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WAMG Interview: Charles Fleischer – The Voice of Roger Rabbit

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Interview conducted by Tom Stockman March 6th, 2013

It all began in 1986 at the Comedy Store in LA where director Robert Zemeckis saw Charles Fleischer perform his stand-up comedy act. The act consisted of a lot of voices and sound effects, but what most impressed Zemekis was what he called ”his vocal presence.” And so when auditions began for the human star of Zemeckis’ upcoming live action/animated hybrid murder mystery noir film WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT — the part eventually played by Bob Hoskins — they called Fleischer. Not to read for that part, but to read with the actors auditioning for that part. Fleischer eventually got the part providing the voice for Roger.

That was 25 years ago. Charles Fleischer went on to voice Roger in some Roger Rabbit shorts and has acted in movies such as DICK TRACY, STRAIGHT TALK and ZODIAC and recently provided one of the voices in RANGO.  Fleischer is also a scientist and one of his latest studies on gamma-ray bursts was endorsed by astrophysicist Bing Zhang and was published by the Cornell University. Fleischer is also the author of The Moleeds, a book of his own mathematical theories.

Now WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? Is being released on Blu-ray in a new 25th anniversary edition and Charles Fleischer is helping to promote this event. He took the time to talk with We Are Movie Geeks about the film.

We Are Movie Geeks: Have you ever been to St. Louis?

Charles Fleischer: I have been to St. Louis. I’ve been to East St. Louis. I used to go to school at the Goodman Theater and once I was part of the Illinois Arts Council. We had a group we called ourselves The Wandering Minstrels. We played the music during the day and showed movies at night. Boy, the Arc is tall!

WAMG: You mean The Arch?

CF: Yes, I call it the Arc because it does arc. The only difference is the ‘h’.

WAMG: What theater did you show movies at in East St. Louis?

CF: It wasn’t a theater, we traveled around. We’d set up a projector and a screen

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WAMG: Were you doing stand-up in those days?

CF: I was, but fir this event I was playing music with two other guys.

WAMG: Was this before you did stand-up?

CF: No, I started doing stand-up when I was nine years old at summer camp. When I was in Chicago at The Goodman Theater, I started doing clubs. There really weren’t  comedy clubs in those days. They called them folk clubs, where I would go on before singers like John Prine and Steve Goodman.

WAMG: How did you get started in film?

CF: After studying at The Goodman Theater, I came to Los Angeles and started working in film and television and doing stand-up. Bob Zemeckis saw me do my stand-up and remembered me and years later, he brought in to do the voice of Roger Rabbit.

WAMG: Did you have to audition for that role?

CF: My initial involvement was to assist them in the casting of the Eddie Valiant character. They needed someone to read the Roger Rabbit part off-camera when they were testing to see who was going to play Eddie Valiant. After doing that for several actors including Ed Harris and James Woods, Zemeckis asked me if I would do it and I said ‘Yes, sir!”.

WAMG: Did they audition any other actors for the part of Roger?

CF: I don’t think it went to anyone else. Mine wasn’t really a formal audition because I was already there helping them to find the Eddie Valiant character and during that process they knew I was going to be the guy.

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WAMG: How involved were you in creating the character of Roger Rabbit? How much was scripted and how much were you able to bring some improv to the role?

CF: I always put my two cents in. It all began with Gary Wolff who wrote the book and of course Dick Williams who designed what Roger would look like. And them the animators and then Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman who wrote the script and all those elements combined represented a platform on which I stand and throw my two cent sin and Roger Rabbit is the result. On the DVD and Blu-ray in addition to the film, they also have the three shorts that were done. Tummy Trouble and those that played before the movies DICK TRACY and HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS, so there’s a couple of nice bonuses besides the eye-popping Blu-ray color.

WAMG: When they were filming WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, was there a stand-in for Roger Rabbit while they were filming the actors?

CF: They had a puppet that they used for eyelines but I was there on set wearing a Roger Rabbit suit. I would rehearse with Bob Hoskins as if we were doing a regular film and then I would step off-camera to a little area that they had designated for me and do the performance while watching Bob Hoskins so that if Hoskins reached out and grabbed me, I would have to react to that. It became what I would call transprojectional acting so it was important for the blending of live-action and animation that I was there working with Bob and the whole crew.

WAMG: WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? was a huge success. Wasn’t it the top-grossing film of 1988?

CF: I couldn’t give you the exact figures on that but I know it made over $200 million dollars and was a huge success.

WAMG: What do you think made it so unique and popular? Was it the technology?

CF: Good question. I would say Bob Zemeckis and Dick Williams certainly. The script. All those elements combined with the fact that it was a movie that took place in the past introducing a character that we’d never seen before but because it came in the past it made it seem as if he’d always been there. I think, like any creative effort, there’s always an element of magic to happen and I think that definitely happened in the production of this film. It’s synergy. It’s greater than the sum of its parts.

WAMG: It made over $200 million like you said. How come they never made Roger Rabbit 2?

CF: I think they’re waiting for your approval. I think there are many reasons. Timing is one.

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WAMG: How involved are you in this new 25th anniversary Blu-ray release of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?

CF: I’m involved in the fact that I’m speaking to you. Other than that it’s really the technology, which I can’t make any claims to. So it’s really just the medium of the day calls for it. The viewer can experience the story now with a greater level of detail and a higher  resolution.  For the second presentation of the DVD, I did a special on-camera feature where I explained the making of the film.

WAMG: I was looking at your filmography and you were in the original NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Who did you play and what was that like?

CF: Yes, Johnny Depp was in that too.  I played Dr. King. I was in the dream clinic sitting there with Ronee Blakely. I talk about dreams and the subconscious and she wakes up and she has Freddy Kruger’s hat. That was great working with Wes Craven. I’ve had the opportunity to work with him, and bob Zemeckis and David Fincher.

WAMG: That’s right, you were in ZODIAC. You were great in that.

CF: Thank you very much. That was a based on a real character that was a projectionist at the theater where the Zodiac killer saw the movie that inspired his horrendous killing spree.

WAMG: Yes, you were a red herring .

CF: I was a red herring and it’s better to be a red herring than hard of hearing.

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Charles Fleischer in ZODIAC

WAMG: Thanks for talking to We Are Movie Geeks and good luck with the Blu-ray of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT.

CF: You’re welcome.

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