In a quiet conference room on the second floor of Edinburgh’s grand Balmoral Hotel, Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd – who play Lord Dingwall and practically the entire MacGuffin patriarchy in the film, respectively – were discussing musicals. Having last seen The Producers, Coltrane was singing the praises of star Nathan Lane, while McKidd spoke fondly of a recent outing to see Peter and the Star Catcher. Asked if he had ever been tempted to take to the stage, Coltrane replied that he’d never been asked. Actually, come to think of it…
RC: No, the National Theatre wanted me to do [Nicely-Nicely Johnson] in Guys and Dolls. That was in about 1842, just before your dad was born.
Coltrane and McKidd had first met at the opening of Tranispotting, the film that made Danny Boyle’s name and which starred a young Kevin McKidd at the age of just 21, during a strange night of vodka and Irn Bru. Although Brave marked their first professional collaboration, the nature of filming meant that they spend most of their time apart, in individual booths.
KM: It was all separate, but I think it has to be, really, or there would be too much interference.
RC: We were talking about the voices the other day, because [Billy] Connolly, Craig [Ferguson] and myself come from the west of Scotland and are all quite similar, although Connolly’s got that rasping quality to his voice, and we had to separate ourselves. It sounds isolating because you’ve got a camera there, but you’ve also got the director, the producer and eight animators watching you. And they’re saying “Can you do this breath?”, because they want to know the shape of your voice. It’s absolutely essential that they get the shape of your voice box right or the audience just won’t accept it.
KM: I remember this one guy who was saying to me, “Do that line again as if you’ve just had, like, a spear poked in your eye”.
Not that either actor is unfamiliar with the demands of voice acting, of course, with Coltrane in particular boasting a number of animated credits. Kevin McKidd’s experience, however, was essentially limited to the first two Call of Duty video-games.
KM: It’s similar in one sense, but different in another. With a video-game you just have a billion different lines. At least with this there’s a story.
RC: So what did you do, “Take that you rotter?” How does it work?
KM: There was a number next to each line, one to five. One is a whispered line and five is scream-to-the-point-that-your-veins-pop-out-of-your-face, and because it’s a war game most of the lines are number fives.
RC: I’ve never done video-games, the closest was probably voicing the elevators in Glasgow’s Museum of Transport. But that’s not the same as [mimics] “The nargaliphs are coming! Bring out all four bazookas, Jackson”.
Following Coltrane’s ten-year commitment to the Harry Potter franchise (the final book of which was famously finished in that same hotel), and McKidd’s ties to television which saw him relocate to the United States, the draw of voice-acting was undoubtedly strong, with the former signing on before he’d even read the script. It is Pixar, after all.
RC: They’re my heroes really. And it’s nice not to have to wear a costume, or four thousand tons of glue [as Hagrid in the Harry Potter series]. We were talking about this earlier, but because there’s not the pressure of a film set, it’s a lot more relaxed as you can do as many takes as you like. Whereas on a big budget movie they’d say, “No, the extras go at 3 o’clock.”
One pressure both actors did feel, however, was to do their heritage justice. Heavily researched and boasting a not-inconsiderable amount of improvisation on behalf of the actors, the film’s script allows both Coltrane and McKidd to shine even in relatively small roles. Having began his acting career on stage at East End Primary School (which I myself once attended), McKidd was able to phone home for pointers on bringing his native Doric to the big screen.
KM: I did this authentic accent from [Elgin]. I suggested to Pixar that rather than making Young MacGuffin generally incomprehensible, why don’t we make it specific? I mean, I’ve never heard my dialect in a film before so I’m pretty excited about that.
RC: There was a lot [of improvisation]. That’s what I was saying earlier about there not being the economic pressures to be right every time – they’d ask if that was really the way that you’d say it in Scotland. But we’d be using words that they maybe wouldn’t get in Wisconsin and you’d have to think of that, but they were jolly good.
Despite co-director Mark Andrews and producer Katherine Sarafian having been left to screen co-star Billy Connolly’s contributions for any inadvertent profanity, and the fact that NEDS had previously been subtitled for its American release, it seems that Coltrane and McKidd had a better time of moderating the Scottish accents for foreign audiences, each aided somewhat by their own children.
KM: I did swear a couple of times, so obviously they couldn’t use that.
RC: But it’s actually fairly easy to insult people without using any swear words, if you choose your words properly. I have to say, they were very free about it. Although with the committee there it was a little inhibiting, and I sometimes had my daughter there as well. I have to say they were very free about it.
KM: My kids have got really good American accents. They’ve got English accents too, but we moved over there for Grey’s Anatomy and my daughter keeps saying, “Why do people say you’ve got such a good American accent? Your accent’s rubbish.
Following a stilted release which saw it open in Scotland and Ireland on August 3rd and Wales and England on August 13, Brave is now on general release across the UK. Go along and judge the results for yourselves.