Interview with Irene Bedard

Irene Bedard is known best for voicing one of Disney’s beloved characters, “Pocahontas”. Irene has reprised the character many times for Disney and even portrayed Pocahontas’ mother in “The New World”. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Irene about her work with Disney and what she is currently working on.

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Mike Gencarelli: How were you chosen to be the voice of “Pocahontas”?
Irene Bedard: My very first movie was a Disney movie called “Squanto.”  I had been working on it and had also done a television film called “Lakota Woman:  Siege at Wounded Knee.”  The casting director there told me that they were looking for someone to provide the voice for a movie about Pocahontas.  Having already worked for Disney she recommended me to them.  I was in Buffalo at the time so I got on a train, got there (NYC)…and when I had gotten on the train in Buffalo my hat had blown off and had gotten run over by the train.  So I walk in wearing a sun dress and my straw hat, which is all askew…I tell them “Hello, how are you…my hat got run over by a train” and they began to laugh.  We talked and had a great time from the very beginning.  They had me read and it was a lot of fun.  They gave me hugs at the end.  One of them said “We hope to see you again” and I thought to myself, “That went really well.”

I was on the set of “Lakota Woman” when I found out I got the role.  I went to my first recording session and it’s in this damp basement recording studio in somebody’s house.  We’re working and there’s a knock on the door and it’s a girl scout selling girl scout cookies.  I mean it was literally in somebody’s basement.

MG: The character is actually modeled after you, how much do you see of yourself in the movie?
IB: During some of the recording sessions they would film me.  And with the exception of one session, when I was recording “Pocahontas” I was the only person in the studio.  So they would film the session.  I was new to the process and found out that the animators look at that film frame by frame and use it to capture expressions.  One of my habits is pushing my hair behind my ear and I noticed that Pocahontas has the same habit.

MG: Was there a reason why you do not sing in the film?
IB: Judy Kuhn (the singing voice of Pocahontas) was on Broadway at the time.  She has this incredible singing voice.  And I believe they hired her to be the singing voice before they hired me.  I don’t know that for sure but that’s the way I understood it.  But that’s what they were looking for…a beautiful, expressive Broadway voice.

MG: How do you feel the character changed in “Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World”?
IB: It was a difficult writing process for the writers because they had put themselves in a corner with John Smith.  Because in reality when John Smith and Pocahontas met she was 10 or 11.  When she threw herself upon him to stop a war from happening she was probably 12 or 13.  He was wounded and went back to England.  She then acted as an ambassador between her people and the English settlers.  It was almost like a political position.  She was the daughter of a chief and, in all respects, she really was a princess.  And when she was 16 or 17 she was taken as a political prisoner by the settlers.  She became Rebecca and married John Rolfe, though I think it was more a political marriage rather than a romance.  So in the second movie she goes to England and there’s this John Smith/John Rolfe thing going on.  I think they had trouble trying to work out the historical aspects of the story.  But I think they did a fine job.  The most important aspect of the story of Pocahontas is about her being a speaker for indigenous people.  A representation of people relating to the earth, relating to your elders.  Really everything that makes a tribe a tribe.  That was the most important aspect, I think, of both stories.  That was really what was important and that, I think, was portrayed very well.

MG: Was it surreal playing Pocahontas’ mother in “The New World”?
IB: Yes.  When I got to the set, O’orianka Kilcher, the girl who played Pocahontas, had grown up watching “Pocahontas” and it was beautiful to sort of pass on the torch to the next generation.  And she understood that that was what was happening.  We both felt honored to portray this life.

MG: Tell us about what you are working on currently?
IB: There’s “Tree of Life,” which is a Terrence Malick movie.  My character was experimental, even for his experimental nature and he shoots millions of feet of film.  I’ll be interested to see if my character is still even in the film.  There’s another movie I did called “Cosmic Radio” with Wes Studi and Michael Madsen that has yet to come out.  There was some talk about turning it into a television series but I don’t know what’s going on with that.  I also just did another recording session for “Pocahontas.”  In the Disney Stores there will be a magic mirror that, when a child passes carrying a “Pocahontas” item, it electronically reads the bar code and Pocahontas will appear and speak to the child.  It’s going to be a new, interactive store that will almost be an event in itself.

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