me again. He grabbed my hand for a surprisingly firm shake and asked, “How are you, Sir?” Then we chatted for a moment before I excused myself out of their family time. I’m not one to intrude.

I walked away thinking about the horror stories one hears about Hollywood and childhood, and it was nice to chalk one up for the good guys.

It turns out that the role Atticus plays in Tim Burton’s latest horror story homage Frankenweenie isn’t quite as nice. Edgar “E.” Gore is two parts laboratory assistant and one part Peter Lorre, and skews heavily toward the weaselly and sneaky. You know the type.

I was attending Disney’s premiere of the film in Hollywood, part of an invited group of bloggers, and prior to the screening we had the opportunity to sit down with Atticus and his Frankenweenie costars, Charlie Tahan (Victor) and Robert Capron (Bob). Here is some of that conversation:

On Working With Tim Burton:

Charlie: Tim has always been one of my favorite directors since before I started acting, when I was like three or four, and I was obsessed with Nightmare Before Christmas… and I didn’t even know it was a Tim Burton movie at the time, but Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, that was pretty funny. It was like a yearlong audition process for this and I was really excited.

Atticus: And for me my favorite was Corpse Bride, that was the first one I saw start to finish. I had seen bits and pieces of Nightmare Before Christmas… and I fell in love with it immediately, just because the way that Tim Burton takes all these shapes, these objects and then transforms them…. and creates this own world of his.  And, then it was actually a yearlong audition process for me to get the part.

And after all the waiting and I’d go into auditions, I don’t want to expect to be like oh, I’m going to get hired, I’m so good.  No I’m not like that at all, I’m just very like, oh, I’ll do the best I can and if I do get it, that will be awesome. And if not, well at, at least I was able to try out for it.

I get a call and they’re like, “Hey, Atticus, by the way we were just wondering, what’s the longest audition process you’ve done in a while?”

And I said, “Well, Frankenweenie, that one took… going on for about a year, and that one seems to be the longest.”

And they go, “Oh, you got it.”  After the defibrillator woke me up, I was brimming over with emotions… just, oh my god, I’m going to be a part of a Tim Burton legacy.

Robert: My favorite Tim Burton movie was the original Batman, because that was the first one I saw and because I love Batman.  And so when I found out I got the part, I was like flipping out when I first met him, literally the first thing I said to him was, “You directed Batman. That’s awesome.” It was really funny.

Charlie: (Tim Burton) is, well, he’s surprisingly normal. I didn’t expect him to be like that. And he knows how he wants each scene like to be. Because Frankenweenie is pretty personal to him, I think, and it’s sort of about his childhood issue. I think that he knows exactly how he wants each shot or scene to go.

Atticus: My favorite part of him in particular was the fact that he is so creative. He doesn’t want to follow the crowd or be a part of the big machine. He wants to do his own thing. He wants to be creative, groundbreaking, and this film in particular is the first 3-D black and white animation… to be a part of something groundbreaking like that — and his mindset, too, it wasn’t the stereotypical view of how things were at that time, it was a darker tone, it was different. Being a part of his mindset, his world, was just phenomenal for me.

Robert: The thing I liked about Tim was that he definitely had a specific idea of how he wanted every line to be.  That’s one of the things I like about a director, when they know exactly what they want. I think that’s really cool for someone to just know what they’re doing.

Atticus: And being able to convey that information, because there are times where someone can be a little cryptic, or they’re trying to make you guess at what they want.  They’re not just coming out and saying, “Well no, it’s more like this.”  And so us, as actors, we’re able to take that information and just say, all right, I know exactly what he wants

About Their Characters:

Charlie: Victor is kind of like loosely based on Tim’s childhood a little bit. I said, he’s been one of my favorite directors, so I was honored to be able to sort of play him.

Atticus: And, and for me, the characters that I normally play are either my voice or they are kind of the very calm eye in the storm characters.  And, some are smart, they know how to figure out problems and whatnot.  But then this one, he’s just so over the top.
He’s kind of this semi-villain.

(Tim) loves everything more big and over the top and, and also being able to do the impression of Peter Lorre for the voice is just awesome for me, because I love doing impressions. I love doing accents and during the audition process, during the very first one, they just said, “He’s kind of like the Igor character,” andI knew how to play that off, but the second or third audition into it, they said if possible to do a Peter Lorre impression, and I was like, this is so new for me, it’s going to test my acting abilities, I want to do this.

And so my mom and I, like the home schoolers that we are, rented The Maltese Falcon and we already had Casablanca, and just sat down and really studied them, and that alone was just such a thrill for me.

Robert: For me, the thing I like the most about Bob is that despite the fact that he’s like a really big guy, he’s huge – despite the fact that he’s really big and he could very easily be like a bully, he’s not, he’s actually a very nice person. That was one of the things I liked about his character.

Do They Have Pets?

Atticus: Yes, a great many. A great many. Where I live, I have chickens, two dogs, a rabbit, and five cats. And actually, over the course of being on the film, it’s grown closer to me, because after we had finished recording, and it was just before I went to see the screening of the film, a dog that we had for six years passed away. And so I became even closer to the film, and I definitely knew how Victor must have felt and how a lot of people have felt. And I feel like this film is another way of tributing them, because it does show that you can be that bonded to an animal, or a person, or a thing, and you would go to whatever extent possible in your world to either honor them in memory, or to bring them back.

Charlie: I have one pet left, Samantha the dog. I’ve had rabbits and a hamster, and lizards before. They’re all dead now. I have a dog named Samantha.

Robert:  Yeah, I have three pets. I have a cat, a dog, and a rabbit.

Frankenweenie is currently playing everywhere, and it is an amazing work of art that will entertain (and scare) the entire family! (See John’s less favorable take)

I attended the Hollywood premiere of Frankenweenie as a guest of Disney. All opinions are my own.

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About Whit

Whit Honea is the author of The Parents' Phrase Book. He lives in the L.A. area with his wife and two boys. You can find his writings and other works all over the Internets. Now available on Twitter.
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