Interview with Kelly Asbury

Kelly Asbury is the director and co-writer for Touchstone Picture’s “Gnomeo & Juliet”, which is a modern day take on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet…but with garden gnomes. Kelly has directed previously with “Shrek 2” and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron”. He has also worked with Disney on various films ranging from “Beauty and the Beast” to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” to “Toy Story”. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Kelly about working on his latest film “Gnomeo & Juliet”.

Click here to purchase “Gnomeo & Juliet” merchandise

Mike Gencarelli: You are no stranger to animation, what drew you to “Gnomeo & Juliet”?
Kelly Asbury: Well, my producer Baker Bloodworth, who I have known since my days back on “Beauty and the Beast from Disney, gave me a call and said he had a project for me.  He said he thought it had a lot of potential if it was handled right and he thought I was the guy to handle it.  He told me about Elton John, who I am huge fan of.  He told me about the gnomes and I said “Ok, they haven’t done that yet”.  They when he said they were taking “Romeo and Juliet” and putting a twist on it with the gnomes, I thought “Well, that hasn’t been done either”.  I thought it could be a good challenge and thought it was worth a try. That is really what drew me to it.  From that I was given the opportunity to start with a clean slate and we started over and re-wrote the script.  We turned it into what I and my team thought was the better way to go.  We had fun with it.

MG: How did the red vs. the blue come into the story?
KA: Red vs. blue was always there.  I came up with idea that the blue garden would be owned by old lady Montague and the red garden was old man Capulet.  She has a blue themed garden and he has a red themed garden.  I have been asked if there was some political message and there is not.  Red and blue are the best opposite colors and it is common for gnomes to have either red or blue hats.

MG: How does working on “Gnomeo & Juliet” for you differ than your other projects?
KA: For me, it was great because I got to live in London for almost two years.  Then I got live in Toronto for almost two years. I got to meet a lot of different people from a lot of different cultures.  There were fewer people involved in the decision making process. I really felt supported by the people I was working with.  It was done outside of the normal studio system.  It almost had one foot kind of in the independent film boat.  It was something I have never done before, so that was really the difference for me.

MG: The film is filled with celebrity talent voices, can you tell us about the casting of them?
KA: Yeah, the way that I like to cast…is to design the character first.  I would then keep that character in mind as casting director Gail Stevens and her group would send us voice samples.  But I wouldn’t let them tell me the name of the actors.  We didn’t cast for box office draw or marquee value.  We didn’t cast for star voices.  We tried to get voices that were appropriate to the character.  That is how we cast everyone of them.  In some cases we knew the character of Terrafirminator was made for Hulk Hogan.  Some others we wrote the part of Dolly Gnome for Dolly Parton.  But besides them, the others were created by really listening to the voice and made sure it was the right voice for the character design.

MG: You also appear as a voice in the film as well?
KA: I do.  I play the little red goons and I also play the goon that gives the prologue.  It was really out of necessity.  We did what is called scratch dialogue, which is using local talent till we get the real actors.  I did the goons and everyone would laugh at them.  So I said “You can’t argue with a laugh”.  So we just used my voice and that was fine with me because I enjoyed doing it.

MG: Who came up with the idea to include the music from Elton John in the film?
KA: Well originally I wasn’t around for that.  The film had been in development for some years before I came in.  It was Elton John’s company that originally brought the project to Disney.  It was always pictured that some way Elton John’s music would be incorporated.  There wasn’t a clear vision at first for it, there was always a questions as to “How?” I decided to use the music like they did with Simon and Garfunkel in “The Graduate”.  We wanted to let the music and the score incorporate familiar songs but at the same time get you in the emotional life of the characters.  It helps the cue the audience into the emotions that they are seeing as well as feeling throughout the film.

MG: What do you have planned next?
KA: I am looking around.  I am thinking about all kinds of things.  I do not have a full decision yet.  I am getting married in May.  So, I am going to take the Spring off and let things gestate and by Summer I will know what is up next.

Click here to purchase “Gnomeo & Juliet” merchandise

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